PORT RICHEY — The red caboose never did amount to much. Bob Hall takes the blame for that.
"Unfortunately, I've never done right by it," Hall said Thursday as he gazed at his rusty behemoth. "But who knows what can become of it?"
It came from Missouri, a remnant of the Missouri-Pacific Railway. Hall was nostalgic for that sort of thing; he used to take his sons and chase passing trains.
So nearly 25 years ago, Hall, a contractor and real estate investor, bought the caboose for $6,000. He had it brought to his home in Dunedin, with a hazy ambition in mind: Fix it up and turn it into a nice office.
Years passed, and the backyard caboose became the scene of teenage parties and rock band practices and a short-term home to a free-spirited nephew who needed a place to crash. But it never lived up to Hall's dream.
A few years ago, Hall sold his home in Dunedin and moved to Pasco, where he owned a number of investment properties. The caboose arrived later, landing on his 5-acre industrial parcel off Springer Drive near Port Richey City Hall on Ridge Road.
Here it sits among old RVs, vacant mobile homes, stock cars, toilets, barb wire and tool sheds.
Here it looks like another piece of junk, a public nuisance. City officials cited Hall for trash and debris violations, including the presence of the caboose, starting nearly two years ago.
"He can't just dump a caboose on the property," said Ed Winch, a city building official.
Hall cleaned up some of the mess, but kept the caboose, and daily fines of $200 started accruing in January 2007. The city now holds a nearly $89,000 lien on his property.
"What's that saying: 'One man's junk is another man's treasure'?" Hall said.
"Well, this is both my junk and my treasure."
But Hall is trying to sell the land and wants to see if he can negotiate with the city to reduce the amount of the lien. So he decided to acquiesce to its demand: He would move the caboose to an acquaintance's rural property just south of County Line Road.
Which is why on Thursday morning, a rented "low-boy" truck pulled up to his property and slid under the caboose, which was propped up on pieces of cedar blocks. Hydraulic jacks sighed each time the caboose was slowly lowered onto the bed.
"Johnny, don't let it down so fast, will ya!" Hall yelled at Johnny Dincontro, who rents a mobile home from Hall and was helping out with the effort. The move cost Hall well over $2,000.
Hall slouched in the shade of a tool shed for a few moments. He is 61 years old, the caboose 56. He is trying to be realistic about his vision of fixing up the caboose: With his real estate investments not doing so hot right now, he doesn't have a lot of time for old dreams.
His friends say he should just sell the caboose for scrap parts. But he can't do it, Hall says. He wants to give it away, to a city or a nonprofit group.
"I heard Dade City might want it," he said.
His cell phone rang, and it was one of his two sons.
"Yeah, we're on schedule," he said into the phone. He spoke of things left unfinished, how he had been looking through old photographs for shots of the caboose and felt some assurances.
"Sort of like in Our Town on that girl's birthday, when she realizes she did do a lot," he told his son.
Just after 12:30 p.m., the caravan — the truck hauling the caboose, the safety trucks bearing caution signs and lights —pulled off the property and headed north on U.S. 19. The caboose glided under the traffic signals, elicited stares at red lights.
Hall, who was in his pickup, sped past the rest of the caravan, pulled over and got out his camera. He wanted to capture the caboose passing him by.
Jodie Tillman can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6247.