Caboose will become children’s library

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by Steve Clark, courtesy of The Brownsville Herald

Once upon a time there was a lonely caboose, fenced off and neglected for years until the day it was befriended by humans, given a fresh paint job and a new purpose in life: making children happy — through books.

It’s not a fairly tale: The newly refurbished caboose in Brownsville’s (TX) Linear Park will begin a new chapter as a children’s library early next year, possibly by March.

Donated to the city of Brownsville by the Brownsville & Rio Grande International Railway through the efforts of the Raul “Mr. B” Besteiro Jr. family, the caboose was placed in Linear Park in 2007. It weathered the elements behind a chain-link fence, largely ignored, until early this year when the city and Brownsville Preservation Society teamed up to restore it.

The city budgeted $40,000 for the restoration, while BPS coordinated the project, which involved sandblasting, painting, construction of a new platform and getting rid of the fence. Almost the only thing left is to put up signs denoting the historical significance and recognizing those who contributed, BPS President Trey Mendez said.

“ I would say it’s 95 to 98 percent complete,” he said. “It’s been substantially complete since the summer.”

Mendez noted that the caboose is mounted on the original train scale and adjacent to the original scale house from the days when a Southern Pacific rail yard sat between East 6th and 7th streets. BRG, which serves the Port of Brownsville, donated materials including an original crossbuck, the X-shaped sign denoting railroad crossings, he said.

The project manager was retired railroad employee Fernando San Miguel, who Mendez called “the guy on the ground for us.”

“ He helped us coordinate a lot of the effort and helped us with some history, and make the restoration as close to original as possible,” Mendez said.

Brownsville pediatrician Dolly Sevier is leading the effort to raise money for the caboose library project, and has applied for a $15,000 grant from the Texas Pediatric Society. Word on the grant should come in December, she said, adding that the project will take around $20,000.

Sevier said she’s raised about $15,000 from other groups, some of it contingent on the TPS grant coming through. A portion of the support is in the form of in-kind contributions. The Community Development Corporation of Brownsville, for instance, will provide labor through its YouthBuild program as well as materials, she said.

Also, the city’s parks and recreation department has pledged $2,500 for an Americans With Disabilities Act-compliant path to the caboose, which itself is too high and narrow to be made ADA compliant, Sevier said. The Brownsville Community Improvement Corporation, Brownsville Housing Authority, Brownsville Preservation Society and OmniTRAX, which manages the BRG railroad, also have pledged support, she said.

The caboose library will be staffed 20 hours or less a week, open during the Brownsville Farmers’ Market and weekends, possibly with longer hours in the summer or during good weather, Sevier said. It will be a “true library collection,” she said, noting that kids will be able to check out a book in the morning and read it in the park before turning it back in.

Parks and recreation also plans to conduct programming for children with special needs centered on the caboose, Sevier said, noting that the two separate projects — refurbishing the caboose and then turning it into a library — meshed well with each other.

Ramiro Gonzalez, government affairs liaison for the city, who also envisioned the caboose as some type of library early on, said it was a matter of creating a space then figuring out how to use it.

“ The theory of it all is, now you have a caboose that looks really nice, but how do you active the space? Kids love trains. There’s a logical connection there about providing space that otherwise wouldn’t be used,” he said.