Colorado model train store has a real caboose parked outside

January 5, 2019

LAKEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Certainly, a store for train enthusiasts named Caboose should have a genuine, 27-ton caboose parked in a lot outside the business. And so it does.

On cold days, smoke can be seen streaming from the caboose’s smokestack. Please, don’t be alarmed or call the fire department. Likely, a staff meeting is ongoing inside, or, perhaps, a group of railroad enthusiasts are passing a little time, undoubtedly talking trains, in a caboose that’s the real deal.

“I wanted to put a caboose in the parking lot,” Caboose owner Kevin Ruble told The Denver Post. “We’re responsible to bring happiness and joy to a lot of people.”

For clarity’s sake, any upper-case reference of Caboose in this story refers to Ruble’s Lakewood business at 10800 W. Alameda Ave. and any lower-case reference is about the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad caboose in the parking lot.

“It’s in great shape for being 77 years old,” Ruble said of the caboose, a breath of pride packed into his declaration.

The 80-year-old business relocated to the Lakewood location in February 2017. Previously known as Caboose Hobbies and originally opened in 1938, it operated at 500 South Broadway in Denver since 1981. When the lease was up on South Broadway, Ruble purchased the assets and moved the store, simplifying the name to Caboose in the process. “That’s what everybody called it anyway,” Ruble said.

The Rio Grande caboose last served on the rails in the 1990s, running out of Grand Junction. It was manufactured in August 1941 at the Burnham Shops, a once-massive railroad complex in Denver where workers built, repaired and maintained locomotives, train cars and equipment. Burnham shut down in 2016.

In August, Caboose held a 77th birthday party for the caboose. On Saturday, Dec. 22, Santa Claus appeared there, entertaining kids of all ages and checking a list to see ... well, you know.

Some children who visit Caboose with adults “physically shake” with excitement when they have an opportunity to go into the caboose, Ruble said. “It’s pretty cool.”

Staff members at Caboose hold Friday morning meetings in the caboose. Killian Ruble, Kevin’s son, who works at the family business, has told his father: “We have the most awesome conference room of anyone.”

Views of downtown Denver can be had from the caboose platforms, front and back, and from an east-facing window. The view from the caboose cupola, the pop-topped portion where a conductor and brakeman would sit to better see track — and where they’d monitor a speed gauge, air break pressure gauge and a radio — has a better-still view of Denver’s skyscrapers.

Ruble purchased the caboose for $25,000 from a model railroad club in Parker. Getting it to Lakewood, without the luxury of railroad track, was a bit tricky, and pricey. The moving price, $10,765, seemed like a bargain after Ruble fielded multiple bids at $20,000, he said.

A 200-ton capacity crane was used to lift the caboose into the air and swing it over a building to a waiting semi-trailer. The so-called “flying Rio Grande” logo was adopted in 1939 and stenciled onto steam locomotives. The logo, a bit faded, adorns the caboose.

“It really was the flying Rio Grande when we moved it with the crane,” Ruble said.

The caboose set down at Caboose in February. Inside are a pair of beds, one for a conductor and the other for a brakeman, a table and bench seat, a bathroom stall, a couple of storage and equipment closets and a railroad pot belly stove. In the early days, the caboose stove was used not only to warm the interior, but also for cooking meals.

Ruble, a fourth generation railroad man who owned a short line in Michigan, said he plans to put some work and money into the caboose, scraping, painting and shining it up.

He’s spent a night in the caboose, with his dog Diesel, a 10-year-old chocolate Lab, and when the wind blew hard the massive car, about 39-feet long and 11-feet wide, “rocked back and forth just a bit,” Ruble recalled.

Close your eyes, let your imagination wander, and you may even hear, and feel, the clickety-clack of track beneath you. All aboard!

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