Trains… Well, at least the back-end of one…

An early 1900s Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe caboose… In front of it are two 1900s artifacts, one the old crossing sign, then other the arm with three lights on the left. It’s located at the Square House Museum, Panhandle, TX, about an 30 miles NE of Amarillo.

This particular unit was built in 1928, so my grandfather on my mother’s side could well have actually ridden in this one as he traveled the country as an engineering investigator.

Looking from the front to the rear, you can see two of the three bunks. One of the two on the right is folded down, as the back one shows. The chair and desk were the Conductor’s desk. The trains in those days had a four man crew, Conductor, Engineer (my grandpa), Fireman and brakeman, plus backups for everyone but the Conductor if it was a 2-3 day trip, then it was 12 on/12 off.

From the back-end, looking forward. I’m standing back by the restroom, you see the stove/kitchen on the right (wood stove), and their water/sink on the left. The grey container on the right, forward of the stove was their cooking utensils, and food storage.

Looking up into the cupola, the gauge and handle you see are the brakeman’s controls. He could stop the train from back here, in conjunction with the engineer.

Looking ‘forward’ out of the cupola. You can see the walkway the brakeman could use to go up the train to handle issues with specific cars.

One other thing I remember was Grandpa talking about cowboys riding in the caboose, especially when they were hauling horses/cattle. The cattle cars were always right in front of the caboose, causing the air in the caboose to stink to high heaven (his words), due to the cattle farting. The cowboys could go forward and take care of their horses or cattle without ‘upsetting’ the passengers in the forward cars.

One can only wonder what that caboose has seen… much less the people that rode in it!


TBT… — 20 Comments

  1. There are a few around here, a neighbor near the home ranch bought one, and made it into guest quarters.

  2. The “caboose” stoves were highly prized back in the day. They were cheap and readily available. A cousin in NW Colorado still heats his shop with one.

  3. When I was a kid, a friend of my dad worked on the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe trains. He was at the house when the song about the railway came on the radio and he got to talking about riding the rails. I don’t remember his name or what he did, but I remember him talking about the caboose, my favorite part of a train back then, and how cold they were during the winter. I guess they all had heaters, but not insulated enough to hold the heat. I dreamed of working on the RR, but when the old steam engines went by the wayside, it seem to lose its appeal. Dumb, right?

  4. There was a mystique about the steam engines that is lost forever, Coffey. Those of us old enough to remember them also mourn the loss of the caboose to mark the end of the train.
    There was a HUGE steam engine on display at Broad Ripple Park in Indianapolis. A group of enthusiasts talked the powers that be into allowing them to put the Monster back into working order. I think the original intent was to transport crowds from Indy down to Indiana University for football games on Saturday.
    I think that train made one run, and I was fortunate enough to be standing alongside the track when it passed. Amazing.
    Soon, the insurance company got involved and, because of boiler dangers, put the kibosh on that big engine.
    Sad huh?

  5. There is a place not very far from us that is a motel using railroad cabooses. I have not yet convinced my wife that we need to stay there, but I think it would be cool.

    During my time with INS I went aboard a couple of cattle ships. Luckily they both were arriving in the US to take cattle foreign and there was a faint smell. The sailors said that when they got to were they were going, the smell was much much more.

  6. Brig- The question is, does it rock the guests to sleep??? 🙂

    WSF- I can believe that. Quality workmanship holds up!

    CP- Who can say? Our lives take different paths for unknown reasons, but yeah, diesel vs. steam WOULD put a damper on the romance…

    GB- Thanks! And it looks like it might be back in operation next year! Seems the big engines are getting a renaissance right now.

    JC- Square House Museum, Panhandle, TX. Sorry I should have put that on the blog. I’ll fix that.

    John- It would be a step back in history, and cattle ships??? Oh HELL no!

  7. I know the diesel engines are more powerful & efficient than the steam versions, but something wonderful was lost in the translation.

  8. I have dim memories as a very young lad sitting in the back seat of my parents car at a crossing in California’s central valley, watching a steam engine a steam engine go by as a pusher on the back end. Lots of stuff on YouTube—this is one of my favorites–

  9. Very interesting and cool pics. Thanks for sharing your family memories.

  10. Nice post. Thanks for the pix!

    My paternal great grandfather worked for the railroad, hooking up train cars in the RR yard. One night a heavy lantern fell off a car and struck him in the head. He survived, but was brain damaged. These days the family would have sued the RR and likely won (from the details I was told), and he would have filed for disability. But back then he just got another job as janitor of a high school, which was a job he could hold down.

    Everyone was sorry the accident happened, but it did, and you just did the best you could afterwards. Neighbors and family helped out, but the thought was that you supported yourself and your family. In G-Grandfather’s case people understood that his abilities were limited, and helped him and his family when they could.

  11. Very cool – I always wondered what a caboose looked like from the inside.

  12. Don’t remember seeing any steam engines, but I do remember seeing an F or E series diesel 1 time as a child in the 60’s. Also remember seeing cabooses at the end of trains. Was sad to see them go, but really, in to the 30’s and on, what good could a crew do at the end of the train that they couldn’t do from the engine. The trains were way too long for them to observe the cars for hot journals, and the trains moved way to fast to make walking the cars while moving even remotely safe.

    • Yup. Automation. Track-side sensors count the cars and radio the info to the crew where the hot spot is. Can you imagine being a brakeman in a mountain blizzard back before Westinghouse invented air brakes? You just know that some of those guys were never found.


  13. MJ- Yep, different time. And I’m betting he wouldn’t have WANTED the handouts they could get today…

    j.r./Brian- You’re welcome.

    LCB- Good points, although I’ve actually seen a couple of BNSF trains come through our little town with cabooses (short trains)…

    RHT- All true! I ‘think’ Grandpa lost one, once.

  14. I worked for CNW for six months, a long time ago. The UP had a steam engine that they would break out for a North Platte-Omaha run a couple of times a year, but they’d have to send it to the CNW yard to turn it around, since the UP turntable didn’t have enough room to handle the engine and it’s tender at the same time. Ours did.