A Dream Denied
by John Delach
“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”
“YOU CANNOT USE THE CABOOSE FOR HUMAN HABITATION!’
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.