The combined efforts of the Pine Ridge Cemetery Board and Heritage Group North in Pine River resulted in restoration for tombstones and the historic caboose in Pine River.

It all began when Heritage Group North sought specialists to fix the 1887 caboose stationed near the Pine River Depot.

“The problems we were having, there was some deterioration of the wood siding along the bottom edge and the main problem is the membrane on the roof totally deteriorated,” said Alan Johnson, Heritage Group North project director and cemetery board member. “We went for advice to the Railroad Museum in Duluth. In the process of looking for a consultant there they recommended Northern Bedrock (Historic Preservation Corps). As it turned out they were perfect. Not only did they specialize in historic restoration of cabooses, but even more so they do restoration on cemeteries. We needed a lot of help at the cemetery.”

In the cemetery, many stones were in need of attention. Some mosses and lichens were growing out of control, some stones were leaning, at least one had completely fallen over into a shallow dip created with the collapse of the burial vault behind it.

Northern Bedrock's price for work at the cemetery and on the caboose would come with a hefty price tag totaling $10,000 for eight days of work.

Many are unaware that cemeteries are in financially difficult times. A great number of people are being cremated and that translates to fewer burial plots being sold. As a result, the cost of mowing and other maintenance at the cemetery is a major expense, and cleaning and straightening headstones is not in the budget.

“We started raising money but we couldn't get the money raised,” Johnson said. “They found a grant for $5,000 of that, which they are basically paying for half of the cost through a grant.”

Since spring there have been boards at the cemetery asking for donations to help pay the remaining amount. Between those donations and other private donors, Northern Bedrock was hired and came to Pine River July 11-17. In just a few days they reset more than 60 stones and cleaned more than 80.

In addition to leveling stones and cleaning, they also filled low spots where burial vaults had collapsed. Perhaps more important, they taught willing cemetery board and Heritage Group North members the proper equipment to use to hoist heavy stones for leveling, proper adhesives for holding two-part headstones together and proper chemicals for scrubbing stones.

“The hope is in the future we will supply education or training, if you will, and materials, and family members can clean stones for their family or maybe we can get work groups out there of some form,” Johnson said. “Maybe have potlucks. Come and work a couple hours. Have dinner, work a couple more hours and complete all the work that needs to be done out there. Some of the leveling, it's been difficult to mow because it's so uneven. We're hoping this work will reduce the cost of ongoing maintenance out there.”

In addition to the fee for Northern Bedrock Historic Preservation Corps, the cemetery also received donations of topsoil from Schrupp Excavating, pea rock and gravel from Knife River of Baxter, and the city of Pine River provided a water tank with cribbing for the project. Denny and Annette Houg also hosted and fed the workers from Northern Bedrock.

Of course, the caboose also saw some repairs. This is the most extensive restoration on the caboose since 1987.