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You’ve heard of Boxcar Willie. Well, here comes Boxcar Tim. Some of his friends think he’s different and a little bit nutty, but that’s OK with Houston lawyer Timothy Hootman, who’s turning three train cars into a law office near Houston’s I-45/Gulf Freeway downtown exit. “This is the main exit off the freeway … and people are looking over here,” says Hootman. “I never expected anything like it.” Hootman grew up in La Porte, Texas, a little town on Galveston Bay about 30 minutes from Houston. In 1990, after graduating from California Western School of Law in San Diego, he began his legal career doing criminal defense work as a solo in La Porte. He says he spent a lot of time in Brownsville, Texas, handling drug cases, and felt he could use an extra office there. That’s when he got the idea to use a caboose. But before the project got off the ground in Brownsville, he moved to Houston in 1996. “I just took the train idea that I had originally for Brownsville and went with larger cars and more of them,” he says. The train cars look well-traveled, and it’s not easy getting onto the caboose platform. Once inside, the musty smell of an antique shop fills the air. “Feel how it sways?” he asks, smiling. “I’m going to leave it like that. I think it’s neat.” Comprising the law office space — a total of 1,750 square feet — will be a 1922 Pullman heavyweight passenger car, a 1961 Union Pacific insulated boxcar and a 1979 Burlington Northern caboose. They sit parallel to one another on what was once a vacant lot at the corner of Houston’s Dowling and Pease streets. A brick walkway runs between each car, but Hootman says ramps will eventually link them. Hootman, who handles mainly civil litigation and appellate work, clearly has an adventurous soul. Throughout his narrow office in the caboose hang yellowed maps and relics picked up from far-off places. An elephant foot covered with red leather on top serves as a footstool in his waiting area, and the heads of a longhorn cow, Mexican fighting bull and an American buffalo line the wall of the boxcar, which serves as his library. When Hootman first got the idea to use train cars to build a law office he says, his friends and family thought he was crazy. “Most people, it seems, are resistant to new ideas anyway,” he says. “But now that it’s coming together, the reaction is extremely positive.” “Tim doesn’t just march to a different drummer,” says longtime friend Doc Hadley, “he’s got a whole orchestra.” “I don’t think there’s a kid in the world who hasn’t stood alongside a railroad track and wondered what it’d be like to blow the whistle,” says Hadley. “Tim just took it a little further than a fantasy. You might call him ‘whimsical’ but he’s determined. And it may take him a long time to realize his wishes and desires, but he’ll get there on every one of them.” Hadley has known Hootman since 1989 and says he’s always doing something different. His latest eccentricity? Since reading a National Geographic article about a man who rode a red mule across Mexico, Hootman’s had his heart set on doing the same thing, Hadley says. Hootman finds working in typical office space difficult. He says he often goes to his boat in Freeport, Texas, to work on appellate briefs. “I just don’t like sitting in a beehive with all the other drones. It’s a conformity situation, sort of like suburbia,” he says. Until the train project is complete, he’ll stay in his current office in the Chase Bank building at Houston’s Rusk and Main streets. Since the project took off, Hootman has encountered several problems and unexpected expenses. The advantage of practicing law out of a train is that his office advertises itself, he says. But it’s been expensive and not what he’d call a “good investment.” Hootman won’t disclose how much he paid for the train cars or the property they sit on. “I had a train wreck when I brought the Pullman heavyweight in,” he says. “The car was in a museum in Missouri, and the day before they were supposed to leave, [it rolled] … out of the train station that was on a hill. It rolled five miles down the hill, and my car was demolished. I had to find another car, and I got into a big federal suit over that. It delayed me, and I lost a lot of money.” Hootman v. Smoky Hill Railroad & Historical Society Inc., d/b/a Belton, Grandview & Kansas Railroad, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western Division of Missouri, settled in 1999 for a confidential amount, Hootman says. The cars stand on train tracks that are connected to lava rocks. Hootman says the tracks provide a good foundation and keep the cars from moving — important considering Pullmans seem to stray. Like Hootman, his brother and father are anything but boring. They work together in Brazil, 1,500 miles up the Amazon River, where they harvest natural hardwoods, milling down trees into different wood products that get shipped to Houston. Hootman made use of his family’s elegant wood in the ceiling of his caboose. The rough-cut wood is fastened with large brass screws imported from England. “[The screws are] oversized, and they don’t make them in the United States,” he says. “It took a long time to get all of those.” The wood and brass combined with doors and trim painted sky-blue give the caboose a “boat-like” feel, and that’s exactly what Hootman wants. Construction has been under way for almost four years, and Hootman’s able to use the caboose to do work. He won’t, however, be receiving clients at his new digs until construction is complete — and he hesitates to say when that’ll be. “Every time I put a date on something, I’m always off because this is such an unusual project that there’s always something weird — like the train wreck — that happens,” he says. Once it’s done, the passenger car will be painted forest-green with white stripes, and the caboose will likely stay the lime green color it is. “People think cabooses are supposed to be red,” says Hootman. “But any train guy is going to know and think, ‘Hey they painted the Burlington Northern red.’ “ He hasn’t decided on a color for the boxcar, which he’s treating for rust. Houston artist Ben Woitena will tie in the railroad theme by making a fence out of train track rails and train wheels; it’s a fence Hootman is putting up more for aesthetic value than function. “Any time I’m building something, I try to tie the materials in with the idea I’m trying to get across,” says Hootman. “And I think the law is, well everyone views it as kind of oldish, you know. You think of Abraham Lincoln. That’s why I like the train thing with the law, because when you think of trains you think of the old steam locomotives, you think of America becoming America and Americans moving out West.”

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