But with a splash of fresh paint and some other attention, local officials hope to restore the downtown fixture of 23 years to the look of its bygone days as the tail end of a Southern Railway freight train.
“I’ve got pictures of it back in its heyday, after it was moved here, but through the years, it’s been neglected,” City Manager Dennis Bergin said.
Plans call for the caboose, which sits off Athens Street and overlooks railroad tracks running through the heart of the city, to get sandblasted, then painted.
“That’s more work than you would anticipate,” said Bergin, who went through a similar endeavor with Flowery Branch’s caboose when he was city manager there years ago.
“The roof is the key to this (project),” he said. “You can see some rust up there — one side shows a lot more.”
The interior, however, is in good shape, Bergin said.
The city has agreed to donate $5,000 for upkeep, and “we have other people in the area who have donated,” said Mere Barbee, the Lula Area Betterment Association’s president.
The group is looking for more donations, raising some money through a calendar sale.
Officials have gotten some prices for work, but “we’re still looking for some others,” Bergin said.
“Eventually, we would like to build a cover over (the caboose) to protect it” and cut down on future maintenance efforts, Barbee said.
The caboose, which sits next to the Lula Railroad Depot near Wall Street, was donated by Southern Railway in 1991. The city owned the car for a while, then gave it to the betterment group, Bergin said.
The car has fallen in disrepair “because it is so expensive to keep up,” said Councilwoman Vicky Chambers, also a member of the Lula Belton Historical Society, which has pledged $1,000 to the project.
“It’s in pretty poor shape right now,” she said. “If we’re going to keep it, we’ve got to fix it up. It’s not right to have it sitting here looking this bad.”
For locals, the caboose reflects the northeast Hall County’s town’s rich railroad history.
“The railroad is why Lula is here,” Chambers said. “Without it, the town wouldn’t exist. The caboose is a symbol of what most of the men in this town did for a living.”