Monday, November 26, 2012

FRED goes to work on the Railroad

I remember the first time I actually saw a train go by without a caboose, I felt total emptiness.

The first "Flashing Rear End Device" use is attributed to the Florida East Coast Railway. Following an acrimonious labor / management struggle - which began on January 23, 1963 and ended on April 9, 1976 - the Florida East Coast was the first railroad to eliminate the caboose, forcing the conductor to move to the head end and eliminating the fireman and two brakemen. And created a need for a device to monitor air brake pressure!

"FRED" is the informal - but very descriptive - acronym for the correct nomenclature, End of Train (EOT) monitor. The EOT monitors critical last car information such as brake pipe pressure, motion status, battery condition and marker light status and communicates this information to the Head of Train Device (HOTD) using radio communications. The HOTD displays this information to the locomotive engineer to help operate the train.

The latest generation of EOT's incorporate a turbine, driven by brake line pressure, to operate the flashing red light, and keep the internal battery charged

Unfortunately, there is an entire generation who have never enjoyed the pleasure of waving at the train men passing in the caboose, (crew car, hack, way car or crummy) believing that FRED is the end of the train.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. "A freight train without a caboose is like a sentence without a period    "


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Never face the engine when eating!

Canadian National Railways Caboose 76016, Skeena Subdivision Mile Post 119, September 9, 1959. Thanksgiving is one of those times when you think back over interesting or unusual places that you have dined. And while I was not on board a caboose on Thanksgiving in 1959, I have vivid memories about "eating" whilst riding a caboose. 

At once an office, soup kitchen, tool car, bunkhouse, and observatory, these doughty little guys did their level best to keep up with the rest of the train!

Office: This office on wheels is where the Conductor did his paperwork, keeping track of set outs and pickups and the minutia of this and that that Conductors loved to fuss with.

Soup Kitchen: For the most part, crews I traveled with had brought along a couple of cans of Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup or Tomato Soup, to ward off the winters cold.  Nothing beats of bowl of hot soup, brewed on the potbelly coal fired stove!

Tool car: For sure there was a tool locker with dozens of lengths of chains for blocking box car wheels left off on cannery spurs. A box of fusees, a box of track torpedoes, brooms for clearing switches in the winter, a couple of knuckles, journal box oil and a bag of wheel stuffing. And in one locker, I spotted a fly rod!

Bunkhouse: Two settees also served as bunks, great for taking it easy during down times. What more can one say?

Observatory: Without a doubt the most important function, with the rear end brakeman, and the Conductor – when he’d finished fussing with paperwork – riding in the elevated cupola, watching the train for anything that may signal trouble. A plume of bluish smoke could enunciate a dried out wheel bearing.  Also great for returning a wave from an admiring rail fan.

Found this interesting gallery of Canadian National Railways cabooses, showing wooden as well as steel versions.

I loved to ride the log train from Prince Rupert to Terrace. What was really neat was riding in the cupola behind 30 or 40 empty log cars – felt like a string was pulling the caboose, especially if the power pack was out of sight around a curve!

One of the Conductors I rode with – Stan Wozney – had me ride the caboose out of Prince Rupert to the mandatory train inspection stop at Kwinitsa, half way to Terrace. 

There we did an end for end - the head end brakeman would ride the caboose, while I took his seat in the cab.

On one memorable trip, Mr Wozney had made a batch of Campbell’s Tomato soup, instructing me to get “fortified” for my hike up to the locomotive.

I had just sat down at the tiny table, when several things happened all at once. As Stan turned toward me as if to say something, there was a far off blare of an air horn and seconds later, I saw the soup in the bowl climb up the far side of the bowl, and in slow motion come back headed for me, over the lip of the bowl onto my lap!

I had forgotten Stan’s immortal words: “Never face the engine when eating!”

The smirk on the trainman’s face, as he noticed the big wet spot on my jeans when I past him mid-train doing my end-for-end switch, said it all!

My Interest in railroading took a nose dive with the demise of the 5-man crew and and the demotion of the caboose to motel rooms and cheesy diners. I've never taken a photo of a Toaster Oven or Big Mack.  And the "push-pull" distributed power - sigh.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Fired Up! Ready to Go!