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Classic Little Red Caboose. Photo from mousemedicine.com

Did You Know . . .

It’s Been Over Twenty Years Since the Cabooses Went Away?

by Ray Del Papa

It’s the end of the year, so let’s talk a little about the end of a freight train. Not those little boxes with a flashing red light, FRED’s (Flashing Rear End Device), but cabooses. It has been over 20 years since the FRA (Federal Railroad Administration) allowed railroads to discontinue the use of all their cabooses, and replace them with those little electronic boxes.

Classic Little Red Caboose. Photo from mousemedicine.com

Classic Little Red Caboose. Photo from mousemedicine.com

Yes, it has been that long already. What the Florida East Coast Railroad started in the early 1970’s has become SOP. And why? . . . to save labor! Those Cabs took two crew members to operate, a rear-end brakeman and a conductor. Multiply that by the thousands of freight trains that ran each day, and you can see why the railroads went the way of the FRED. Now all the head-end crew has to do is monitor the information the FRED’s relay back to them on how their train is holding together.

FRED Photo, Translations Directory .com

FRED Photo, Translations Directory .com

Southern Caboose Photo, Carknocker .com

Southern Caboose Photo, Carknocker .com

However, no matter how efficient FREDs are, they can’t replace the look of a caboose holding on to the rear of a mile long freight train. That is why so many model railroaders will not go the way of the FRED. They just love to tack a cabin car, crummy, cab, hack, or any other name railroads gave their cabooses, to the end of their train. And if you want proof, just look in any model train catalog, in any scale, there you will find numerous models of cabooses. From a $10.00 plastic kit, to a $300.00 brass model, cabooses are still very popular. And to the hard core modeler, having the right cabooses with the correct paint scheme is as important as any other piece of rolling stock or locomotive.

HO Plastic caboose Photo by Euro Models

HO Plastic caboose Photo by Euro Models

Over the years, cabooses have been modeled, photographed, and written about. One very sad footnote to FRED’s is explaining to a young child what a caboose is. This is very evident when one is trying to read that famous children’s story, The Little Red Caboose. I can remember my mother reading that story and showing me the pictures of how the little red caboose saved his train on a mountain grade. For those who don’t remember, the little caboose saved the day by keeping the train from slipping backwards down the mountain, using his hand brake. He held on for dear life until two helper locomotives arrived to push the train over the hill. It was a great fairy tale, but to children today it’s hard to explain that caboose were once on the rear of every freight train. Another piece of Railroad History relegated to the scrap-yards and museums.

Book, “The Little Red Caboose” photo Golden Books

Book, “The Little Red Caboose”
photo Golden Books


from the January, 2012 SMARTT Newsletter

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