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Cowboy Museum Gets A Facelift
Builder T.W. Schwartz employees work on sealing the window panes and filling in cracks and gaps on the south side of the Oakdale Cowboy Museum building recently, preparing it for paint. - photo by Dawn M. Henley/The Leader

The Oakdale Cowboy Museum is ready for its close up.

A few nips and tucks have helped the old building to put on its best face, making it look like a younger, fresher version of itself.

Restoration and renovation on the building, being done by builder T.W. Schwartz, started in mid-February and is expected to be finished just in time for the Oakdale Rodeo. The Oakdale Cowboy Museum building was originally a train depot for the Southern Pacific Railroad. According to excerpts from old Oakdale Leader articles, the Southern Pacific (SP) depot commenced building in September 1897 and shortly thereafter, employees moved from the old depot, which was located just south of the current building, and the new depot was painted in early October 1897.

The depot eventually came into the ownership of the City of Oakdale and was leased out to the Oakdale Foundation for the Arts, which set about restoring the building. The depot was once red in color, around the 1980s. The Foundation’s major restoration also included returning the building to its original yellow color. The restoration project was completed in June 1993.

Oakdale Cowboy Museum Director Christie Camarillo reported that they opened their doors in 1996 during Oakdale Rodeo week. The Cowboy Museum, born out of a Chamber of Commerce idea, started in the 500 square feet suite at the south end of the building, formerly the depot’s freight room, and expanded over time. In 1997, its own board was formed and it obtained 501(c)(3) status. Then in 2001, the Cowboy Museum bought the 104-year-old building from the city for the fair market appraised value of $118,000. The exterior needed a fresh coat of paint again, and some other restoration projects were performed at that time, including removing layers of carpet, linoleum, and adhesive in order to reveal the old wood floors.

Camarillo said they haven’t done anything to the building since 2001 and now the work required to get it back in shape is a big deal.

“Sun and rain have done a number on the building,” she said.

The projects required to get it back in shape have included sanding and scraping of old exterior paint to prepare it for new paint, repairing and replacing dry rotted boards, window sills, and fascia boards, caulking of cracks and gaps, resealing the window panes, and a fresh coat of interior paint.

Two new interior doorway openings were also created. There were four suites in the building, each housing a separate part of the museum. Camarillo said she would have to walk outside each time she wanted to go to a different part of the museum. With the addition of two new interior doorways, all four suites are now connected.

“Now it’s so nice. We have such a great flow,” she noted.

T.W. Schwartz employees have done a lot of handcraft to keep the historic value, Camarillo said, pointing out that it’s not caulking that has stopped the panes in the windows from rattling. It’s the small, thin pieces of wood that were replaced and stapled in place around the edges of each pane of glass.

“We’re trying to stay true to the original materials,” said Adam Schwartz of T.W. Schwartz. “You can’t find anything that looks like this nowadays, and it wouldn’t look right if we did it different.”

Camarillo said that the Cowboy Museum has been able to pay for the work due to grant money received and fundraising activities, and operating “lean” because they knew the building needed work.

“I think our success has been through hard work, determination, and the support of a generous community who wants to keep our western heritage alive,” she added.

Other projects still slated are to replace the housing that hides the air conditioning compressors and garbage cans, as well as some shelving to be added in the newly created retail shop made possible due to the freeing up of interior space. The gift shop will feature Oakdale-specific and Cowboy Capital-specific items, DVDs of some of the local Cowboy Museum honorees, books, and T-shirts.

The Oakdale Cowboy Museum has remained open during the renovation and hours are currently Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., but Camarillo said they plan to expand the museum hours once the renovation is complete.