Carpenter sees potential in a worn-out caboose


A carpenter, experienced in restorations, is breathing new life into a 75-year-old railroad caboose and hopes to open it as an antiques and gifts shop in Sykesville next month.

But the job has turned out to be bigger than he expected, and he is asking the town for financial help.

John W. Greenan III is at work refurbishing the little red car, which belongs to the town and is parked on a siding near the railroad station. He has restained the interior paneling; carpeted the floor; installed shelves, heat and track lighting; and repaired the leaking windows and roof.

"He was on a ladder spreading Red Devil paint in the ice," said his mother and business partner, Gloria G. Lapkoff. "How is that for perseverance?"

Weather permitting, he plans soon to surround the 32-by-10-foot car with a deck and canopy, finish the exterior painting and add a little landscaping.

"I guarantee this will be one of the neatest shops around," Mr. Greenan told the Town Council last week as he made his pitch for help.

Since builder Martin K. P. Hill donated the caboose to the town about six years ago, it has stood idle and unprotected from the elements.

The caboose is coupled to a Pullman car, which volunteers are converting to a model railroad museum.

As one of those volunteers, Mr. Greenan pondered what could be done with the caboose.

He worked out a lease with the town. In lieu of two years of rent, he would donate materials and labor and refurbish the caboose. For the third year, he has an option to renegotiate the lease.

Whether the new tenant stays or goes, the town would have a refurbished, usable coach.

"We were more than happy to get a tenant to attract business downtown," said Town Manager James L. Schumacher. "The caboose was just sitting there dry-rotting. We need somebody in there to take care of it."

Mr. Greenan began the renovation project about a month ago without heat or electricity. He soon discovered how much damage he would be repairing. He has spent about $4,000 already and estimates the final cost at about $9,000.

He found more damage, from a leaking aluminum roof to an ice-encased subfloor, than he expected, Mr. Schumacher said.

Mr. Greenan is running out of money and has asked the town for help with the project.

Mr. Schumacher said, "Nobody is saying no to the request. It is either this or get rid of the caboose."

Both the Town Council and the Historic Commission have said they would consider Mr. Greenan's project, if he submits a written proposal and drawings.

"His plans look well thought out and he has the right technical ideas," said Rebecca Herman, chairwoman of the Historic Commission, which met with Mr. Greenan on Tuesday. "We are sympathetic to his work."

A state Main Street Improvement Grant may also help with the project. Mr. Schumacher said the town should know in a few weeks if the state Department of Housing and Community Development approves its application for $12,000.

With more capital, Mr. Greenan said, he could advertise his new venture in a tri-fold glossy flier with a map detailing all the shopping stops in town. He has arranged to place the fliers in Ellicott City and Savage Mill shops.

Mr. Greenan also envisions a weekend flea market surrounding the caboose this spring and summer.

"Maybe we can bring different artists here, too," said Ms. Lapkoff.

Ms. Lapkoff sees a car full of her handmade dolls, stained glass items and "new and old collectibles."

"If I can part with them," she added with a laugh.

Mr. Greenan said, "She has the stuff to fill this place three times over."

While Ms. Lapkoff minds the store inside, her son plans to sell furniture and large pieces on the deck outside. Ms. Lapkoff also is leasing a nearby storage building, where she will open a lunch room for shoppers once the caboose business gets going.

The partners could work themselves into another project: another town-owned railroad car.

"If he does a good job, we'll lease him the blue caboose, too," said Mr. Schumacher.

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