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Better Than Flamingos? : Yard Ornament Prompts Stares, Legal Questions

Times Staff Writer

The fruit trees along Felicita Avenue are blooming profusely, but that’s not what has Escondido motorists doing a double take.

The eye-catcher is old No. 203, a Santa Fe caboose, perched alongside the roadway.

Curt Yoder, owner of the vintage piece of rolling stock, describes himself as a railroad buff with no intent to turn the red caboose into a restaurant or a boutique. He has fenced off nearly a half-block of his property, at Redwood Street and Felicita, and is populating it with relics of the railroad era of the past.

Certainly Stands Out

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Yoder would prefer to “keep a low profile” about his new acquisition, but it’s rather hard to avoid the glare of publicity when you have a caboose parked in your front yard, a short distance from your house.

Bob Schulken, an across-the-street neighbor, mirrored neighborhood opinion when he said he “sort of liked” the old caboose as an addition to the landscape. Other neighbors were generally noncommittal about old No. 203, commenting that they could take it or leave it.

One woman asked, “What caboose?”

Schulken said his only concern involves the caboose’s effect on traffic safety at the Redwood-Felicita intersection, near where it stands.

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There have been five or six fender benders at the intersection in the past year, he said, and the distraction of a caboose might escalate that statistic, he figured.

But, in the 10 days since the caboose appeared, the intersection has been accident-free, calming Schulken’s fears.

“Maybe people are slowing down to have a better look,” he said.

A query to Escondido City Hall about the caboose’s legal status under city zoning codes caused a flurry of research.

Bob Leiter, community development director, made a tentative call after confirming that the codes did not specifically cover cabooses. No. 203 is an “auxiliary structure,” he ruled, and probably proper for the mixed residential-commercial neighborhood where it rests. With the proper city permits, of course.

Barring outraged cries from neighbors (who have shown no intention of such a reaction), the caboose is quasi-kosher.

Yoder, a grading contractor, bought the old caboose from the Santa Fe Railway. It hitched a ride on a freight train from San Bernardino to Oceanside.

From there, Yoder, with the help of his friends and the loan of a heavy-duty flatbed truck, carted it to his front yard.

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Escondido Councilwoman Carla DeDominicis was intrigued with the concept of a caboose as a form of “art in public places.”

After viewing the caboose in its bucolic setting, DeDominicis gave her personal endorsement.

“It’s a whole lot more attractive a yard decoration than a bunch of plastic pink flamingos,” she said.


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