The door to the GN 441 Locomotive is heavy.
It takes two hands and a good tug to open the hefty metal slab, but what’s inside is worth the effort.
The practical nuts and bolts in the interior of the engine have been removed and replaced by living quarters including a kitchen, bedroom and living room featuring polished wood accents and Great Northern Railroad motifs throughout.
It’s like a luxe tiny home on wheels, although this train won’t be leaving the station anytime soon.
The locomotive is one of nine railroad cars that guests of the historic Izaak Walton Inn can choose from, and can be yours for a night starting at $329. The renovated engine also features a conductor’s chair at the helm, so guests can step into the shoes of the conductors of old, if only for a night.
The locomotive is at the top end of the hotel’s luxury caboose offerings. Smaller high-end models are priced from $249 per night, and the classic cabooses — restored, but with an old-time feel — run between $169-199 per night. The cabooses sleep anywhere from one to six passengers, and four of the inn’s cars are equipped with a fireplace.
“Classic cabooses are more vintage — we’ve kept their history,” said general manager Cristinna Gebbia. “It’s unique, it’s boutique — it’s just one of those things where if you haven’t stayed in a caboose you probably should. It’s a whole different experience.”
The historic shells and modernized interiors were introduced in the mid-1980s, according to director of sales and marketing Holly DuMay.
“It almost seemed natural with our relationship with the railroad,” DuMay said.
They come from various locations across the United States. The locomotive was sourced from Iowa and brought to life by Tom and Jamie Lambrecht. Through his work with BNSF Railway, Tom came across the locomotive in East St. Louis, where it was set to be dismantled and sold for scrap. But he saw the potential in the old engine and thought it would be a great fit for the Izaak Walton Inn, given the hotel’s railroad history.
His wife, Jamie, who works as a machinist for BSNF Railway, designed the interior while Tom got the engine to Essex and transformed the exterior. The engine arrived in Essex in September 2009 and it took four sidebooms to lift it from the tracks to its current home next to the inn.
“It’s very unique and we definitely want to embrace our roots and why the inn was created,” DuMay said.
The cabooses, while smaller in size, are also rich in history.
Cabooses were originally coupled to the rear of a cargo train and used as an office for the conductor and to house a brakeman and flagman. Before air brakes were invented, a conductor would use a whistle to signal a stop, prompting the brakeman to twist the brake wheels on each car to slow the train.
Some of the cabooses have cupolas, an elevated observation area that railroaders historically used to watch for signs of trouble, such as smoke coming from the train cars ahead. Today, the inn’s fleet has turned the observation decks into seating areas where viewers can take in vistas of the surrounding forests or the inn itself.
A stay in the inn’s railcars won’t physically transport visitors, but it may take them back to another era.
Reporter Mackenzie Reiss may be reached at 758-4433 or firstname.lastname@example.org.