The   O&W's   'Other'   Cabooses

The O&W's 'Other' Cabooses - Early 8-Wheel Caboose Cars of the NYO&W Railway

by Ronald J. Stanulevich

    Everyone knows that the New York, Ontario & Western Railway had two large classes of caboose cars, right? The O&W’s 8100-series 4-wheel “bobber” cars dated from the mid-1880s, and the railway’s modern 8300-series 8-wheel cabooses were built starting in 1916. But that’s not quite the whole story, however.

[Editor's note: All photos are located in the gallery at the end of this article.]

While not nearly as widely known, the O&W also had one other significant class of cabooses: its venerable 8000-series cars. These were a number of ancient 8-wheel caboose cars that the O&W had inherited from its predecessor, the bankrupt New York & Oswego Midland Railroad. Records describing these early NYO&W cabooses are sparse, and there are regrettably almost no surviving early photographs of them, but they definitely existed. One of them, very much rebuilt and remodeled over the years, stayed on the roster continuously until 1955 – making it perhaps the longest-serving piece of O&W rolling stock.

    Just how many cabooses the old NY&OMRR originally bequeathed to the O&W is difficult to pin down with certainty. An inventory appearing in the very first O&W Annual Report, for the year 1880, stated that there were 22 “Service Cars” (cabooses) on the initial equipment roster. However, the railway’s “Circular No. 1,” also published in 1880, listed the following:

No. 1 to 13 inclusive, Caboose Cars.

No. 95 “ “

No. 8001 “ “

That’s only 15 original cabooses, not 22 as claimed in the railway’s first Annual Report.

And the second NYO&W Annual Report (for the year 1881) included this line:

Number of service cars - - - 17

   In the O&W’s 1882 Annual Report, the published total of “Service Cars” had ballooned upwards by 10, to a total of 27. But the very next Annual Report, for the year 1883, indicated that the O&W once again had only 22 “Service Cars” on its equipment roster.

    The O&W’s 1884 Annual Report included a chart summarizing the number of Service Cars in service each year since the beginning of the railway. (By 1884 the modern word Caboose was already starting to replace the older term Service Car, in the O&W’s annual reports):

Caboose (Service) Cars: 1880 – 22

1881 – 17

1882 – 27

1883 – 22

1884 – 22

    The obvious questions are, why were there such significant variations in the number of active caboose cars over a mere five year period? And why such wide disagreement between the caboose totals given in the official Annual Reports (from 17 to 27 cars) and the much smaller number of cabooses listed in the railway’s Circular No. 1 (only 15 cars)?

    One likely explanation is that the old Oswego Midland company had indeed left the NYO&W a total of at least 22 cabooses, but that these cars were a mix of several different configurations, and in varying states of neglect and disrepair. Perhaps only the 15 particular cabooses listed in the O&W’s 1880 Circular No. 1 were found to be immediately fit for service. The 15 listed caboose cars were split across three distinct numbering series, which suggests that they were of at least three different designs, and perhaps also of several different origins as well. So the O&W very likely spent the first few years of its life trying to figure out which of its various ex-Midland cabooses were best suited for its operations, and getting those cars mechanically fit for service.

    From 1880 to 1884, the O&W would have culled the least-serviceable caboose cars from its inherited fleet, while repairing or refitting those hand-me-downs that it chose to keep. The railway also almost certainly added new or rebuilt cabooses of the pattern(s) that it found most suitable. The raw numbers in the 1884 Annual Report table suggest that, between 1880 and 1882, the O&W may have built, rebuilt, or bought at least 5, and perhaps as many as 10, of its own additional caboose cars. It also apparently retained at least a dozen of the old ex-Midland cars. A total of 22 serviceable cabooses must have been enough to support O&W train operations throughout the years 1883 and 1884. By 1885, the line had renumbered all of the early 8-wheeled cabooses that it chose to retain uniformly into the 8000-series.

    What did these ex-Midland O&W caboose cars originally look like? In most cases, it is unfortunately impossible to say. The portrait of coach-caboose #8010 is the only surviving photograph of such a car in an early condition that has been found so far. The original appearances of those caboose cars that the O&W remodeled or disposed of in the first few years of its life may unfortunately be lost to history – barring the discovery of additional Oswego Midland or very early Ontario & Western caboose photos.

    How or from where the NY&OMRR originally obtained its modest caboose fleet is unknown. In researching the O&W’s 8000-series cars, it was initially expected that one or more of these early cabooses would turn out to have been equipped with side-doors for use in handling baggage and less-than-carload freight. It is certainly possible, and perhaps even likely, that such side-door O&W caboose cars existed. But so far no conclusive evidence has emerged, from the known collections of early O&W photographs, to prove it.

    OWRHS member and researcher Bob Karig has reproduced a comprehensive set of photocopies of all of the Official Railway Equipment Register entries for the NYO&W Railway for the years 1885 through 1957. (At the time of this writing, in the spring of 2005, these reproduction ORER extracts are available to OWRHS members direct from Bob for $40. They can be highly recommended to anyone wishing to do research on the equipment history of the O&W.) The level of detail describing the O&W’s caboose cars published in the ORERs varied somewhat over the years, from rather general to quite detailed. The table below was constructed largely from the information contained therein.

    Where several ORERs were published in a single year, figures from the latest issue (typically October or December) are used. Plain numbers listed in the table are actual caboose car side-numbers, while numbers appearing inside parentheses indicate the total number of cars present that year in that series:

CABOOSE CARS OF THE NYO&W RWY. (by year)
 

YEAR

8000-series

8100-series

8300-series

1880

1-13, 95, 8001

-

-

1881

(17)

-

-

1882

(27)

-

-

1883

(22)

-

-

1884

(22)

-

-

1885

8001-8007

8101-8110

-

1886

8001-8011

8101-8110

-

1887

8001-8011 (9)

8101-8110 (12)

-

1888

8001-8013 (13)

8101-8116 (16)

-

1889

8001-8013 (11)

8101-8116 (16)

-

1890

8001-8013 (12)

8101-8116 (16)

-

1891

8001-8013 (12)

8101-8126 (26)

-

1892

8001-8013 (12)

8101-8130 (30)

-

1893

8001-8013 (12)

8101-8141 (41)

-

1894

8002-8015 (10)

8101-8147 (47)

-

1895

8002, 8004, 8005,

8008, 8010, 8011

8101-8149 (48)

-

1896

8002, 8004, 8005,

8008, 8010, 8011

8101-8149 (48)

-

1897

8002, 8004, 8005,

8008, 8010, 8011

8101-8149 (48)

-

1898

8002, 8004, 8005,

8008, 8010, 8011

8101-8149 (48)

-

1899

8002, 8004, 8005,

8008, 8010, 8011

8101-8149 (46)

-

1900

8002, 8004, 8005,

8008, 8010, 8011

8101-8152 (51)

-

1901

8002, 8004, 8005,

8008, 8010, 8011

8101-8152 (51)

-

1902

8002, 8004, 8005,

8008, 8010, 8011

8101-8152 (52)

-

1903

8002, 8004, 8005,

8008, 8010, 8011

8101-8152 (52)

-

1904

8002-8010 (5)

8101-8172 (72)

-

1905

8002-8010 (5)

8101-8173 (79)

-

1906

8002-8013 (7)

8101-8186 (85)

-

1907

8002-8013 (7)

8101-8186 (86)

-

1908

8002-8013 (8)

8101-8186 (83)

-

1909

8002-8013 (8)

8101-8186 (90)

-

1910

8002-8013 (8)

8101-8192 (94)

-

1911

8002-8013 (8)

8101-8206 (106)

-

1912

8002-8013 (7)

8101-8206 (104)

-

1913

8002-8013 (7)

8101-8206 (106)

-

1914

8002-8013 (7)

8101-8206 (103)

-

1915

8002-8013 (7)

8101-8206 (102)

-

1916

8002-8013 (7)

8101-8206 (101)

8301-8320 (20)

1917

8002-8013 (7)

8101-8206 (100)

8301-8333 (32)

1918

8001-8014 (7)

8101-8206 (87)

8301-8340 (40)

1919

8001-8014 (7)

8101-8206 (79)

8301-8340 (39)

1920

8001-8014 (6)

8101-8206 (78)

8301-8340 (39)

1921

8001-8014 (5)

8101-8206 (59)

8301-8340 (39)

1922

8001-8014 (5)

8101-8206 (47)

8301-8340 (39)

1923

8001-8014 (4)

8101-8206 (42)

8301-8340 (36)

1924

8001-8014 (4)

8101-8205 (39)

8301-8356 (54)

1925

8001-8014 (4)

8101-8205 (39)

8301-8356 (54)

1926

8001-8014 (4)

8101-8205 (38)

8301-8356 (54)

1927

8001-8014 (4)

8107-8205 (34)

8301-8356 (54)

1928

8001-8014 (4)

8107-8205 (32)

8301-8356 (54)

1929

8001-8014 (4)

8107-8205 (32)

8301-8356 (54)

1930

8001-8014 (4)

8107-8205 (31)

8301-8356 (53)

1931

8001-8014 (4)

8108-8205 (18)

8301-8356 (52)

1932

8001-8014 (4)

8108-8205 (18)

8301-8356 (50)

1933

8001-8014 (4)

8108-8205 (16)

8301-8357 (51)

1934

8001-8014 (4)

8108-8205 (13)

8301-8357 (52)

1935

8001-8014 (3)

8108-8205 (8)

8301-8357 (52)

1936

8001-8014 (3)

8108-8205 (5)

8301-8357 (52)

1937

8001-8014 (3)

8108-8205 (4)

8301-8357 (52)

1938

8001-8014 (3)

8115, 8204

8301-8357 (52)

1939

8001-8014 (3)

8204

8301-8360 (52)

1940

8001-8014 (3)

8204

8301-8360 (52)

1941

8001-8014 (3)

-

8301-8360 (50)

1942

8001-8014 (3)

-

8301-8360 (49)

1943

8001-8014 (3)

-

8301-8360 (49)

1944

8001-8014 (3)

-

8301-8360 (49)

1945

8001-8014 (3)

-

8301-8360 (49)

1946

8001-8014 (2)

-

8301-8360 (49)

1947

8001-8014 (2)

-

8301-8360 (48)

1948

8001-8014 (2)

-

8301-8360 (45)

1949

8001-8014 (2)

-

8301-8360 (44)

1950

8001-8014 (2)

-

8301-8360 (44)

1951

8001-8014 (2)

-

8301-8360 (44)

1952

8001-8014 (1)

-

8301-8360 (33)

1953

8001-8014 (1)

-

8301-8360 (33)

1954

8011

-

8301-8360 (33)

1955

8011

-

8301-8360 (33)

1956

-

-

8301-8360 (33)

1957

-

-

8301-8360 (33)

    The figures in the table give some perspective not just on the lifespan of the 8000-series caboose fleet, but also on its changing relationships with the O&W’s more well-known caboose series. The 8000-series cars had the back end of O&W trains all to themselves from the railway’s birth in 1880 up until 1885, when the first 8100-series four-wheel bobber cars were built in the O&W’s shops. By 1888, the 8000s fleet had settled at a lucky 13 cars. From that point on, the number of 8100-series bobbers began to grow steadily, but the 8000-series cars still accounted for almost half of the O&W’s overall caboose numbers until about 1890. 

    The 8000s’ numbers then began to wane in direct proportion to the accelerating growth of the 8100-series four-wheel caboose fleet. By 1895, the number of surviving 8000-series cars had dwindled into relative insignificance, as the number of 8100-series cars swelled above 50. The 8000s’ days seemed to be numbered, with the six remaining cars in the class apparently heading towards certain extinction.

    Then in 1900 a significant change came to the O&W’s freight traffic, a change that would keep at least three of the venerable 8000-series 8-wheel cabooses on the road until almost the very end. For in 1900 the O&W received from Cooke the first of its eventual fleet of 20 huge new P-Class 2-8-0 Consolidation camelback steam locomotives. These massive split-cab “Orries” were acquired for one reason – to move Scranton Division coal, and plenty of it. And move coal they did, often in solid drags far longer than any trains the O&W’s rails had seen before, and often with several P-Class locos working together, both pulling and pushing. But the O&W’s tiny 8100-series bobber cabooses were too fragile, and far too light, to be sandwiched safely between one or more 100-ton pusher locomotives and a heavy coal train being shoved roughly up a stiff grade. Time-consuming switching moves were therefore required at both ends of a pusher run. The rear-end helpers had to be cut in and out of the train ahead of the caboose, keeping the tiny four-wheel cabin cars tucked safely behind all of that massive tractive effort. 

   To solve its pusher-caboose problem, the O&W selected three of its aging 8000-series 8-wheel caboose cars and sent them off to the shops to be rebuilt for use in heavy pusher service. With new steel under frames and lots of weight, the remodeled 8000s were designed to stand up to the rigors of coal-drag pushing without the need to switch them out of the train and tack them on behind the back-end power.

Between 1905 and 1907, the NYO&W Railway completely rebuilt three of its ancient 8000-series caboose cars: #8001, #8011, and #8014. Steel under frames were applied, apparently for use in heavy pusher service on long coal trains. These cars were something of a dress rehearsal for designing and building the O&W’s extensive 8300-series class cabooses, turned out by the line’s shop forces starting a decade later. Why were only three of the 8000-series cars chosen for this rebuilding, why these three specific cars in particular, and what did they look like before their extensive remodeling? Again, there is no way to know for certain…. (Drawing courtesy of Walter Kierzkowski.) -SEE PHOTO 7 IN THE GALLERY BELOW 

The official drawings created by the O&W shops to document the rebuilding of cars #8001, #8011, and #8014 also noted the years in which those cars were built, and rebuilt:

#8001 Built by O&W 1891 Rebuilt 1907

#8011 Built by O&W 1883 Rebuilt 1905

#8014 Built by O&W 1891 Rebuilt 1907 

    This data was recorded at the time by the O&W draftsmen themselves, so it is presumably authoritative. However, these dates as presented do raise several questions. For one thing, it seems odd that car #8001 had a much later construction date (1891) than its higher-numbered sister #8011 (1883), by some 8 years. Was this caboose #8001 actually the O&W’s second caboose #8001, a replacement car built in 1891 to retire what was then presumably the oldest caboose on the line? Or, perhaps the first #8001 had been lost to one of the horrific rear-end collisions that were regrettably common in steam railroading on “dark” (no automatic signals) single-track lines. Looking closely at the table of O&W caboose numbers, the total number of cars in a particular series sometimes slipped backwards by a car or two from one year to the next, as cabooses were unexpectedly ripped from the roster by catastrophic wrecks.

    Adding further to the mystery of the #8001’s origins, the NYO&W Annual Report for 1883 makes no mention of any expenditures for a new caboose built in that year. In fact, the table of “Service Cars” from the 1884 Annual Report (quoted earlier) shows that the number of caboose cars on the road actually fell during that year to 22, down from 27 the year before. Perhaps these oddities can all simply be chalked up to the organized chaos of a new railway company just starting out, and the resultant churn that was taking place in the O&W’s developing caboose fleet during the first few years. 

    Strangely enough, #8001’s sister caboose #8014 took fully three years, from its construction date of 1891 until 1894, to initially appear in the pages of the Official Railway Equipment Register. It is also interesting that, of the three 8000-series cabooses that were selected for modernization, only car #8011 was listed in the ORER as still being on the O&W’s active roster by 1900. Cars #8001 and #8014 had disappeared from the list back around 1895. That is worth noting, because it is evidence that O&W equipment taken out of active service was not always scrapped or sent off of the property immediately. Evidently, at least some newly-retired equipment was simply parked somewhere out of the way for a period of time, while awaiting either rebuilding or an eventual call back to active duty.

    Such a policy of inactive equipment storage may help to explain the big discrepancies and wild fluctuations noted in the size of the O&W caboose roster during the first five years of the railway’s life. Caboose cars culled from active duty early in the 1880s may have been parked in storage on the property for a while, before those no longer wanted finally went off to other uses or were sent to the scrap yard. Not too much retired O&W equipment so stored seems ever to have been called back into service, as in later years the business declines on the O&W regrettably tended to go only one way. All of which makes the O&W’s rebuilt 8000-series cabooses just that much more remarkable.

    The number of O&W 8000-series caboose cars listed in the ORERs grew by two between 1905 (5 cars) and 1906 (7 cars). But the official O&W shop drawing dates indicate that the rebuilding of cars #8001 and #8014 was not finished until a year later, in 1907. So, what was the extra mystery car, besides #8011, that joined the series in 1906? Was one of the O&W’s other inactive 8000-series cars also recalled to active duty for a time? [see Note 1 below] Or did one of the two later rebuilds simply return from the shops early – the official completion dates listed on the O&W’s shop drawings not withstanding?

The number of 8000-series cars listed in the ORERs then jumps again, by one more car, between 1907 (7 cars) and 1908 (8 cars). Presumably, that increase reflects the last of the two later rebuilds leaving the shops and rejoining the fleet. But the car numbers shown in the ORERs as the endpoints of the 8000-series do not expand to include #8001 and #8014 until fully ten years later, in 1918!

(This is not an uncommon quirk in the ORER data. The number range for a particular car series often seems to lag behind the total number of cars listed as being present in that same series, sometimes for several years. Such inconsistencies suggest that, while the ORERs are a valuable general research source, not every tiny detail in them about a particular car number should be taken as the absolute last word.) 

    When the O&W’s three rebuilt 8000-series cabooses left the shops, they became the largest and heaviest cabooses that would ever see service with the O&W. At more than 36 feet long overall, they dwarfed the road’s tiny 8100-series bobber cars. In fact, they had an almost four-foot length advantage over even the 8300-series caboose cars that would be constructed by the railway’s shops over a decade later. Since in the 1900s train crews still frequently ate, slept, and lived in their cabooses for days at a time, the 8000s’ extra elbow-room was no doubt much appreciated.

    If the rebuilt 8000s’ robust size was remarkable, their weight was even more impressive. At over 41000 pounds ready-to-roll, they were a good 6000 pounds heavier than even the later 8300-series cabooses would be; this despite the fact that the 8000s superstructures were still made entirely of wood. Much of that ample mass came from their new steel under frames, which give the rebuilt cars a very low and stable center of gravity. The result was a caboose able to hold up under the buffeting of even the toughest pusher service, without fear of being crushed or knocked off the rails. Composite-pedestal caboose trucks helped the cars stick to the track. Dual-spring Farlow draft gear helped them resist the vicious slack action that developed in long coal trains, as they were simultaneously pushed and pulled over heavy grades by several big locomotives coupled on at both ends. 

   In an era long before cabooses were first equipped with seat belts or safety-glass, the 8000s’ smooth ride was more than just an added comfort feature – it was essential for the safety of the men working within. Still, try to imagine the sounds and sensations of riding inside one of these cabooses at the end of a long coal drag, with a pair of 100-ton Mother Hubbard Consolidation locos pushing at full throttle from just behind the rear platform a scant few feet away. That must have been an experience never to be forgotten.

    Big and rugged as they were, the three rebuilt 8000-series cars were undoubtedly well-received by the train crews. For although no more of the ancient 8000s were similarly rebuilt, the basic principles that they embodied – 8 wheels, robust under frame strength, and enough weight for good tracking – would be remembered and invoked again by the O&W’s 8300-series cabooses, designed more than ten years later. Even many of the O&W’s tiny 8100-series 4-wheel caboose cars eventually received steel under frames, to permit them to perform better in switching service on general freights.

    Once the three rebuilt cars had re-entered service, the number of 8000-series cabooses remained fairly steady, at 7 to 8 cars, until about 1920. After that, their numbers began to decrease again. For in 1916, compelled by new government regulations the O&W began to build its last new class of cabooses – the familiar 8300-series of 8-wheel cars. With the introduction of increasing numbers of these newest cabooses, the population of the O&W’s 8100-series bobbers peaked at a little over 100 cars. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, as the growing fleet of 8300-series cabooses in service climbed above 50 cars, the number of both 8000-series and 8100-series caboose. 

    Caboose #8317 [see Note 2 below] was among the first 20 of the O&W’s modern 8300-series cars, built in 1916. These first 8300s had a number of transitional features inspired by their 8000-series forerunners. Most notable was a cupola stepped back from the main car sides. In later 8300-series cars, the main car siding simply extended upwards to form flush cupola sides. Even then, the 8300-series cabooses initially had fascia boards that extended end-to-end across the siding below the cupola, preserving something of the look of the 8300-series’ roofline. But water became trapped behind the part of the board not protected by the main car roof, rotting out the siding beneath. As a result, that section of the fascia was cut away, leaving the 8300s with their final, modern appearance – flush-sided cupolas and fascia boards in two sections with a gap in the middle. [See last photo in gallery below]

    Cars retained on the active roster steadily declined. With 4-wheel cabooses now considered old-fashioned, and having been ruled obsolete for interchange service, the little 8100-series cars were hit especially hard. The last example of the O&W’s 4-wheel 8100-series left in active service was also one of the very last to have been built; caboose #8204 was retired in 1940, after some 30 years of service. With the departure of that final bobber car, the modern 8300-series of 8-wheel cabooses finally had the O&W’s rails all to themselves.

    Almost all, that is. For, a small remnant of the line’s ancient 8000-series cabooses still lived on in the form of the trio of rebuilt, steel-under framed cars. Big and roomy, solid and stable, just too good to be without, the railway kept the rebuilt 8000s running for nearly 50 years until almost the very end of the line. Car #8001 was the first of the three to go [see Note 3 below], retired in 1945. Car #8014 soldiered on alongside her one surviving sister until seven years later, in 1952 [see Note 4 below]. The last of the O&W’s “other” cabooses, car #8011, was finally retired in 1955 [see Note 5 below]– only two years shy of making it all the way onto the final roster. Although NYO&W caboose #8011 was by then an incredible 72 years old, and could trace her roots all the way back to the very beginnings of the railway company, in the end only 33 of even the O&W’s most modern 8300-series cabooses managed to outlive her. That’s not too bad a run, for a little-known car that was one of the NYO&W Railway’s “other” cabooses….

    [It would be great to learn more about the appearance of the O&W’s 8000-series caboose cars, especially as they looked in the old Midland days before they were rebuilt. Hopefully someone reading this article can provide more information. In his classic book The New York, Ontario & Western In Color, author Paul Lubliner included this interesting sentence: “The O&W had many home-built cabooses ranging from four-wheeled bobbers to converted boxcars as well as purpose built hacks.” I’d love to ask the writer what specifically he had in mind as he penned those words, but have not been able to contact him. So if anyone knows Mr. Lubliner personally, please show him this article and ask him to weigh in with any information he can provide about these early O&W cabooses (especially photos!).

    Last but not least, please look closely at those ancient family photographs of Oswego Midland or O&W train yards, as there could be an 8000-series caboose tucked away on a siding in the background. But don’t be fooled by the O&W’s many snow plows and flanger cars, as those cars had both sliding side-doors and rooftop cupolas, too.

If you do find an image of a genuine 8000-series caboose car, please e-mail a scan to the OWRHS and ask Ron to share it with us through the website.]

Notes:

1- There is evidence that caboose #8013 also received a steel under frame. Although it was apparently never fully modernized as were the #8001, #8011, and #8014, the #8013 may have stayed on the active roster with its updated sisters until 1934.

2 -When the O&W was finally abandoned, caboose #8317 was sold to the Unadilla Valley Railroad, where it became that line’s caboose #102.

3 -Caboose #8001 was sold in 1951 to John Baumann, a scrapper located in Childs, PA.

4 -Caboose #8014 was also sold to the Unadilla Valley, and became that line’s caboose #103. Sadly, both the former #8317 and the former #8014 were deliberately put to the torch after the UV in turn ceased operations in 1960. With the wood parts burned away, the remaining metal parts were salvaged for their scrap-metal value.

5 - It is not certain what became of the venerable #8011 after the O&W was abandoned. Most likely, she went off with the rest of the O&W’s idled cabooses to languish on a scrapper’s storage track in Secaucus, NJ. They rested there until 1970, when they too were ultimately “salvaged” by burning.


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