Union Pacific Cabooses

(Return to Union Pacific Caboose Index Page)

Overview and Introduction

The railroad caboose is a vital part of American railroading. Its use was mandated during the middle years of the 19th Century by a need to locate members of the train crew at the rear of the train, where they could watch out for things gone awry. In the days before air brakes, having men located at the rear of the train would also allow quicker access to both ends of the train by crew members. After air brakes came into use, the caboose served as a point from which to monitor the train's air line, insuring sufficient air supply for safe operation of the train. However, the caboose's main function was to protect the rear of the train by use of markers, either as lights at night or by use of flags during the daylight hours. The caboose performed these jobs very well, until replaced by new technology in the mid 1980s in the form of today's End-of-Train device, sometimes known as a "flashing rear end device," or FRED. Today, Union Pacific keeps approximately 150 cabooses on its active roster for use on local and branch line trains, work trains, and for special movements.

A history of Union Pacific cabooses is also a history to some degree of the railroad itself because of several predecessor company names and routes that must be included in any history of UP's equipment fleet. The Union Pacific of today is a far different railroad than the Union Pacific of 1870, 1900, 1940, or even 1960. The years of route expansion of the 1860s through the 1880s ended with a bankruptcy and receivership in 1893. A whole new railroad was born with the control of UP by E. H. Harriman in 1897

When Harriman took control of the SP in 1901, Union Pacific began using SP's already well established Common Standard specifications for its own equipment, giving rise to a standard that guided the railroad for much of the 20th Century.

(Read more about UP's use of Common Standard)

The era of the modern Union Pacific came into focus beginning in 1969 when Union Pacific Corporation was organized as a holding company for the railroad and its interests. Mergers of UP's competitors in the 1970s were driving the railroad into new areas of business, and within a decade, UP itself sought its own merger partners in the Missouri Pacific and Western Pacific. The UP-MP and UP-WP mergers were made final in December 1982, and a merger with Missouri Kansas Texas followed in August 1988. With these mergers, UP's route map grew to include much of the lower Midwest and Texas. A joining with Chicago & Northwestern took place in April 1995, expanding the route map now to include lines in the upper Midwest, and allowing access to the Powder River Basin coal fields of Wyoming. By late 1995, after an attempt to merge with Santa Fe, UP instead joined with its former Overland Route partner (and since 1982, its competitor) Southern Pacific. The UP-SP combination took effect in September 1996, making the new Union Pacific the largest railroad in the nation.

Union Pacific Railroad has always been the sum of its parts. The builders of the 1869 straight line railroad between Omaha and Ogden knew that the new route would never furnish enough traffic to keep the young company afloat. As early as 1870, the company formed subsidiaries to build feeder lines and branches along its route in Nebraska to ensure a steady supply of rail traffic for its newly completed transcontinental trunk line. The new feeder lines had names that reflected their various branching routes, including: Marysville & Blue Valley; Omaha, Niobrara, & Black Hills; and Omaha & Republican Valley. In the late 1870s, more routes were added at the west end with the death of Brigham Young and UP's subsequent acquisition of the branch lines in Utah. These lines included, among others, Utah Central; Utah Southern; and Utah Northern. Within 20 years, many other branch roads were pulled into the fold, with names such as Oregon Short, Line & Utah Northern; Denver Pacific; Kansas Pacific; Union Pacific, Denver, & Gulf; Colorado Central; Utah Eastern; and Summit County. These roads, and several other smaller ones made up the Union Pacific of the mid 1890s. Receivership for UP in 1893 brought with it freedom for some of these branches, some of which were never to return to UP control.

Edward H. Harriman came to Union Pacific to make money. But to make money, he knew he would have to spend money, and lots of it. The receivership ended in 1897 as Harriman took control of Union Pacific and its future. Over the next ten years, he brought Union Pacific's routes and equipment up to operational standards that became the envy of railroads worldwide. The increased capacity and operational reliability brought with it such an increase in traffic that the new Union Pacific soon became a national leader in railroad profits. Within just two years, Harriman was able to gather many of the former branch roads back to UP's protective arms. First to return, also in 1897, was Oregon Short Line, which had become the Oregon Short Line & Utah Northern after an 1889 consolidation of all of the lines in Utah and southern Idaho. Next came control of Oregon Railroad & Navigation Co., which returned to Union Pacific control (through Oregon Short Line) in 1899. (In 1897, Oregon Railway & Navigation Co. had been reorganized as Oregon Railroad & Navigation Co.)

To protect his own traffic base, and to expand it as he saw as his right, Harriman soon set his sights on Southern California. Santa Fe and Southern Pacific both pretty much had the region to themselves, but Harriman sent surveyors into the field anyway. Unfortunately, others preceded him to the ideal route across the Utah, southern Nevada and California deserts. OSL had completed its own route as far south as the Utah-Nevada state line, so Harriman already controlled the route at least that far. Harriman's surveyors were preceded into the canyons and washes of southern Nevada by the crews of William Clark's San Pedro, Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad. The ensuing battle for a single route led to what may remain today as the largest court case in the state's history. The case was only settled in 1903 when Harriman and Clark agreed to joint control of the route, with Clark's SPLA&SL road gaining direct access to Salt Lake City by ownership of the former OSL lines in Utah, and Harriman's OSL road taking half ownership in the SPLA&SL itself. The new route between Salt Lake City and Los Angeles was completed in 1905.

Still more route consolidations soon took place to provide Union Pacific with its future traffic base. In 1910, Oregon Railroad & Navigation swept up several subsidiary and branch roads in Oregon and Washington under a new Oregon-Washington Railroad & Navigation Co. These branch roads included such lines as: Central Railroad of Oregon; Columbia River & Oregon Central; Snake River Valley; Idaho Northern; and Spokane Union Depot Co., along with 10 other companies. Also in 1910, Oregon Short Line was consolidated with its myriad of branch roads that stretched across southern Idaho. These companies included: Boise City Railway & Terminal Co.; Malad Valley; Minidoka & Southwestern; St. Anthony; Salmon River; and the Yellowstone Park Railroad. In 1914, four more roads came into OSL, including Central Idaho; Salt Lake & Idaho; and Payette Valley. Each of these new roads had been organized to build and operate a specific branch route, and after consolidation each became a separate branch to be listed in either UP's, OSL's, or OWR&N's timetable.

In 1916, Clark's San Pedro, Los Angeles & Salt Lake shortened its name to a simpler Los Angeles & Salt Lake, and in 1921 Clark sold his half interest in the line directly to UP. This gave UP full control of the line between Utah and Southern California through direct ownership of one half, and through control of OSL, which owned the other half.

In 1936, Union Pacific took more active control of the operation of its subsidiary and affiliated roads by direct lease of all of the routes of the combined UP, OSL, OWR&N, and LA&SL. This 1936 consolidated lease formed what became known as the Union Pacific System, which remained intact until the 1982 merger with Missouri Pacific and Western Pacific, with only the addition of the Spokane International in 1958, and Mount Hood Railway in 1970 adding mileage to the system's trackage. In late December 1987, the three subsidiary roads, along with several smaller companies, were formally merged into Union Pacific.

The Railroad Caboose

Noted railroad historian John H. White Jr., in his landmark work, The American Railroad Freight Car, relates that the first cabooses came into use during the late 1840s, when increases in railroad traffic began to warrant some sort of protection from the elements for train crews. The first mention of a caboose in trade publications of the day came in 1855, referring to cabooses, that had been operating during 1854. White also states that the use of the caboose at the end of trains, especially trains on Union Pacific as part of the transcontinental project became much more wide spread after the Civil War. Many of the war's veterans returned to their various pre-war railroad careers, following service on the United States Military Railroad, which had used cabooses, or conductor's cars, as part of its regular operations. While photographs show that Union Pacific was an apparent early user of cabooses, the car's real acceptance by other railroads as part of the operation of every train didn't come until the late 1870s. Because of the remoteness of its operations, Union Pacific was from the start a user of the larger and more functional eight-wheel designs, compared to a much shorter, four-wheeled version used by many Eastern railroads.

The caboose has been known by many names, including way car, cabin car, and conductor's car, along with slang terms such as "hack" and "crummy." Research has found that Union Pacific has always used the term caboose, or "Caboose Car," when referring to the piece of equipment at the end of its trains, even going so far in its early days as boldly lettering its cabooses as such, with the word "Caboose" prominent on the sides of cars in many early photographs. There is also some minor references to "Way Cars."

Other than its presence at the end of every train, at least until the mid 1980s, nothing denotes a caboose more than its cupola. White's history mentions that the cupola first came into common use in the early 1860s, with a report in October 1861 mentioning that one railroad had a dozen cabooses in service with "observatories." The term cupola didn't come into common use until the turn of the century, with earlier references to the structure on top of cabooses being called lookout, clerestory, dome, and the already mentioned observatory. Union Pacific's earliest cabooses lacked cupolas entirely. Later, UP cabooses shown in photographs dating from the early 1880s were equipped with cupolas that were unique eight-sided affairs. Union Pacific soon adopted a low profile, straight-sided cupola as a standard on its wooden cabooses. The Common Standard era brought a slope-sided cupola. The road's LA&SL subsidiary adopted a unique high cupola design, and in an apparent test of a high cupola design for UP itself, a wooden caboose in 1937 may have set the stage for the cupola style that Union Pacific became famous for: a high cupola with large windows, which first came into use with the delivery in 1942 of the road's first all-steel cabooses, the CA-3 class. The high cupola remained a UP trademark for its caboose fleet for another 43 years, until 1975 with the delivery of the railroad's final cupola caboose design, the CA-10 class. In 1979, the road received 100 bay window-equipped compact-body CA-11 cabooses.