SMITHS FALLS -- With families looking to day trip or stay local during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Railway Museum of Eastern Ontario has offered up two cabooses to rent on weekends.

Initially made available three years after they were restored, the museum has once again made both cabooses available through Airbnb this summer.

“You can sleep in one and in the morning you get a full tour of the station.” says museum employee Samuel Rawlings, who has been coming to the museum since he was three years old.

“Each caboose has three beds, so either three adults or two and a couple kids, if they can share a bed,” Rawlings said.

Both cars are authentic replicas that could be seen on Canadian railways up until the late 1980s. One is from the 1940s, and the other is from the 1970s.

“We have the authentic railroading experience, so we have the fold-down beds that the engineers and conductors used and some nice authentic blankets from the time period,” Rawlings said.

For former railroader Tony Humphrey, who also sits on the museum’s board, the 1940s caboose brings back some old memories.

“When I was hired on by the railroad in the early 1970s, I actually slept in a caboose like this in Montreal, so I can swear it’s pretty authentic,” he says with a smile. “We’ve upgraded the mattresses. They’re way better than what we slept on.

The caboose is made of plywood, he added, because the Canadian Pacific Railway had bought a lumber mill to make plywood during the Second World War.

While the museum in Smiths Falls is still closed for large groups because of the pandemic, opening up the caboose rentals let money flow again to help them cover costs.

“We’re not-for-profit and we’re not funded by the government,” Rawlings said. “We get a little help from the town of Smiths Falls. Everything else is done on admission and by donation.”

“Between taxes and insurance, to keep the doors open we needed to raise money, so we’ve opened up the overnighting in the caboose right now and it’s a family bubble. Obviously everything is cleaned and when you leave everything is cleaned again,” he added.

In 2019, the museum saw more than 11,000 people come through its doors, and they had bookings all the way from Europe.

“We didn’t expect people coming from Europe staying for a week at a time,” Humphrey said. “It’s an economical way to stay and some place you can't experience anywhere else.”

“We have people who are life-long railroad fans, people who stayed on the cabooses when they were in operation,” he said. “And kids love it. It’s just something amazing about staying on this big heavy machine. ... Everybody’s beaming with excitement. There’s always big smiles on their faces.” he added.

There’s no need to know a lot of railroading history, he said.

“You don’t have to come as a rail fan,” said Rawlings, “but you’ll be a rail fan when you leave for sure.”