Manchester's Caboose Park triples in size with addition of two historic boxcars

MANCHESTER — It took a train, a crane, and an army of skilled volunteers to lift, tow and coax two historic boxcars into Caboose Park Saturday morning.

But it will all be worth it when local residents, railroad enthusiasts and history lovers are able to revisit their railway roots at the 103 S. Main St. park in the village of Manchester.  

The journey across Route 21 was less than a quarter of a mile, but lasted all of five hours before the two repaired, repainted 70-year-old, 30-foot Lehigh Valley boxcars landed safely on new stub tracks in Caboose Park. They join a vintage signal light and caboose already there.

The highly choreographed move followed four years of planning, permitting, site preparation, car restoration and repair, crane and backhoe rental, and private funding.

Engineered in part by village of Manchester Trustee and Railroad Committee Chair Mike Buttaccio, the feat was made possible by donations of time, equipment, products and services by Finger Lakes Railroad, Syracuse Sand and Gravel, Sherwin Williams, PaceMaker Steel, M&S Tree Service, Bob Tolpa, Richard Day, Duane Thompson, Michael Ternisky, Rocco Venezia and members of the village of Manchester Railroad Committee, among many others.

“The cars were rusted pretty bad, and we started scraping and sanding in June,” said Buttaccio. “We primed on July 4.” 

Completion is still about a year out, Buttaccio said.

“We’ll have a history car with information all about the railroad in Manchester, and (in the other car) the boy scouts have a train set that’s been donated to them, and that will be laid out,” said Buttaccio. “Most of the work is donated, and the cars will eventually have heating and cooling systems and will be ADA-compliant.”

The cars were originally purchased by 95-year-old Manchester resident and World War II veteran Gordon Crowell.

“I bought them in 1975 for $1,200 apiece and used them to store grain in,” said the former business owner. “In ’98 I sold the business and they’ve sat there ever since, so I’m glad to see them being used and appreciated. You know this is a railroad town — it was.”

A Phelps resident and retired Lehigh Valley Railroad conductor, Joe DeBrock comes from a long line of railroad workers. He smiled as the second boxcar landed on its stub track in Caboose Park.

“My mother was a crew dispatcher here for 42 years, my dad was a switch tender until he died, and then my stepfather was a conductor for 42 years,” said DeBrock. My uncle worked in the roundhouse. I remember putting engines away on the turntable and right in the roundhouse. I remember all the things that were in there.”

The boxcars’ restoration is important for Manchester residents because it “brings back their roots, their past,” he said.

“The railroad here employed so many people,” said DeBrock. “It was such a busy hub here, one of the largest transfers on the east coast. People relied on this as a livelihood, and it was a good living. It was like being with a family.

“Bringing this back brings back a lot of memories, and I think it’s good for generations to come to see what was here,” he said. “I think this is the greatest thing. They should be congratulated for all the work they’ve done.”

Retired Lehigh Valley engineer Doug Parmele has been a key player in the restoration of the “caboose” part of Caboose Park. Historic photos of his dad and grandfather on the job are among dozens inside the caboose.

Parmele and his wife also donated a vintage Lehigh Valley signal light, formerly in Mendon, in memory of his dad, Jack Parmele, who worked for the railroad between 1941 to 1961.

“I think it’s great that they’re not going to be torched, cut up and sold for scrap,” said Parmele, now 76. “They were built nine years after I was born.”

The boxcar move coincides with work underway just down the road at the long-abandoned Lehigh Valley Railroad Roundhouse — one of the few remaining such structures in the Northeast.

Advocates got a lift last fall when the site was listed among the top five priorities for revival by The Landmark Society of Western New York. Now it’s the focus of an environmental investigation that will pave the way for a revival for the property in the village of Manchester.

Parmele has his eye on the roundhouse. He’d like to see it return to its full glory, functional for engine and railcar repairs, painting and storage, with a section designated as a public rail museum.

Once complete, Caboose Park will be open during designated hours or upon request by calling Village Hall at 585-289-4340.

Anyone wishing to make a donation in support of Caboose Park or the veterans memorial is encouraged to contact Village Hall at 8 Clifton St. by calling 585-289-4340.

Also in the works: a new village of Manchester veterans memorial on the corner of Clifton Street and Route 21. The memorial will feature a clock tower, brick pavers and three kiosks with the names of veterans past and present. Space will be left open to honor future servicemen and women who choose to enlist.