Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine Business Review March 2009.
The Loose Caboose Hobbies
By Craig Smith
It’s hard to carry stress with you after you walk into the Loose Caboose Hobby Shop located at 820-A Third Street (the entrance is off Soscol.) This is a place for hobbyists, and tension just doesn’t fit.
Owner Ray Dahlgren opened The Loose Caboose fifteen years ago. Originally located on Solano near the Ranch Market, it next moved to Jefferson, across from the High School, before settling in at it’s current location five years ago. If you are into model trains, you cannot resist the Loose Caboose. They carry the largest trains (G gauge) down to the smallest (Z scale.) They carry a replica of the Napa Valley Wine Train in HO scale, which has been a favorite of residents and visitors for years. Trains are just the jumping off point – they carry track of all sizes as well as everything anyone would need to create a village through which the train can run. You can buy accessories ready to use, or purchase models to put together and paint.
Loose Caboose is a full service hobby shop that carries models of every type plus rockets, slot cars, Lego, paints, and glue. There are crafts for girls as well as science projects.
Dahlgren was born in San Francisco, but has lived in Napa for forty-five years. During his life, he’s been a machinist, welder, built and raced hot rod cars, owned a back hoe and dump truck company, Dahlgren’s Trailers and Campers (in the 60s and 70s,) and sold real estate and insurance (“I didn’t care for insurance sales,” he says, smiling.) He was a machinist and nuclear inspector at Mare Island. Amazingly, he is eighty years old, but looks much younger and has the energy of someone twenty years younger.
He opened Loose Caboose thinking it would be a part time thing. Roy Ballard, who previously worked at Carl’s Hobby Shop, went to work for Dahlgren early on. “If it wasn’t for Roy, we wouldn’t have made it fifteen years,” said Dahlgren. He isn’t just being polite – Dahlgren said many people think Roy owns the shop, and he does practically run it. A few years after they had been working together, the two men discovered that they were related by marriage.
The Loose Caboose is also home to Warhammer tournaments, which Dahlgren’s grandson John Dahlgren runs. These games, which are part chess, part Dungeon and Dragons and part creative thinking, involve intricate soldiers in war-like settings. Participants paint and build all the playing pieces. The store has a game room with tables and scenery in which customers can spend hours playing games and tournaments.
Dahlgren thinks parents should encourage kids to take up a hobby. “Teach them to build things, use their hands. “Get ‘em away from TV and computer games.” He laments the absence of shop classes in schools. His own children didn’t suffer from that lack. “My daughter is better working on cars than her husband is, and he’s a pilot for Delta.”
While the Loose Caboose features a room filled with Thomas toys, which Dahlgren said kids flock to, most of his customers are adults. “A lot of them are senior citizens,” he said. The shop is truly a place for the family.
Dahlgren himself is a family man. He and Ann have been married for sixty years. They have five children, 12 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. Over the years, several of the grandchildren have worked for Dahlgren. “It’s a real family business,” said Dahlgren.
Loose Caboose is open Tuesday through Sunday. Call them at 258-1222.