Repairing a relic

My century-old caboose is in rough shape


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Yes, we have a caboose in our family. It’s in our backyard, actually.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/05/2017 (2135 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Yes, we have a caboose in our family. It’s in our backyard, actually.

It’s a 1905 CN Railway caboose that has been a ton of fun since I bought it at an auction in Gordon many years ago. My winning bid was $850. Then I paid Brunger Brothers of Teulon $1,000 to move it. At $1,850, the cost was very nice — it would have been cheap at twice the price.

I have kept it all original except for the seating and oil stove — the latter of which I donated to the railway museum in the VIA Rail Station and replaced with a cook stove.

Even this stove has a notable history as it was the cook stove used in the John Taylor home summer kitchen. I traded a case of beer for it.

I intentionally never ran electricity to it because I wanted our kids to know what it felt like to function in an original prairie home, meaning they’d have to learn to fill the lamps with kerosene, trim the wicks and light and maintain the heat from a cook stove.

Our son Lyle and his buddies, when in their teens, would occasionally have winter camp-outs in the caboose and — if they didn’t wake up sometime through the night and stock up the stove — they’d wake up frozen. Character building, indeed.

This dear old caboose has hosted many a gathering, including a million or so New Year’s parties, but is currently in a bit of a lull use-wise and, predictably, deteriorating maintenance-wise because I’ve been focusing my “project” attention elsewhere.

Include procrastinating in that. But no more. Why? Because the roof needs immediate attention, or it will allow water in, resulting in the caboose rotting from the top down.

So this summer, the current much-patched “skin” has to come off and be replaced with something that will extend the life of this “great escape” at least another 30 years or so.

What to do, what to do?

Truth be told, I know what to do. The current sheathing — including the rotting walkway — has to be completely removed, replaced with treated plywood, then whatever roofing I choose (shingles, roll roofing, galvanized tin) must be secured, sealing the roof of this old baby from the elements for decades to come.

But I’m being lazy and trying to think of easier ways to accomplish this re-seal — I’m looking for shortcuts that will work almost as well. The bottom line for me is, how long do I want this caboose to live?

Forever. Impossible of course, but I know I have to do it right. That means buying alcohol — which I don’t even drink any more — and tricking my handy friends into helping me.

Unlimited beer I can provide — paced properly so as to assure a certain standard of work — and a barbecue to go along with it would probably be even more of an attraction. However, not only do I not drink alcohol, but I don’t eat meat either.

I love animals, so I don’t eat them. Simple as that. So I have to get these handy folk just buzzed enough not to know I’m serving veggie burgers and dogs. That’s not easily done for those with a true blood lust.

It’s a challenge, yes — but one I think I can succeed at, the secret to it all being in the marinating and spices used. Some of the veggie burgers taste just like meat and are truly delicious. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

No animals will die in the salvation of this caboose.

I haven’t shown you the exterior walls, but they are in need of attention as well. They need a stripping and re-painting and the windows need to be replaced. And you don’t find caboose windows sitting around everywhere.

Not only do I have to save it just because, but also because it’s entering a new cycle: the grandchildren years. I will soon be teaching them how to trim the wicks on the original CNR kerosene lamps (and others) and teaching them how to build a fire in the cook stove and maintain it so even at -35 C in the midwinter, the caboose is as warm as Disney World during Spring Break.

If you’ve ever been there during a heat wave, when the humidity is high, you’re already sweating. You can actually make some of the top of this cook stove glow red — and baby, that pumps out a lot of heat.

For you railway history buffs, I have all the original numbers off this caboose, which I believe was basically used back and forth between Winnipeg and Fort Francis. Still even has the original emergency stretcher attached to the ceiling. When I bought the caboose and got it home, I found a Playboy magazine tucked up in that stretcher for safekeeping. Riding the rails for a living can get lonely, you know.

Let the healing begin. All aboooooooard! Comments or feedback, I’d love to hear from you!

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