Team traditions: At South Carolina fans get aboard the Cockaboose
At South Carolina, players and fans train very seriously. The players train by lifting, and the fans lift a few on an actual train: the Cockaboose. The New York Times traced the history of this tailgating tradition earlier this season. Since 1990, when local real estate developer Ed Robinson purchased a lot of 22 train cars, fans have paid to party railroad-style before games at Williams-Brice Stadium. The cars are actual cabooses from the Illinois Central Railroad, decked out in opulence with wood floors, full bars, high-tech sound systems, rooftop patios and air conditioning to battle the brutal South Carolina heat early in the season.
The train cars are worth a pretty penny; one was recently on the market for just under $300,000, and it’s a rarity for the cars to be available at all. They are the defining feature of the Gamecocks’ gameday experience. Former South Carolina coach Lou Holtz told SI about his affinity for the trains in 2003. Holtz, who coached the Gamecocks from 1999 to 2004, was known to drop in to Cockaboose parties from time to time.
The only rule governing the cars is that the exteriors must stay the same. They are all painted South Carolina garnet, but the interiors differ based on the tastes of the owners. Some even have their own Facebook pages, in case you feel like “Liking” one and asking for an invite.
Not surprisingly, the Gamecocks’ rivals have the same respect for the Cockabooses as South Carolina fans do. South Carolina has a fierce in-state rivalry with Clemson, and Tigers fans spray painted one Cockaboose with “Let’s Go, Tigers” last spring.
Thankfully, the interiors were left alone -- no marble columns disrupted or chandeliers pulled to the mahogany floors. With prime real estate next to the stadium, it’s no wonder that other unofficial train cars have found a home nearby. Many of those imitators are former passenger or dining cars, which may offer more space than the roughly 300-square foot Cockaboose -- but aren’t quite as glamorous.