Thursday, February 23, 2017

Snowbound Cabooses

Cabooses.  These end-of-train headquarters now belong to the realm of nostalgia and romance, but happily many of them have been reborn as lodging for train aficionados (like me).

At the Izaak Walton Inn in Essex, Montana, several of these charming cabooses can be rented.  There is a two-night minimum.  Each caboose has a kitchen and bathroom and outside deck--perfect for families with small children who can drive here with groceries and gear.
We had several lengthy conversations with fellow guests during our stay at the inn.  "Whatever happened to the caboose?" was the start of these discussions.

For a hundred years these cars have housed conductors and brakemen on their cross-country journeys.  They served as rolling offices.  Each caboose had a desk, bed and stove.  Oil cans and red flags were stored with water and food.  Things started to change in the 60's with the onset of computers and electronic communication.  By 1984, almost all railroads had replaced the cabooses with EOTs (End of Train devices).  These EOTs could monitor the brakes and display the results to the engineer in the locomotive.

It was an end of an era.  No more whistle-stops for presidential candidates.  No more happy waves from the brakemen at the back. No more overnight accommodations for the crew.  Indeed, dozens of crew were replaced by computers.  Today, only an engineer and conductor are on board.  (And in the near future, I expect there will be no humans at all.)

Of course, I'm talking about the freight trains.  Amtrak has more operating crew on board, as well as service crew.  There's still no caboose but my travel buddy and I were in the last sleeping car on the Empire Builder and we could see out the back window to the tracks behind us.  It's as close as you can get to a caboose these days.

Unless you stay at the Izaak Walton!

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