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An office with a view
Dec. 3, 2012
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by Ivan Raconteur

Ever since I was old enough to contemplate such things, I have dreamed of working in an office with a view.

The view I want is not a static one, but one that changes to include lakes, rivers, mountains, and valleys.

My dream office would have wheels, as well as windows.

I mean no disrespect to the comfortable office that has been provided for my use by the genial newspaper ownership team.

If we are going to dream, however, we may as well dream big, and the view I have in mind is not of a parking lot, but of spectacular natural beauty.

One of the office views that has most appealed to me is the one I saw on the large calendars that adorned the walls in our basement when I was a lad.

My old man, when he was a young man, worked for a time as a crew member on a detector car on the Empire Builder route of the Great Northern Railway.

That was long before I was born and started to think about office accommodations.

Nonetheless, he kept some of the memorabilia, and I spent hours studying those calendars that showed sweeping expanses of Montana skyline.

From the expanses of prairie bordered by snow-capped peaks, to the pristine beauty of Glacier National Park, the allure of Big Sky Country cast a powerful spell over me.

Because they were produced by a railway, the calendars all featured trains as a prominent element, and, at the end of those trains were cabooses.

I knew right away that a caboose was the office for me.

I could visualize spending my days gazing at a long train stretching out ahead of me, while taking in the majesty of mountains and the mystery of lakes and rivers.

When I was young, I had the good fortune to travel by train, and I knew that one could see things from a train that one could not see from a street or highway.

Cabooses were familiar to me. I grew up in an age when most trains included a caboose, staffed by crew members who kept a careful watch on the train, and everything else in their kingdom.

Duluth, in those days, was a hub of activity where one could observe freight trains, passenger trains, and the ever-present ore trains that carried the ore (or taconite) from the mines on the Iron Range to the ore docks, where it was loaded onto ships for the journey down the Great Lakes to steel mills in eastern states.

Some people see being stopped by a train as an inconvenience, but even today, I consider it a treat to pause and watch a train go by.

I miss the days when I could wave up at the conductor, or at a brakeman or flagman.

These individuals had the privilege of working in the greatest offices in the world.

I suspect those who actually worked in those jobs would be quick to point out that working in a caboose was uncomfortable and even dangerous, but since we are dreaming, we can disregard that part of the job.

I did not want to be a conductor or a brakeman. I just wanted their office.

Even the sight of a caboose standing on a siding inspires my imagination.

I have frequently thought about what it would be like to ride in the cupola seat of a caboose attached to a train working through Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon.

I am convinced I could write something magnificent and worthwhile if my office was in a caboose, rolling across the landscape.

Unfortunately, my timing was not very good. Technology and economics worked against me from the start.

Cabooses were a daily sight when I was growing up, but computers changed the way paperwork was handled, automatic hotbox detectors reduced the need for human observers to watch trains for problems, radios and other advances changed the way train crews communicate, and end of train devices (ETDs) that could monitor brake line pressure and other things were introduced.

By the time I was a senior in high school, the United Transportation Union and most US railroads had reached agreements that allowed ETDs to replace cabooses at the end of trains.

As in other industries, jobs that were once performed by people were gradually turned over to machines. Within a decade of my graduation, cabooses had all but disappeared.

I haven’t given up, though. Some cabooses escaped the scrap yard.

In the unlikely circumstance that I ever come into serious money, I will buy a caboose and convert it into my office.

It would be impractical and expensive to get a railway to haul me around, but I could buy some land and install my caboose on a perch with a view.

It could be on a mountainside in Montana, on a cliff overlooking the north shore of Lake Superior, or on the edge of a lake or river in northern Minnesota. I am willing to consider options.

My writing career is going to take off once I have my new office in place. I am sure it will. With a panoramic view from my cupola to inspire me, and working in an office steeped in so much history, I can’t fail.

When I need a break from writing my next masterpiece, I can retire to one of the bunks once used by crew members and take a nap. I will drift off to sleep listening to the faint echoes of steel wheels on rails, and the distant call of a living, breathing steam engine, and I will dream happy dreams.


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