Good Life

New life at the end of the line

Bob and Connie Hines, of Bellefonte, moved a 1942 Leigh Valley Railroad caboose to their Mountain View Lane home and converted it into a guest home which sleeps four. CDT/Nabil K. Mark
Bob and Connie Hines, of Bellefonte, moved a 1942 Leigh Valley Railroad caboose to their Mountain View Lane home and converted it into a guest home which sleeps four. CDT/Nabil K. Mark

At the Hines home near Bellefonte, overnight guests retire to a piece of railroad history.

It’s a salvaged red caboose, built in 1942 and renovated into quarters befitting a lifelong train buff.

Bob Hines, 78, bought the onetime property of the Lehigh Valley Railroad 13 years ago, along with four other cabooses relegated to a Brookville railyard.

He sold two to museums and another pair to collectors to finance his $25,000 transformation of weathered rolling stock into a cozy cabin on wheels.

“It wasn’t in that bad shape,” Hines says. “But for what I wanted to use it, for a weekend guest house, I wanted it to be real nice.”

On a section of track in his backyard, the 30-foot-long steel caboose now sleeps four in a cross between a cheerful bed and breakfast and a compact sailboat.

Where conductors once sat at a desk filling out paperwork, grandchildren and other visitors rest in a pair of single beds against the walls. Pullout drawers under each store clothes.

High in the central cupola are two more bunks, a perch that used to afford sweeping views of trains along the line. The middle also contains a tiny kitchenette with a sink in a marble-top counter, a small fridge and a table lamp.

At the other end from the lower beds, by the door, two rattan chairs opposite an upholstered bench provide a tranquil spot for reading or conversation.

Periodically, Hines plops down there for a relaxing break.

“No TVs, no phones,” he says. “Nobody bothers you.”

His retreat, though far cushier now than in its working days, retains bits of its former self. Hines installed a closeted toilet but kept the original stainless-steel wash basin, moving it across the interior and replacing its water tank with replica ceramic faucet knobs and a retro mirror.

Grimy soles never scuffed the oak floor, the successor to worn layers reeking of heating oil. Nor did soot ever mar the new wainscoting of soft pine stained dark brown.

But below the cupola, scratched metal remains where crew members stashed belongings on shelves and in a cubbyhole. They gripped the yellow hand rails and the air horn’s wooden handle dangling from its cord.

“It’s obviously not a new facility, so I thought it should reflect its age and its former use. That adds a patina, which would be a shame to destroy,” says Vaughn Shirk, a Boalsburg interior designer who knew Hines and his wife, Connie, from previous jobs before they turned to him again.

“I was excited about it because it was different. You don’t always get to work on a design for a caboose, frankly.”

Shirk’s vision included artistic touches far removed from the caboose’s blue-collar heritage — a stained-glass portal window beside the door, painted gold stars and a moon on the ceiling, a multi-hued fan hanging in the cupola.“They wanted this to be a fun utilitarian space, so I saw it as being colorful and very usable as a guest house — not only a space to sleep in but also to entertain,” Shirk says.

For Hines, it’s the fulfillment of a wish nurtured since childhood, when he listened to the whistle of local quarry trains passing near his Spring Township home.

“I’ve always wanted a caboose,” he says.

To have one finally required $10,000, the price for the Brookville lot, and creative transportation.

Because of their condition, the cabooses weren’t allowed back on tracks. So Hines, who owned a storage, garage and moving business in State College, devised an alternative. Replacing wheel carriages with rubber tire dollies, he towed the cabooses with a Mack truck to their new homes.

His chosen one rolled down Interstate 80, astonishing truckers, before spending a year in his maintenance shop being repainted and redone. A crane then hoisted it onto its current site atop a hill overlooking Axemann.

Today, the caboose reflects Hines’ interest in railroads as much as the detailed garden train set that loops through his wife’s flower beds.

Hines decorated the interior with train photos and antiques, including a brass Pennsylvania Railroad engine bell mounted to one wall. For show only, an 1895 coal cabin car stove sits between the rattan chairs, its lipped burner meant to keep coffee pots from sliding off.

Center shelves display more railroad memorabilia, practically a small museum’s worth — brass spittoons, a conductor’s cap and ink pad, and a hand lantern, among other items.

But the crown jewel of his collection, of course, is the caboose itself.

Among his toys over the years have been vintage airplanes and cars. He enjoys those, but none allows him to share an old pleasure as does his recycled icon of the rails.

“The nice thing about it, if you sleep here, at 7 a.m., you hear the train whistle on the way to Pleasant Gap,” he says. “You hear the train. That’s a great sound to hear in the early morning.”

Welcoming guests with pizzazz

Just because it’s a spare bedroom doesn’t mean it has to be spare.

Local interior designers say a little decorating pizzazz can go a long way toward enlivening your guests’ sleeping quarters. Change might be as simple as a new paint scheme.

“First thing I would say is not to be afraid of color, to be a little daring,” says Vaughn Shirk, owner of Vaughn Shirk Interior Design in Boalsburg. “You can redo something by painting and not spend an absolute fortune.”

Nancy Stewart, owner of Creative Interiors in Lemont, suggests buying an inexpensive “Bed in a Bag” set first. Then coordinate the rest of the room with the colors of the bedspread, pillow shams and dust ruffle.

Other anchors, Stewart and Shirk say, could be art or collections. One of Stewart’s clients designed a room around German beer steins and photos of Germany.

“If something hits you, you can go from there,” Stewart says. “There’s no one way to put together a room.”

But don’t go overboard and create a mini-museum, warns Alicia Wetmiller, owner of Alicia Wetmiller Interiors in State College.

“You need to allow space for guests to put their personal items, their suitcases,” she says.

For a “warm and welcoming impression,” as Wetmiller says, all three designers recommend a few amenities such as:

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