Des Moines, IA

Dad and daughter turn train caboose into comfortable apartment: "Thrilled with the number of guests"

Amy Christie

A retired carpenter teamed up with his daughter from Iowa to bring about an impressive renovation. Together they managed to turn a train caboose into a luxury apartment. And the number of happy guests who got a chance to test it out certainly confirms that it's been a success.

What are the details?

Jim Dotzenrod, 65, had already done a complete renovation for a barn silo. That was his first Airbnb rental, and he called it "Silo on the Ridge." So, when a family friend happened to see the train caboose in a metal scrapyard, Jim's curiosity was instantly piqued. The man drove 30 miles, keen on picking it up and seeing what it could become.

He had already bought a set of railroad tracks to park it, which cost about $8,000. Danielle Dotzenrod, 42, the man's daughter, also joined in on his project.

"It had no rust, dents, or physical damage. It was very dirty and smelled strongly of oil. So, we hauled it to dad's property on a semi-truck and then unloaded it with a crane," she shared with The Epoch Times.

Jim and Danielle had to work nights and weekends for six months to redo the train caboose.

"The first and biggest challenge was to cut out and remove all the old iron. Once that was out, it needed a thorough cleaning. Dad's father was a plumber, so he could build the bathroom and the kitchen himself. Then came painting, and finally the flooring, my favorite part," the design-savvy daughter said.
"Dad did most of the real work; I helped with the design and small projects. He says I give him lots of 'brain strain,' but we are both always happy with how our projects turn out!" she added.

Danielle set out to design the oak flooring inlaid with different black tiles, and she also tiled the bathroom. Her father made a platform in the cupola where they placed a raised queen-sized bed with its own stairs, and bunk beds were added beneath for up to four people.

The pair wanted to keep the authentic look of the caboose, so they maintained the hand railing and all the conductor chairs, which can swivel on their bases to get a nice view out the window.

Danielle revealed that the cupola that projects beyond the main body of the caboose was likely meant to carry the brakemen and the conductor, and the cupola windows were useful for monitoring the whole train.

The father and his daughter also created a fully-fitted kitchen, a mini cocktail bar, and a bathroom. The renovated train caboose also has WiFi, air conditioning, a TV, and a deck overlooking the horse pasture that the family owns.

"It's particularly nice at sunset. My dad also offers carriage rides through in our local town of Decorah or in the country," Danielle said.

The total cost of the renovation was $4,000, and since it was completed, it became available for reservations on Airbnb.

Danielle and her dad say that the best reward after all their hard work is to see how people enjoy themselves when they stay in the train caboose. And the hundreds of guests that had the chance to spend a few days over there have gradually left plenty of 5-star reviews that leave no doubts as to how amazing the project turned out to be.

"We are so thrilled with the number of guests. Growing up in the country, you sometimes take natural beauty and quiet for granted, an appreciation that's never lost on our city guests and is very nice to see," Danielle said.

Jim and his daughter have also started a guest log in the caboose and are happy to read notes from their guests. Among the favorite memories written down are barbecuing, having a glass of wine on the deck, feeding apples or carrots to the horses, or picking raspberries.

Guests can also visit breweries in the area, and go hiking, kayaking, or mountain biking.

"We ask that guests not play with the cats because farm cats have a job, and tame farm cats don't want to work. We had just had some kittens, and one lady asked about playing with them. My dad responded that she could, but she had to take them home. The morning she left, the lady asked my dad if she could have one she had her heart set on. He happily agreed. That tiny farm kitty won the lottery that day!" Danielle shared about a happy time and a pet love at first sight over there.


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Amy Christie is a passionate writer and journalist, always striving to bring out the positive and create meaningful connections.

Dallas, TX

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