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The Red Caboose

Just as every store, factory or other place of business must have an office, so must the freight train have an office to transact its business. The freight train really does a big business. It handles large quantities of merchandise every day. It is true, the train does not buy and sell merchandise like a store, but it produces and sells transportation—transportation of merchandise of every sort—and it must keep a complete record of all transportation produced and sold.

The conductor in charge of each freight train must keep a careful record of each carload or less-than-carload shipment handled by his train. The record must show the contents of each car and package and barrel and crate, by whom each was shipped, the station at which it was received, the station at which it is to be unloaded or left, and the person, firm or company to which it is consigned. The record must also show the weight of each shipment, whether the shipper or the consignee is to pay the freight charges, and other necessary information. If there are empty cars in the train, the conductor must keep a careful record of them also.

In order to have a suitable place to work and keep his records, the conductor is provided with an office car. This office car is attached to the rear end of the train and is known by the odd name of "caboose." Just how it was christened "caboose" no one seems to know. Many years ago the conductor's car was called the "cabin," and it is possible that "caboose" was derived from that name.

The caboose is more than an office, however. It serves also as the "home" of the train crew while they are on the road. The trainmen or brakemen make their headquarters in the caboose when they are not attending to their duties outside. The caboose is also occupied occasionally by caretakers of livestock, perishable fruits and vegetables, and others whose duties require them to ride freight trains.

Lockers are provided for members of the crew and for the necessary flags, lanterns, light repair tools, oils and other supplies. A coal stove provides heat in winter and for warming the crew's food at meal time. The caboose is equipped with a table, a drinking-water cooler, benches and chairs, a washstand and other conveniences, and it is lighted by oil lamps.

The odd-looking cupola atop the car is the "watch tower" of the train. When the train is running, the conductor or one of the brakemen usually sits in the tower and watches in both directions to see that the train is running satisfactorily and that nothing is approaching from the rear.

Doors open onto platforms at each end of the car. On one platform can be seen a wheel which operates the brakes when the car is not attached to a train. A ladder goes to the roof for the crew to climb up to give signals to the locomotive engineer or to another member of the train crew. Brackets on the corners of the car hold signal lights when the caboose is attached to a train. Some cabooses are built of wood; some, like the one in the picture, are built of steel.

The rubber hose on the rear of the car is a part of the air-hose system that controls the air-brakes. The object with the two "eyes" just beyond the air hose is an automatic coupler. Cars are held together by couplers, which grip together like two cupped hands and hold firmly until released by a trainman.

The freight train conductor supervises the crew and has charge of all the cars in the train. He has a "ticket," or a waybill, for each car or shipment in his train. The waybills tell him the contents of each car in his train, and to what station, yard or junction point each car or shipment in the train is to be delivered.

The conductor has to see that his train is thoroughly inspected before it leaves the terminal and that each member of his crew understands the orders governing the movement of the train. He makes out daily reports concerning the crew, the cars he picks up or drops off between terminals, the railroad they belong to, and so on.

The freight conductor gets his training from years of experience as a freight brakeman. In addition to having the required education, he must pass oral and written examinations to qualify for his job. He must be physically sound, and, like other men who are responsible for train operations, he must be a man of good character and temperate habits.


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