The L&N Caboose

L&N Caboose #6497

Our Caboose was donated by CSX Transportation and is a Chessie Class C-27.  It is one of 62 cabooses built for the B & O Railroad by the Fruit Growers Express Company at their Alexandria Virginia Factory between February and May of 1978.  The Fruit Growers Express was a company owned by several railroads including the B & O.  They produced refrigerator cars for a number of years.  During the 1970s era, the decline in shipment of goods in refrigerator cars caused the company to branch out into manufacture of other types of cars.

This caboose was delivered in May of 1978.  It was a “pool” caboose built to replace aging cabooses on the B & O.  It was originally numbered #C-3980.  The B & O renumbered their cabooses in 1982 dropping the “C” and adding “90” becoming #903980.

Restoration efforts began in March of 2002 and the caboose now wears the L & N colors and has been renumbered #6497.  Our caboose honors L & N Flagman Rayburn Wills who was riding in that caboose when he was shot and killed near Bucklodge, Tennessee on November 6, 1980.

The cupola caboose was developed to allow crews to be able to see over the top of the cars towards the front and back of the train.  Variations of this style caboose served until freight cars began being built higher during the 1950’s.  At that time, the bay window caboose like the #6497 was developed to allow crews to watch the cars ahead from the side.

The caboose developed out of the necessity for the crew.  In the early days of railroading, a brakeman would ride on the top of the last car or in the last car.  This most often left him exposed to what ever the weather was rain, heat, cold or snow.  On signal from the engineer, the brakeman would walk across the top of the cars and set hand brakes to stop the train, a very dangerous job.  In the 1870’s, air brakes were invented and started appearing on trains.  This ended the dangerous job of the brakeman walking across the tops of cars.
In the days before radios, when the train stopped, the flagman would have to walk a half mile or more behind the train to warn approaching trains of the stopped train ahead.  He would use flags, flares or lanterns to signal the danger.

The flagman would have to listen for signals from his engineer blowing the train whistle to know when to return.  Many flagmen were accidentally left behind sometimes.  The warm caboose was a welcome sight after standing outside, some times for hours in zero temperatures and sleet or snow.

Caboose is a Dutch word for a ship galley, a fitting name for the railroad refuge for the train crew.  The caboose was occupied typically by three men, the conductor, a brakeman and a flagman.  It was an office for the conductor, a place where he could watch the train and take care of waybills and other paper work related to the train’s load.  After air brakes were invented, the brakeman could monitor the brake gauges from the caboose.  It was also used for storage areas for flags, flares, and lanterns plus carried extra cans of oil for lanterns and some spare parts such as air hoses.

The caboose was also a home for the crew, as they were sometimes gone from home for days at a time.  The crew lived in the caboose while waiting for their return trips.  There were oil fired stoves for heat and cooking, a restroom, sink, closets and bunk beds.  The crew would keep food supplies in the caboose and sometimes farmers would allow the crew to pick a few vegetables while the train was stopped.  Also, many times the crew carried fishing poles and rifles to help supplement the food supply.

During the 1980’s, more engines became equipped with computers and cabooses were replaced by a small black box with a flashing red light called “FRED” (Flashing Rear End Device) or “EOT” or “ETD” (End of Train Device).  This small box monitors the trains systems and alerts the crew of trouble.  This also allowed for train crew reductions and reduced maintenance of equipment.  Today, the conductor now occupies the engine cab, and a train crew consists of only a Conductor and an Engineer.