The Springfield City Council decided keeping a piece of the city’s history in Sarpy County was worth more than a thousand dollars.
Two strong candidates for ownership of the Union Pacific Railroad caboose currently residing in Buffalo Park submitted bids to the city after the announcement that the train car was up for sale. Both Terrence Kubicek, representing the Homestead Village Living History Museum in Saline County, and the Sarpy County Historical Society, representing the Sarpy County Museum, showed legitimate intent and presented ways and means to transport the caboose.
The biggest difference was in the price of the bids: Kubicek bid $1,000, while the historical society bid $18.
The city conducted the sale by asking interested parties to send sealed bids. When the city opened the bids at 10 a.m. on April 4, the problem became immediately clear.
Financially, the winner was Kubicek. But the Notice of Sale of Property document explicitly read: “Bids received from public agencies and non-profit organizations located within Sarpy County will be given priority over bids received from private parties or other public agencies and non-profit organizations located outside Sarpy County.”
Bill Seidler Jr. the city’s attorney, recommended that the bids go before the City Council for a final decision due to the significant difference in the amount of money bid. At its April 15 meeting, the council heard statements from both Kubicek and Ben Justman, executive director of the Sarpy County Museum, regarding where the caboose should make its new home.
Justman related a story of children who had visited the museum and talked with him about the caboose in Springfield. A week later, a relative of theirs was the one who gave him a tour of the inside of the train car.
“I know it needs a lot of work, but I have three grants lined up to help restore it,” he said. “Our museum is just down the road. The caboose is leaving Springfield one way or another at the wishes of the council. My concern is that, if it leaves the area, it’s the end of the history here for that caboose. But I know that’s a lot of money that could do good here.”
Kubicek said his concern was preserving and protecting Nebraska history.
“I run an 1800-through-1950 living history museum on my own dime,” he said. “It’s an audacious project. I have my own equipment and have moved a caboose before. I know how to do it. It is a legitimate bid, and I am ready, willing and able.”
Councilman Bob Roseland found choosing between the two bids to be a difficult decision.
“I have a heavy heart about this,” he said. “I think what (Kubicek) is doing is a wonderful thing, and I take my hat off to that, but (the Sarpy County Museum) wants to keep something here, and they’ve put the time in. I’d like to see it in Sarpy County.”
Councilman Randy Fleming was similarly torn.
“I have all the faith that (Kubicek) would do the right things, and I’d like to see the $1,000, but how the bid is written is toward staying here, and that’s how I would lean,” he said. “I’ll make a motion to that effect.”
With three ayes, the motion passed, and the caboose became the property of the Sarpy County Museum. (Councilman Chad Nolte was absent.)
After the meeting, Kubicek and Justman shook hands, and Kubicek congratulated the victor.
“My motivation was to keep Nebraska history here in Nebraska,” he said. “Far too many collections have left the state already. I’m pleased the caboose is staying in the area, where it will be preserved, loved and enjoyed.”
Kubicek said he had no idea that the museum had a bid in when he placed his bid, and he bid mainly to ensure the caboose would be preserved.
“The last caboose I saw sell sold for $500, and the guy turned around and sold it to a corporate retreat for $5,000 within an hour,” he said. “Too many have been cut up or disappeared. They have a purpose and a place.”
Kubicek has been working on his living history museum for 20 years now on his farm in Saline Couty, just south of Crete, Neb. While it has yet to open to the public, Kubicek said he is still collecting and organizing items and hopes to one day open a center for historical restoration, living history and training and education in tin- and blacksmithing.
The Sarpy County Museum has 90 days to transport the caboose out of Buffalo Park, as per the terms of the bidding process, and Justman said he envisions the caboose arriving at the museum in late June.
Justman said the museum would appreciate any donations to help raise the $3,000 needed to transport the caboose from Springfield to the museum’s Bellevue home. He added that he was relieved with the outcome.
“You never know what to expect, and it was anyone’s game,” he said. “But I am relieved that it’s past that stage now.”