Ode to a Caboose

My intrepid companion has a wee fascination for trains. This means that when we’re out adventuring, trains often factor in – even when we didn’t expect them to. I mean, honestly – last thing you expect to run in to high in the Cascades is a caboose. For one thing, trains don’t have ’em anymore. For another, we’re on the side of a mountain with no tracks in sight.

So of course, when you see something like that and you have a train nut in the car, you make an unscheduled stop.

A very unexpected caboose.
A very unexpected caboose on Hightway 2 near Stevens Pass.

And we discovered a whole network of trails following the old railroad. Folks have put a lot of time and love into this. Also, there are train tunnels. Tunnels! We didn’t make it to the tunnels this trip, but most certainly will in the future. There’s also a spur trail that promises a fantastic vista over the mountains, which I’m dying to do. It’s really a fantastic little area, especially for a variety of day hikes that will keep botanists, geologists, and trainophiles happy for ages.

But if not for the caboose, we never would have known it was there.

The goat on the caboose is precious. Iron goat, indeed!
The goat on the caboose is precious. Iron goat, indeed!

I miss cabooses. They’d been part of my life since I was three, when we moved to a suburb outside of Flagstaff, Arizona. The Santa Fe Railroad ran along I-40; we had to cross the tracks to get home. This was usually just a quick set of fun bumps – brrt-bdum-bdum-brrt – as we hit the cattle guard-tracks-cattle guard combo. But occasionally, as we approached the tracks, bracing ourselves for the bumps, the signal would begin to clang. Red lights would flash. The arms would come down. And a Santa Fe locomotive would heave into sight.

Mind you, these were freight trains. Onna grade. So we were in for a long several minutes of watching the train go by. It seemed endless when all you really wanted was to get home, get on your bike, and collect your friends. There were only two things to look forward to now: discussing how awesome turbo boost would be, and keeping an eye peeled for the caboose.

Moi and Caboose. Image courtesy Cujo359.
Moi and Caboose. Image courtesy Cujo359.

I loved the caboose.

So you can imagine how upset I was when someone, somewhere, decided the caboose was now surplus to requirements, and trains just… ended. No more glad lifting of the heart as that little red car came into view. Just an anxious straining of the eyes for the final car. And you never knew, until it was past, whether that was really truly the end of the train or just one of those deceptive stretches empty of container cars.

Damn it. I want my caboose back.

So there’s something bittersweet in patting a grand old caboose, now reduced to an exhibit in a roadside park. I miss the days when they rode the rails. But it’s nice to at last get the chance to meet one of these grand old friends.

Moi and caboose on the Iron Goat Trail. Image courtesy Cujo359.
Moi and caboose on the Iron Goat Trail. Image courtesy Cujo359.
Ode to a Caboose

10 thoughts on “Ode to a Caboose

  1. rq

    Train tunnel! Train tunnel! Train tunnel!!

    Actually, I have recently come to the conclusion that a lot of people around FtB have a fascination for trains. What makes trains so awesome? (It’s more of a rhetorical question, because I find them fascinating as well, just like large cargo ships in ports or eighteen-wheelers precision-parking, but I know in these cases it’s their size, weight and inertia, as well as the graceful, easy-looking way they’re guided…
    Trains is a bit different, though. Size and power, yes – and maybe it’s the grand networks of tracks that people built back in the day, or the great lumbering engines that pulled all these trains around, or just the sheer inevitability of a moving train that makes it so je ne sais quoi. Places them in the same category as pyramids or other triumphs of human ingenuity – almost like forces of nature. Almost.)

  2. 3

    Actually since you were on US 2 you were seeing the 3 generations of tracks over the pass. The first was a set of switchbacks that ran over the top, but due to steepness of the grade limited the number of cars. Then you had the 2.63 mile tunnel that opened in 1909 replacing the 8 switchbacks. Finally in 1929 the current 7.79 mile tunnel opened in 1929. If you read the Wikipedia article about the pass you find interesting details on how they ventilate the tunnel.

  3. 4

    Read your caption on the last picture. The Iron Goat trail is the path the railroad took when it did the switchback thing over the mountain.
    BTW the 2.63 mile tunnel has partly fallen in.

  4. 5

    I too love me some trains and very much miss the cabooses. (Cabeese?) I really must get up to Stevens Pass sometime next summer, it’s been years and I’m such a short distance away.

    Stevens Pass, as I think I’ve mentioned here before, was the scene of the worst avalanche and one of the worst rail disasters, in terms of lives lost, in US history. I think it’s only a short hike to see the mangled remains of the cars that are still there.


  5. 7

    I like trains also. :D

    I like to ride them whenever I can, which is not very often these days. But I did more in past years.

    It’s disappointing that US high-speed-train development is not happening as fast as it has been in western and eastern Eurasia. The US is falling sadly behind. :(

  6. 9

    So you can imagine how upset I was when someone, somewhere, decided the caboose was now surplus to requirements, and trains just… ended.

    Legally in North America a train is a potentially moving object on tracks lying between a front set of lights and a rear set of lights. A caboose had red lights called markers. This led to the phrase “bringing up the markers” to describe the last car on a train. With the reduction of train crew members and introduction of flashing rear-end devices (FREDs), often referred to by railroad companies as end-of-train lights (EOTs), the caboose was rendered redundant. A FRED is a lot cheaper than a caboose.

  7. 10

    The Fred’s also deliver telemetry to the front of the train. They give the read outs the condition of the train, a job that was handled by two crew members that would ride in the caboose.

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