All Aboard: the $300,000 ultimate tailgating experience

My long-suffering husband, Bruce – whom I’ve described in Gridiron & Grits as a tolerant football widower – has a treat in store this weekend: He’s agreed to be my date when my beloved Carolina Gamecocks travel to play Tennessee.

Believe it or not, this is the first time in our long marriage that Bruce will have the privilege of watching the ‘Cocks take the field, live and in person. He’s a little iffy on the game (actually, he’s humoring me by attending), but he did pose a question that made me giggle: Do people really put on those elaborate tailgates you see on television – with charcoal grills and everything?

My answer: You’re darn right, they do! Tailgating these days doesn’t mean chips, dips, beer and a radio – it means serious spreads, from appetizers to desserts, along with big-screen televisions to monitor gridiron rivals before heading into the stadium. Actually, some folks never make it into the stadium at all, preferring to party on throughout the game.

The fans at the University of South Carolina have refined tailgating to a high art in the form of a sight that’s unique to Williams-Brice Stadium: the Cockaboose. Put simply, a Cockaboose is a former train car that’s been modified to become the ultimate in tailgating luxury.

The brainchild of Carl Francis “Doc” Howard and Ed Robinson, the stationery Cockabooses – along with a string of repurposed dining cars added later – have attracted the attention of magazines such as Southern Living and Smithsonian and are a staple on ESPN and other sports shows.

According to The (Columbia, S.C) State, Howard and Robinson acquired the original 22 Cockabooses and the unused tracks at the side of Williams-Brice stadium in 1990 and sold 20 of them for $45,000 each in just two days, keeping the other two.

What did those originally buyers get for their money? Basically, the shell of a 45- foot long, 10-foot wide caboose (with exterior paint in garnet and black), equipped with water and sewage, central paint and air, electrical wiring and access to satellite television.

The inside of each Cockaboose is unique: some have bedrooms and showers, others resemble Victorian train cars, and some are reminiscent of the Orient Express. Many of the owners say they’ve put upwards of $100,000 into their décor and, in 2006, one of the Cockabooses went on the market (a rare occurrence) and sold for $300,000.

So, to answer Bruce’s question: Yes, honey, the tailgates you see on TV are real. The beer, the grills, the brats and – in South Carolina – the shrimp and grits are staples. But if you really want to tailgate in style, the Cockaboose is the way to go.



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