Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Whatever Happened to the Little Red Caboose?




The Little Red Caboose ranks right up there with The Poky Little Puppy. Whatever happened to the little red caboose? Growing up, I always saw cabooses bringing up the rear of freight trains. They’re American icons along with the little red schoolhouse and the big red barn. Like the schoolhouse, they’ve disappeared.
Cabooses began in the United States, possibly in the 1840s. Conductor Nat Williams used an empty wooden boxcar at the end of his train as his office on the Auburn & Syracuse line in upstate New York. A wood box served as his seat and a barrel as his desk. He stored flags, lanterns, chains, and other work tools in this first caboose.
Laws in the North America soon required all freight trains to have a caboose and a full crew for safety. The caboose provided shelter for the crew at the end of a train. The crew’s responsibilities included switching and shunting rail cars, and to watch out for load shifting, damage to equipment and cargo, or overheating axles (hot boxes). While underway, a crewman would sit up in the cupola or at a side bay window to watch for smoke from overheated wheel or other signs of trouble.


The standard American caboose had platforms at both ends, fitted with curved grab rails to make possible crew members’ climb onto a moving train. The caboose also served as the conductor's office, where he kept records and handled business from a table or desk. For long routes, accommodations and cooking facilities were included. Red lights, called markers, enabled the rear of the train to be seen at night.


Cabooses were non-revenue equipment, meaning they didn’t earn money for the rail companies, and were often retained well beyond the normal lifetime of a freight car. They were part of every freight train until the 1980s, when safety laws requiring the presence of cabooses and full crews were relaxed. Automatic air brake systems eliminated the need for crewmen to manually set brakes on a moving train. Electric signaling circuits protect train movements and eliminate the need for flagmen. Monitoring and safety technology developments, such as lineside defect detectors and flashing rear-end devices (FREDs), are more efficiently and reliably than caboose crews. As a result, cabooses were phased out.
Today, cabooses are used for rail maintenance or on hazardous materials trains. They can be found on heritage or tourist railroads. And they have been transformed into unique homes or vacation lodgings.
Do you remember seeing cabooses? Did you read The Little Red Caboose?

14 comments:

  1. I have always loved little red caboose cars and look for them whenever I see a train. I never knew why they existed, they seemed to me to be just part of the train. Thank you for this tidbit! It was a fun read and informative. I do not recall ever reading the book, but I still sing the song when I see one!

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    1. I'm not familiar with the song. I missed something!

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  2. Terri, this was an education. I hadn't even noticed that cabooses aren't really part of modern trains. Thinking about it, I realize that I haven't seen one for quite some time. Although, I don't see trains often, either. Many of the train tracks in our area have been converted to walking trails.

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    1. Trains still go through town here. At least they no longer blow their horns at night.

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  3. I certainly remember the book. I think I have a copy of it around here somewhere.

    Loved the post thank you.

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    1. I no longer have the book, which is a shame.

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  4. Great post, Terri. I always wondered about the cabooses. My favorite part of the train, but never knew why they existed. I don't remember the book (but I did own The Pokey Little Puppy!)

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  5. I do remember this book.. Pokey too! thanks for the memory jog, it made me :)

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    1. Little Golden Books had a lot of good titles.

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  6. Both of these books were so special to so many children.. Thanks for reminding me of the pleasure they were to read.
    Connie
    cps1950 (at) gmail (dot) com

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  7. Enjoyed your post, Terri. Years ago my hubby read The Little Red Caboose and Thomas the Tank Engine to our small sons. Little boys and bigger ones too love trains and train stories.

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  8. Finally answered a question I've had for a very long time. Thanks, Terri!

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