Western Pacific Railroad
Wooden Cupola Caboose
Haskell and Barker – 1910
Western Pacific Railroad – 1956
The conductor was ‘the boss’ on the train. He supervised the running of the train and all the crew members, including the engineer. On a freight train, the caboose was the conductor’s office-on-wheels. He was responsible for everything that happened on a train, good or bad. The conductor gave out the work assignments, ordered the engineer when to start and stop, kept the train running on time as scheduled, and was required to do a lot of paperwork along the way. The caboose at the rear of the train was the center of operations. When under way, the trainmen would sit upstairs in the ‘cupola’ and watch for smoke or other signs of trouble from overheated wheel journals (called “hotboxes”). A typical caboose like W. P. No. 754 was usually furnished with a desk, sleeping bunks, toilet, sink, and a stove for heating and cooking.
In addition to the conductor, the caboose also carried a brakeman and a flagman. In the days before automatic air brakes, the engineer would signal the crew with his whistle when he needed to slow down or stop the train. The brakeman in the caboose would climb out and make his way forward along the roofs of the car, turning each cars’ brakewheel to set the brakes. Another brakeman, riding the engine, would work his way toward the rear doing the same thing. Once the train was stopped, the flagman would descend from the caboose and walk back to a safe distance with lanterns, flags and other warning devices to stop any approaching trains.
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It was common for railroads to assign an individual caboose to a conductor for his exclusive use. Conductors took great pride in their cars. Sometimes the crewmen decorated their interiors with many homey touches, including curtains and family photos. Over the years, railroad men came up with a number of slang or nicknames for the caboose, including ‘crummy’, ‘doghouse’, ‘bone-breaker’, ‘bouncer’, ‘way car’, ‘buggy’ and ‘hearse’.
Travel Town is currently home to three railroad cabooses (cabeese?) – all 3 are of wood construction.