(WSVN) - Plans to save a rolling piece of Florida’s history were almost derailed, but one man’s love of trains made sure that did not happen. 7’s Karen Hensel has tonight’s special assignment report, “Back on Track.”

Clearly, Richard Beall is a big fan of trains. You can see that in this incredibly detailed model he is building in his home.

But Richard rode real trains for almost half a century. He is a retired engineer, having worked for both the Florida East Coast Railway and Tri-Rail.

Richard Beall, restored historic caboose: “I drove the freight trains, I drove the commuter trains, passenger trains. I’ve run Ringling Brothers trains, you name it.”

Riding the rails is one thing. Rebuilding a historic rail car is an entirely different challenge.

Richard Beall: “I didn’t know anything about restoring a caboose.”

And not just any caboose. Number 715 was the last remaining car from a fleet of 60 originals custom built in 1925 for the Florida East Coast Railway system.

Richard Beall: “It’s the lone survivor. There’s not another one around.”

The Florida East Coast Railway was started in the late 1800s by oil tycoon Henry Flagler. The railroad eventually connected cities up and down the Florida east coast, helping turn the Sunshine State into a vacation destination.

Richard Beall: “This caboose on Henry Flagler’s old railroad made many trips down the Overseas Railroad to Key West. It’s a very historic piece of equipment right here.”

But long since retired, the old caboose fell into disrepair. Hurricane Andrew toppled it over at the Pioneer Museum in Florida City.

By 2009…

Richard Beall: “They said, ‘Hey, this has got to go, and if you can’t find a place for it, it’s going to get scrapped.'”

In 2012, the 54,000-pound rail car was lifted by cranes onto a flatbed truck and driven to the Gold Coast Railroad Museum in Southwest Miami-Dade. It had a new home, but the same old problem.

Richard Beall: “It was in such bad shape that you wouldn’t have dared walk in it. You would have fallen right through the floor.”

At risk of being scrapped again, Richard raised nearly $200,000 to strip and fully restore the rail car to its former glory.

Richard Beall: “We had to demo it completely — every last stick of wood, right down to the frame.”

After a year and a half of work, last month — ironically, on July 15 — Number 715 was back.

Richard Beall: “This is it. This is the complete restoration here.”

From the bright red exterior, to the intricate interior…

Richard Beall: “Every piece of wrought iron on this train is original.”

This is how it looked almost a century ago.

Richard Beall: “This is the old stove, and they could cook inside here.”

Our cameras were on board for one of 715’s first rides with passengers, taking families on a winding track through the museum’s property.

Abdi Sanz, museum visitor: “Super exciting, because I teach English, but I work hand in hand with the history department, and so, I saw like ‘Flagler’ on the outside of the train, and I was like, ‘I think it’s Henry Flagler’s.'”

Museum visitor: “This train is pretty old, and pretty fired up.”

Museum visitor: “I would tell my friends that it’s really fun and awesome.”

For Richard, the caboose’s restoration brings him back to his childhood. His late father, Chuck, was also a train engineer, and happened to be the last person to drive the train pulling 715 on rails, back in 1967.

Richard Beall: “The good folks here at Gold Coast said, ‘Hey, Richard, you’ve got to be the one to move it the first time since your dad did 54 years ago.'”

A father and son, bonded by a love of trains.

Richard Beall: “It’s like, somehow, I know he knows.”

And a piece of Florida history back on track.

FOR MORE INFO:
Gold Coast Railroad Museum

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