It’s small. Almost cramped, you might say. But then again, a Pennsylvania Railroad caboose wasn’t really designed to be a two-bedroom apartment with en suite bath. Why the Gideon Bible was laid open to Ezra 2.62–4.19 I couldn’t fathom. I suppose the story begins in Wisconsin, and ends up with me deep in Trump territory for an overnight getaway. Let’s start at the Badger State. I’ve always been a sucker for the unusual. In that regard, I suppose getting a job at Nashotah House was inevitable. When I spied Weird Wisconsin in Books & Company in Oconomowoc, it became an obvious birthday ask. When we moved to New Jersey I learned that Weird NJ was a magazine as well as a book, and I bought, and read, every issue. I also bought both volumes of the book and those of nearby New York and Pennsylvania. It was in the latter that I first read about it.
The Red Caboose Motel began as a kind of a lark in the late sixties. A Lancaster county man bought a bunch of cabooses at an auction and then had to figure out what to do with these tons of steel. He settled on refurbishing them as individual hotel rooms. I read about them in Weird Pennsylvania and hoped that someday I might stay in one. My family, feeling restless after more than two years of pandemic isolation, wanted a short staycation. Hotels involve corridors and breakfast rooms, often tiny, and too many Americans just won’t get vaccinated. This seemed an ideal opportunity to spend a night in a discrete, self-contained caboose. And, I admit, to tick something off my bucket list.
Driving behind Amish buggies to get there after a hot day on the streets of Lancaster—a surprisingly busy and loud city—the Red Caboose felt like a good getaway. Given the number of cars parked outside cabooses, we weren’t the only ones with this idea. Lancaster is more than just Witness territory. Known for its boutique shops and pretzels, as well as its thriving Central Market, it’s a busy place in July. Bumper stickers and loud, aggressively roaring pickup trucks indicate that outside the city the Trump myth reigns supreme. In town we visited two independent bookstores, one of them quite large. With at least seven to choose from, Lancaster feels like a readerly place. Indeed, I could, had I the money and time, envision renting a caboose for a month or two to do nothing but write. Why they wanted me to read about rebuilding the Jerusalem temple I just don’t know. I’ll chalk it up to being weird in Pennsylvania.