MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minnesota is full of train enthusiasts, from the real thing down to model trains. But how about those you can eat and sleep in — without going anywhere?
It’s a bed and breakfast concept in New York Mills called the Whistle Stop. In this week’s Finding Minnesota, John Lauritsen shows us why visitors from across the country are “All Aboard.”
“I looked over and said “Oh My God” if I had a house like that my life would be perfect,” said Jann Lee.
In the early 1990s, Jann and her late husband Roger thought they had bought the perfect house for a bed and breakfast.
“Our first night here in the middle of the night, all night long, train whistles,” said Jann.
“We thought, ‘what have we done? Nobody’s going to come,’” said Jann
But that sleepless night led to a new train of thought. They couldn’t stop the noisy procession outside,so why not roll with it? They decided to buy an 1893 Soo Line caboose for $2,500, move it here, and turn it into sleeping quarters.
“The ‘Cozy Caboose.’ It’s not called cozy for nothing,” said Jann.
That’s because it’s small and snug. But it quickly became popular with guests prompting the couple to think even bigger. Next they bought the Palace Car, which once belonged to a railroad executive.
“And then your mind is just going crazy. Do you know what we could do with this?” She said.
The 1903 Imperial Car and the 1909 Viking Car followed to form the Whistle Stop Bed and Breakfast. It’s a sort of Grand Central Station, minus the hustle and bustle.
“It’s like stray cats finding a home,” said Jann.
The cars have all the amenities. Some have whirlpools and the Viking even has a sauna.
“The people that come up, it’s incredible. People from all over the country. Since I’ve been here people from Europe have been here,” employee Cheryl Humbert said.
Jann has spent plenty of time in thrift stores and antique stores to make the cars as authentic and nostalgic as possible.
That’s the fun part. The hard part was getting the cars here. They can be up to 80 feet long and weigh 40 tons. House movers aren’t cheap and police escorts are needed.
“You only want to move it once. It’s a big deal. It’s a big, big deal to move them,” said Jann. “Then they put it down and it better be right.”
Yes, preserving history comes with a price. Upkeep is frequently needed to stay on track. But in the end it’s worth it. Jann and her crew enjoy being conductors of adventure. Taking passengers along for a unique ride — even if they never leave the station.
“I like the trains and the ambiance. You move with the trains as they rumble by. It’s wonderful. It just transports you,” said Cheryl.
The Whistle Stop runs year-round. But the Caboose shuts down in the winter because it doesn’t warm up very well.