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Blinking red on a 50s era caboose?

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  • Member since
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Blinking red on a 50s era caboose?
Posted by Gwolfe on Sunday, January 26, 2020 10:58 AM

I bought an Atlas or Micro-Trains, n-scale, UP steel-sided caboose at a local model show. Just above the back door it has a fiber-optic blinking red lamp powered by a battery and light source mounted inside, with a tiny switch under the car. Prototype Question: would such a blinking red lamp be seen on a mid-fifties era caboose? Thank you.

  • Member since
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  • From: Milwaukee WI (Fox Point)
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Posted by dknelson on Sunday, January 26, 2020 11:33 AM

I do not think so.  Cabooses carried marker lights in the 1950s and while each railroad had its chosen color for caboose markers (I have some recollection they were green for the Union Pacific) those were usually Kerosene lanterns hung on either side of the back of the caboose.  Markers did not flash.  A steady red could have caused great confusion at night if a caboose and its train were safely in a siding and were being passed by another train.  

Colors for markers would depend on a railroad's rule book.

The single red light on the end of a caboose was something I don't think I saw until around 1980.  It was not a marker light I assume (those were usually lamps or reflective panels again on either side of the caboose) but was lit steady red if the train was stopped on the main or had gone into emergency.

Perhaps flashing red on cabooses was used once EOT devices with their flashing red light were in use, yet while there were still genuine cabooses (not shoving platforms) on some trains.  For that interval in time crews of other trains would have now expected to see a flashing red light to indicate the end of a train.

I am no UP expert but my hunch is that there may well have been UP cabooses with flashing red light capability but not in the 1950s, rather towards the end of caboose operations when the writing was already on the wall for cabooses.

Dave Nelson

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Posted by mvlandsw on Monday, January 27, 2020 2:12 AM

PRR was using flashing lights at least as early as 1965. They were of the battery powered type used at highway construction sites fitted with a bracket to mount in the sockets used for the kerosene markers. They had about a 4-5 inch red plastic lens atop a yellow box that held two 6 volt lantern batteries. 

Pictures can be found at

Usually one was used on each side of the caboose, but I saw numerous trains with only one through Penn Central and Conrail days.

As far as I know all railroads used red lenses to the rear of their trains with green or yellow to the front and sides if there were lenses facing those directions. PRR used single red lens markers. When trains were clear of the main tracks some roads required that the marker nearest the main be turned to show green or yellow to the rear.

Mark Vinski

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  • From: OH
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Posted by BRAKIE on Monday, January 27, 2020 4:41 AM

When I railfanned in the 50s in the Columbus,Ohio area all cabooses carried markers.. The single battery power flashing red light would come in the mid 60s.





“Shut one’s eyes tight or open one’s arms wide, either way, one’s a fool.” Flemeth-the witch of the Wilds.
  • Member since
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  • From: Collinwood, Ohio, USA
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Posted by gmpullman on Monday, January 27, 2020 9:15 AM

For a while after the War, the Nickel Plate Road was a prolific user of both Gyralights and Mars Signal Lights. They began to appear on the front of their later Berkshires and many of their first generation diesels and I've seen red ones used on the rear of passenger and some freight trains.

 NKP_423 by Edmund, on Flickr

 NKP_Gyralite by Edmund, on Flickr

These were in addition to marker lights as required by the rule book. Around 1960 the use of these lights was curtailed, probably as a maintenance cost savings more than anything.

I mounted one to the rear of one of my NKP sleepers.

 IMG_2755 by Edmund, on Flickr

Regards, Ed


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Posted by Overmod on Monday, January 27, 2020 5:17 PM

A number of roads, including UP and MILW, started using rotating red lights on locomotives that would actuate when a train went into emergency to alert an approaching train on an adjacent track that there might be spilled cars or shifted load.   It would stand to reason there was at least the idea of applying something of that kind to the rear of the train as well, although I don't have firsthand knowledge that anything like that was done.

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