San Diego boy donates savings to Steamboat’s caboose renovation |

San Diego boy donates savings to Steamboat’s caboose renovation

Henry Austin, of San Diego, poses in front of the newly-restored caboose at the Depot Art Center in Steamboat Springs. When he learned his aunt needed more funds for the final touches, he gladly gave up his savings for his favorite vacation town in America.
Frances Hohl

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Photographer and local historian Dagny McKinley recently was on the phone with her sister in San Diego, giving her an update on her life in Steamboat Springs. McKinley was thrilled to tell her sister about how her latest project, the renovation of the old caboose at the Depot Art Center, was almost finished.

They just needed funds to finish the final touches: restoring the old conductor chairs and refurbishing old locks.

“My sister said, ‘Hold on, let me see if Henry and Charlie would want to donate,’” said McKinley, referring to her nephews who love to visit Steamboat Springs every year to see their aunt, the development director of the nonprofit Steamboat Creates housed in the Art Depot on 13th Street.

“That’s when Henry said he’d give us his entire piggy bank,” McKinley said.

Nine-year-old — almost 10 — Henry Austin said it wasn’t exactly a “piggy bank,” but it was his life savings of coins and birthday money he kept in a jar and an old purple bag: $300.

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Nevertheless, he was thrilled to see the restored caboose when he came to town this week for a visit.

“It looked amazing from the outside,” exclaimed the excited fifth grader. “On the inside, it was really colorful, too. I didn’t expect it to match the outside.”

Henry has been visiting Steamboat with his family since he was 6 months old.

“One of my favorite parts about being in Steamboat is the chipmunks,” he said. “They are the cutest things ever.”

Sure enough, a chipmunk came running by the caboose during a photo shoot with the young patron.

In the meantime, much like his aunt, Henry is already steeped in the history of the valley, commenting on what he likes about the caboose’s antique chairs he’s helping to refurbish.

“One chair is pointing toward Sleeping Giant, and the other one is pointing toward the ski mountain,” he explained.

Steamboat Creates renovated the old caboose as a home base for artists in residence. Each season, a new artist who can’t afford a studio is chosen to work in the caboose space.

Artist Sierra McKee is the first and current artist chosen to make her studio in the caboose this summer. Fall applications for the Caboose Artist Studio Residency can be found on the website.

But one thing has been bothering Henry in the 10 years he’s been visiting.

“I have never seen a train run through here on the railroad tracks,” said Henry shaking his head. “I haven’t seen it in my whole 10 years.”

Young Henry might need to stay a little longer in Steamboat Springs, just so he can catch the passing train cars.

Frances Hohl is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.

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