In Dunsmuir, I stayed in two different cabooses at the Railroad Park Resort. These cabooses had last seen service as the conductor’s mobile office over 40 years ago.
They now served a purpose in which their builders had never envisioned. A hotel room on wheels with bed, bath, and television.
When I wandered into the yard of the defunct McCloud Railroad, I was excited to see two working cabooses. These where not the repainted and refurbished cabooses that can be seen throughout the land as part of restaurants, static displays, or hotel rooms. These cabooses were the workhorses of the McCloud Railroad. They may not look sexy in their peeling paint and their faded logos but they are the real deal.
McCloud cabooses number 101 and 102 are steel custom International wide-vision types, especially built short for the railroad in 1962.
The caboose is at the end of a freight train just as they are at the end of their own railroad journey.
Seeing these rusted and damaged cabooses (101 was damaged in a yard accident in 1997) proved to be a strong metaphor for the end of the McCloud Railroad and by extension, most smaller railroads across the nation.
The McCloud yard, in the shadow of Mt. Shasta, is now a quiet and static place. No more are heard the sounds of the steam whistle, or the deep boom of a diesel. No more are heard the screech of freight cars over rails and the smell of hot brake pads.
But I returned again to look at the two remaining cabooses. A former shell of their working life. The McCloud River Railroad logo, fading away, to eventually match the rusty-orange of the caboose.
Number 102 was sitting by itself to right of the shop building next to a snow spreader 1850 “Wing and a Prayer”. I walked across the yard to the tracks that veered off to the right, which I assume lead to the east towards Bartle and the junction to Burney.
On this track was a strange consist of passenger cars that now sport a coat of graffiti and most of their windows had been smashed in. Sandwiched between these cars were a hopper car and a crane car. At the end of this motley collection of cars was McCloud River Railroad Caboose #101. The caboose was coupled to the last passenger car, as if ready for the train to leave the yard on rails that abruptly turned to red, volcanic dirt.