All Aboard: Tiny Houses Take to the Rails

“…what thrills me about trains is not their size or their equipment but the fact that they are moving, that they embody a connection between unseen places.”
~ Marianne Wiggins

I remember the first few lines as if I read them just this morning. “One warm night four children stood in front of a bakery. No one knew them. No one knew where they had come from.” And thus began the adventure of the boxcar children and a lifelong fascination of mine with life in a rail car.

It seems that trains hold this special place in the American collective memory. They evoke this element of grandeur and this air of mystery. From the glamour of the 20th Century Limited to the suspense of Agatha Christie’s Orient Express trains have shaped the landscape literally, figuratively, and academically for the better part of 120 years.

20th Century Limited

Even now rail afficianados and travelers can enjoy a slight upgrade by hitching their own rail car to an engine and caboose. In fact, according to the Amtrak website:

Amtrak provides the ability for rail/train car owners to have their privately-owned rail/train cars attached to our trains between specified locations to see North America in an extraordinary way. We also provide many services, including 480v standby power, water, ice, septic, car wash, parking, and switching.

The charges to the owner of the private car include an annual registration fee, concurrent with the annual PC-1 inspection, as well as a mileage rate based on the number of cars on that particular movement request and other charges based on the services requested. View our Private Car Tariff terms and conditions, and other information about private car movements.

This is great news for normal people like Chuck Jensen. In 2011 he was interviewed by the Washington Post in an article talking about rail car owners and the subjects of their passion. Jensen had recently hooked up his refurbished 1923 Pullman sleeper – the Kitchi Gammi Club – and was preparing to host a group of guests chartering the car.

Charter outings and private parties are what typically pay the expenses of these interesting tiny houses which annually cost upwards of $18,200 (adjust for inflation) for annual storage, insurance and maintenance costs. The Kitchi Gammi is a Pullman sleeper originally built in Calumet City, IL in June and July of 1923. The car was originally named the Mountain View and was built to Pullman plan 2521C, lot 4690. There were twenty cars built to this plan, known as the Mountain series of which only 20 were originally built as 10-section observation lounge cars with an open observation platform. The Kitchi Gammi boasts a kitchen, a kitchenette, two bathrooms, 5 dining tables, a master bedroom, a crew bedroom, and a lounge to seat 10.

Kimmi Gitchi

In the past few years though the idea of live aboard trains has taken on new meaning. As more and more people search for smaller housing, unconventional housing, and sustainable (by way of recycling) housing, emphasis has been put on refurbishing old rail cars and living in them as a immobile unit. Perhaps the most popular though is the Caboose as trains no longer carry them regularly and rail companies are modifying their stock and decommissioning their old. Many of them require major work though and are not cheap to restore at all. One example of a truly glorious restoration is the 1949 Railroad Caboose owned by Samuel and Barbara Davidson of Mercer Island, Washington.

Robinson Caboose 1

At 260 square feet the Davidson’s have lived in their caboose for over 30 years! The design features floor-to-ceiling picture windows on one side overlooking a large 8′ x  20′ private deck and sits on actual rails. The home serves as a live/work space for the Davidson family and for the occasional renter. Some of the restoration work (and cool, original features) include the Otis Elevator metalwork in the bathroom and the stained glass window on the outside door. The tiny house has been updated though with the addition of electricity, heat, water, washer/dryer, and a full kitchen. It is a modern day work of art based on a nostalgic art foundation.

Robinsons 2

Robinsons 3

 

photos via Apartment Therapy

Whether mobile or stationary train cars offer a new way of tiny house living. They speak to the nostalgic vision of a traveling America while also providing a warm, cozy, and interesting way to adventure through this world.

 

By Andrew M. Odom for the [Tiny House Blog]

Hal’s Caboose

by Hal McClendon

Some of you may have seen the article of the little cabin on wheels Kent published on this blog May 29th, 2013. Thanks to all who commented on the post. Anyways, that post drew interest from some folks in Portland, Oregon that own and operate according to them, the first tiny house hotel. They contacted me asking if I would consider building another tiny house for their hotel. As mentioned in the previous post, I’m retired and looking for projects to keep me occupied I jumped at the opportunity.

completed caboose

We met and discussed the overall design. I had been thinking about building a caboose looking tiny house and shared with them my thoughts. We drew a rough sketch and floor plan and decided then and there to get started. They were as excited as I to get this going.

the trailer it was built on

It was built in my driveway, with no plans, just a vision I had for the end results. They picked the exterior colors and pretty much left the interior up to me. Working with them in collaboration on the overall interior floor plan.

The owners, Kol and Deb Peterson described their view of the Caboose for me as follows;

the framing of the caboose

“It has a completely unique design, inside and out. As the name implies, the red exterior looks like a train caboose. The middle section of the caboose has a “cupola,” a second story, bright and roomy sleeping loft with big windows. Beneath the sleeping loft are two twin sized, cozy bunk beds with custom made quilts and comfy pillows and a sitting area for 4-5 people. The custom built benches, cabinets, ladder, fold out dining table, cobbled wood floor, curved roof elements, and copper shelving, make the interior of the Caboose pop with detail. Within its’ 140 sq ft., The Caboose holds an impressive amount of richly designed, unique and artistic features, including the builder’s signature Mason jar lighting and copper piping. The Caboose can sleep 1-4 people, and is a particularly great option for families. Children will love sleeping in the semi-enclosed bunk beds. Parents will love the luxurious sleeping loft in the cupola.”

caboose interior

I had a tremendous amount of fun working with the caboose build. Kol and Deb (owners) were very fun to work with as well. For anyone interested in viewing the build pictures from start to finish I’d be happy to share.

Kol and Deb named it the Caboose, and it was delivered to them from Salem Oregon December 18th, 2013.

the loft

the bunks

caboose interior

caboose interior

caboose exterior

Marcia’s Caboose on HGTV

Admirers of Marcia’s Soo Line Caboose, which was featured in 2011 on the Tiny House Blog, will be able to get more of their caboose fix at the end of the month. Marcia’s tiny house, built in 1909, will be featured on HGTV’s show “You Live in What?” on Sunday, March 31, 2013 at 9 p.m. EDT. Each episode features several unusual homes and HGTV contacted me and the Tiny House Blog to film and feature Marcia’s unusual abode.

marcia-caboose1

“It was an awesome experience,” Marcia said about the two days of filming of her home. She mentioned that the filming was a bit of a challenge since her caboose is only eight feet wide. The 337 square foot caboose sits on a 30 foot train track on Marcia’s 5 acre parcel in Northeast Pennsylvania and cost her $6,000 when she purchased it in 1976.

“Thank you for posting my caboose on the Tiny House Blog,” she said. “I received so many positive responses from your site which, in turn, set things in motion for HGTV. Thank you and keep up the good work. I love the the tiny house movement that seems to be gaining monumental support.”

 

By Christina Nellemann for the [Tiny House Blog]