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'I think I can' ... Third-grader has grand plans for old Engine No. 16

Cloquet’s Kaden Gariepy, 9, waves from the front of the Duluth & Northeastern Railroad engine No. 16 in Fauley Park. Gariepy would like to see a light burning in the fixture atop the train and other improvements and he’s working to make it happen. Photos by Jana Peterson/jpeterson@pinejournal.com1 / 4
Kaden Gariepy’s drawing of the train. 2 / 4
Kaden, left, and Charity Gariepy stand on the caboose platform in Fauley Park. Kaden wants to renovate the interior of the caboose so people can see inside of it, maybe through a plexiglass door, or maybe on special occasions, like the Fourth of July.3 / 4
Retired city engineer Jim Prusak, left, and Les Peterson, supervisor of streets and parks for the city of Cloquet, talk trains and train plans at Fauley Park last week.4 / 4

Like the story of "The Little Engine That Could," the word "can't" doesn't appear to be part of 9-year-old Kaden Gariepy's vocabulary.

Especially when it comes to the historic train that makes its home in Cloquet's Fauley Park.

Kaden spotted the Duluth & Northeastern Railroad engine No. 16 and its teal caboose not long after moving to Cloquet. The third grader enjoys climbing up on the train to check out the old steam engine, and to wave goodbye from the platform behind the caboose. Kaden has been drawing detailed pictures of all-things-trains since he was four, mom said.

But he wanted more.

Kaden's mom, Charity Gariepy, tells how she overheard her very extroverted son making a bunch of plans one day, but she wasn't sure what he was talking about.

"He was talking about needing head lamps and a bell rope and a remodeled caboose so the whole town of Cloquet can see it," Charity said.

"I think I can, I think I can, I think I can."

So, his mother took him to the Carlton County Historical Society so he could learn more about old engine No. 16 and the history of trains in the area.

According to a history of the train compiled by H.C. Larson in 1979, No. 16 worked hard hauling saw logs and railroad workers, then hunters and blueberry pickers from 1913 until retirement in 1964, despite falling through a bridge into the St. Louis River in March 1917, then being damaged in the 1918 fires as it was berthed for the night in the roundhouse on Dunlap Island. Fire struck old No. 16 again in 1952, but she was repaired and returned to service again each time disaster struck.

While he was there, Kaden told CCHS Director Rachael Martin about his plans for the train.

"Mom, we need to go to City Hall," he announced after their visit to the museum on Cloquet Avenue.

"I think I can, I think I can, I think I can."

So Charity took him to City Hall, where Kaden found a willing listener in Ann Kolodge. Meanwhile, unknown to the youngster, Les Peterson was eavesdropping on their conversation. As the supervisor for city parks and streets, Peterson knows a thing or two about the train.

"Hearing this 8-9 year old talk, all this excitement and big ideas, you think 'Holy smoke, where did this come from?'" Peterson said. "Most kids are too involved with their phones to think about stuff like this. It's fun to see."

Peterson arranged to meet Kaden and his mom at the train on a day when he had more time to talk to Kaden about his ideas for the train. After giving Kaden some homework — to draw his visions of a remodeled caboose — he arranged for the three of them to meet with retired city engineer Jim Prusak, who is a member of the Rotary Club. The Rotary has adopted the train and Fauley Park (named after the Cloquet Depot agent who likely saved thousands of citizens when he ordered as many trains as possible to come evacuate Cloquet on the day the fires of 1918 destroyed nearly all of the town).

Prusak showed took everyone inside the caboose, which is a little worse for the wear after a homeless smoker decided to live there for a time, but its bones are good.

The Rotary Club repainted the train last summer, and is working to keep fixing it up, so Kaden found a kindred soul in Prusak.

"Maybe there are some retired people from the DNA Railroad that could might be interested in helping out, or maybe other community members," Prusak said. "It's seen better days, but it's a basically a big chunk of iron. It's not indestructible, but it's not far from it either."

"We're looking into security," chimed in a very serious Kaden.

The train is a popular stopping point for people, especially when the weather is warmer, Prusak said.

"They like to take a look and come and climb on it," he said.

If Kaden has his way, visitors will get an even better experience someday. He has three main ideas to improve the train.

"Add a bell rope so people can ring it; put lights [in the light boxes on top of the train] and remodel the caboose," Kaden said. "I want people to be able to go inside the caboose and see how it used to look back then. I want people to see back into history."

For now, the group is still in the ideas phase, but they're pondering the next step: recruiting helpers and fundraising.

"I think I can, I think I can, I think I can."

"You get a kid like this involved, then maybe later on they will be there to help keep things pristine," Peterson said.

Editor's note: The line "I think I can, I think I can, I think I can," is taken from "The Little Engine that Could," originally published in 1930. The story is used to teach children the value of optimism and hard work. To get involved in the train efforts, call Les Peterson at the city of Cloquet at 218-879-6555.