St. Joseph & Grand Island 48

StJ&GI 48 begins its flight off of the semi trailer. March 26, 1999.
StJ&GI 48 begins its flight off of the semi trailer. March 26, 1999.

Back in 1998, the idea took root in my head that it would not only be fun, but perhaps possible, to acquire a caboose and place it in our backyard. The house we were then living in (in Niwot, Colorado) had plenty of room in the back for such a venture and my wife thought the idea had merit, so I began casually looking around for one.

In March of 1999, I was talking with a friend of mine who owned some railroad equipment and mentioned that I thought it would be neat to have a caboose in my yard. He said that there was the body of a wood caboose at the Forney Transportation Museum in Denver, which was moving to a new location at the time. The caboose was set to be destroyed if it did not find a new home. My friend put me in touch with the folks at the Museum, and sure enough it was true. There was a wooden 40’ long caboose body that needed to be out of its present location, one way or the other, by that Friday at noon (this was Monday morning) and I could have it if I wanted it.

StJ&GI 48 at the old Forney Museum in Denver (now an REI Flagship store), March 1999.
StJ&GI 48 at the old Forney Museum in Denver (now an REI Flagship store), March 1999.

My wife and I jumped in the truck after work that day and drove down to Denver to have a look at the caboose. What we saw was a very big and very decrepit wood caboose of unknown heritage. While my wife was, quite sensibly, skeptical, I immediately decided it was perfect. (I have a soft spot for decrepit wooden railcars and am quite convinced that they all can, and therefore should, be saved.)

My friend who started this whole thing by telling me about the caboose put me in touch with a trucker and a crane company and we began planning the move. Turns out that the truck driver and I had raced motocross together in the late 80’s and early 90’s and that the crane company not only used to own the caboose but had given it to the Museum in 1984.

home
StJ&GI 48 at its new home in Niwot, March 26, 1999. The caboose would spend the next 13 years here.

Meanwhile, I had a bunch of work to do at the house, including cutting down a tree, building a “foundation” of railroad ties to set the caboose on and making sure the county land use department would not freak out about what I was doing. I called the county, they said it was AOK, no permit needed as long as I was not living in it or running utilities to it, so I proceeded to cut down the tree and build the “foundation”. As anyone who has ever dealt with Boulder County, Colorado, in any fashion can attest, things could not be as easy as they seemed! That said, it took them over a year to freak out about the caboose, but after threatening to destroy it for me and denying everything they had told me when I called, the issue was eventually solved to their satisfaction when I choked out $28.00 for a building permit.

A much younger me posing in front of my caboose while it waits to be unloaded in Niwot, Colorado on March 26, 1999. Funny enough, a restored CB&Q wood caboose now occupies the spot where StJ&GI 48 is sitting in the photo. The land is now a community “park”.
A much younger me posing in front of my caboose while it waits to be unloaded in Niwot, Colorado on March 26, 1999. Funny enough, a restored CB&Q wood caboose now occupies the spot where StJ&GI 48 is sitting in the photo. The land is now a community “park”.

At any rate, everything went smoothly and on Friday, March 26, 1999, the caboose moved to its new home in Niwot, Colorado. While the move was fun and came with a great sense of accomplishment for completing the project, I was left with a bit of a sinking feeling that night when I looked out at the caboose and it struck me that now I had to fix it, I had no idea where to start and didn’t even know what the caboose was (as far as its history).

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