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All aboard the orange red box car caboose

February 23, 2013


Let's take a ride down the railroad tracks in Starkville today if only in our imagination.

On Oct. 5, 1976, I was out on the Starkville railroad tracks next to Fleming Building and Supply — later bought and renamed Bell Building and Supply. I was behind this big building, hidden and tucked away from everyone and everything for about 10-12 hours, sketching and painting to my heart's delight. There was the cutest single little orange red box car caboose that seemed to be living or placed in this one spot all alone without any other train cars anywhere in sight. I suppose this little orange red box car caboose might enjoy a little company for a few hours, and I was to be that “special guest.” My very favorite color is red, and I love the color of orange too. This was the perfect subject to paint using my favorite colors of this gorgeous orange red box car caboose. She was absolutely gorgeous, a train caboose who had found a permanent home just sitting and waiting for some artist to come along and paint her portrait.

Did she not belong to some train? Why did the main black head box car up front just leave her behind? I suppose she was lonesome, and I knew that I was here today to keep her company.

She would for sure be a very still subject, and she would not squirm and move one little bit. She would become one of my most beloved, fun and carefree subjects I have ever placed on my blank piece of canvas. I was soon to become lost in my own “bubble world.” blocking out everything around me for hours as the two of us became good friends. She will live and be enjoyed as a painting forever.

I grew up with a train track only four doors down on Louisville Street. I loved to hear the train whistle blowing, and I could actually feel the vibrations of the train moving along several times a day and during the night. I have sweet memories of this very familiar sound and surroundings of a train so near our old home. I long for the sounds and the vibrations of this old train, and I just know that this very orange red box car caboose use to be a part of the line of cars. She was abandoned and dropped off in her spot. She definitely needed to be recognized as becoming a real portrait on my canvas.

When my brother Johnny and I were growing up, he asked Santa Claus one Christmas to bring him a train set. Every little boy wanted a train back in the 1940s, and Johnny was no exception. Secretly, I was prompting Johnny to ask for a train set, telling him I would play along with him. He agreed to follow his big sister's suggestion, and we both could hardly wait until Dec. 25 arrived that year. Johnny opened up his big box with tracks, and we had to put it together one by one. It was a wind-up train set, and the big black engine car at the beginning of the line was followed by all the other cars that fit together with hooks. Together, the two of us had so much fun sprawling down on the floor, carefully putting the train together.

Several years later when I had my own family of three children, Frank and I decided to go to the nearby town of Amory to the Amory Mississippi Railroad Art Festival. We let our children board a real train. They would ride down the track just a few miles from Amory, and turn and head back to the beginning of their very first train ride. To be honest, this was the very first time I had ever ridden on a real train myself. When our children were all grown up, Frank and I ventured to Canada, taking a long train ride to the remote and inaccessible western Canadian Rocky Mountains. What a very glorious adventure we took up and down and all around these great and beautiful mountains. It was a once in a life time trip all experienced on a train.

What a very special day I spent painting this orange red box car caboose. Look at all the details in her portrait. I did not want to leave out one little detail of her body. I suppose we could call the far left of the car her face, and the far right hand side her body. Look at all the colors of the wonderful orange red tin metal that makes up both her face and her body. Underneath, her first little window are the letters and numbers, ICX 3383. The next little windows are almost inviting you to come on inside to peep around. The big old door even has a tiny black window at the top and a huge slanted handle that looks slightly crooked and maybe broken. Look at the wonderful heavy black wheels. Can you not just hear them rolling along? The wheels must each weigh a ton or more. All the parts and pieces that hold these heavy wheels together underneath the car are very interesting .

There is a cute little ladder at the end of the car to the right of this painting. Look for the piece of the black railroad sign at the far right. Look at the little smoke stack near the door to the right that sticks up from the top of the car, and find a round water tank right in the middle and behind this smoke stack. There are three train tracks, and that odd number that now is my very own “Orange Red Box Car Caboose” as she has found a permanent home. I decided to talk to her, but she did not answer me back. She is merely an old box car caboose, but to me as an artist, she was suddenly taking on a life of her very own. I loved her very much. The blue sky above, the hint of the trees surrounding her and especially the green grass beginning to grow underneath her wheels give you a very sad feeling of abandonment.

I sincerely miss the train whistle blowing with its mournful sound and the feeling of the vibrations and the shaking of this 'ole family home on Louisville Street. I long for the time that maybe — just maybe — our train route will be recreated once again, before the grass takes over the tracks. It has been way too long since a train ran this route. We can wish and dream of one day hearing, seeing and feeling a train running once again down the old rusted tracks chugging through our little city.

This orange red box car caboose was finally picked up and taken on down the tracks by some big black box car. She is gone and I miss her. I would like to think she is supremely happy now, chugging along with her other box car friends. I want to believe in my own heart and soul that she is the prettiest, most beautiful orange red box car caboose in the whole wide world. I can hear the train conductor calling with happy enthusiasm, “Round 'em up, move 'em out, let's roll and all aboard. Our destination is Starkville."

Carole McReynolds Davis is a local artist. Email her at

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