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Lagniappe Favorites Collection

Caboose Collection

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Nearly everyone is familiar with the railroad caboose. Formally, it's the punctuation mark that concludes every freight train -- a mobile office for the crew, a lookout post. It is a van on the Canadian National, a cabin car on the Pennsylvania, a buggy on the Boston & Maine; but by whatever name, it remains symbolic of the railroad scene. The little red frame shanty that trailed faithfully after every string of freight cars has undergone many changes in a hundred years. The box-like shelter which train crews built to shield their cooking fires on spare flat cars in the mid-1800s, the converted boxcars with sliding doors introduced around the turn of the century, the cupola-topped wooden crummy popular before World War II, all have given way to more modern and better equipped vehicles. Today's caboose with its sleek bay windows of shatterproof glass, its automatic oil heaters, electric lights, refrigerators, and radio-telephones between locomotive and wayside station reflect the technological advances being made by North American railroads. The caboose has become merely a rolling office, efficient and functional, rather than the "home away from home" that it used to be.

The Railroad Caboose by William F. Knapke

All caboose images in this collection are by John or Ralph Hawkins, unless otherwise noted.

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Do you have a favorite caboose?

I think my favorite might just be Illinois Central Gulf #199452. Granted, by the time my father took this photo in the fall of 1986, she was not much too look at. Nor was she unique. The Illinois Central Gulf of my childhood ran dozens of these long, steel, orange beasts up and down their Main Line of Mid-America -- at least until the Feds told them they no longer needed them on the rear. The 199000 series cabins were unusual with their extra large end porches and their extra tall wide-vision cupolas. 199452 is my favorite caboose because it is the one in which I have racked up the most shortline miles. By the time this photo was taken, it was off the ICG roster and in the care of shortline sawdust hauler Gloster Southern. In '86 the line hosted our NRHS chapter for a down and back excursion on their newly acquired pike, and 199452 brought up the rear of our short but official train. I rode on the end of 199452 for most of one leg of the trip. At the age, the miles seemed to roll on forever. It was on the back platform where I lost my favorite railroad hat. It was also during that trip and in that spot that I developed my oldest and best raifan maxim: If you can't ride up front in the cab, then the next best place to be is on the rear.

And that's why ICG #199452 is my favorite caboose. You?

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This page was updated on 2015-10-28