Friday, November 3, 2017

The Love/Hate Relationship of Caboose Life

Riding in the caboose seemed to me to be the ideal workplace. Travelling in a self-contained comfortable world all your own. As fate would have it, my career was not to be spent working on the railway. Less than a decade after I would have hired out, cabooses would have been removed and my comfortable world would have disappeared. Who knows - maybe my first training trip would have shattered my idyll. Were cabooses really all that great? Near White River in 1984 (top photo).

I recently posed the following question on the 'If Your Work[ed] On The Railroad - Railfans Welcome' Facebook group of which I'm a member. What did group members Love about cabooses and what did they Hate? Responses poured in: good-natured banter, memories both good and bad, and the changing state of life on the rails. A plethora of replies! The answers are presented in this post - edited only lightly, recalling the past forty or so years. Not having worked on them, I'm able to still entertain my utopian thoughts of caboose life and lore. However, those who did work on them paint a more realistic picture for me to share herein!

LOVED...
  • the prestige of being the rear brakeman
  • nice touch to a local
  • repairing their electrical system
  • having a tail-end crew
  • waiting to give rear end air test inside in cold weather
  • Canadian cabooses were like an RV
  • excellent BN cupola waycars were clean, well-kept and rode well
  • seasoned conductor cooked us a great meal after we stopped at away-from-home terminal's grocery store
  • compared to riding in locomotive - roomy, more comfortable seats, no fumes, much quieter
  • could make backup moves just about anywhere
  • sleeping in the bunks
  • bringing the girlfriend for a trip
  • used to throw my grip up in the front and get on the back
  • dice games and cooking steaks on old Santa Fe work trains
  • teasing the head-end crew a mile up ahead by radio, "We're having a great meal back here, wish you could join us", while they're heating a can of Spaghetti-O's on the sidewall heater
  • sleeping my midnight shifts away up in the cupola
  • EL had full bay window seats, passenger trucks, coal stoves - what's not to like? Warm in the winter
  • workarounds like chains or bars for moving cars when things went wrong
  • riding an old UP crummy at 70 mph down the Columbia Gorge! Can't count the number of people we rescued in the Gorge.
  • throw a switch on the head end, rear end can take over
  • the solitude
  • the cushion drawbar on a long hopper consist
  • cooking on the stove and card games
  • when the conductor told you the rear end was moving
  • liked having the additional man on the crew
  • sleeping on them on the midnight shift while in Car Department
  • could sleep better on one of them than I could home in bed
  • the poetry graffiti'd on the walls
  • safe, warm place to sit when weather was bad
  • yes, they were very warm in the winter!
Chalk River in 1985 (above)

HATED...
  • slack action - getting shown every corner of the hack on a good day. On a bad day you could go out the door
  • hated drilling and throwing switches on a local
  • didn't enjoy the smell of the furnace - but liked the heat from it!
  • sleeping in them on overnight turnarounds
  • changing belts
  • trying to swing up with a grip in one hand and the engineer thinks 15-20 mph is good for boarding
  • slack action
  • when you went in emergency, you'd better grab on to something quick and hang on
  • I worked with an engineer who was jealous of the conductor and flagman on the caboose. He told me one night 'You know they are asleep' so he would apply the engine brake on and off to annoy them
  • the ones I dealt with at the BNSF were like a prison cell - pretty much bare bones
  • Southern cabooses were bare - had a monkey stove till the end
  • The MoPac cupola cabooses were OK, but the short bay-window cabooses were junk and rode poorly
  • I had a D&RGW cupola caboose once, and it still had a coal stove; very sooty inside
  • Our cabooses were coal heat, kerosene markers and a toilet frame that went straight to the roadbed. No radios 19 train orders and messages were our travelling papers. Doubled op 100-car train after switching out transfer - fun times- used telegraph poles for carlengths
  • too much hearing loss from riding in locos, especially loud horns mounted on the cab
  • unplugging a frozen toilet
  • I don't miss clogged s----ers especially when it's piled to the lid
  • working them on long hauls sucked
  • getting knocked around when the slack runs in 
  • most dangerous place on the railroad
  • worst was when the stove wouldn't stay lit in the winter
  • the slack action
  • hated lack of heat on some of them during the winter
  • don't miss assigned cabooses
  • the slack action - though would definitely keep the flagman awake
  • didn't like them when I coulnd't find one to sleep in 
  • good riddance!
  • I was a carman - cleaning those stinking toilets!!!
  • 105 cars back in the crummy - with a B/O radio!

REFLECTING ON THE CHANGE...
  • Wish I could say I rode one. 20 years on UP. Never had the chance
  • I didn't get much use of one as they were mostly gone, replaced with boxes. The ones remaining usually were for a regular job with a regular crew.
  • I only got to ride in one once. Rode in the cupola right into the scrap yard where they cut 'er up
  • sad day in my career when cabooses were removed
  • bean counters would never allow it
  • today's engineers aren't taught how to pull a caboose
  • if cabs were back, the conductor would be back there all alone. All the work is at the headend of the train, where conductor should be
  • even after all these years, a passing freight without a caboose still seems incomplete
A cylindrical covered hopper so-long in 1985 (above). For more caboose posts, check out the 1984 Cabooseless Train, prototype CP Angus Shops vans, Rapido Trains Inc's HO scale Angus Shops vans, CN International Service yellow cupolas, and CN cabooses through the decades and the unusual Loose Caboose

Running extra...

In case you ever wondered why Ebay exists....found this image tonight:
Wow, just wow. CN 4528 is on the Queens South Service Track/Queens 4. A riotous rainbow of beautiful boxcars in tow: SR, IC, NOPB, SCL, Chessie and a couple that my studious squinting can't quite make out. Doesn't matter. The trainman is beside the transfer caboose - perhaps the unit is going to run around the train. It seems likely that these cars are to/from CP's interchange on Queens. IC and Chessie were there on May 9, 1981 when I was.

Another Ebay denizen, someone who plucks potentially portentious photos is Bob Fallowfield. This is a big week for Bob. No longer constrained by a restrictive Canadian Modelling Facebook group, Bob is starting out on his own. I'm looking forward to some neat stuff. Find Bob on Facebook: Bob Fallowfield's Galt Sub. You won't be disappointed!

A trip to Toronto aboard VIA No 651/48 this week revealed this logo-filled image under the Toronto Union trainshed. How many logos can you find?

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