A father and daughter have created one cool place to lay your head while giving new life to old train rolling stock. In northeast Iowa sits an old SOO Line caboose overlooking a horse pasture. Inside is cozy lodging with all of the amenities of home.
On one of my California trips this year, I decided that instead of staying at a big fancy hotel, I’d lay down in an historic building fashioned into a bed and breakfast. The experience was so awesome that I’m going to give other offbeat accommodations a try on my next road trip. One place to find weird accommodations is Airbnb; that’s where you’ll find this caboose turned into a vacation rental house.
Jim Dotzenrod drove by a line of 10 cabooses parked near his home in Decorah, Iowa, Insider reports. He passed by the cabooses several times until his curiosity really took off in 2016. Then he decided that he had to have one. But what do you do with a caboose? You can’t turn it into an RV, but you can turn it into a stationary home. And that’s what Jim and his daughter Danielle did.
Jim couldn’t get one of the 10 parked cabooses, but Danielle’s then-partner found one at a nearby salvage yard. It was going to be scrapped for its iron, but for $8,000 Jim was able to save it from getting cut up. He then spent another $2,000 getting the 52,000-pound caboose home. It was brought to his property, where a short set of railroad tracks were set up for the caboose.
The railcar was built in 1973 and served the SOO Line Railroad in the Midwest. In those days, cabooses were used on every freight train. A crew housed in the caboose would monitor the train ahead for failures or damage. They also checked for the shifting of cargo.
Deregulation in the 1980s and technology brought the end to the need for trains to have cabooses. Now, railroad tracks have defect detectors and an end-of-train device takes the caboose’s place. Next time you watch a freight train go by, pay attention to the last car. You’ll likely see a yellow box with a red light attached to the back. That’s the contraption that took the place of the caboose.
Without a use, many cabooses found themselves in museums or scrapped.
Turning a caboose into a vacation home is harder than it sounds. The interior of the SOO 124 caboose featured walls of iron and the air inside had the stench of diesel. Jim cut out the walls to open up the interior and replaced them with woodwork, including turning the upper level into a bedroom accessed via staircase.
The smell of diesel was removed through power washing.
While Jim handled the woodworking, Danielle handled much of the design, including finding the caboose’s furnishings. Sadly, the renovated interior has only a couple of nods to the caboose’s past. The Dotzenrods kept some original parts around like the handrail on the ceiling and the original conductor chairs.
They reportedly spent another $4,000 on the renovation, and it took about 300 hours of work over six months. That’s not bad at all, since it has everything from a working kitchen to a bathroom in it.
I love seeing old equipment — be it buses or trains — repurposed into something new, and this hits the spot. But I do see why it’s not often I find old train equipment reused. This stuff is heavy, so it’s sort of something you set down and don’t move again. Still, I wish more people rescued old rail equipment from the scrapper.