For the 50+ Traveler

Have you ever spent the night in a caboose? My husband has always been fascinated by trains, and I've grown to enjoy them, too. During one of our mini-vacations this past summer, we rode the Strasburg Rail Road train, and it took us past the Red Caboose Motel. As soon as I laid eyes on it, I knew it was something I wanted to experience.

The Red Caboose Motel is located in Ronks, Pennsylvania, near Strasburg. You can look across the fields and see the Strasburg Rail Road’s yards from the motel. Next door is the National Toy Train Museum, and nearby is The Choo Choo Barn and the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania.

The Red Caboose Motel in Pennsylvania.

The Red Caboose Motel holds the world record for owning the most cabooses -- 38 cabooses and two other railcars are part of the motel.

Train buffs can pack in a wide variety of train-related fun while visiting the area and then end the day in their own caboose for the night.

The Red Caboose Motel provided free lodging and a meal at Casey Jones’ Restaurant. The Strasburg Rail Road provided free tickets for a train ride. All opinions remain my own.

The historic red caboose at the motel.

The History Of The Caboose

The caboose, an icon of American railroading, once appeared at every train’s end. But the beloved railcar is only very rarely seen on the rails today.

The origins of the caboose date to the 1840s, when a conductor was tired of the cramped and unpleasant quarters in which to do paperwork. He discovered an unused boxcar and set up a shop in the car to do his duties. He found that he had plenty of room to work, and he could use the space to store instruments: flags, lanterns, spare parts, and other essentials.

Soon, the caboose became a popular feature at the end of many trains. We all remember the story of The Little Red Caboose! By the early 1900s, more than 17,600 cabooses graced the rails.

Freight trains were expected to have cabooses until the 1980s. But when new labor agreements decreased train crews’ operation requirements, cabooses were no longer needed for housing, and electronic record-keeping and various new technologies to monitor brake pressure and provide warnings were designed.

Despite this, the caboose has since found new life as a tourist attraction. Numerous railroad fans have bought and completely restored old cabooses. Many tourist railroads use them for excursions, and some are on display in parks and museums. Others, like those at the Red Caboose Motel, have been converted into sleeping quarters for train lovers and those who desire a unique overnight experience.

The writer's caboose at the Red Caboose Motel.

The Red Caboose Motel

The Red Caboose Motel began with 19 cabooses in 1970. As time passed, more cabooses and other cars were added, and the motel changed hands. Over the years, tens of thousands of tourists, rail enthusiasts, and locals have spent the night, making the Red Caboose Motel & Restaurant one of the most unique tourist destinations in the United States.

At the motel, each set of guests sleeps in their own caboose. The outside of our caboose was bright yellow trimmed in black. The inside of the caboose felt like a small log house. There was tongue-and-groove wood on the walls and ceiling, and there was even a cupola with windows at the top of the car. Small curtains covered the windows, and there was a carpet on the floor to keep it warm.

The writer's room at the Red Caboose Motel.

Our room had a small desk and chair, a queen bed, a flatscreen television, a window air conditioner, a sink, a small nightstand, a refrigerator, a microwave, and a bathroom with a tub and shower.

Some of the cabooses have two double beds, and others suitable for entire families have bunk beds plus a queen. Other amenities include cabooses with two bedrooms, cabooses with outdoor decks, and cabooses with whirlpool tubs. The Red Caboose Motel even has a caboose honeymoon suite!

When we arrived, there was a sweet note from housekeeping thanking us for “choo-choosing” to stay at the motel.

One thing we loved about staying here was the fact that we got to sleep in an authentic vintage caboose used by various railroads. It was neat to see these machines still serving a purpose at 60+ years old. Another thing we appreciated was the quiet; we didn't have to worry about anyone above or beside us making noise. Each caboose was like its own little hotel. It was truly a unique experience.

Casey Jones' Restaurant in the dining car.

Casey Jones’ Restaurant

Casey Jones’ Restaurant is on the premises. It is housed in a full-size railroad dining car, and the kitchen and motel office are located in a boxcar. The restaurant overlooks the Strasburg Rail Road tracks, so you can watch the trains pass by while you enjoy breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

I found the restaurant to be one of the highlights of our visit. The authentic dining car serves up excellent grub. We enjoyed dinner there. I had the pulled pork with their signature birch beer barbecue sauce, and it was scrumptious. In fact, it was so good that I purchased a bottle in the gift shop to take home with me.

We aren’t breakfast people, but the dinner was so good that we decided to eat breakfast there, too. The pancakes were out of this world -- they were the fluffiest pancakes ever!

In keeping with the train theme, the waitstaff dressed like train engineers. For a complete experience at the Red Caboose Motel, plan on eating dinner and/or breakfast at Casey Jones’.

The gift shop at the Red Caboose Motel.

The Gift Shop: Trains, Trains, And More Trains

The Red Caboose Motel also has a large gift shop with about every type of train-related gift you could imagine: everything from mugs, puzzles, clothes, and keychains to books, games, and novelties. You can also purchase Casey Jones’ birch beer barbecue sauce and Amish goods at the gift shop.

The most surprising thing about the motel was how they had taken the two dining cars and boxcar and connected them to create the office, gift shop, and dining area.

A model train at the Red Caboose Motel.

Other Things To Do

There are many other things to do on the premises and plenty of attractions nearby to fill a weekend or more.

At the Red Caboose Motel, you’ll find buggy rides, a petting zoo, a movie barn, an arcade, and an observation silo. You can climb 70 steps to the top of the 50-foot silo-turned-observation tower for an unobstructed view of the surrounding area, including rolling farmland, the Strasburg Rail Road station, and the railyards. It was fun to watch the trains go by.

The writer's room at the Red Caboose Motel.

What To Know Before You Go

A night at the Red Caboose Motel is an unforgettable experience, but you should keep these things in mind before you go.

You have to realize that you are in a historic train car that was not originally intended to be a bedroom. It has been configured for guests to spend the night and retrofitted with various amenities, but there isn't a lot of room. There are some cabooses larger than the one we stayed in, and there are some smaller ones. But be aware that because it is a caboose, it won't be huge.

Because each caboose sits on its wheels and track, there is air circulation underneath the caboose, and the floor is chilly. And since there is no hallway, people must enter from the outside, dragging in leaves and dirt. It is a challenge for the staff to keep the carpet clean. A pair of slippers or flip-flops for walking around inside the caboose would be helpful. If you visit in the spring or fall, you might desire a sweater or sweatshirt.

Because this is a unique experience, it often books far in advance, so be sure to make reservations early.

Sleeping in a caboose is the ultimate experience for any train enthusiast. I would do it again in a heartbeat. It was a fun and unique time that every train lover should enjoy at least once.