A little piece of Americana that is missing today from the modern landscape may be found at Weaver Park in Old Hilliard.

The train caboose, typically painted red and often depicted with a lantern hanging or even a brakeman waving from it, once crisscrossed America's countryside and cities in the early 20th century when railroads were a primary form of transportation.

Although railroads remain a significant form of transportation for goods and products, the traditional caboose no longer follows at the end of a train, its purpose of switching tracks, like many other things, now automated.

The bright red caboose at Weaver Park, 4100 Columbia St., was moved there in late 1972 after having been rescued from salvage by the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway Co., or the C&O, which since has merged into CSX Transportation.

The Hilliard Ohio Historical Society, known then as the Northwest Franklin County Historical Society, paid $1 to acquire the caboose from the C&O, but to get it from a rail yard in Columbus to Weaver Park cost a little bit more.

"We give tours of the caboose whenever the Historical Village is open, and it is a popular attraction," said Tim Woodruff, president of the Hilliard Ohio Historical Society.

C&O had taken the caboose out of service in 1969 and had ordered it dismantled until the historical society came calling.

The historical society was looking for a caboose as something to illustrate the city's railroading history and to complement the train depot at Weaver Park, the first structure that had been moved there, Woodruff said.

The depot at Weaver Park once stood along Center Street, where trains stopped.

Hilliard was founded in 1853 as a railroad stop at Center and Main streets by John Reed Hilliard.

The stop was called Hilliards Station, and "station" eventually was dropped. The town was known as Hilliards, with no apostrophe, well into the mid-20th century, according to Woodruff.

It became Hilliard after the 1960 U.S. Census elevated the community from a village to a city when the population surpassed 5,000 residents, he said.

The historical society passed on an offer to purchase a caboose from the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, or the B&O, for $800, according to letters in possession of the historical society.

But Bob King, who was then president of the historical society, learned the C&O would give one away.

In a Sept. 21, 1972, letter to King, the vice president of purchases and materials for the C&O gave the historical society one "secondhand C&O caboose, No. A-800, located in Raceland, Kentucky ... at no charge. To be removed from railroad property by donee [sic] at no cost to the railway company."

The historical society nevertheless paid $1, a decision likely made to establish a chain of ownership, Woodruff said.

The railway agreed to transport the caboose to Columbus, free of charge, but the historical society had to transport it from a rail yard on Neil Avenue, near today's Arena District in Columbus, to Weaver Park.

On Nov. 30, 1972, the dilapidated caboose, built in 1920, was hauled onto a lowboy trailer and moved to Weaver Park.

An invoice shows the Atlas Transfer & Storage Co. performed this task for the sum of $1,451, but a member of the historical society, Lester T. Porter, paid for it, Woodruff said.

The caboose was placed on a section of rails and ties that were laid down in advance of its arrival, said Jim Dougherty, a member of the historical society.

"We had quite a crew that worked to (restore the caboose)," Dougherty said.

During the next two years, a base coat of white paint was added to cover the peeling and fading exterior of the caboose. Historical society members also restored its wood frame and interior cabin, and they restored or replaced rusted ladders and steps.

"Our members restored it at no cost other than the materials and supplies," Woodruff said.

In July 1974, a week before the opening of the annual Franklin County Fair, historical society members painted the caboose red.

Since then, historical society members have maintained the caboose, including replacing windows broken by vandals, and in 2001, they replaced the roof.

"We do school tours each year, and one of our docents talks about life on a caboose (and) where the brakeman ate dinner and slept," Woodruff said.

Every December, the Santa in the Red Caboose event is a popular draw, with the line snaking out into the park for children to visit Santa Claus inside the caboose.

The historical society's annual Heritage Day in October is another opportunity to showcase the caboose.

Apart from various events when the historical village and all its buildings are open, including the caboose, train enthusiasts may schedule a tour by appointment by calling 614-876-5880, although donations are suggested for such special arrangements, Woodruff said.

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekCorvo