CABOOSE

Bruce Osburn
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CABOOSE

Postby Bruce Osburn » Tue July 5, 2016, 12:16 pm

Perhaps an old time railroader can tell me what purpose a freight train caboose served. What accommodations did it have? Who occupied it? What was its source of power for lighting, heat. etc.? How did a worker in the caboose communicate with the engine? And when cabooses were discontinued, what replaced the service it provided? Just curious.
Bruce Osburn
--We live so long as we are remembered... old German adage.

Jody Meacham
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Re: CABOOSE

Postby Jody Meacham » Wed July 6, 2016, 2:42 am

Bruce, I’m sure there are guys here that have a lot more railroad experience than I have, but I can share what I know from working on the Seaboard while I was in college.

In the early 1970s most of the freight trains I worked on had four-man crews: a conductor and flagman who rode in the caboose and an engineer and brakeman who road on the engine. Two guys at each end of the train and sitting on either side of the train. In other words, one at each corner of a long, skinny rectangle. I usually was a brakeman but occasionally worked as a flagman.

There was radio communication between the engine and the caboose and, if any crew member had reason to be on the ground to throw a switch or couple or uncouple cars, that crewman also had a radio.

The cabooses I worked on were heated in winter by a kerosene stove. Electricity came from a generator driven by the turning of the wheels that either provided power directly or charged batteries for when the train was stopped. The conductor and flagman sat in seats up in the cupola when the train was underway so they could have a better view of the train. If the train had to back up, they stood on the back platform and used an air whistle attached to the end of the train line to warn traffic at grade crossings. An air gauge that allowed brake pressure to be monitored at the rear of the train was mounted on the cupola wall between them. Down below were long padded bench seats.

It never happened when I was working, but in my grandfather’s time on some local freights that spent a lot of time stopped while cars were being picked up and dropped off at yards or industries along the way, the crew would gather in the caboose at meal times and cook on the stove.

Each crewmember’s responsibility was to watch over his side of the train to look for things like sticking brakes, hot boxes (the oil-lubricated bearings at each end of the axles could leak and overheat), dragging equipment or shifted cargo. You’d do that on curves by looking backward or forward along the side of the train that was on the inside of the curve. The first two problems would produce smoke in the daytime; at night sticking brakes would also produce sparks as the non-turning wheels would slide along the rails and get flat spots while hot boxes would glow. The first three problems could cause a derailment, and sparks from sticking brakes could start a fire along the right-of-way. Shifted cargo – pulpwood did that a lot because it was carried in open-sided flat cars – could hit a passing train or trackside structures.

On some mainline stretches in dark (unsignaled) territory, the flagman was responsible for walking back to protect the rear of his train from following traffic by either flagging the engineer or putting torpedoes (small explosives) on the track. If a following train hit the torpedoes, the crew would know to stop.

On the long tangent (straight) track between Old Hundred and Navassa, near Wilmington, a stretch of about 80 miles, the lack of curves made inspection while under way impossible. So the rules required that the train stop somewhere near Lumberton and the brakeman get on the ground. The entire train would slowly pull past him while he inspected one side. Then he’d cross the track to the other side and the train would be backed up full length to pick him up.

If any problems were discovered, it usually meant finding a siding where the problem car could be set out so the rest of the train could continue. Sticking brakes could sometimes be resolved by isolating that car from the rest of the train line with a valve and then bleeding the air from that car so that its brakes would release (they would be inoperative the rest of the trip but the remaining cars had sufficient braking power to stop the train).

Another unique stretch of track that Hamlet crews worked was between Monroe and Bostic, near Rutherfordton, on the edge of the mountains. It had many more hills than other runs and it required constant radio communication between the conductor and engineer to keep the train from being pulled apart. That’s because in a long train of very heavy coal cars, part of the train was frequently going uphill while another part was going downhill.

There was about an inch of slack at each coupling. Multiply that by the number of cars in the train and you could easily have many feet of slack action between the engine and caboose that could break the train apart as it ran in or out, or at the least knock everybody out of their seats. Add to that the complication that brakes go on and off at the head end of the train before the tail end, because the air compressors are on the engines, and you can see why feedback from the conductor in the caboose about when slack was running in or out and when brakes were grabbing or releasing could help the engineer use his brakes and throttle to keep all the cars moving more or less as a unit rather than independently.

Technology has eliminated most of the reasons a caboose was necessary to carry crew members at the end of the train, and most were eliminated in the 1980s. The brakeman and flagman positions were also eliminated and now the conductor rides in the engine cab with the engineer.

    • Journal boxes, the oil-lubricated bearings at the end of freight car axles, have been eliminated for more reliable roller bearings.
    • Defect detectors are much more widespread on main lines. As a train passes over them, they detect high temperatures from bad roller bearings or dragging equipment and automatically radio the crew as to the problem and the number of the axle where it was found.
    • Electronic end-of-train devices are now attached to the train line (air hose) on the rear end that monitor air pressure and signal the head-end crew when brakes are coming on and off.
    • There are many fewer local freights that stop to switch industries along their routes. They require crew to get on the ground to throw switches, couple and uncouple cars and air hoses, which is expensive business that railroads discourage when possible. Now most freights run as solid trains between major terminals.
Jody Meacham
HHS Class of 1969

Bruce Osburn
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Re: CABOOSE

Postby Bruce Osburn » Wed July 6, 2016, 10:13 pm

Jody, thanks for answering my questions. You told me all I asked, and more. Now I have a better understanding of what it took to make a freight go down the tracks.
Bruce Osburn
--We live so long as we are remembered... old German adage.

freddie hassler
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Re: CABOOSE

Postby freddie hassler » Thu August 4, 2016, 5:24 pm

Jody, you did a great job telling about the Caboose

Wayne Terry
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Re: CABOOSE

Postby Wayne Terry » Fri August 5, 2016, 12:10 am

The purpose of the caboose was, and is, to park them in Columbia so the Gamecocks can enjoy a beer as the football team beats the Cheating Holes!!!!

freddie hassler
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Re: CABOOSE

Postby freddie hassler » Mon August 29, 2016, 12:30 am

Wayne, you can get a Gamecock Caboose all fixed up for 200-400 Grand :D


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