The black and yellow boxcar with a logo for the Monon railroad isn’t just another rail car passing by Chesterton’s Thomas Centennial Park.
Inside, the wood has been stained a deep brown and tile that looks like reclaimed wood borders the walls, accented with blue walls.
The former 1962 refrigerated box car is now serving as men’s and women’s bathrooms, with baby changing stations in each, providing greater amenities to the many people who visit the park throughout the seasons for the town’s European Market in the warmer months and the Hometown Holiday Market and Mistletoe Market when the weather grows cooler.
“It adds so much to the park,” said Candy Tucker, the park board’s vice president. “You’re not seeing plastic port-a-potties. You’re seeing a beautiful train car and boxcar, which fits with Chesterton.”
A red caboose, painted with the Norfolk Southern logo, sits beside the boxcar for eventual use as a warming and cooling center.
After a ribbon-cutting ceremony at noon Wednesday, the Hometown Holiday Market runs from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday. The event includes the European Market, carriage rides, a tree-lighting ceremony, a twilight Christmas parade and visits with Santa Claus. The Mistletoe Market follows from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 1.
Work to refurbish the caboose has been on hold until the bathrooms were complete. There’s no timeline or cost estimate for that work yet, which likely will include volunteer work, said Jennifer Gadzala, project coordinator for bringing the rail cars to the downtown park.
In addition to heat and air conditioning, town officials would like the caboose to have a drop-down party so it can host parties. The interior also will likely include a donated church pew for some of the seating as well as other amenities, including a game table, to make it a small event center.
“This will be the next phase,” said Mark O’Dell, the town’s engineer and building commissioner.
The bathrooms, Tucker said, were a major accomplishment that town officials have been talking about for years.
The project was funded through a mix of a town bond issue, crowd funding, town funds and private donations. Gadzala has estimated the total cost at more than $300,000.
“It’s because of the uniqueness of this project,” O’Dell said. “To the city and the park board, it’s worth it.”
Brickwork in front of the rail cars is scheduled to take place this winter, with landscaping and a drinking fountain, as well as fencing at the base of the cars to keep curious children from climbing under them, to follow in the spring.
While the town might close the bathrooms in January and February when people aren’t regularly populating the park, O’Dell said they can be opened up for special events.
The cars arrived at the park in mid-July after being painted in Michigan City. The rail cars sit on a section of track that’s parallel to the train tracks that pass through downtown Chesterton, with a wood ramp providing accessibility to both cars.
“You’ll feel a little rumble as they come through,” O’Dell said of the trains that pass by the now-still boxcar and caboose.
The trains, a nod to Chesterton’s past, also are meant to help establish its future.
“It just adds to the historic ambience we’ve had since the 1800s,” Gadzala said.
A recent branding effort to promote downtown recommends 250 days of events in the heart of the town. The train cars, O’Dell said, will facilitate that goal.