Image credit: All photos taken and processed by Cujo359
On the Iron Goat Trail, near Wellington, Washington is a park that gives 21st Century tourists a glimpse into the world and technology of a century ago. It is along this trail that an older version of the Great Northern railway, now part of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad, was once constructed, as this park sign illustrates:
The Stevens Pass is the site of some of the most costly, difficult, and dangerous civil engineering projects of the early 20th Century. As that sign shows, there were long snowsheds and a miles-long tunnel along this railway, made necessary by the steep terrain and the harsh winters. If it weren't for such construction, rail traffic would not have been possible between the Midwest and the Puget Sound, at least not in the winter. But that's a story for another time.
This week's story is of Great Northern caboose X294, which that link identifies as a 30 foot steel cupola caboose that was built at the railroad's St. Cloud Shops in October, 1951. It was used by the railroad until it was replaced by end of train devices sometime in the 1980s, I imagine. It was stored in Puyallup, Washington by a private citizen for a time, spent a bit of time in Skykomish after he died, and then trucked to the site in 2006.
Here are shots of the caboose from each quarter:
We end at the front of the caboose, which looks very much like the back, when you get down to it. That's because there was no reason to think, at least for short runs, that the caboose wouldn't be pulled from either end. It was even possible that other cars would be hooked up behind the caboose, or that a "pusher" locomotive, an extra locomotive needed to push the train over a steep mountain pass like Stevens, would be coupled to the caboose.
One of the interesting things about that photo above is the bar going from the left of the picture to the coupler, the large block of metal to center right. That is used to uncouple the caboose from the rest of the train. Some form of that bar is present on all railway cars in the United States. Back in the 19th Century, there were no such bars. Railway workers had to uncouple cars by reaching in and actuating the coupler itself. Accidents were common, and more than a few railway workers lost the use of their hands. That's why there's a bar there now.
The gear and post near the center of the picture above is the brake wheel, which is more clearly visible in the first photo. Trains are complicated assemblies of large moving objects. Unlike automobiles, or even semi-trucks, braking a train is a complex process that often involves actuating the brakes on all the cars in the train.
Here's what the coupler and braking hardware look like from the caboose's front porch:
Underneath the caboose is the pneumatic gear for the brake line. On the left, just barely visible, is the end of the air reservoir. I'm not sure what the devices next to it are along the pipe, but they undoubtedly have to do with controlling or maintaining pressure.
This is the sideframe of one of the caboose's trucks. Visible through the holes a little to each side of center are the brake calipers. In the middle is the leaf spring, which made the ride more bearable, and kept the caboose's wheels squarely on the rails:
Another view of the truck, showing the housing for one of the axles.
And finally, a glimpse of the accommodations inside the caboose. As you can see, it's being restored right now, but it's a bit ironic that with all the heat and energy being generated at the front of the train, they'd need to have a wood stove to keep warm.
It's hard to imagine what it was like for railroad workers who manned this caboose back in the 1950s through the 1980s. In some ways, it must have been fun, at least at first, getting to see so much of America most of us don't. And while they aren't a five-star hotel, the accommodations look OK for a few hours or a couple of days. Still, it clearly required going outside in cold, wet, or icy conditions, and doing some hard physical work to get a train braked. Plus, since the train was often in motion when they did it, it was pretty windy, too. But, thanks to the volunteers who are maintaining this exhibit, it's at least possible to imagine.
As always, click on the pictures to enlarge.
Afterword: I should thank a couple of people for this article. First, my traveling companion Dana Hunter, who indulged my desire to see this exhibit, and has an article up about this caboose, also, in which she shares some of her memories of watching cabooses along the tracks of the Santa Fe railroad.
Second, I should thank these guys, among others:
4 Culture is the King County agency set up to manage the funds from our entertainment and hotel taxes. These funds are used, among other things, for grants for the arts and historical projects like this one. Normally I wouldn't mention it, since they're a government agency and it's their job, but I get so tired of the endless parade of clowns who insist that government never does anything good with the money it gets from us.
This is just another example of how untrue that is.
UPDATE (Dec. 3): Changed the caboose number from "X-294" to "X294", since the latter is the way it's painted on the caboose, and it seems to be the more popular designation.