James Norvell, an engineer on the Ballard Terminal Railroad, already owned a "speeder" rail car. So when he found a vintage caboose for sale in Whatcom County, he decided to bring it home with him.
James Norvell thought about buying a tugboat but was urged by a friend, “Do not buy that boat.”
So, growing up in a railroad family, he “decided to stick to what I knew”: He bought a caboose.
He’d looked at a lot of them, settled on caboose number 870 from the Spokane, Portland & Seattle Railway (SP&S) and paid $11,000. Trucking it 80 miles down from Whatcom County cost another $5,500.
It’s bigger inside than most tiny houses, measuring 40 long, 10 feet wide and 16 feet high.
The spare interior has a potbelly stove and an ice box that requires ice. The lights are battery-powered.
When it was a working caboose starting in 1951, it carried a brakeman and a conductor.
From the cupola they could watch for problems ahead — like smoke from a bad bearing — and radio the engineer.
He considered putting a bed in the cupola, but “I want to preserve it as a historic piece, paint it caboose-red, and I don’t have to gut it.”
Norvell is an engineer on the Ballard Terminal Railroad. and he stores the caboose in the railroad’s yard along with his “speeder” work car.
Though it’s not a home, “it’s still a roof that I own.”
The railroad is an all-consuming passion. Next he wants to buy a flat car.