“Other” Cabooses –
Has a Long-Lost O&W 8000-Series Caboose Been Rediscovered?
by Ronald J. Stanulevich
Could that be an ex-Midland 8000-series caboose hiding there in the snow at center?
(Photograph courtesy of Walter Kierzkowski.)
Same photo fixed with Photoshop and the help of the "clone" tool. R. Vassallo
Shortly after my original web article on the O&W’s early 8000-series caboose cars appeared, I received an intriguing e-mail from fellow OWRHS member (and past OWRHS President) Walter Kierzkowski. Walt sent me a scan of a period photograph, a blown-up portion of which is shown above, that he had found amongst his vast collection of “things O&W.” It was an image shot in a snow-covered Norwich Yard about 1915, and standing unobtrusively in the background was a very interesting O&W Maintenance-of-Way car. Walt suspected from the car’s unique appearance that it might have been a retired ex-Midland 8000-series side-door caboose. I had to agree with him that it looked promising, but I did not want to get my hopes up prematurely.
On the one hand, very early caboose cars lacked cupolas but often had side-doors, looking just like Walt’s “mystery car.” And old O&W 8000-series cabooses that had failed to get themselves modernized could well have ended up being converted into such MoW Dept. cars. Compare Walt’s car to the photo of O&W coach-caboose #8010 that appeared in the original caboose article – there is a distinct family resemblance.
Then again on the other hand, the mystery car could also be an ex-New York & Oswego Midland, Cummings-built passenger car from 1870. The O&W used such old flat-roofed ex-Midland passenger equipment as head-end cars on early Northern Division passenger trains. But the known examples of those cars all had symmetrical door and window arrangements, like a baggage car – not asymmetrical doors and windows like a combine.
A closer view of the mystery car – is it a lost 8000-series caboose re-discovered, or is it just an ancient passenger-baggage combine car?
Upon first seeing Walt’s mystery car, I had thought "It really does look like an old caboose." But then I noticed that the car had no end ladders and no roof walks, and that made me think that it might be just an old combine car after all. However, when I compared it to the photo of O&W coach-caboose #8010, I discovered that #8010 had lacked both end ladders and roof walk also – which then made me lean back towards concluding that the mystery car really was a caboose again.
So, given all of the conflicting clues, was Walt’s car really an ex-8000-series O&W caboose, or was it just an ex-Midland baggage-passenger combine? It seemed like there was just no way to tell for sure.
This period caboose drawing was not attributed to any particular railroad, but was used to generically illustrate a typical early 8-wheeled caboose car. Compare it to the photos of our mystery car. If you shove the side-door a few feet to the right and add a fourth side-window, you have a caboose very similar in configuration to the mystery O&W car.
(Drawing taken from the 1898 Car Builders’ Dictionary)
Or was there? For it finally occurred to me that a deciding factor might well be the overall body-length of the car. As originally built, a Cummings passenger car would have measured about 48 feet over the exterior body sills, not counting the open end-platforms. But an ex-Midland caboose car body would almost certainly have been much shorter than that. So, using a graphical technique to account for the perspective distortion of the 3/4-view photo, I laid out some pencil lines on a hardcopy of the image, and measured-off the car’s body-length, as best I could.
Making accurate dimensional estimates from a skewed-perspective photograph requires either knowing, or correctly guessing, the length of at least one linear feature. Since the underbody and trucks of the mystery car are not visible in the photo, I chose to guess at the width of a side-window. I used two different but equally plausible widths, typical for both early caboose and passenger car windows – 21 inches overall width for one set of runs, and 24 inches overall width for the other set. Using the two likely widths, I did the graphical technique twice for each, bracketing with my calipers what I thought was the visual edge of the window openings in the photograph (a matter of best-judgment, due to the limited resolution of the enlarged scan).
The four graphical runs – two trials, repeated for each of the two different window-width guesses – produced overall body-length estimates of 26 feet and 28 feet, and 32 feet and 34 feet. Granted, that is quite a wide spread of body-length estimates over the four trials, but the results are still significant in that:
1) the different trials gave pretty similar length estimates for each window width, and
2) no estimate was anywhere near as long as 48 feet, the known body dimension of a Cummings-built passenger-baggage combine car.
More to the point, 24 to 34 feet long was a very common body-length for early 8-wheel caboose cars. Based solely on appearance, I suspected that my longer results were probably closer to being correct for this car – making it somewhere between 32 feet and 34 feet long over the exterior end sills.
At this point, Walt weighed in again via e-mail, pointing out that 33 feet over the sills was the exact body-length of the three known 8000-series cabooses, as shown in the 1905 shop drawings of the trio modernized with steel-under frames. That does not prove anything of course, but it does seem like a pretty favorable coincidence.
So, now I am really leaning towards the mystery car being a MoW car converted from one of the elusive, long-lost O&W 8000-series “other” cabooses.
If you are still not convinced however, there is one last, tantalizing clue to consider. There seems to be the very top of a car number visible below the “W-inside-an-O” herald on the side of the mystery car. If it were in the 8000-series range, that would settle the matter once and for all. But maddeningly, glare, snow on the car, and the roof of the Erie boxcar just in the foreground blocked most of the car number from the camera – masking it just enough to make it impossible to read….
Is that a car number just below the circular herald, barely visible over the top of the large Erie boxcar? And could it be “8005?” With its side-number mostly obscured by snow, glare, and the roofline of the car in front of it, the ancient O&W mystery car seems determined to hang on to the secret of its identity.
There have been some disappointing dead-ends while looking for the lost 8000-series cabooses of the O&W. This very moody photo, taken on a dark and snowy day long ago, was found by Walt amongst various O&W photographs in his collection. It seemed very promising as a potential 8000-series O&W caboose, at least initially…
...that is, until Walt turned up this additional photo obviously of the same caboose, unquestionably identifying it as an Ulster and Delaware car. It’s still a very nice looking caboose, though – the high gloss of the painted and varnished wood siding comes through clearly, even in this scan of an ancient black-and-white print. No wonder its crew was so obviously proud to pose with it.
What is that car on the right, parked way, way out there in the very back of another overall O&W yard scene? Sure, it could be a modern O&W-built snow flanger, since at first glance it looks too long to be an ex-Midland caboose converted from an early 28’ boxcar. And it has no open end-platforms, as a proper caboose would. But wait – look again, more closely, at the siding near both ends. Is it a slightly different color, perhaps suggesting original open end-platforms that were filled in later? And is the siding at the far right end of the car actually sagging a bit, starting exactly where an earlier open end platform would have been? At any rate, if it’s not a caboose, it is still parked on the yard’s caboose track, which it shares with the classic 8100-series bobber sitting just to its left.
(Photograph courtesy of Walter Kierzkowski.)
My earlier 8000-series caboose article included a photo from about 1885, showing O&W bobber #8105 in a very early configuration with just a tiny signal-cupola on its roof. Well, look to the extreme right of the engine’s pilot in this photograph. The end of very familiar-looking caboose car is visible there. Class S 2-8-0 #192 already has its extended smoke box at the time of this photo, so at least one of the 8100-series bobbers has kept its original “no-lookout” roof configuration well into the 1890s. Perhaps it retained its original Victorian-looking diagonal side sheathing as well? This is a cropped version of a larger photo that also includes other distant O&W bobber cabooses, and all the rest of them have the more modern full-sized roof-top cupola, like the bobber coupled on behind the locomotive.
(Photograph from the author’s collection.)
Here is a blown-up section of the photograph above. This O&W bobber has kept its early roof configuration, featuring a tiny signal-lamp cupola much too small for a man to sit inside. Those early bobbers were good-looking cabooses. (And that’s certainly a hat, watch-chain, and mustache to be proud of, too.)
Walt K. spotted this one also. It’s a much-magnified detail taken from an overall view of the Ellenville station. This trackside shanty clearly started life as a short, possibly 8-wheeled, caboose having three windows on its side. Its wheels/trucks have been removed, and the near end-platform has been enclosed to provide more interior storage space beneath the roof. This is an excellent candidate for being a grounded ex-Midland 8000-series caboose. Or, since this is Ellenville, perhaps it’s just an ex-Erie caboose. Or, maybe it’s both – after all, the Midland had to originally get its caboose cars from somewhere….
(Photograph from the Ellenville Public Library and Museum collection.)
Is that just a MoW work car coupled to the boxcar in the left background, or is it perhaps a boxcar-caboose belonging to the train being switched by S-Class Mother Hubbard Consolidation #166? The tall modern boxcar to which it is coupled does not seem a very likely candidate to be part of an O&W work train….
(Photograph from an old postcard.)
And finally, there is this very interesting O&W caboose car. It does not seem to be one of the line’s later home-built snow flanger cars. It appears to be an early O&W work caboose that was converted from an old 28’ boxcar by adding a cupola and some side-windows. There are no open end-platforms, and shadows obscure the end passage-door, if indeed it had any. The question is – when was it made? It is Road Department car R1 in this photo, but was it built by the O&W, or does it date all the way back to the 8000-series “other” cabooses of the Midland? Either way, it shows what a Midland-era boxcar-caboose could have looked like. Note the crew-access steps under the side-door.
(Photograph courtesy of Walter Kierzkowski.)
A slightly closer view of the same car.
[There are at least a few surviving period photographs of Oswego Midland steam locomotives leading their trains. Locomotives pulling trains across trestles were an especially-favored subject. But the old-time photographers never seem to have waited around for an early caboose to roll by, and exposed a glass plate of that. (Too “work-a-day” a subject to have been of much interest, maybe?) Despite that, I am still hopeful that more and better images of the O&W’s ex-Midland cabooses will yet emerge. If anyone reading this article has a photograph that might be of interest, please share it with the members of the OWRHS by e-mailing a scan to Webmaster Ron Vassallo.]
Corrections: A couple of factual corrections need to be made to my original web article on the O&W’s 8000-series cabooses:
In a footnote to the original piece, I wrote that caboose 8014 was eventually sold to the Unadilla Valley railroad – but I’ve since learned that this statement was incorrect, and apparently none of the O&W 8000-series cabooses went to the UV.
Also, Walter Kierzkowski, who personally visited the “dead line” of ex-O&W cabooses stored at Secaucus, NJ back in the 1970s, e-mailed to say that none of the 8000-series cars, modernized or otherwise, were among the many cabooses that ended up there – thus adding one more element of mystery to the story of the O&W’s elusive “other” cabooses: where did they all go off to, at the bitter end?