Great Northern 441 Luxury Locomotive Lodge

Renovation of Luxury Caboose “J.J.”

BN 12041 at Great Falls, Montana

Once upon a time, not all that many years ago, a caboose marked the end of almost every freight train. The caboose served many functions. The conductor and rear brakeman would ride the cupola at top and watch for “hotboxes” (overheated axle bearings) and other defects. Having crew members stationed at the rear of the train speeded up many switching moves. If the train had to back up, the caboose was a safe place to watch out and “protect the shove.” In the old days, when the crew was marooned between runs in some forgotten town, they would spend the night in the caboose’s bunks, and cook breakfast on its stove in the morning.

But in the 1980s, as the railroads eliminated the brakeman’s job, the conductor began riding the locomotive with the engineer. Lineside detectors scanned the train for defects, and the caboose was replaced with “Fred” – a Flashing Rear End Device. Burlington Northern 12041, built in 1975, was part of BNSF Railway’s dwindling roster of cabooses when it basked in the yard at Great Falls, Montana, on July 21, 2006.

Luxury Caboose “J.J.” in the scrapyard at Great Falls, Montana

The story of Luxury Caboose “J.J.” began when Jamie Lambrecht saw a caboose for sale in the newspaper. She called about it, then told Tom, “I’m buying a caboose.” When Tom inspected it on August 7, 2007 (above), he found it languishing next to a scrapyard in Great Falls. Vandals had smashed several windows, but otherwise it was in pretty good shape.

Jamie with J.J., Great Falls, Montana

In 2008 the caboose was moved a short distance to Steel Etc. of Great Falls, where Jamie stripped out the windows and interior, sandblasted the exterior (twice!) and painted it caboose red, with some help from Steel Etc. The side windows, plated over when the railroads were required to install rock-resistant glass, were daylighted.

Stripped-out interior of J.J.

Painting J.J.

While Tom was preoccupied with finishing GN 441 and moving it to Montana, Jamie was racing to get J.J. ready for its own westbound trip. Cranes and crew aren’t cheap, so both locomotive and caboose would have to be lifted onto their tracks on the same day. On September 4, 2009, Bob Facklam of Teton Welding & Machine paints the cupola with DuPont Imron. Just a week later J.J. was lifted onto its track.

J.J. pauses at summit of Marias Pass

J.J.’s wheels were worn out, and replacing them would have cost more than trucking the caboose 187 miles from Great Falls to Essex. So J.J. was loaded onto a flatbed, making an unusual sight when the Patrick Construction crew paused at the summit of Marias Pass on September 10. Behind the rig is another flatbed carrying J.J.’s trucks (wheel assemblies); beyond that are the rails that GN 441 rolled over just 16 days earlier. (Photo copyright Patrick Construction.)

Lifting J.J. onto its track

J.J. was lifted onto its track by sideboom Cats and an excavator from Patrick Construction of Havre, Montana.

Fortunately for everybody, the job went smoothly and quickly. When they finished, the Patrick crew tackled the big job: lifting GN 441 onto its track.

Lifting J.J. onto its track

Applying decals to J.J.

J.J. was finally presentable on September 22, 2010, when Tom and Jamie and friends applied the historically accurate decals. The Great Northern Railway Historical Society assisted in researching the correct caboose markings.


GN’s Big Sky Blue paint scheme

All photos copyright Bill Christopher or Tom or Jamie Lambrecht unless credited otherwise

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