Prairie Life by Bill Radford

Prairie Life

Longtime local journalist Bill Radford and his wife, Margaret, live on 5 acres in the Falcon area with chickens, rabbits, dogs, cats, a flock of parakeets, goats and two horses. Contact Bill at billradford3@gmail.com.

Honoring the end of the line

By Bill Radford

The entrance to my neighborhood has something I bet yours doesn’t: a caboose.

That caboose sits on a hill in the yard of Patrick Jaeger, a train fanatic since childhood.

“Ever since I was a little boy, I have always loved trains,” he says. He grew up on the East Coast and remembers at a young age visiting a tourist railroad, the Strasburg, and the first time he had seen a steam locomotive in person. He also remembers staying in the Red Caboose Motel in Ronks, Pennsylvania, which was made up of cabooses converted into motel rooms.

“From that moment, I had the bug and there was no getting rid of it,” he says. “I looked at my dad and said, ‘I want one of those,’ and I have been working to obtain it ever since.”

In his adult years, he looked on and off at acquiring a caboose. He says,“But never too serious about it because it is quite a huge investment to get something like this shipped across the country, let alone purchase.”

Then, in November 2021, his father, who shared his love of trains, died.

“I didn’t know it at the time, but he had a fund specifically set up for if we ever found a caboose that we really loved,” Jaeger says. And then he discovered the old Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad Caboose that now sits in his yard.

It was built in 1959 in the railroad’s Burnham shop in Denver, his research shows. “It went all across the country serving various needs and then it was leased by the Department of Defense for a few years during the Trident defense program,” he says. “So this car would be put on the back of whatever train was holding any Trident missile parts for the crew to effectively escort the train and make sure nothing happened to it.”

After that, Jaeger says, it sat unused in a rail yard in Utah for about 10 years until a fellow train enthusiast bought it and took it to Nebraska, where he gutted it because “it had a lot of weather, water and people damage,” Jaeger says. The man had plans to turn it into an office for his business. But he never got around to it; and, upon retirement, he put it up for sale, which is where Jaeger came in. He went to Nebraska, checked out the caboose, and arranged to buy and move it.

It was a costly proposition, but one made possible by his dad’s gift: $17,000 for the caboose, $10,000 to have it trucked to Colorado, $6,000 for the cranes used to load and unload, plus other expenses, like site preparation.

Judging the value of such a piece of railroad history is tricky, Jaeger says. “Everything is worth what the highest bidder is willing to pay for it, especially in railroad restoration,” he says, and such cabooses don’t sell very often. Having been gutted, his caboose would be middle to lower grade for most people, he says. “A lot of people really want the complete, original interior, and those will fetch a much higher price.” (Jaeger says the caboose originally would have included an office of sorts, a small bed, a stove, a bathroom, safety equipment and chairs up in the cupola, the small lookout post atop the car.)

The caboose arrived in May 2022. In the past year, “I finally decided to get some paint on it and bring it back to what it would have looked like when it was built,” Jaeger says. The color scheme is aspen gold with a single black strike and silver on the bottom. Still to come on the exterior: reproducing the old Denver and Rio Grande Western logo.

“I am going to refloor the entire car, redo the doors so they seal properly, and then build a full interior and have it a marginally habitable space.”

Patrick Jaeger

Then, there’s the work ahead on the interior, including replacing the badly damaged floor. “I am going to refloor the entire car, redo the doors so they seal properly, and then build a full interior and have it a marginally habitable space,” Jaeger says. That will include adding a bathroom, with the ultimate goal of making the caboose a “hangout spot/guesthouse.” (He is happy, by the way, for people to stop and admire the caboose from the road, but notes that it is on private property, and they should not feel free to trespass for a closer look, as some people did early on.)

A room with a chair and a window
The old Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad caboose got a new paint job last year, and a new floor and many other improvements are planned for the interior of the caboose.

The guy who is simply known as “Caboose” by many of his fellow train lovers has other plans, too. Jaeger says he wants to take over his dining room with an HO model railroad setup; and, at some point, build a 7 1/2-inch gauge railway on the property “with trains that are big enough to actually ride on rather than just look at and run in circles.”

His wife, he says, was “absolutely supportive” about Jaeger fulfilling his lifelong dream of acquiring the caboose. “When I first approached her about it, she looked a little confused at first, but she embraced it as an amazing idea.”

And he, after having the caboose for nearly two years, still marvels at having achieved his dream. There are days when he’ll pull into the driveway and just stare at the caboose. “I’m still not used to it.”

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About the author

Bill Radford

Longtime local journalist Bill Radford and his wife, Margaret, live on 5 acres in the Falcon area with chickens, rabbits, dogs, cats, a flock of parakeets, goats and two horses. Contact Bill at billradford3@gmail.com.

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