By Carole Robinson
For years the red caboose at the Fieldstone Farms clubhouse – old L&N 42 – was a place kids played in and around and parents relived their childhood. But after years of use and neglect, the caboose sank into the inevitable state of disrepair. That was when a representative of the clubhouse approached Katie Smitherman’s Girl Scout Ambassador troop seeking help. Katie decided the project would fit in perfectly with the Gold Award project she was about to tackle.
“The outside was run down and the inside had been vandalized,” she said. “It was a disaster.”
L&N No. 42 belonged to the L&N (Louisville & Nashville) Railroad, which at one time was a 6,000-mile railroad system that served 13 states. According to Williamson County historian Rick Warwick, Cecil Sims, an attorney, acquired the caboose in a lawsuit sometime in the 1930s or 1940s and had it installed on his Franklin farm for his children to use. After her father’s death, Susie Sims Irvin, Cecil’s daughter, moved back to the farm eventually selling it to developers.
It took 13 months of hard work and perseverance, but Katie Smitherman and her band of volunteers renovated L&N 42 parked at the Fieldstone Farms clubhouse.
Photo by Carole Robinson
Rather than remove the caboose, which was once used as eating and sleeping quarters for the L&N train crew, designers of the Fieldstone Farms subdivision incorporated it into the public area where the clubhouse, tennis courts and pool would be located.
Age, weather and neglect saw the little red caboose deteriorate into disrepair and a dangerous hazard. That is when Katie and her band of volunteers stepped up and rescued the old, cupola caboose.
“It was unsafe with all the broken bottles, rust and broken panels,” Katie said.
“I was looking for a Gold Award project and this fit it perfectly, but I didn’t expect it to be so much work.”
Katie thought she could clean up the junk and paint over the graffiti inside, replace a couple boards on the solid wood train car, slap a coat of paint on it and be done. Was she ever surprised when the full scope of the project was determined?
To avoid using her college fund to pay for the project, Katie held several fundraisers and procured donated materials for the repairs. She also organized a group of volunteers – community members who would ensure the survival of the renovations because they were a part of it.
It took about 30 volunteers, logging more than 550 hours – Katie logged 110 hours – and 13 months to complete the project. Most Gold Award projects take about four to six weeks.
Mr. Street, a neighbor who worked in construction, mentored Katie showing her how to renovate to make it last – replacing panels and structural wood, rebuilding bunks and benches, repairing and replacing floor boards inside the car and installing plexi-glass in the windows instead of glass. He also taught her how to use the tools she needed for the project and then entrusted them to her.
To keep the car as authentic as possible, Katie repainted it using the original red, light blue and yellow colors. A cast iron stove was donated to the project.
“This definitely would not have been this good a renovation without his knowledge, help and tools,” Katie said.
Once the project was completed, Katie added locks to the doors and the officials with the Fieldstone Farms Clubhouse installed a security system and cameras to protect the caboose.
Katie learned a myriad of lessons from leadership to construction and using tools and perseverance.
“A lot of people were surprised that a girl was doing this,” she said. “It took a lot longer than I expected, but once I started there was no turning back.”
Katie received her Girl Scout Gold Award and will soon be off to the University of Alabama to study business management.
Posted on: 7/24/2013