Homes Made From Old Cabooses

by heather

Railway car home for sale in Long Beach, WA

Just when I thought the micro home/green living movement couldn’t get any more creative and funky, I find this concept: homes made from old cabooses and railway cars.

My mind whirled with the possibilities. Can you imagine? It’s like “The Boxcar Children”, but for grownups!

(Important aside: The Boxcar Children were some of my favorite books growing up, which might explain my current obsession with micro home living…Wow, blogging can lead to psychological breakthroughs!)

Anyway, how cool is this idea?

Buying A Caboose or Railway Car

If you’re anything like me, your first question is probably, how much do these things cost?

As usual, it varies greatly depending on the condition, age of the car, and historical value.

For instance, while researching for this article I saw rusty cabooses that need some work for around $8,000. If you scroll down a bit and look at the dining car picture on the right (from Ozark Mountain Rail Car), that baby is going for $45,000. So, there’s a pretty wide range.

The bigger question should be, how much does it cost to move these things?

After all, most of these cabooses and rail cars weigh 25+ tons each. So, it’s no small feat to get them to your land.

Getting the land prepped and the move logistics for a caboose or rail car is a major undertaking. One of the best resources I found online is from Jim Zon, who restored a 1921 Algoma Central Railroad Caboose in Colfax, WI. Jim has an excellent blog where he details the entire process. The section on his work prepping the land and the rails the caboose sits on is especially illuminating, and his pictures from the restoration are worth a thousand words.

Jim Zon's caboose move

Jim Zon's caboose move

It’s also important to note that once you get the caboose or railcar to your site, you’re still going to have to hire a crane to set it on a small set of rails. I’ve never hired a crane, but I know they run anywhere from $300 to $1,000 per hour, depending on how far the crane has to travel to get to your site.

Big time yikes. The thought of paying someone, anyone, $300 to $1,000 for anything makes my frugal blood run cold. Well, I might do it if they guaranteed to eradicate all non-military Hummers from the face of the earth. But, not for much else.

So anyway, that’s a major expense that can’t be overlooked.

Zoning Issues

Another major consideration to living in a caboose is zoning issues. This great article from Time Magazine tells the story of one man in Miami who had to fight tooth and nail to keep the caboose in his backyard. After a lengthy fight with the city’s zoning board, he lost.

So the lesson here is that if you don’t live out in the country, you’ll save yourself a ton of headaches by getting written permission (keyword: written) to put the caboose on your lot.

Can They Be Green?

Well, I’m no expert but I honestly don’t see why they couldn’t be renovated with energy efficiency in mind. I couldn’t find many resources online about people who have transformed their caboose to be green, but it seems that the whole “living in a caboose” movement is somewhat new. There isn’t a lot of info out there from people actually doing this, much less doing it green.

I did find one site about a man who transformed his caboose into a small home and is using solar power to run it. You can see the site here.

So, let’s ponder this a moment. Rail cars are incredibly small, which means you wouldn’t need a lot of energy. Most of the interior pictures I saw online showed very small woodburning stoves as the main heating unit.

Solar panels could go on the roof, a composting toilet in the bathroom, a greywater recycling system under the car itself…I can see the Green Caboose unfolding in my mind already. Fabulous.

I’m wondering, though, about insulation on these. From what I saw on Jim’s blog, it seems as if the older cabooses have wooden lathe siding which is covered up by the exterior steel panels. The newer rail cars might be better insulated, but I wonder how you’d insulate the older ones?


Caboose Resources

If you’re enthralled with making your secret “Boxcar Children” dream come true, I found a lot of great resources online you can check out…

  •– Want to buy a caboose for yourself? Make this site your first stop.
  •– Great pictures here of a caboose home owned by a couple in Pennsylvania.

    Dining Car for sale at Ozark Mountain Rail Car.

    Dining Car for sale at Ozark Mountain Rail Car.

  •– This site has auctions on railway cars when they become available for sale.
  •– Free classifieds for railway and cabooses for sale across the country.

Last Word…

The idea of living in a caboose is a fascinating one for me. I’ve still got my heart set on living in a shipping container (which is much, much cheaper), but railway cars do have psychological pull on the imagination that can’t be denied. They’re definitely unique, but require much more work than I originally thought about when starting to research this article.

A lot of work, sure, but I can see the possibilities in my head and boy, you could really turn one of these into a super cool, eco-friendly living space.

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