|Two Wooden Cabooses, Portola, October 2012|
One day while I was at the museum, I sat in a bay-window caboose for awhile. Sitting there brought back memories from forty-two years ago. I used to sit in them for hours at a time back when I was a flagman (rear brakeman) on the Colton Cutoff on the Southern Pacific main line from Palmdale to West Colton.
For several months in 1971, I became a "caboose rat" (a brakeman that prefers to work the caboose over the head-end). One of my primary duties was to protect the rear of the train from being overrun by another train. I sometimes had to walk back down the tracks as far as two miles so that I could place a "torpedo" (an explosive device that was placed on the rail that emitted a loud bang when a locomotive ran over it). Often times if we knew that we were going to stop the engineer would slow down at the two mile point so that the I could get off and quickly place my torpedo. Then I would run and catch the caboose. Then if we knew for sure that we were to stop I would get off the train at a point one mile from where the caboose was to stop. I would be armed with my lantern, fusees, a red flag, and perhaps another torpedo. Otherwise if we had an unexpected stop, I was required to walk back the full distance, and it was expected that I would do my duties to protect the train. No matter how far back I went, I always had to walk back to the caboose when I was called back by the sound of our train's locomotive's whistle signal. Needless to say, I was always in good walking/running shape. I could walk at about a mile every twenty minutes.
Senior brakemen usually preferred to work the head-end because they usually did not have to face the possibility of walking several miles during a trip. Since the job was determined by seniority the senior brakeman usually worked the head end. Still, I liked the quiet and completely different feel to being on the rear.