Thursday, December 6, 2012

What have I done?!

Yep, I'm crazy. That much is certain. LOL I'm a full-time RV'er who has consigned my nearly new 30 foot travel trailer and purchased what surely must be the most decrepit trailer around, but I absolutely fell in love with the poor thing. I was looking to downsize to a travel trailer that was a bit friendlier to haul around the country so I was searching Craigslist and stumbled across the ad for a 1974 Semaphore Caboose located in western Kentucky. (I was sitting in southwest Minnesota at the time.) After a flurry of text messages the previous owner agreed to hold it for a couple days until I could drive down and pay him for it.

A bit of background on the trailer: It was built by Semaphore Industries in Williamsburg, Ohio. There were approximately 800 of them made, and very few are still in existence. I have found photos or references to just 6 or 7 of them although there must be at least a few more lurking out there somewhere, so if anyone knows of one PLEASE let me know about it! I'd love to contact some other Caboose owners!

My Caboose is in very rough shape. I believe it spent most of it's life as a cabin at Kentucky Lake but has changed hands a couple times in recent years but no repairs have been done to it, as you shall see. WARNING: This blog will be photo heavy! I should probably mention that I tend to get a bit long-winded as well.

The following photos were taken Oct  27. This doesn't look soooooo bad, does it? lol

That's a bunk that slides out up in the cupola above the dinette. Amazingly, what may be the original ladder is stashed in the bunk!

Residential refrigerator that will have to be replaced with a 2-way or 3-way fridge. The trim piece on the floor was attached to the front with only 1 screw holding it so off it came.

Closer view of the cupola and bunk. Lots of water damage everywhere inside although it's not extremely visible in the photos.

 The high headroom in the cupola really makes the interior space seem larger than it is. A ceiling fan could easily be installed with no worries about hitting your head on it.

 Lots of counter space for a travel trailer, especially for one that's only 20 feet long inside!

 The mice obviously approve of the Caboose, there are nests in every drawer and cupboard!

Bedroom area, this is perhaps going to be an issue as I want a double bed and the current floor plan has the bathroom door opening into the bedroom so there's not enough room for anything other than the single that's there. Notice the daylight visible at the base of the wall under the window.

The plastic liner on the ceiling has come down in most of the front of the trailer, that's the white stuff seen hanging in some of the photos.

A large (by today's TT standards) NON-plastic bathtub! The exterior of the Caboose will be kept as close to original as possible, but the interior, especially the bedroom/bathroom area, may have to be reconfigured slightly so I can have a double bed.

The original tires were still on the trailer so it now has "new" used tires for the trip to south central Tennessee where I am wintering. The tongue jack was frozen but after the application of a couple gallons of WD-40 and some persuasion with a BIG hammer the jack has been removed and a replacement ordered. There are no safety chains on it so they have been ordered. The wooden base has completely rotted away leaving a 2" gap between the wall and the floor on both sides in the front bedroom area, the siding has been reattached as best as possible for the trip home. I may end up just running ratcheting tie-downs all the way around it to help secure the siding. A mobile mechanic was out yesterday and repacked the wheel bearings and freed up the brakes. The driving lights are completely nonfunctional (the wiring harness is very crispy-brittle and the connector is rotted) but I know a fellow who has a set of wireless lights I can use. I've had a 2" ball put on my equalizer hitch. It's getting close to the point where I feel it might survive the 3 hour journey home.

The biggest issue right now is the lack of a license plate or title. I have a bill of sale, the last two owners also got bill of sales and no title. I'm not sure if it was ever titled, many states didn't require them on trailers back then. I also can't find a VIN or serial number. I had thought I found it on the tongue under several layers of paint and lots of rust and corrosion but after wire brushing it turns out it was the patent number for the hitch coupler.  I have spoken with the folks at the DMV in South Dakota where I am domiciled, and they assure me I can title it as a home-built, but I would really like to have it titled as a Semaphore Caboose. Perhaps a serial number will show up somewhere else on the frame once it's completely cleaned up.

Well, that's the background. Follow along as I stumble and fumble my way through trying to restore this Caboose and turn it into my permanent home-on-wheels. I've never attempted anything like this before so it's sure to be entertaining at the very least. LOL


  1. This will be an interesting build to follow!
    I'm following you on my blog, post lots of pics!


  2. If I can come even close to the quality I've seen on some people's builds I'll be thrilled. Oh yeah, there will be lots of pics! Thanks for watching!

  3. From what I've read I think with your spirit and motivation you'll have the talent and patience to build it the way you want and the end results will be perfect!
    To me building comes from the inside and that's what it's all about.

  4. What a fantastic unique RV! Will you make it look like a Victorian rail car? At least it's not white!

    1. I plan to keep the exterior as original as possible, there may be some rearranging of the floor plan inside.

  5. I almost bought that one! It was just too much for me to repair. I haven't found a link on your blog to email you to see if I could be added to your mailing list.

    Can you please emailme?

  6. Hello. Love your project. I've got homebuilt camper that looks like a burlington northern caboose that tricked out. Please contact me by email at thanks and I hope to hear from you soon.

  7. we have a 1973 semaphore in almost mint condition.please contact us