John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

Month: July, 2021

A Dream Denied

“So, you want to own a caboose?” That was the headline on a one-page article in the August 2021 edition of Trains, the best magazine around for railroad fans. The article included a photograph of Dan Larkin, the proud owner of a former Delaware & Hudson wide-vision cupola steel caboose, No.35713 built by International Car Co. in 1959.

The article, written by Jim Wrinn, goes on to explain that Mr. Larkin bought his caboose in October of 2020. Mr. Wrinn explained: “The car is in what is referred to as ‘caboose village’ in Northfield, NH, where 20 privately owned cabooses reside.”

What the article didn’t say but what I read between the lines was that Mr. Larkin had bought his caboose as is, where is at its current location and that any plans he had for it didn’t include moving it.

In 1997, I had a far more ambitious dream to buy a late model caboose made of steel or stainless steel and have it shipped to our property in Marlow, New Hampshire where I planned to use it as a guest bungalow.

I set out to determine the necessary steps needed to pull this off. I picked a good location, between our house and the road now occupied by a basketball / badminton court. Once I selected my caboose, I would have the site prepared and contact a contractor to install a gravel roadbed, ties and tracks. Once the caboose arrived,  a crane would have to lift it from a flatbed truck and lower it onto the stretch of track. I would use the contractor to install the needed improvements including water, electricity, insulation and a septic system to convert the empty shell into a livable abode.

As I was a complete novice, I decided my first step was to learn just how available cabooses were. I did locate a promising source, Anderson Steel Flange RR Equipment of Fairfield, Iowa. Anderson sent me their catalog rich in its color photographs, drawing and explanations of a variety of railroad equipment including passenger cars, cabooses, boxcars and Fairmont motorcars. I was particularly drawn to this statement: “If needed, we can also assist with transportation and set-up.”

They didn’t list prices, but the Trains’ piece includes an interview with John Suscheck, the owner of Ozark Mountain Railcar in Kirbyville, Missouri, an operation similar to Anderson’s. Mr.Suscheck noted that a basic caboose can cost about $10,000 while one with upgrades like heat and a/c, modern restrooms, kitchen, accommodations, etc. can fetch $50,000.

Still interested? Jim Winn included this passage: “But that’s just the start. There’s moving and renovations.

Says Suscheck: ‘Keep in mind that moving rail equipment either by road or rail is expensive. I normally tell buyers the best option will be to have the car trucked so you can contract the price up front”

The article explains that sending your caboose by rail can become a nightmare. There are prepping costs before the ICC will approve it is ready to ride the rails. Just as importantly, rail tariffs run between $10 and $25 per mile. Those miles can include a significant amount of back-tracking at the railroad operator’s discretion. The caboose’s owner is responsible for all those extra miles. Add to that the increased risk of damage and vandalism during this unsupervised journey and shipment by rail loses all appeal..

Mr. Larkin figured that between purchase and renovations he has invested about $20,000 in his caboose. Also, if I read between the lines correctly, he is keeping his car exactly where it is.

If I had been in the market for my dream caboose today, reading that article would have brought it to a sudden stop, but reality was such that my dream died way before I reached that stage.

After discovering that Anderson was a possible source for my caboose, my next step was to write  to the Marlow Board of Selectmen. In November of 1997, I sent them the following note to alert them to my plans: “I am considering installing a caboose on my property. My plan would be to have a sufficient length of railroad track with the caboose installed on this track. Please advise if there are permits or variances that must be complied with before I proceed.”

The Board of Selectmen replied ten days later: “You must obtain a building permit for this item prior to bringing anything to your property. You must also abide by Marlow’s setback requirements. As you already have a residence on your property, you cannot use the caboose for human habitation. Sincerely, J,N, Ferrer,-chair’s”


Seriously! It turned out that our ten acres was insufficient to support two habitable dwellings. A stupid zoning law prevented me from pursuing what would have been one of the bigger disasters in my life.

But at the time, I saw it as: Marlow-One, Delach-Zero. A dream denied!

 Live Free or Die, my ass.

Now, of course, I see it as: “Thank you Jesus.                  

Sarah and the Waiter

It had been a grand day to spend hiking in the Canadian Rockies. We had trekked along a trail that followed the Bow River.  Accompanied by my sister, Sarah, her friends, Molly and Agnes, we had enjoyed magnificent views of the river, lakes and falls all framed by the endless mountains. Our attempts at stealth had been rewarded by moose, elk and mountain goat sightings. I was happy that we had not stumbled across a grizzly or black bear. I feared the ladies’ city skills would not protect them. Secretly, I also doubted the extent of my own skill.

After a delightful morning of hiking followed by a picnic lunch, we were weary and all to ready to return to civilization. We piled into the estate wagon for the drive to the Banff Springs Hotel. Having access to a car was a new experience for all of us. War rationing had only ended last spring and our vacation was a unique break before we all returned to university. I drove our Nash across the river and onto the road leading to this imposing stone structure built by the Canadian Pacific Railroad to pamper its important travelers. Parking a short distance from the main entrance, I approached the doorman and asked, “Excuse me, can you accommodate three young ladies and myself for a drink and a snack? We have been hiking and we are all dressed in sporting gear.”

“Yes sir, the Mount Rundle Room is just such a place.” Bring your automobile up to the front door and I will have the valet park it. When you pay your bill, the waiter will validate the receipt providing you with free parking.”

“Thank you, “ I replied, “that will be swell.” I give him a half-dollar as a tip. Walking away, I wondered if my tip was probably more than the cost of parking.

The doorman directed us to the stairs leading to the mezzanine and the café. Although we found it without difficulty, the hostess seemed reluctant to seat us. “Is there a problem?” Sarah asked, her voice guarded.

“No miss, not really.”

But her demeanor demonstrated s certain discomfort, so I imposed myself between Sarah and the hostess. “What is your concern?”

“I am so sorry sir, but we are serving high tea. I can sit your party, but would you mind if it is here, close to reception. I am afraid the seats with the view of the river are occupied by others.”

I looked at the opposite end of the room. Ladies and gentlemen were taking tea dressed in Sunday finery. “ One moment,” I replied to her.

The four of us huddled and I suggested, “Come ladies, let us sit here and conspire in this private location. If we are discreet, you may all have Champagne and mother will never know.” Agnes and Molly gladly accept this compromise. Sarah bristled but chose silence.

Pleased with our decision, our hostess exclaimed: “Wonderful, I will have Hans, your waiter come right over.”

After a delay, Hans reluctantly arrived. “Ah, my good fellow, champagnes for the ladies and I will have a Canadian Club and soda.”

“ I do not wish to serve you because of the way the ladies are dressed.”

I was stunned. “I beg your pardon. Who do you think you are speaking to in this manner?” I felt my voice rising, but then, I saw the look of rage in Sarah’s eyes. Sarah was about to begin a tirade; her goal to destroy Hans. Immediately, I thought, “Poor Hans.”

Poor Hans indeed. But, before Sarah could begin, the hostess intervened, “How dare you! Hans, we have had this conversation before. Now off to the kitchen where I will deal with you privately.”

Looking directly at Sarah, she continued, “I am terribly sorry for this incident. Please accept your refreshments with us today as being complimentary of the hotel.”

To my relief, Sarah made a conscious effort to regain control and not make a scene. Instead, she looked directly at the hostess and said, “Thank you.”

Our table turned quiet, spirts saddened by that near-confrontation. Once drinks arrived,

the alcohol worked its magic restoring gaiety. A second round returned us to our original good mood. Too soon, it was time to leave as to not be late for mother and dinner.

I tipped and thanked our hostess. Feeling good about the outcome, I handed the receipt for the auto to the valet. Sarah observed and drew near, “So George, if you are such a smoothie, why didn’t you have your new friend validate your claims check?”

I remained silent as I turned away from my sister while I mumbled to myself, Dear Sarah, what a pill you can be. Hans managed to  avoid your serpent tongue, so you took it out on me.

Urban Bonfire

“C’mon, c’mon, grab a tree, don’t be slow and show some hustle.”

It is January 2nd, a Friday, eight days after Christmas. It is also a pick-up day for the NYC garbage men to collect discarded Christmas trees from the gated disposal areas in front of our four and six-story railroad flats in Ridgewood, Queens. Several gated areas are full of discarded Christmas trees.

 “C’mon, c’mon,” the older boys shout, “Grab a tree.”

Joey and I do as we are told. Being nine years old, both of us are excited and want to stay on the big boys’ good side. We claim a tree from the gate in front of 1821 Himrod Street. “Charlie, you take the back and I’ll take the front.” Joey orders.

I carefully pick-up the tree by its thick, lower branches so I don’t get sap on my hands and clothes. As we lift the tree, a forgotten glass ornament detaches and shatters as it hits the sidewalk. Hearing it break, I look at the tree. The branches are stiff and dry, but the tree retains its abandoned decorations. Tinsel, pink and white popcorn, a string of multi-colored lights and three or four other ornaments still adorn it.

Joey breaks into a run pulling me with him. Boys, carrying discarded trees,  are running to the vacant lot from several different directions, some from the other side of Senaca Avenue. When we reach the pile of trees, it is already three feet high. “Throw it on top,” Christie, the meanest of the big boys, shouts.

Joey and I look at each other. We count to three and let it go. It is a good throw, but before our tree reaches the top, it snags the branch of another tree and falls back bouncing off lower ones until it hits the ground. An angry Christie shouts, “Get out of here you babies.”

Admonished and shamed, Joey and I re-cross Senaca Avenue so we can watch the pile grow from a safe distance. The pile must reach 30 to 40 trees before the big boys stop building it. Then they stuff newspaper between the branches of the bottom trees and light them with wooden kitchen matches. The flame flares, but quickly goes out merely turning newspaper to ash. The trees fail to ignite even though they try two or three more times as they still contain enough sap to defeat the boys.

Christie yells, “Put more paper in and get away from the pile. I’ll take care of this.”

After the boys follow his order, Christie pulls a can of Ronson lighter fluid from his pocket and uses it to saturate the paper. “Watch what happens now,” he commands as he strikes a match and holds it to the paper.

The newspaper burns hotter and longer. Finally, the tree closest to his artificially set conflation catches. In seconds, flames engulf more and more trees. Then it seems like the whole pile explodes. Flames shoot high toward near-by buildings as the air crackles with the sound of the trees being destroyed in a fire storm. Shouts erupt from the building closest to the out-of-control bonfire. Boys begin running. Joey and I retreat further away as the sound of sirens begins to fill the air.

From multiple directions, police squad cars, fire engines and two fire chief cars reach the scene. But in the short time it takes the police and firemen to  arrive, the blaze has already consumed its fuel and has subsided. All that remains are black sticks and an awful stench.

The authorities are angry. They fan out grabbing as many kids as they can. Many rat out Christie right away telling the cops where he is hiding. The cops find him in an alley hiding behind garbage cans. He starts to cry.

As I watch him being hauled away, I sense that somehow, he saw me watching his humiliation. This is not good, as I know the beating, he will receive from his father will only make him meaner and sooner or later, it will be my turn.

The great 1954 post-Christmas season urban bonfire is over, the only one I recall having been a participant.

Ironically, that same year, my friend, Joey, and his family were burned out of their apartment when a neighbor’s water heater short-circuited. His family all escaped except for their cocker spaniel, Honey, who was a nice dog.

I never saw Joey again.