Who says you need train tracks to have a train? Though Inlet’s nearest railroad—the Raquette Lake Railway, which ran a couple of miles to the north—shut down in the 1930s, the community still boasts its own caboose. The red Grand Trunk Western car has been a Route 28 institution since 1994, when it rode the rails from Utica to Thendara, then hitched a truck ride to its new home. It was stationed on a short section of faux tracks, where it chugged along as a takeout joint called the Loose Caboose, and then, briefly, as the Moose Caboose, before closing in 2006.
And there it sat, mostly idle, until Jill and Karl Marsh brought it out of retirement. The Marshes are transplants, too, though their family has been vacationing in the Adirondacks for decades. Every summer they’d pass through the little town with its red caboose on the trip from Rochester to Blue Mountain Lake, but they never dreamed it would become their new home. “We didn’t know Inlet,” says Jill. “We had no idea how wonderful the town was.”
They did know that they wanted to end up somewhere in the Adirondacks, so once their two daughters had flown the nest, they started looking around the area in earnest. And after a few fits and starts, they finally landed in that little town they’d passed through for years, moving to Inlet in 2016.
At that point, the Marshes were still working remotely from home, Karl as an IT executive and Jill in marketing. But after many campfire chats about starting a business of their own, they saw their chance—the caboose down the road came up for sale, and they snapped it up. The timing was serendipitous. Just as their offer on the restaurant was being accepted, Karl was laid off.
So he started an encore career as chief engineer of The Caboose, a 9’x30′ eatery that opened in May 2019. For fare, Karl struck on the idea of paninis, a concept that allowed the Marshes to keep their menu fresh and simple, without being boring. Jill says once they settled on the theme, they had fun dreaming up creative combinations. “We just got crazy,” she says.
The results range from tried-and-true favorites, including ham-and-cheese, turkey bacon ranch and a Reuben, to more unexpected choices like chicken saltimbocca or balsamic portobello with roasted red peppers. They’ve also added a breakfast sandwich as well as gluten-free options. (Karl was recently diagnosed with celiac disease and he says he’s dedicated to finding truly good gluten-free bread.)
The Marshes try to introduce something a little different each season, often experimenting with local ingredients. Last year a pulled pork panini made an appearance on the menu, stuffed with meat from Mountainside Smokehouse and Grill, a popular barbecue place just a few miles down Route 28. They’ve also partnered with the Oil Well, in Old Forge, which sells specialty olive oils flavored with chili paste, bacon and more.
But after only three seasons—two during a pandemic—the couple is still feeling their way. “We don’t know what normal is,” Jill says, so it’s hard to plan from one year to the next. Still, the business has grown steadily, and the Marshes are enjoying the ride. “You can’t take yourself seriously when you own a caboose,” says Jill.
They keep things lively with themes like Hawaiian Day—when they don tropical garb and serve up ham and grilled pineapple paninis—and a Father’s Day joke contest. Karl, who dresses as an engineer, breaks out his train whistle for rail-loving youngsters. And they plan to start selling Caboose T-shirts this summer. One design being floated: “How many chuggas before the choo?”
“As much work as it is, it is a lot of fun,” says Karl. The couple especially enjoys chatting with visitors, trading camping tips or picking up snippets of community history. The Caboose sits on the footprint of Keith’s Diner—an Inlet institution that operated for almost 50 years—and people often share stories of the place and its colorful owner.
One former employee of the Loose Caboose has reminded Jill that she and Karl don’t really own The Caboose, they’re just a part of its history. The Marshes don’t seem to mind that one bit. “It’s an honor,” says Jill.
The Caboose (151 Route 28, 315-219-0857, thecaboose.square.site) opens for the season on May 26.