The Caboose: Train Talk Ep. 25


Hello everyone! Welcome to train talk! We are coming to the end of the year and appropriately,
the subject of today’s episode is the last car of the train. That’s right, we will be talking all about
the caboose. I’ll discuss briefly what a caboose is and
historically, what purposes the caboose served followed by a look at the different types
of cabooses and finishing off with some ways that cabooses are still being used today. But before we get any further, what is a caboose? A caboose is a railroad car that at one time
was used regularly on the end of freight trains as well as some trains hauling both freight
and passengers. Cabooses were used for train crew members
to keep an eye out on the rest of the train as it traveled along the railroad. In addition, cabooses served as an office
space for the train conductor to handle any necessary paperwork that had to do with the
train. They had a simple design, essentially a box
on rails with windows on all four sides. On the inside, they were basic, typically
featuring beds, restrooms, storage lockers, a desk or two, some seating, and a stove for
heating food and keeping warm in the winter. Cabooses also carried many work tools and
supplies that might be needed by the crew. In a sense, this car was essentially a cabin
on rails. Not surprisingly, it is believed that the
word “caboose” comes from a similarly spelled Dutch word referring to a cabin on
a ship. In addition to serving as a crew office, cabooses
were also important in that they were the last car on the train. To let crews on other trains know that this
was the last car, lamps were hung from stands on the back platform of the caboose. These lights, known as marker lights, gave
rise to the phrase “bringing up the markers”. Along with marker lamps, many cabooses were
also painted red for greater visibility. Originally, cabooses were made out of modified
box cars but over time, their design evolved. In the second half of the 1800s, , cabooses
were modified to include a small compartment with windows on all four sides that was added
above the roofline. These “cupolas”, as they were called,
were used by the train crew to look along the entire length of the train in case there
was a problem that needed to be addressed such as an overheated axle bearing, called
a “hotbox”. The idea of the cupola is believed to have
originated from a conductor working on the Chicago and Northwestern Railway in the 1860s
who propped up boxes to stand on so he could look out a hole in the roof of a boxcar that
was at the end of his train. Cabooses were used on all freight trains in
the United States and Canada up until the 1980s. There were many different types of cabooses
built over the years. The standard design was simple with flat sides
and a cupola that was the same width as the rest of the car and typically offset slightly
to one end of the caboose or the other. There were, however, a number of variants
from this that we will now review. The most common variant from the standard
design of cabooses was known as the “Wide Vision” or sometimes extended vision caboose. These cabooses were similar to the basic caboose,
but the cupola section was wider than the rest of the car, giving crews a better view
down the tracks along the side of the train. Wide vision cabooses were one of the last
new designs to be made and they were popular with railroads all over the United States. Another variant of caboose is the “Bay Window”
caboose. Rather than having a cupola, bay window cabooses
had a widened “bay window” mid section, providing crews a similar improved forward
visibility as the wide vision without having to climb up into the cupola. This version of caboose is older than the
wide vision by a few decades, believed to have been first constructed some time in the
1920s. As freight cars grew in size, they became
taller than many cabooses of the time, often completely obscuring the cupola. Bay window cabooses quickly became popular
with many railroads, particularly in areas where tunnel and bridge height clearances
were an issue. A more unusual type of caboose is the “Transfer
Caboose”. Transfer cabooses were primarily used for
short local freight trains or switching movements in railroad yards. Often, they were used on “transfer job”
freight trains, moving freight cars from the yard of one railroad company to another. This is, in fact, where the transfer caboose
got its name. Because of their use on trains that traveled
only short distances, they lacked many of the features that could be found in most other
cabooses such as beds, restrooms, and stoves. Instead, they had a simple rectangular box
shape with large end platforms for crews to stand on during switching moves. Like bay window cabooses, transfer cabooses
first started to appear on America’s railroads around the 1930s. The flat roof caboose was among the earliest
designs of cabooses. Quite simply, this was a caboose without a
cupola. They were often made from modified box cars
or flat cars, but some were also built as cabooses. These eventually gave way to cupola cabooses
in the second half of the 19th century. The drovers caboose was another old design. In ways, it was closer to being a passenger
car than a caboose. They had the appearance of a combination car
with a sliding door for baggage with the addition of a cupola on the roof. They were often used on livestock trains in
the western United States. Finally, we get to the bobber caboose. The major unique feature about the bobber
caboose was the single truck with two axles for a total of just 4 wheels. Other caboose designs featured two trucks,
each with two axles. The downside to having just two axles was
a poor ride quality, causing a “bobbing” motion. This is where the bobber caboose got its name. Bobber cabooses were used by some eastern
railroads as well as some mining, logging, and other short line operations. They had largely been retired by the early
to mid 1900s. Cabooses were first used some time in the
1830s or possibly 1840s. As trains began to grow in length and travel
greater distances, it became apparent that it was necessary to have a place to station
crews on long freight trains to keep an eye out for any problems that might arise during
the train’s journey. The Caboose was the solution, providing the
ideal place from which to inspect the train continuously while it was in motion as well
as creating a viewing platform on the end of the train to assist during switching moves. As I previously mentioned, the first cabooses
were made from modified freight cars but eventually, they were built as all new rail cars. In the early days, (before trains used air
brakes,) crews had to walk along the rooves of all the cars tying down metal brake wheels
when the train needed to slow down. These crew members, called brakemen, were
typically stationed in the caboose and when signaled by the locomotive crew, often through
the use of whistle signals, would climb up the ladders of the caboose and then walk the
length of the train, applying or releasing brakes, depending on what was signaled. Another brakeman would walk from the locomotive
cab, performing the same task of applying or releasing brakes until meeting the brakeman
from the caboose somewhere mid way along the train. Eventually, air brakes were designed and implemented
on all trains in the United States but cabooses continued to serve an important role as an
office for the train crew. Here, the conductor, the crew member who is
in charge of the train and its safe operation over the railroad, would read through and
file any important paperwork related to the train either obtained at the beginning of
the work session or picked up at various stations the train would pass on its journey. And, despite no longer having to walk the
length of the train to apply brakes, brakemen continued to play an important roll assisting
in switching moves on the ground and throwing any hand thrown switches as needed. As the railroads transitioned into the 20th
Century, cabooses changed from a mostly (or in some cases all) wooden construction to
an all steel construction. Steel provided greater durability, protecting
the crew and keeping the car in service for a longer time. Over the next several decades, cabooses continued
to soldier on. They were a recognizable sight on the end
of every freight train that would pass by but now, they seem to have all but vanished
into the history books. So what happened? Into the second half of the 1900s, the railroads
were looking desperately for cost cutting measures, facing increased competition from
trucks. In attempting to maximize efficiency, cabooses
were seen as an unnecessary expense, costing the railroad in construction, maintenance,
and switching moves just to put a caboose on the end of each train. The railroads found their escape from the
caboose in the form of the End Of Train Device, or EOT for short. These are also called FREDs or Flashing Rear
End Devices. The End of Train Device is quite simply just
that – an electronic device that is attached to the rear coupler of the last car on the
train and is tied into the train’s air brake system. The EOT relays important information to the
cab of the leading locomotive such as brake pressure as well as speed and direction of
the last car. In short, it keeps track of the end of the
train. The first end of train devices appeared on
the Florida East Coast Railroad in 1969. In just 3 years, the FEC had replaced all
of their cabooses on mainline freights with end of train devices and by the mid 1980s,
cabooses were essentially gone from all main line freight trains in all of North America. The era of the caboose had come to a close. Today, cabooses continue in service on most
major freight railroads, although in much lower numbers. They are used on freight movements where the
train backs up frequently or for extended periods of time, such as in yard switching,
transfer service, or local freight trains that stop at many different industries along
the route to set out and pick up cars. Railroads now often refer to them as shoving
platforms, as their new primary function is to serve as a platform for crew members to
stand on while the locomotives are shoving the train in reverse. Information regarding any upcoming dangers
or stopping distances is relayed from the back platform of the caboose to the engine
crew over the radio. Along with their limited use in freight service,
cabooses can also be seen on many different tourist railroads and museums, giving rides
to the public. While the era of the caboose has come and
gone, the surviving examples at museums, on tourist railroads, and in limited freight
service serve as a reminder of railroads come and gone. A rich past and very much a different era
of work on the railroad. The red caboose on the end of a freight train
will forever be an icon of railroading history in North America. Thanks for joining me for this in depth look
at the caboose. If you want to learn even more about cabooses,
including some other interesting details that I didn’t have time to include in this video,
there’s an excellent article from Trains Magazine that was published in 2006 that greatly
helped me with some of the research for this video. I will leave a link in the description if
you want to check that out. As always, leave any comments or questions
you may have in the comments section down below. New videos every Friday morning at 9 AM pacific
time right here on the YouTube channel and also, be sure to check out all the stuff I
post on my other social media accounts. Additionally, if you’re not already, you
can subscribe to the channel and remember to click the bell button and hopefully, YouTube
will alert you whenever I upload a new video or post something to the community tab of
the channel page. That’s it for now. Until next time, I’m Mike Armstrong. I’ll see you down the line! Thanks for watching!

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