September 16, 1989 the Featherbed Railroad opened its doors officially for the first guests to stay. From stories told to me by the Bassignani brothers who helped build this place that was much later than originally anticipated for the first day, but converting a caboose into guest room is no easy task. But a quarter of a century later the vision of Len & Lorraine Bassignani and Kelly & Sherry McLean continues to be a great vacation destination for many hundreds of people every year.
The idea of converting a caboose from a utilitarian office at the back of a train to a fancy guest room might be crazy to some and I’ve heard that it took a bit of selling for the idea to catch on with Lorraine and Sherry, but catch on it did and Lorraine’s beautiful artwork still adorns the walls of several of our rooms. She truly jumped in with both feet and used her talents to create interior decor that is still impressing people to this day. Len’s handy work is still in evidence all over the property as well as he used some creative ingenuity to come up with a solution to problems that might have seemed overwhelming.
So the story of how this place came to be comes from a tail of two vacations where the family went on a journey up to Dunsmuir where the Railroad Park Resort also features accommodations in railroad cabooses as well as box cars. They also traveled to the Madonna Inn where Alex Madonna and his team created a place where each room has a different theme. Somehow the idea of combining these two came to them and the vision for the Featherbed Railroad, where each caboose has a different theme, was born.
Their timing was ideal because the railroads were getting rid of cabooses at that time and you could have one relatively inexpensively - providing you took it off the railroad’s tracks. At that time they were scrapping the cabooses as quickly as they could so time was also of the essence. It turns out that Kelly’s experience in the moving business was perfect but where to put such a place?
The answer came as Len was delivering a load of goods to the local hardware store and drove by the property that is the Featherbed Railroad today. A lake-front plot of five acres at just the right price was a magical solution to his quest and he called Kelly and the ball was rolling.
Kelly’s and his brothers, Brett and Mitch, apparently were enlisted to lay the tracks that the cabooses were to rest on. Apparently that was a particularly hot summer so the work wasn’t much fun and, at one point, the boys wanted a break but Len reminded them that the cabooses were on their way so work continued. Since Lake County is the only county in California that reportedly never had a railroad the only way to get the cabooses here was on the back of a “low boy” truck.
A caboose riding down the street on a truck is truly an unusual sight so there were several people who followed the load to see where it was going. A few of those people continue to stay here and tell us of following the cabooses to the Featherbed Railroad just to see where they were going.
The vision of converting a caboose to a guest room is easier in one’s mind’s eye than it is in the real world and while the plan was to open the doors about six months after the cabooses arrived, the reality is that it took well over a year. But it finally happened on this day, 25 years ago.
A blog about happenings in Lake County.