PIEDMONT & NORTHERN STEEL CABOOSE X-23
This classic red caboose was one of several bought and reconstructed after the war for use of the freight crew on P&N trains. The caboose had 2 beds for the conductor and brakeman, as well as daytime accommodations. The cupola has 4 seats, which often gives visitors the illusion of there being 4 crewmembers in it at all times, but the configuarion was merely to allow both crew members to face forward no matter which direction the caboose faced. The caboose also has a gas stove; it was originally a pot belly fed with coal, but was updated to gas as the X-23 continued in service into the Seaboard merger era, after WWII.
Originally cabooses were made of wood, but as trains got longer, bankers or pusher engines were added to the rear, and wooden cabooses (or cabeese) simply could not take the pressure and telescopings (collapses of the sides) started occurring. When this happened, the helper engine would compress through the caboose into the steel freight car ahead, killing anyone inside. Thankfully steel construction came along and steel cabooses long outlived wooden ones, except on a few branchlines.
X-23 has the classic P&N windmill generator on top. Since P&N cars were electrified, they had plenty of clearance between the top of the train and obstructions, for the wire had to be at least 4 feet above the train so there was room for the pantograph. Normally a caboose received power from a belt driven generator from the wheels, which meant the power flow stopped when the caboose stopped. This caboose, however, had large jars that stored the power generated by the windmill when the train was in motion, so it could be used when the caboose was stationary.
The caboose is often assumed to bring up the rear of every train, but in fact was only used on the back of freight trains or mixed trains (trains with freight cars and a passenger coach or combination coach/baggage car added to the rear for a few passengers). This was due to the fact that a caboose was used to sleep the freight crew, which would not have been present on a passenger train. It was also used by the crew to look for hot freight car bearings, and in the early days it served as a hand brake for unfitted freights. This misconception has grown more prevalent among today's tourists, for many scenic railroads place "a little red caboose" on the back of a train to add quaint atmosphere or to accommodate children's parties. A premier passenger train would have had at its tail a car with large glass windows or a large back viewing porch, called a vestibule. This would have been a public observation car (for Pullman fare use), a privately chartered business car/office car, a lounge car, solarium, or parlor car. Our P&N "Carolina" is an example of this type of car, with its extremely large back porch vestibule.
The caboose has disappeared largely due to 3 reasons.
Diesel locomotives do not need a fireman so the conductor can ride in the cab with the engineer; also, with the advent of air brakes, a brakeman is no longer needed.
Freight cars now have roller bearings that don't have to be watched for hot box bearings like the old friction bearings used up until the 1980s. Today, a simple temperature detector can scan an entire train's bearings.
Freight trains have a GPS tracker placed on the rear that sends a signal out from the rear of the freight train, so the conductor does not have to manually log it and report his location.
^ The Sleeping Area in X-23 ^ ^ The Living Area of X-23 ^