Thursday, January 1, 2015

A Happy New Year Story!

Beginning in 1941, and continuing into the 1950's, Canadian National Railroad converted 30- and 40-ton wood sheathed boxcars into cabooses. These conversions resulted in a very large group of cabooses with similar characteristics, including two rectangular windows on each side.

As a young teenager living in Prince Rupert in the late 1950's, I had the opportunity to ride in CNR caboose 76016 many times, as she tagged along at the end of a log train. I wrote about my experience in "Never Face the Engine!"

I caught up with this SP freighter just outside Dixon California. As I advanced toward the power pack, I spotted this blue plume of smoke. While driving, I snapped this photo. Then eased off the gas and gave the boys in the hack the pinched nose signal for hot box. They were in the process of slowing down, and gave me a friendly acknowledgement.
Not possible with an End of Train Device!

The Death Knell sounded for the utilitarian caboose, when Florida East Coast, following a decade of bitter labor disputes, reduced the train crew to an engineer and conductor, and parked it's fleet of cabooses in the late 1960's.

Read "In the Public Interest?" A fascinating account of one of the worst labor disputes this country has ever experienced.

To "replace" the eyes, ears and noses of the crummy crew, a plethora of high technology track side devices have been conjured to check for loose wheels, overheated journals, and dragging equipment, while overhead sensors can determine if a load has shifted.

This CSX presentation details many of these devices. And this video demonstrates a "High Car" detector!

And, of course, FRED  (End Of Train Device) monitors brake pipe pressure.

"A train without a caboose is as uncomfortable as a sentence without a period."

Much has been written about the lowly caboose. Of the many colorful nicknames attached to the crew car, I favor "crummy." The crummy was at once

•  An office
•  Bunkhouse
•  Meal hall
•  Observation post
•  Tool locker

In all my travels aboard 76016, it never occurred to me to take photos inside the caboose, nor did I document the view from the cupola, which was impressive, especially when trailing along behind a cut of thirty or forty empty log bunks!

Fortunately for us, one fellow did document the beehive of activity that once enveloped the crew car. Jack Delano.

Jack Delano joined the Farm Security Administration (FSA) in 1940 during its middle years (1937-1942) and worked for the agency and its successor, the Office of War Information (OWI,) for three years.

He, along with a dozen or more photographers, criss-crossed the United States documenting all phases of human activity during the War Years. Thousands of images were captured, a permanent memorial to what I believe were the halcyon years for this country.

On one of his assignments, carried out in March to April 1943, Delano traveled from Chicago to Los Angeles on freight trains to photograph the railroad industry during wartime. From the dozens of photos taken on that assignment, I pulled out those shots that captured the quintessence of the caboose.

The bulk of the photos were taken from Acheson, Topeka & Santa Fe (ATSF) caboose 2038.  I'll let the photos tell the story of life aboard a caboose.

While the photos are more than 70 years old, they capture my generations fond memories of railroading before the money grubbing mergers reduced  railroading from more than 200 operating systems down to seven homogenized toaster oven fleets.

This is what I miss most about the "period at the end of the train." The humble caboose with a friendly crewman waving!

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