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Lula sets aside money for caboose restoration
City council approved $7,000 for project last week
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Lula City Manager Dennis Bergin looks over a red caboose that area officials and groups, including the Lula Area Betterment Association, hope to restore, particularly giving the train car a fresh coat of paint and repairing rusted metal.

Lula is moving forward on improvements to its iconic red caboose, even though details are still being worked out.

The city council voted last week to spend up to $7,000 on sandblasting and repainting the caboose, as well as landscaping around the railroad car.

“We’ll have to get somebody else to do the lettering (on the side of the car), because the contractor can’t do that,” Mayor Milton Turner said.

At this point, he added, plans call for the city’s finance committee “to meet with the contractor to make sure everybody is kosher and happy with what we’ve got planned.”

The mayor said he’s eager to see the project completed.

“I wish we had got it done before Railroad Days,” he said, referring to the town’s 39th annual Railroad Days Parade and Festival on May 16.

Officials started talking last year about fixing up the caboose, which sits off Athens Street and overlooks railroad tracks running through the heart of the city.

The main issue is that the bright red paint that once covered the downtown fixture of 24 years has faded.

“I’ve got pictures of it back in its heyday, after it was moved here,” City Manager Dennis Bergin said in a November interview. “Through the years, it’s been neglected.”

“(It’s) more work than you would anticipate,” he said. “The roof is the key to this (project). You can see some rust up there — one side shows a lot more.”

The project also is getting financial help from private groups — $1,000 donations each from the Lula Belton Historical Society and Lula Area Betterment Association.

And that amount could go up, as “we’re hoping for more money,” said Mere Barbee, Lula Area Betterment Association’s president.

As for the work ahead, some interior work could be done on the car, but “we’re more interested on exterior,” she said. “We don’t want to lose the caboose.”

The groups have lined up someone who has volunteered to do the lettering, 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 caboose also drew the attention of Vicky Chambers, a city councilwoman who died in January after a car wreck.

“If we’re going to keep it, we’ve got to fix it up,” she said in an interview last year. “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, Chambers said.