Caboose salute

Posted by Bob Keller
on Saturday, June 27, 2020

Cabooses come on a variety of shapes and sizes even without factoring in differences in road name.

Bringing up the rear

 I write two blog posts a month. I had hoped to have a totally different post this time, but it wasn’t meant to be. I have photos for two great product releases ready. I had thought at least one would have been released this month. Yikes, it hasn’t happened. Oh, I know they are being released soon, because I shot them in my basement! That slow boat from China is living up to its name.

Up, instead, is a bit of a commentary I had planned for a little later about cabooses!

For train fans of a certain age (and I hate having to say that) you got two waves: From the engineer and fireman, and at the end of the train from a brakeman or conductor. But like clean, tag-free freight cars, the caboose evokes images of a happier time in railroading (as least as recalled by this kid).

I’ve seen a few layouts modeling the contemporary and there was nary a caboose to be seen. Grrr, change and all that don’t you know.

My first train set (1955) included a caboose, because that was what you’d see at a grade crossing. It has probably been 10 years since I’ve seen a train with one, and that was on a ramshackle branch line out of Milwaukee. I suspect it was used as a car pusher in an industrial park. Hardly the home away from home of generations of railroaders. So I figured it was time to salute hacks and crummies as they were once called.

So looking through my caboose fleet, most are New York Central, while I do have a New Haven and a few Lionel Lines cabooses. 

The stark, basic Lionel no. 6257 is one of the trains I’ve had for 65 years. This caboose probably has more mileage than any other car (one locomotive) in my fleet. I have another one in maroon. That one was a gift, but nobody noticed that it didn’t have a coupler. That was okay, because I used it as a yard office and even a passenger station. I wasn’t going to NOT use it!

When I got back in the hobby, and learned that virtually everything Lionel ever made could still be bought, I searched for a few more. I admired the Penny N5c cabooses (My birthplace featured the Pennsy’s Cincinnati to Richmond, Indiana. The N5 was the caboose of choice. I tracked down both the Tuscan Lionel Lines and Pennsylvania versions as well as a bright orange Lionel Lines version. I later bought a Williams version in NYC Pacemaker colors.

Another early buy was the Lionel Lines no. 6517 bay-window caboose. I liked that one because it was a great version of the Erie’s bay-window car. I later bought a green Peoria & Eastern (NYC) version and somewhere I have a black with Lightning stripes.

The bay-window with a door version is by MTH. You might have seen something like this on a rural local freight or a wreck train. My favorite bay window job is the model by K-Line. Good size, solid detailing.

From opposite ends regarding size is the MTH Bobber caboose, and the Lionel extended vision version. I think the Bobber wins in the detail department, but the Lionel was made probably 10 years earlier.

The wood side cabooses model basically the same car style. The Lionel version wins in detailing. It has a taller stack, add-on grab irons on the cupola, and four marker lights. I got the MTH version in their first freight set (it was offered in Santa Fe or New York Central). 

The End-of-Train Device (ETD) eliminated the need for cabooses. I got two traditional Lionel boxcars with ETDs. I later got two intermodal flats with flashing lights. You can also get a freight truck with an ETD from MTH (but better hurry in that regard).

For further reading, check out this long-out-print book: The Railroad Caboose by Bill Knapke and Freeman Hubbard. Hubbard was long-time editor of Railroad Magazine and you may have a book or two of his in your library. 

Knapke was a 50-year railroader who turned writer after he retired. The book contains loads of procedural information on caboose operations but Knapke is also a teller of tails. Some of the chapter titles include Caboose Cookery, Beasts and Birds in the Caboose, Romance, Childbirth, and Murder; and Fact or Superstition. You probably can’t find it in a public library anymore, but check the usual places like RR specialty shop ronsbooks.com, and of course Amazon or Ebay.

This old girl came with my first set 65 years ago. Love it to pieces and still lubricate it every year!

Lionel had a winner with this beauty and its portholes. Until late Penn Central days, I never saw” Pennsy” freight with any caboose trailing behind other than this one.

Lionel made a great choice with this classic bay-window car. It was satisfactorily detailed and was a good platform for a decoration.

This is an oddity. If I recall, this may have been designed for the MTH 1800s series. I have two: An MTH version and a custom-painted version. Kind of old timey, but I have a 2-6-0 it looks great behind.

My favorite modern caboose is the K-Line bay window model. It almost looks too large compared with the others in my fleet. Nice detailing and flawless paint.

An odd couple if they’re ever was. A vintage two-axle bobber-style car, and Lionel’s extended vision job. The only problem with the Bobber is it has “droopy couplers.” They tend to disconnect on curves at high-speed. The extended vision caboose is a reliable model with fairly worn wheels in my service.

Brothers from different mothers. Both models of the 20000-series cabooses are pretty decent, though basic. Of course, with the short cupola, it would have been tough to insert a crew figure that you could see! Lionel is on the left, MTH on the right.

The caboose killer. ETDs are railroad staples these days. MTH offers a freight truck with a pre-wired ETD. Some intermodal cars come with them as well.

A folksy history of life in the caboose with some great photos.

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