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.

1 Comments - Click here:

Bruce said...

Great story! I knew Stan Wozney quite well when he was my conductor on the Yale sub, and rode the caboose with him on a number of occasions. Later, when I became an engineer, I was always extra careful so as not to spill Stan's soup.

Bruce Harvey
Caboose Coffee

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