When faced with a decision on what to do with the side of its Germantown Mill Lofts property that backs up to railroad tracks, the developers at Underhill Associates knew they couldn’t take the easy way out.
“We’re very proud of the site we’re in and want to enhance it, not detract from it by putting a lot of heavy landscape or a big wall,” says Jeff Underhill. So, rather than building a wall or putting in massive shrubbery, they found a creative solution – three colorful cabooses that are both attractive and functional living spaces.
Each of the cabooses has been become a modern apartment. It would be tempting to say they have been transformed, but that would discount the dedication that went into honoring their past. Built in the 1940s, the cabooses were federally permitted to be sleeping cars wherever they traveled, so instead of gutting the units and starting from scratch, Underhill says the goal was to “bring in a lot of new amenities and hang on to the history and the funkiness.”
The cabooses create a space that is “part of our present but also a tip of the hat to the past.” They feature entryways handcrafted by local metal artist Rusty Schnurr and sit on their own railroad tracks. Stepping onto the porch, it’s easy to imagine being on a journey by rail. Inside, the hardwood floors and cool colors keep the space cozy without feeling crowded, and the history comes through in the details.
Across from the kitchen, dinette seating is provided by two seats moved down from the cupola. The hallway incorporates a shower alongside the bathroom, ample storage in the original closet and steps leading up to the cupola. In the living area, a workspace is provided by the same desk where engineers sat. The original light fixtures are still in place, retrofitted with halogen. Even the signage is authentic; an engineering diagram is preserved in a closet door. The cupola, where engineers would have sat watching the countryside roll by, now includes a sleeping area with a view.
“All mechanicals, all electrical, heating and air conditioning is brand new,” explains Underhill. General contractor Greg Miller found solutions to the unique challenges of working on cabooses, such as running plumping and electrical. Mike Burke provided the units with anti-graffiti paint. “The people we worked with, like Mike, Rusty and Greg, are artisans who are just really cool people. They’re the stars of this story.” VT
Story and photos by Steven Anselm.