“…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.
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.
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.
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.
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.