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The Caboose Fleet

At one time, the tail end of every freight train in North America contained a car for crew accommodations known as a caboose. Usually containing such recognizable features as a bright red exterior paint scheme, a small chimney, and a cupola at or near the center of the roof, they served as both living quarters and office space for the train’s conductor and brakemen. Internally, these cars usually contained a desk for completing paperwork, bunks for rest periods, coal, wood, or oil-powered stove for heating and light cooking, lockers for storage of the crew’s personal property while on duty, and toilet facilities. In earlier times, most cabooses were lit with either oil or kerosene lamps. However, as time went on, most received electric lighting, powered by either batteries or a generator attached to the underside of the car.

The cupola, or side bay window in later years, served the important purpose of a perch for crew members to watch the rest of the consist ahead of them during travel. Doing so, they could easily spot any irregularities, such as odd car movements, wheel derailments, or smoke from hot journal boxes, which could potentially create a bigger problem. If anything was spotted, they would alert the engineer up front, or be able to trigger an emergency brake application to stop the train before the problem got out of hand.

The caboose, placed at the end of the consist, also had an air gauge connected to the brake line. This allowed the crew to monitor the pressure so any irregularities could be communicated to the engineer upfront, allowing the train to be stopped and checked to ensure proper braking going forward.

As technology advanced and crew sizes decreased, the need for cabooses diminished. By the end of the 1980s, most had vanished from major railroads, their functions taken over by a small, computerized device known as a FRED (flashing rear end device). The few that remained were repurposed into shoving platforms, used on local freights requiring long backup moves as a safer place for crew members to stand while conducting instead of hanging off freight cars. Other survivors were acquired by shortlines, excursion railroads, and museums.

Click on the links below to learn more about these historic cars.


No. C127

Constructed by the Laconia Car Company of Laconia, NH in 1921, this car was one of fifty ordered by the Boston & Maine Railroad. Built with wooden sides upon a steel frame, it was numbered in a 4600 number series within the range 4600-4649. A few years later, the railroad added a 10 to the number, effectively renumbering the car and its sisters into a 104600 series.

The Boston & Maine, while serving multiple states, was not as large as other major railroads. This, along with the existence of company-operated YMCA facilities and other accommodations near major railroad terminals, saw these cars used mainly for local service rather than as a home away from home for freight crews.

In 1959, the caboose was sent to the International Car Company of Kenton, OH for a rebuild to extend its service life. The most obvious change upon return to the B&M was the replacement of all the wood with new steel sides and cupola, placed upon the car’s original 1921 built steel underframe. It was also renumbered to No. C127 at this time. Because precise records were not kept during the rebuilding process, there is currently no way to determine the original 4600 and 104600 numbers it wore prior to 1959.

In 1979, the car was refurbished once again, this time in-house at the B&M’s shops in North Billerica, MA. Upgrades this time included, among other items, new trucks with roller bearings, new fuel tanks, and new toilets. It was also renumbered to No. C83. Since the car still contained its original 1921 underframe, a restriction was put into effect stating that it could only be used for service on the home rails of the Boston & Maine, rather than in interchange service with other operations.

The caboose was renumbered a fifth time, to No. 483, in 1982. A year later, the Boston & Maine Railroad was purchased by Guilford Transportation Industries, which had acquired the neighboring Maine Central in 1981, and would acquire the Delaware & Hudson in 1984. These changes would see the caboose gain more operating territory, despite the underframe restriction, as all three railroads had one common owner.

After retirement, No. 483 was sold into private ownership where it changed hands several times. The first owner purchased it in 1992. The second acquired it in 1998, restoring it to its appearance as B&M C127. During this time, it was kept on the Plymouth & Lincoln Railroad, an excursion operator in New Hampshire operating a former B&M line that passed through the car’s birth city of Laconia.

In 2010, it was sold a third time, the new owner moving the car to the Adirondack Scenic Railroad of Utica, NY. It was kept as B&M C127 during its time there and occasionally rented out for charters and other special events.

In 2019, the car was acquired by the NHRR, moving by flatbed truck to Bucks County that December. The following year, it lost its B&M blue and white look for a traditional caboose red scheme as NHRR C127. The first active caboose on the line since the mid-1990s, it can now be found on most excursions.

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