Southern Pacific Freight Cars

Volume 2: Cabooses

by Anthony W. Thompson

Full Text of a Review:

Review from Model Railroad News magazine, Vol. 9, No. 7, July, 2003, p. 37.

"Book author Anthony W. Thompson brings in his second volume in the series by featuring Cabooses. Normally, when you think of freight cars, you also think revenue, and cabooses are non-revenue cars. However, during the heyday of the caboose, nothing said freight train more than the red crummy on the end. And Southern Pacific did cabooses in a big way. The 392 pages of this book are given over to that location in railroading where cabooses and the Southern Pacific intersected. "

Chapters 1, 2 and 3

"To give the reader a solid footing, Thompson leads off with an introduction which acquaints us with the history of SP, at least enough to help us understand this far-flung railroading empire. Because of the long distances between crew facilities, the caboose was more than the conductoes office on an SP train; it was also a home away from home for the crew. Chapter 2 looks closely at caboose basics, including trucks and some early 20th Century rosters.

"Chapter 3 turns to early cabooses of the SP, drawn from a time when the caboose concept was not as clearly defined as it would be in later years. We see crummies with side doors, box-car-with cupola cuties and combination cabooses which also offered passenger seating. We get photos of 4-wheel "bobber" cabooses and drawings of various designs along with interior photos. Each of the railroads absorbed by the SP contributed their roster of castles, further diversifying the design pool. Paint ranged from flat red with just "SP" and number in white to the incredibly ornate as seen on a Texas Midland conductor's shack. "

The Harriman Standard Wood Cabooses

"Chapters 4 and 5 focus on the first output of standardized cabooses for the SP, all based on design principles enforced under E.H. Harriman. He saw the value in constructing everything from locos to cabooses in what became known as the Harriman Common Standard. The C-30-1 was the first to be built in that way, starting back in 1914. Also known as the "narrow cupola," the C-30-1 would remain in production until USRA took over and would resume for a while after. This is a lengthy chapter, running from page 79 to 142, showing a vast array of photos revealing this caboose design in all its variants, upgrades, during construction and use.

"In 1928, the first of the C-30-2 class cars were produced and no new C-30-1s would be produced, though many of the older design would serve on into the sixties. In 1930, the first C-30-3 class cars would appear. While other types and builds of cabooses are also shown on these pages, the main thrust of this time is toward continued standardization. "

1937 and the Steel Caboose

"Chapter 6 brings the steel caboose, first used by SP in 1937. Classed as C-40-1, the first group of 50 proved their worth and, in 1940, class C-40-3 began to roll out. This is where this book intersects with real life. In Medford, Oregon at the city's Railroad Park, the Southern Oregon Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society is the proud owner of #1107, a C-40-3 built in 1942.

"Southern Oregon Chapter is beginning restoration of 1107 for public display, and there's a lot of work to do. We have several sources of information on the caboose, the C-40-3 class and more, and this book fits prominently in that body of research. At times such as this, not only does a book like this prom its worth, it also has its validity tested by comparison with other sources. Thompson's volume withstood this scrutiny with honor and merit. Its greatest value is right now, at the planning stage. Once drawings and work plans have been created, most of the research material will retire to shelves.

"Number 1107 and other members of the C-40-3 class were pioneers of steel on the SP, proving that not only was this the right material for cabooses, but for other freight cars as well. The ubiquitous steel cupola design is a favorite of modelers everywhere. As with other classes. we get to see these in construction from the frame up. Pictures of the painting process have proved valuable for the Southern Oregon Chapter, though it is doubtful we'll resort to the spray wand system they used back then. "

Bay Window Cabooses

"The C-30 series wasn't done yet. The C-30-4 of 1947 heralded the first group of bay window cabooses, the most numerous type of caboose on the SP and the car destined to become an icon of SP freight. In 1961, the C-40 was back, but also as a bay window. C-40-4 produced 200 units. With the advent of bay window units, SP got out of the caboose building business. Pursuant to the ideals of Common Standard, these crummies were purchased systemwide, including subsidiary roads such as Cotton Belt and T&NO.

"By this point, the caboose as the exclusive office of a given conductor was gone. All of the shacks were in pool service, meaning that one was attached to a train and the crew used it. Individuality of interior features disappeared and an institutional property had taken over. Mr. Thompson documents this last era of caboose operations with a solid hand on the throttle.

"For example, he reveals that Cotton Belt escaped the reservation for an order of cabooses with wide-vision cupolas. Class C-40-8 contained only 25 of these from 1959, followed by Class C-40-9 with another 20 in 1963. When the SP system began to buy more cabooses in 1968, they would be the C-50 series, all bay windows. Between March and May 1980, 75 C-50-9s were delivered, the last batch of new units in the SP system.

"The members of this final group were Spartan and functional with few windows to vandalize with rocks. The caboose had always been a source of crew injuries, and the bay window helped to reduce that some. Getting rid of cabooses entirely did away with crew injuries at the back of the train."


"Mr. Thompson caps off the project with two appendices, a bibliography, and an index. The first appendix consists of additions to Volume One, reviewed in our pages in April 2003. This illustrates his devotion to getting it right. The second appendix gives us a look at caboose records and how they were kept, while the bibliography is a veritable who's who in the Southern Pacific historical world. Everything is here to help historians and model makers alike.

"This is a rich, authoritative, well-researched book, as was Volume One before it. I would liked to have seen an appendix with a complete compilation of all the SP cabooses on record since I'm a number freak and love to make numerical comparisons. Of course, I may be a majority of one there. What I can say with fair certainty is this book comes as a welcome addition to the library of historical volumes on SP history. I expect to use it in my own research for years to come."

-- John Sipple