Chesterton Tribune



Plan floated to install retrofitted boxcar restroom in Thomas Park

Back To Front Page



Five years ago, in 2012, a small but vocal group of residents made its feelings clear when the Chesterton Town Council proposed replacing the chemical toilets in Thomas Centennial Park with a trailer-mounted restroom: such a facility, it was said at the time, would send the wrong message to out-of-towners, that Chesterton was uncouth or plebeian or mean. Or something.

So here’s a question: what would those same residents think about a bogey-mounted restroom?

At its meeting Tuesday night, the Park Board heard a presentation by Richard Riley, train buff and owner of Riley’s Railhouse at 123 N. Fourth St. in Chesterton, who made a case for purchasing and converting an old railroad boxcar into a restroom, adding a caboose as a multi-use space--as a cooling room in the summer and Santa’s House during the holidays--and then installing them on tracks in Thomas Park, immediately east of the former New York Central passenger depot, now used by the Duneland Chamber of Commerce as its offices.

Riley began his detailed PowerPoint presentation by stating the obvious: a real restroom facility in Thomas Park is “desperately needed.” That said, Riley suggested that a rail restroom would “build on the existing strong railroad theme in Thomas Park”--which used to be known, back in the day, as Railroad Park--that it would add “color and interest to the Downtown area,” and that it would provide “enthusiasm and support for the Chesterton ‘branding effort’” currently underway.

The devil, of course, is in the details. Riley estimated the total cost of purchasing a caboose and boxcar at $70,000; that of transporting them to a contractor to retrofit them at $20,000; and that of acquiring and installing ties and rails in the park at $10,000. Total estimated preliminary cost: $100,000.

That figure, however, doesn’t include the cost of hiring an architect to design the interior specifications nor that of purchasing finish materials, of extending utilities to the site, and of building a boardwalk deck access up to the boxcar.

Still, if that initial $100,000 estimate is accurate--or at least, not particularly inaccurate--it compares favorably to the cost of the new modular restroom right now being installed at Dogwood Park: around $158,000 for the unit itself and the concrete foundation. In sum, a rail restroom would be “a little more creative and a little under budget than what was previously discussed,” Riley offered.

Riley did say that a Michigan City contractor, Mike Steward, d.b.a Preferred Contractor Services Co., has experience both in industrial water- and sand-blasting and in heavy-equipment painting, and has expressed an interest in the rail restroom project. Steward--who recently completed cleaning, blasting, and painting an old South Shore Freight caboose--also owns a South Shore caboose which he’d be willing to sell to the town as part of the project, Riley added.


Park Board members expressed, in theory, enthusiasm for Riley’s proposal.

“I like the idea,” Member Jim Crawford said. “It adds to the theme of our train history. We’ve all grown up with them in Chesterton. We might as well embrace it.”

“I think it would bring a lot to the park,” Member Cindy Tucker added. “And it would get rid of the port-a-potties.”

“I think it’s unique,” Member Paul Shinn said for his part. “My concerns are cost; timing, to get it ready for the summer; and capacity. But it’s very unique.”

For President Mark Dickinson, “the timing is right” for a rail restroom, Riley’s proposal coming as it does while funds are still left from the $2-million bond issued late in 2015.

For the record, exactly one year ago the Park Board officially added the construction of a restroom in Thomas Park to its list of possible bond projects. Inclusion on the list is no guarantee that it will get done, but it does reflect members’ seriousness of purpose.

Meanwhile, members heard on Tuesday from half a dozen or so people who spoke enthusiastically in favor of a rail restroom.

Lorelei Weimer, executive director of the Porter County Convention, Recreation, and Visitor Commission, told the board how, several years ago, she was surprised to learn from a study of Flickr tags just how frequently “Chesterton” and “trains” are tagged together. “I’m amazed by how many people travel to Chesterton for the trains and rail history.”

Chesterton resident Pat Carlisle echoed Weimer. “I wasn’t aware of the popularity of trains in Chesterton until a few years ago,” she said, when she heard from her son-in-law--who travels the country to train-spot--that the town “is high on the list of destinations for people who want to watch trains.”

Chesterton resident Wendy Marciniak sees a rail restroom as a destination in and of itself. “I think that would be a great attraction,” she said.

And just to sweeten the pot and make things more interesting, Mark Hopkins, owner of Hopkins Ace Hardware, pledged to donate to the town the toilets, plumbing, conduit, wire, and anything else needful in the way of fixtures. “Whatever it will take,” Hopkins said. “The town needs a spark and this would be a big piece of what would light that fire. We need to do something and this is a great opportunity.”

Going Forward

By unanimous votes, the Park Board took the following initial, non-binding steps on Tuesday:

*To retain the services of Robert Nicksic of James F. Giannini & Associates of Chesterton, at a cost not to exceed $18,000, to provide preliminary site work and restroom design.

*To authorize Park Superintendent Bruce Mathias and Town Engineer Mark O’Dell to obtain quotes on the purchase of a boxcar, caboose, and rails as well as on the transportation of the two railcars when acquired.

*And to authorize Mathias and O’Dell to obtain quotes on the cost of building a boardwalk deck access and of extending utilities to the site.

Dickinson noted that none of these actions in any way obligates the board actually to put a couple of renovated railcars in Thomas Park.



Posted 11/9/2017




Search This Site:

Custom Search