CABOOSE COMES TO REST AT JOSEPH GARDEN
Recently a caboose showed up out back of an old train depot outside of Joseph along Highway 82. There at about the 4,000 feet elevation the sign says ENTERPRISE
The tall yellow clapboard-sided building with gambrel-style roof for 50 years was the train station at Enterprise.
After passenger service was discontinued, an Enterprise couple purchased the building in 1972 and moved it four miles south for a home.
The old depot went through several ownerships and was being rented out when Verna Slane moved into an RV park at the nearby Mountain View Motel and RV Park.
She noticed the depot. She went by it each day on her way to work at the nearby U.S. Forest Service office on Creighton Lane.
Later, her employer moved to the federal building in Enterprise, then to the Visitors Center west of Enterprise.
Still, her daily commute took her by the old depot. It had been used as a residence, a nursery and an antique store. Then it sat vacant, in absentee ownership.
I was feeling sorry for it, Slane said.
Then she noticed a For Sale sign, stopped and looked in the window. There was the original bench still waiting for passengers and the ticket window and cabinets still in place. She was pleasantly surprised that little of the depot had changed even though it had changed hands several times.
Its a grand old building, she said. I fell in love with it.
I went to work at getting it purchased. I had to struggle.
Slane had raised all seven of her children and was by herself.
She had worked her way through Eastern Oregon University by working for the Forest Service and for The Observer in the darkroom, and as a photographer, feature writer and reporter. She graduated from the university with a natural sciences degree in environmental studies
Then she went into the Peace Corps doing ethno-botany on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia for five years. Working through an interpreter with a local herbologist ( a dying art, she said), she collected local plants, established a herbarium and sent specimens to Harvard University, which eventually named a lovely local red flowering shrub after her Calliandraslaneae.
Her material documenting the local plants uses for medicine and other purposes such as baskets and crafts may be published soon.
Move Up the Branch
After returning from the Peace Corps, the Forest Service had a position for Slane in the Wallowa Valley doing silviculture and botany. She retired from that position.
In 1991 she bought the old depot, believing that what was once a public building should still be enjoyed by the public.
She thought that having a gift shop in the building would be a way for the public to enjoy the historic depot, and yet it would be a low-impact use on the structure.
In 1995 she opened the Depot Gardens and Gift Shop, so people could look the building over and enjoy her gardens. The shop presents a down-home flavor with theme emphases on garden and railroads, offering unique products using herbs and flowers from the garden such as tea blends, vinegars and bath products including home-made soaps.
Garden tools, accessories and decorations are also available.
Visitors and cameras are welcome in her stroll-through gardens with the stunning backdrop of the jagged, snow-capped Wallowa Mountains. In season, for a small fee, visitors can cut their own floral bouquets.
Slane had long been interested in plants, but had not been a railroad buff until she got her depot.
She began collecting railroad memorabilia, including a train locomotive phone that whistles instead of rings and a G-scale model railway that circles her pond outside called Sundew Lake, complete with goldfish.
The only part of the depot that had been changed much was that the old freight room had been transformed into living quarters.
Slane and her cat Casey Jones live there. The station masters quarters upstairs are for guests.
The Caboose Goes in Back
With 10 grandchildren and six great grandchildren, Slane thought she would like to have a guest cottage out back.
What to put in back?
Everybody knows the caboose goes in the back.
So, she bought a caboose with the same thing she had in mind with the depot, preserving a historic structure that the public could still enjoy. In between visits from family, Slane thought she could rent out the caboose cottage by the night.
She found a green Burlington Northern caboose in the Tri-Cities. It wasnt the right color, but someday it will be her little red caboose.
Moving the caboose involved four trips. First the rails and ties had to be set. For nearly 30 years the depot was nowhere near any railroad tracks, but Slane remedied that.
Next, the big steel wheel assemblies had to be brought in by semi-truck and trailer. Next came the caboose, but the cupola had to be cut off the top to get under power lines along the route. Finally the cupola arrived. All the train car parts had to be unloaded with a crane.
The unit that was self-contained for rail travel, with kitchen, bathroom and bunks, will be ideal for a family to enjoy staying in, she thinks. Shes going to install modern facilities, but leave the original oil stove. The caboose was made in 1967 after the era of caboose coal stoves. Little bunks for children are planned in place of the conductor seats up top in the cupola.
Now Slane looks through the depot window whenever she wants, from the inside out.
Now, shes delighted in a new way with what she sees.
Isnt that nice. I sure like it, she says about the latest piece of history she has acquired, and is anxious to share with others who have wanted to enjoy the aura of intrigue of a real caboose.
LOCAL RAILROAD HISTORY
In 1908 Oregon Rail and Navigation Company laid rails into Wallowa Valley.
For 50 years the line carried passengers and freight. Local goods hauled out included milk and cream in cans, cattle, grain, and lumber from the mills.
The passenger service was discontinued and the depot later sold and moved.
Union Pacific Railroad, which came to own the line, sold it to Idaho Northern and Pacific, which has since discontinued service between Joseph and Elgin.
The Depot Gardens Gift Shop at 83490 Joseph Highway is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday until Christmas, and then will reopen in May.
Web site: www.depotgardens.com