COBWEB CORNERS: Up front about cabooses
By Mel McFarland
A caboose was the main office on freight trains. There are no cabooses on modern freight trains, but the local trains sometimes use them. It has been almost 20 years since there was a train to Colorado City, but the town used to have several retired cabooses sitting around. My favorite was a Colorado Midland caboose that was brought down from Divide some 50 years ago. It sat in a couple of different places and was finally dismantled behind Ghost Town. Another Rock Island caboose can still create quite interesting stories too. There were others; in fact, there are about five in Colorado Springs, if you know where to look.
I have one of those cabooses, as some of you may know. I bought mine in 1983 from a freight car dealer. I was on TV some 10 years ago when I had to move from my old home. My new neighbors thought it would ruin the neighborhood. It did not, and many drive right past it and hardly even notice it. I use mine as an office and studio to do artwork. In my old location, I used to be able to see the railroad from my caboose. It was fun to wave at passing trains from the cupola.
I miss seeing trains that have cabooses. The caboose was replaced by a little computer box with a light on it. The conductor sits up with the engineer now. A hundred years ago, they were the train crew's home away from home. The conductor had his office in the caboose. He could watch the movement of the train from his high cupola. Because brakemen would sometimes have to climb up on the cars and set the brakes by hand, one or more stayed in the caboose until needed. The caboose was also a place for the crew to take shelter if the train was stuck in bad weather.
My caboose was built to use in North Dakota, so it had space to sleep four or more in an emergency. It did not have a kitchen, but that did not stop the crew from cooking. Many a pot of chili or coffee was brewed on the stove in my caboose. On a cold winter night, I still crank mine up and write or draw at a desk inside. In my old neighborhood, a couple of neighbors would even drop in with cake or pie to go with the coffee. Where my caboose sits now, the trains are a mile away, but I still hear them.
Many of the railroaders today missed out on the experience.