Tuesday, September 15, 2009  
   Volume 79 - Issue 37 Website:www.passherald.ca   email: passherald@shaw.ca   $1.00   
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Quote of the Week
“If the machine doesn’t run, the ski hill doesn’t open.”
- Dave Morrison  
- Powderkeg Ski Hill Manager 

 

 
I have wonderful childhood memories of watching old steam trains chuffing down the rail line towards the old  coal company tipple back in the early 1950’s.  I grew up in a house on a hill that overlooked downtown Coleman and  had a perfect bird’s eye view of the CPR line from Blairmore all the way to West Coleman. It is hard to describe just how beautiful the big locomotives looked as their steam plumes tumbled up into a crisp winter’s bright blue sky. For a train spotter it just didn’t get any better.
There was always a lot of switching and shunting going on in the tipple yard and cars were uncoupled and loaded coal cars were added to make a new train. What fascinated me most of all was the red stepped car at the tail end of each train. Inevitably it was uncoupled and left behind at the east end of Bushtown until all the switching and maneuvering had been done. Then the engineer would let out a long blast to signal to the conductor that he was ready to go. The conductor would release the brake on the car and it would slowly roll westward (because of the grade) and join the end of the train.
The stopped car was of course a caboose, a remarkable piece of transport design that sadly disappeared in the mid 1980’s.  I miss waving to the conductor as he rode up high in the cupola, arm hanging out the window.  What a great job, just sitting back and watching the scenery unfold ahead of you.
How the caboose came to be and why it ceased to exist is an interesting story. The origin of the word “caboose” goes back quite a ways. It comes from the Old Dutch or Low German kabuis, or kaban-huis, literally a “cabin house”.
By late in the eighteenth century the English had turned kabuis into caboose which was the cook’s cabin, located on the foredeck of ships in the merchant marine. They set them on a square of timbers filled with sand somewhere on the foredeck. The sand was there to keep the cook from setting the ship on fire.  Sounds a little dicey to me.
The French language has the word cambuse or storehouse which came into English from Quebec as camboose.  They were generally cook’s shacks in logging camps and like the ship kabuise were built also on a frame of logs filled with sand because the ground around a logging camp was usually under a few feet of wood chips and sawdust.  They were more than store rooms and served as a dining, sleeping and recreation center. These lumber camps were referred to as “camboose camps”.
The first recorded use of a conductor using the last car in a train as a conductor’s lodging goes back to the 1840’s on the Auburn and Syracuse Railroad. It was a boxcar with the conductor’s flags, lanterns and tools stored in it.
 
After that this practice became common and the last car on a freight train was called a waycar, a crummy, the brake van or in Canada the cabin-van.
Crew cars were first used in Canada around 1859 on the Great Western Railway in Ontario. These conductor cars were put into service in response to complaints from train crews who rode on the roofs of freight cars listening for the engineer’s signal to put on the brakes.  Probably not a nice job in forty below I’m thinkin’.
They were, as I said, just boxcars that conductors fitted with benches and wood stoves. The Northern Railway of Canada (later to become CNR) put seven “freight caboose cars” into action a year later and after that the name caboose seemed to stick.  The design eventually evolved with a cupola added up top for better observation. There are dozens of variations in their design some of which had the sides of the cupola extended out wider than the car body for even better vision.  Their cast iron stoves were bolted to the floor so you’ll know immediately if you are looking at one as it will have no legs and their doors are double latching.
I recall being stuck at the Corbin turnoff crossing many years ago waiting for a freight train. Because I was at the front of the line I happened to spot a hot box (overheated axle bearing) on a car and as the caboose went by I hollered a warning to the conductor seated up in the cupola. There was no way he could have spotted in on that particularly windy piece of railway.
In 1985 both CPR and CNR applied to phase out cabooses replacing them with computerized boxes at the end of the freight train. They are known as End-of Train Information Systems (ETIS). Lights go on in the locomotive cab when a journal box overheats or there is a loss of pressure in a hydraulic line.  So that was the end of tail end monitoring and the caboose.
The first cabooseless train left Swift Current on December 14, 1989. The railway union saw that cabooselessness would eventually lead to conductorlessness and they were right. Wayne Grady put it succinctly when he said in his book “Chasing the Chinook" that: “A freight train without a caboose seems endless, like a sentence without a period”.
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   Volume 79 - Issue 37 Website:www.passherald.ca   email: passherald@shaw.ca   $1.00   
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