South Carolina showcases unique tailgates

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COLUMBIA, South Carolina -Tailgating is about the local food, passionate fans, and time-honored traditions. From the Grove at Ole Miss to the Junction at Mississippi State, Southeastern Conference fans are highly ranked for knowing how to celebrate their teams and their schools.

The Tigers are officially one game in to conference play after Saturday's game on the road at the University of South Carolina. This was Missouri's only team they had not beaten in the SEC East. While the Gamecocks didn't show the Tigers up on the field this time, they did show Missourians a different type of tailgating.

In the 1900's in Columbia, S.C., Gamecock fans didn't have much of a football team to cheer for. The Gamecocks were bowl eligible only eight times from 1946 through 1994, and they lost all eight.

This gave a local real estate developer an idea to provide Gamecock fans with something else to celebrate. In 1990, Ed Robinson purchased 22 cabooses from Central Illinois Railroad. He started what is known as the Cockaboose Railroad.

Initially, each caboose sold for $45,000. As their popularity grew, more people became interested, so they decided to add more.

Robert Hewitt did not attend the University of South Carolina, yet he still was eager to hop on board after a dozen additional "Cockabooses" were brought in.

While all the cabooses look identical from the outside, each of the cabooses' insides is personalized based on the owner's preference. All are equipped with running water, air conditioning and mahogany cabinets.

Hewitt said he wanted his Cockaboose to be covered with garnet and black, the official colors of the University of South Carolina.

"I wanted it to be Gamecocky," Hewitt said. "You know, feathers on feathers, boas on boas. I said well you know that'll be something that will be neat but yet it won't cost a lot of money."

Outside of the Cockaboose every home game, the Hewitt family sets up a tailgate just as luxurious as the inside of the caboose. The outside tailgate is full of chandeliers, flat screen TVs, and plenty of southern-cooked cuisine.

Each and every game at Williams-Brice Stadium, Hewitt's sons, grandchildren and friends spend countless hours setting up and breaking down the tailgate, and not to mention cooking all of the food in between.

"Our tailgate is a little bit expanded compared to some others, so it does take some dedication to do it," said Barbara, Hewitt's wife. "We appreciate it because that's the best part of our tailgate, our family.

As members of the SEC, the Hewitts suggest that family extends to more than just blood relatives.

Both Barbara and Robert Hewitt remember the first time the Tigers faced the Gamecocks in the "Battle of the Columbias". They said they invited all the Missouri fans passing by over to the tailgate.

"They were as nice as any of the Gamecock fans you would find here," Barbara said.