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by Patty Cheffey
With a little help from mom and dad and a lot of encouragement from her Girl Scout troop, one rural Palmyra girl has earned her Gold Award.
Tiffany Neff, asenior at Palmyra High School, rebuilt and restored the 1917 Norfolk and Western caboose on the grounds of the North East Missouri Old Thresher in Shelbina, to earn her Gold Award, which is akin to the Eagle Scout award for Boy Scouts, and is the highest award a Girl Scout can earn.
“I picked to rebuild the caboose because this caboose has been sitting on Old Thresher’s fairgrounds for along time and it just has been falling apart,” said Neff. “No one could ride on it, so I wanted to fix it up so that people could ride on it and learn more about the history while riding on a mile-long track.”
Neff became involved in Girl Scouts in kindergarten, thanks to encouragement from her cousin, Katie Neff, who was also in Troop 9327. She stayed with that troop until fifth grade.
When that troop disbanded because girls were starting to shift their interest to other activities, Neff decided to change to Troop 9326.
“I wasn’t involved in anything else at the time, so that’s why I moved to Rachel Bode’s troop, where I became the oldest girl there by one year,” she said. “After I joined Troop 9326, we started working on our Bronze Award.”
The Bronze Award was the first step in Neff’s journey to the Gold Award, and included working with the other girls, doing 20 hours of volunteer work.
“We made care bags for foster kids, with stuffed animals and homemade blankets. Each of them also had hygiene supplies,” said Neff.
In sixth grade, the troop moved on to their Silver Award, working 50 hours, volunteering at Beth Haven Nursing Home in Hannibal, and occasionally at Maple Lawn Nursing Home.
“Every Halloween we would help the residents decorate and pass out candy, and then for Christmas we would decorate everything with a Christmas theme and sing Christmas carols.”
The final step for Neff was then achieving her Gold Award, for which she had to do at least 80 hours of leadership work and do the work herself.
That involved a trip to St. Louis to the Girl Scouts Headquarters to get her project approved, which she did.
Then COVID hit.
“Because of COVID, I got nothing done because lumber prices went up, and I had to wait and see if those prices would come down,” Neff said.
When that didn’t happen Neff took matters in her own hands and, with the help of her parents, went out into the woods to cut down and saw lumber for the project.
“My dad cut down the trees because I was not allowed to, but when it came to sawing the lumber, I did that for the most part,” Neff said. “My dad and mom, Eddie and Paula Neff, helped me when it came to lifting the cut pieces of lumber, but other than that I mostly did everything else.”
With some help from the Old Thresher members, including Scott Boyer, her mentor on the project and one of the train engineers, Neff worked on renovating the caboose through the summer of 2022.
“I tried my best to get the same design of the caboose back to how it was. From the colors to the layout and to the numbers on top of the caboose, I tried to keep everything the same” said Neff, noting she had to replace the outside of the caboose because it was failing apart.
“On the inside, there is still the toilet and the stove with a sink and old-style fridge,” she added.
By the second week of September, she was teaching kids and adults about the history of the caboose while they got to ride on the mile-long track at Old Threshers.
While she mainly talks about the caboose and her project during Old Threshers, she also made a presentation during the Chuckwagon Round-Up for Honor Flight.
“From 2020-2022, when the caboose was not all the way done, I would teach people about the caboose and the train,” she said. “I talk about the factus like how the term ‘caboose’ is from the Dutch word kabuki. I also tell them that T.B. Watson was the inventor of the design of the caboose.”
She also notes the average caboose only lasts 70 years, but this one is 105 years old and one of only 24 1917 Norfolk and Western cabooses left in the United States.
Neff was already involved with the Old Thresher event when she decided to take on this project, after getting it approved for her Gold Award.
“I have been going to Old Threshers all my life,” she said. “My dad runs the train, and I usually take school kids on tours of the village side of the fair, so I have been teaching people and kids about this kind of stuff practically my whole life.”
With the completion of her project, Neff has officially earned her Gold Award with 102 hours of leadership work. The actual award will be presented to her during a ceremony in June, she said.