Renovating Cabooses

As rabid railroad fans, one of our favorite places on the planet to stay is at the Caboose Motel in the Finger Lakes region of New York State. What a great concept! The madman behind this operation is Doug Baer, and he offers a unique experience in New York – caboose accommodations.

This madness began in 1986, when the first of five N5 cabooses from 1916 was restored and converted to family-size motel rooms. Every effort was made to preserve the original features of the caboose, including architectural details and structure. And the accommodations are superb. Cabooses are equipped with full bathrooms (including safe tubs), plenty of seating, nice carpeting, heating and A/C, cable TV, two original upper sleeping berths, and a single and double bed serving as a lower berth. You can sleep five or six people in Doug’s cabooses. And get this – each caboose has a volume-controlled speaker that produces train sounds!

The restoration process was arduous, as each caboose had seen decades of working service and the concomitant wear and tear. They were purchased at a Pennsylvania auction and rail-transported to Wayland, New York. From there they were offloaded to trucks for their final leg of the journey. Rail had been laid at the site just to support the heavy cabooses. You can imagine the buildup to dirt, grime, grease, soot, and smoke within each of the units. Doug recalls that there was no easy way to clean all these cars, just good old-fashioned “elbow grease” and the help of many family members. Each car’s interior was stripped, and the cabooses exteriors received autobody repair work, such as rust removal, filing and sanding, and then coats of primer and caboose-red paint. Rust was also removed from the stripped interiors. The bathroom and sink were redone, but other features were only minimally modified.

Wherever possible, original materials were used in the restoration. Sometimes, this was not practical, so reproductions were used. For instance, it was impossible to secure a 1916 caboose carpet in good condition, so Doug located carpet that matches the look and feel of the original. The owner of a carpet installation firm commented: “The restored carpet looks great and very authentic. I love all the attention to detail that Doug has lavished on these old cabooses.”

Next time you are in the Finger Lakes District, by all means visit the Caboose Motel and if possible, book a stay there overnight. Each car has a log book, and Doug would love to hear your comments.