If you’re describing something that brings up the rear, you call it a caboose, right? And if your wife looks good in those new jeans, you might (carefully) tell her you like her caboose. It’s a useful term, universally understood.
So when’s the last time you saw one?
The FCFL is a modern railroad, and like it or not my trains are caboose-less.
If you’re not familiar with railroads, since the mid-1980s the ends of trains in North America have largely been marked by “end of train devices” instead of cabooses. These are electronic boxes usually strapped to the trailing coupler of the last car to monitor the train – the pressure in the air brake lines – and send information by radio to the crew in the locomotive up front.
End of train devices usually also have a flashing red light to visibly mark the end of the train, leading to their other name, “flashing rear end devices,” or FREDs. Folks who miss cabooses – especially those who used to make a living riding in cabooses doing the work now done by FREDs – substitute a more derisive word for “flashing.”
I only vaguely remember cabooses, seeing them as a boy and occasionally waving to crews aboard them from the back seat at grade crossings. Most of my railfanning days are post-caboose, so I don’t miss them all that badly.
But now and again, I get a hankerin’ for the old days. Plus, I’m planning to add a switching district, and my crews will be doing a lot of shunting and a good bit of waiting around.
I think most railroads today use old cabooses simply as “riding platforms,” where crews doing a lot of switching and backing can stand on the platforms rather than hang on garbage-man style to the sides of the cars. I don’t like that idea. A whole glorious caboose, welded shut with only the porches put to use? No. The crews that will handle the Flagstaff turn are going to ride in style. A mobile office, with bunks and seats in the cupola and a pot of coffee brewing (though it is 2013 – maybe one of those Keurig things?).
This project started with an Atlas Norfolk & Western caboose, $12.50 at my favorite hobby shop. I would have preferred a more modern “wide vision” caboose, but those are more pricey and I figured I could bring this one up to date.
I disassembled the model and discarded the roofwalks, ladders and friction bearing trucks. I used Squadron White Putty to fill the ladder and roofwalk mounting holes, then painted everything Competition Orange. Once that dried, I painted the ends of the carbody and ends of the cupola blue. The roof got a coat of silver before I added safety stripes on the ends and the other decals, then weathered the whole thing with alcohol ink washes and some weathering powders. New running gear is a set of Micro-Trains 70-ton roller-bearing trucks and 33-inch Fox Valley Models metal wheels.
Old No. 14 here might not get much use. Only when I’m in the mood, and only then to show the way on long push moves during switching. But I think it looks pretty good just sitting in the yard.
Plus, my kids will know what a caboose is.