Union Pacific Cabooses

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Early Wooden Cabooses

Union Pacific began using cabooses almost from the first, as early as 1865, as the road's construction forces marched across Nebraska. The equipment record book dating from 1926 shows cabooses with build dates from as early as 1870. The earliest cabooses were adaptations of box cars. Early photographs show a variety of designs, including a 30-foot, round-roof car without cupola. These cabooses also had end platforms, four side windows and no end windows, and one side door. These cars were painted in what appears to be oxide-red color. Later cabooses built during the historic era had centered cupolas and six side windows. Records mention that these cabooses were painted yellow and plainly lettered as cabooses. Some early photographs suggest that the early cabooses were assigned to specific divisions of the railroad, and numbered with single digit numbers, i.e. Utah Division Caboose 10. According to John White, Union Pacific owned approximately 45 cabooses in 1870, 96 cabooses in 1880, approximately 210 cabooses in 1890, and 182 in 1900. According to UP's 1898 records, there were 156 cabooses on the railroad.

While Union Pacific's 380 wooden cabooses in the CA-1 class are its most famous design, an earlier 373 cabooses in the CA-class were almost as numerous. Throw in the known 373 cars in the still earlier N.C.S. (Non Common Standard) class, and the great variety of wooden UP cabooses becomes more apparent. The two CA and CA-1 classes were similar in that both designs were 30 feet long. The earlier CA-class was a Common Standard design that had four windows along the side, and its cupola was more toward the front of the car. (Keep in mind that the rear of a railroad car is always the B end, or the brakewheel end. On UP cabooses, which had brake wheels at both ends, the brake cylinder pointed away from the cupola.) The CA-1 class, a purely Union Pacific design, had three side windows and a steel underframe, with the cupola situated toward the car's center, and was an updated copy of the standard design from the 1880s.

The CA design dated from 1907, and the CA-1 design dated from 1914. Prior to these two designs, there were at least three other standard designs that dated right from the first years of the transcontinental railroad: 1) a four-window design with a side door dating from the 1860s; 2) a six-window design with a unique eight-sided cupola dating from the 1870s; and 3) the 1880s-era three-window design with a square cupola, from which the later CA-1 was copied.

Four-Window, Side-Door Caboose

Union Pacific's earliest cabooses, apparently built before 1868, were arch-roof cars without cupolas. These cars had four side windows and most had a side door. Those that did not have a side door were equipped with a single window in its place. Available photos identify cars as being assigned to both the Utah Division and the Laramie Division. Although no drawings or diagrams are available, these cars were about 30 feet long and rode on very early wood beam passenger trucks.

Six-Window, Early Cupola Caboose

The other early design looked more like simplified passenger cars. They were about 40 feet long, with a row of six evenly spaced windows. Very soon after their first use in the 1870s, and definitely by the late 1870s, special observatories began appearing on the tops of these cars. These observatories were the first cupolas on UP, and were eight-sided additions that allowed train crews to keep close tabs on the condition of the trains without having to actually be outside and on top of the cars. In later years, these eight-sided early cupolas were replaced by four-sided cupolas. Some of these cars were short, with six side windows, and others were a bit longer, with seven side windows.

Three-Window, Standard UP-System Caboose

As the need for more caboose cars grew in the 1880s, in its own shops UP began building a new design that was to remain standard for another 20 years, and which UP would continue to build for itself and some of its subsidiary roads. Throughout the 1880s, and as late as 1901, this same design would also be furnished by the commercial builders to both UP and the subsidiary roads. As seen in many photos of UP cars and of subsidiary-road cars, this was indeed a standard design for numerous cabooses all across the UP system.

This new design was unique to UP and its subsidiary roads, and included a narrow straight-sided cupola that allowed a running board on each side. The few available photographs showing the top of the cabooses suggest that the running board angled from the end of the car to the cupola-side running board. This unusual running board arrangement gave rooftop clearance to the stove that was situated in the center of the car's interior. In later years, as the cupola-side running boards were eliminated, this straight sided cupola would retain its window layout, but the sides would be sloped to meet the car sides. The slope-sided cupola dates from 1904, in both a narrow version and a wide version. This same distinctive slope-sided cupola is also seen on the later CA and CA-1 classes.

The standard design of the 1880s, and the later CA-1 design of 1914 shared many similarities. By comparing examples of the earlier design with the later CA-1, the similar design features become apparent. The greatest difference was the all-wood underframe with truss rods of the 1880s, compared to the steel underframe of the CA-1 design.

The 1885 Renumber Plan

As Union Pacific went about reinventing itself in the mid 1880s, undoing the questionable practices of the 1860s and 1870s, the road's mechanical department saw a need to better organize its large fleet of locomotives, cars, and cabooses, including the locomotives, cars, and cabooses of its subsidiaries and associated lines. The solution came in 1885 and was reflected with an overall renumbering of all mechanical equipment. At the time, there were 261 standard gauge and narrow gauge cabooses on the active rosters of Union Pacific and its "operated lines." The 1885 renumbering plan assigned the 1500-1899 and 2000-2499 number blocks to the cabooses, both narrow gauge and standard gauge, of the parent road and all of its subsidiary lines. (The 1900-1999 series was "unapportioned".)

Because Oregon Railway & Navigation Co. was not yet part of UP, no group of new road numbers were allocated in the 1885 renumbering plan for that road's cabooses. At the time, OR&N cabooses were numbered in the 200-330 series. OR&N did not come under UP control until 1887 (by lease) and until 1899 (by ownership), and the OR&N 200-330 series were later renumbered to UP series 3500-3618. In the same vein, the LA&SL subsidiary would not have been included because that road would not be completed for another 20 years.

In a plan that was to take effect on June 1, 1885, all equipment on UP and all subsidiary lines was assigned a new number. Included were the 212 existing standard gauge cabooses, which were to be renumbered using number series as shown in the following table:

Assigned Car Numbers 1885 Qty Notes
CC 1735-1745 11 Colorado Central; assigned, 1727-1774 series
O&RV 1775 1 Omaha & Republican Valley; assigned 1775-1799 series
ON&BH 0 Omaha, Niobrara & Black, Hills; assigned 1800-1824 series
E&PC 0 Echo & Park City; assigned, 1825-1829 series
SL&W 1830 1 Salt Lake & Western; assigned, 1830-1834 series
OSL 1835-1846 12 Oregon Short Line; assigned, 1835-1899 series
UP 2000-2286 187 Union Pacific ; assigned, 2000-2499 series

Note: Narrow gauge cabooses, a total of 49 cars, were assigned numbers from 1500-1726.