Two rusty old railroad cabooses were turned loose on the streets of Roanoke on Monday afternoon, riding atop tractor-trailers and holding up traffic on their way to a new home in Floyd County. The long-dormant cabooses — one a classic red, the other blue — were headed for Apple Ridge Farm in Floyd County, where they will be reborn as overnight rental facilities.
The cabooses will be renovated into cabin like accommodations, which will help raise money for Apple Ridge Farm, a 96-acre retreat near Copper Hill that has provided outdoors experiences and educational opportunities for nearly 70,000 urban and at-risk youths for 25 years.
The cabooses will be called Caboose Bed and Breakfast and will become part of “The Junction at Apple Ridge Farm,” a planned lodging complex that also will include a lodge that resembles an old railway station. The lodge also will be available for group meetings and retreats. The money raised from the rentals will go toward supporting the programs at the nonprofit farm.
“What we’re trying to do is find a unique way to sustain our programs,” said Apple Ridge Farm founder Peter Lewis. “The children we serve cannot pay for our services, so we’re hoping that churches, banks and other businesses will use our facilities.”
Loading the cabooses onto flatbed trailers and transporting them through the city and up Bent Mountain took most of Monday. North Fork Lumber in Goshen did the hauling and Lee-Hi Trucking in Lexington provided a crane, free of charge.
“We’ve been moving railroad equipment for years ,” said Tommy Harris, son of North Fork’s owner, Will Harris.
“Getting where we have to go to Peter’s place will be difficult. It’s tight and steep.”
The cabooses were sitting on a railroad spur on Patterson Avenue, near the Roanoke River. After each caboose was lifted with straps and cables and loaded onto its trailer, workmen used blow torches to cut off excess metal, such as steps and tall pieces that protruded from the tops, in order to make the cars fit onto the trailers.
The cabooses, which weighed up to 33,000 pounds, were then secured with four steel alloy chains that can handle up to 14,000 pounds each.
Will Harris said he hoped the cars would be loaded and ready to roll by noon. Instead, it was nearly 3 p.m. before the trucks pulled out.
The caravan lumbered like an old coal train to 13th Street, then across Memorial Bridge before turning onto Grandin Road in the Raleigh Court neighborhood. A few onlookers watched from the sidewalks as the unscheduled parade of old rail cars rolled up the street.
The heavy trucks made good time winding along U.S. 221 and climbing Bent Mountain, their engines chugging to the rhythm of “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.”
The truckers were planning to come back to Apple Ridge Farm later to place the cabooses in their proper spots. By late afternoon, the expected one-day job had doubled, at least.
Norfolk Southern donated a blue Conrail caboose to the farm. Rail enthusiasts Percy and Linda Wilkins donated the 1950s-era, red caboose. The Roanoke Chapter of the National Railroad Historical Society has donated a boxcar that will be converted into a high-tech classroom called an E-Base, which will be powered by electricity from wind and the sun.
Volunteers, including Boy Scout s, will help renovate the cabooses into rental spaces during the coming months. The farm is also soliciting work from carpenters, electricians and painters to fix up the cabooses, which will have water and electricity. Lewis did not say when he expected the cabooses to open for visitors.
“All the volunteer time from so many people will save us thousands that we couldn’t afford,” Lewis said. “It’s been a dream to have facilities like this. This will really sustain us for another generation.”