Chicago Great Western Caboose Paint Schemes
By Donald E. Vaughn
Before the advent of the electronic end
of train (EOT) device, freight trains had a manned one, a
caboose with at least a brakeman as an occupant. All railroads,
large and small, utilized these cars that were at once maligned
by crews and revered by railfans, and in the lingering memories
of childhood, the brakeman always smiled and waived. Whether
it was called a hack, a van, a crummy, a waycar, or any one of
several other not so flattering terms, the caboose was an essential
railroad tool. And contrary to public perception, the caboose
at the end of each passing freight was not always red, especially
on the CGW.
The Wood Cars
In the early days, the CGW caboose was given
a coat of utilitarian, rather dull red or brown. This was a common
usage for most railroads of the late 1800s. The color choice
was simple economics. The paint was the same as that of the freight
cars, whatever the builder or the railroad had on hand. It was
cheaper for the railroads to use the same shades of paint readily
available to farmers and merchants for painting their buildings
and it was a safe bet that what worked well to protect a barn
or store from the elements would also work well for a wooden
railcar. Lettering was basic white; roofs, walkways and underframes,
black (although the weathered canvas covering on wooden cars
appeared grey on older photographs).
In those days, safety was considered the employees'
responsibility. With neither government mandates nor financial
motivation to reduce hazards, railroads saw no reason to paint
steps or the vertical surfaces of ladders and grab irons in distinctive
In the years between 1892 and the mid-1940s,
the CGW caboose fleet saw no major revision to the paint scheme.
Certainly, as accompanying photographs show, tinkering with the
typeface or lettering scheme occurred, perhaps at the whim or
artistic inspiration of the man behind the brush, but the overall
look remained the same. At a time when railroads expended huge
sums recruiting passengers, freight traffic served itself, due
to the railroad's virtual monopoly of interstate commerce, and
freight cars and cabooses continued to wear colors as drab as
the work clothes of the men who served on them. It was not until
the post-World War II boom, with increasing traffic and revenues,
that railroads began to dress up their freight equipment.
Management also decided that these prosperous
times were the right occasion to dieselize the road fleet. More
style and color at the head end would eventually work its way
back to the caboose, but the CGW would have to survive a depression
and then cope with a world war.
While the CGW had been one of the first roads
to look at and then embrace the internal-combustion engine, its
early experiments were the doughty self-propelled M-300 of the
1920s and drab 1930s era Winton-engined, center cab switchers.
Gas powered Baldwin-built No. 1 opened the way in 1925 for the
diesel switchers that became the backbone of the CGW's yard fleets,
but nothing about these hard-working locomotives inspired creative
or colorful paint schemes. The caboose roster at this time consisted
of veteran, mostly wooden cars that were faithfully following
the roads freights and transfer runs. They were beginning to
show their age, and were increasingly hazardous to the men who
worked with them. Short of cash, the CGW had looked for replacements
for these older and unsafe cars and obtained several short and
stout cabs from the Duluth, Missabe & Iron Range. These were
short wooden cars, but they had been constructed for service
on the heavy ore trains of the Iron Range. The little 30 footers,
numbered 350 to 365 on the CGW, had been built with heavy underframes
in 1910, then modified in the late 1920s with horizontal and
angled straps to increase their strength. They remained in service
well beyond their anticipated life span and then some, with their
cupolas removed, soldiered on into the 1950s.
Enter the Steel Cars
World War II forced the CGW to defer the purchase
of newer cabooses. The military and maritime demands for steel
competed with the need for increased numbers of cabooses to handle
wartime traffic and the CGW turned to its own devices and the
ingenuity of its employees to meet the transportation crisis.
The result was the conversion of a number of redundant boxcars
into bay window cabooses. While the series 500-507 series cars
never won awards for looks, they certainly did fill the void.
These reluctant cabooses, rebuilt on turn of the century boxcar
bodies of both AC&F and Pullman construction enabled the
CGW to move the freight after their 1941 rebuilding in the railroad's
Oelwein, Iowa shops. One very interesting notation, is that while
most cabooses of the period had a canvas roof, these eight cars
had a No. 8 Mule Hide covering. One can imagine the derision
rear-end crew members endured from the engine crew when a 500-series
caboose was listed on the manifest.
The fleet of wood cars lasted for a long time
on the CGW. But, with postwar prosperity and new management in
the person of President William N. Deramus III, major change
was inevitable. Deramus was at that time the youngest man ever
to head a Class I railroad and he was determined to move the
CGW into this new era regardless of opposition. It seemed that
people either liked or hated Bill Deramus, but he wasn't concerned
about his popularity with the employees or the public. He was
going to make the CGW a profitable railroad.
Part of Deramus' plan was to rebuild the CGW,
literally from the ground up. Improvements included new track
bed, heavier rails, and more modern facilities. Oelwein, Iowa
received a rebuilt yard. There was a full-scale introduction
of diesel-electric road locomotives (which came to be called
motors) and an order for 25 new center cupola, all-steel
cabooses from the Pullman-Standard Company. Cars 600-624 were
placed into service in 1945 and 1946 and since they predated
the initial introduction of the Electro-Motive Division (EMD)
F-series diesel-electric locomotives by almost a year, they heralded
the beginning of a new era for the CGW.
But the new cars received a paint scheme reminiscent
of old. Boxcar, or oxide brown with a black roof and underframe
and white lettering, they resembled the fleet they were intended
to replace. The "Corn Belt Route" herald was painted
directly upon the car side, centered between the cupola and the
two windows on each side. The car number was centered below with
twelve inch white numerals in Railroad Roman font. Other basic
information was added to show builder's dates and Federal Regulation
designated information in two inch letters of both Roman and
Considerations of safety were now apparent.
The paint guide of 1943 shows that grab irons would be painted
"Carhidell Gloss Yellow Enamel #34583" on all cabooses.
Initial photographs of the steel 600 series cars do not show
this option, so one must assume that they were delivered with,
perhaps at best, white grab irons and painted later.
When the "motors" came soon afterward,
the design group at Electro Motive Division convinced the CGW
that only steam locomotives should be painted black. The diesel
should be a flash of creative design and color to alert shippers
and public alike that there was something new on the rails. On
October 4, 1947, the first CGW EMD F's, numbered 101A, B, C appeared
and a new look for the CGW caboose fleet was not far behind.
The motors sported a bright maroon and red color scheme, accentuated
by deluxe gold striping and gold or yellow lettering. With a
roof of Brunswick green and running gear in black, the motors
gave the fresh look of a reinvigorated railroad.
It seemed only natural to match the steel
cabooses to the motors and so as time permitted, the CGW began
to send them to the Darby Car Company in Kansas City for repainting
and refurbishing. In a short while, the steel cabooses matched
the locomotives they trailed on the freights of the CGW. There
were some differences. The caboose roofs remained black. Handrails,
ladders, and brake wheels received the high visibility deluxe
gold/yellow for safety purposes. The striping as applied to the
motors was closely followed on the cabooses with the added notion
that the striping went all the way around the caboose instead
of stopping six inches from the front and rear as on the cabless
boosters and the flat ends of the cab units. Some of the older,
wooden cars also received the newer treatments, most noticeably
the handrail and yellow painted surfaces, but apparently none
ever received the steel car's striping scheme. The most striking
change was the Deramus-era "Lucky Strike" herald which
began replacing the old "Corn Belt Route" emblem.
Previously, the white, 36" diameter "Corn
Belt Route" logo had been painted on the wooden car bodies,
with a smaller colored decal applied to the 600 series cars.
This was the same emblem that was applied to the motors on the
flanks, on the cabs beneath the windows and, on the boosters,
centered on the sides between the red stripes. Over time, the
wear and tear of daily use continued to show on the cabooses
and motors. Bill Deramus, not wanting to waste a precious dollar,
decreed that the middle stripe should not be maintained as a
growing number of locomotives, passenger cars, and cabooses again
required repainting. The "Corn Belt Route" herald was
also completely retired and replaced by the "Lucky Strike"
emblem. In a few more years, the standard logo became larger,
the remaining red was removed from the sides of the motors and
the lower stripe on the cabooses disappeared.
In 1954 the "maroon dip" phase began
as motors, passenger cars, and cabooses cycled through Oelwein
for routine maintenance. The remaining stripes and older markings
disappeared and were replaced by black tops and maroon sides.
The motors received a 24 inch nose herald and 36 inch side herald
while the caboose fleet received either a small or larger one
at the whim of the paint crew. For the cars that received the
larger herald, a piece of sheet metal was cut to size, then the
herald placed upon it and both riveted to the side of the caboose.
For cars that received the smaller herald, all that was necessary
was to center the decal and apply. At this time the CGW was repainting
virtually everything that moved and so it was inevitable that
shortages occurred. Crews were forced to improvise and there
were deviations from standard appearance. Throughout all of these
changes, the car numerals and data remained the same. The car
numerals were in 2" bold typeface, above the end doors.
Interiors were all painted a pale green with black Naugahide
cushions. Most of the remaining wooden cabooses received at least
a coat of the solid maroon paint and a "Lucky Strike"
emblem plus deluxe gold numerals, ladders, and grab irons.
By this time wooden cars were relegated to
branch line and local work and the steel cars held the high iron
and the priority trains. The CGW needed modern cars, and the
original twenty five would not be enough to cover the increasing
traffic, so an order was placed with International Car in 1955
for ten new cabooses. This was another example of the CGW's willingness
to experiment. For reasons of crew safety, cars 625 to 634 were
of bay window design and sported roller bearing trucks.
Two cars, long thought to have been "test
beds" for the bay window design, have in recent discovery
been identified as another CGW example of cost-effective replacement.
Cabooses 616 and 618 of the 1945 Pullman-Standard order followed
the International Car Company order of 1955 as bay window cars
when, in 1964, the 616 was showcased for the Traffic and Sales
Departments' business meeting in Oelwein. The cupolas of both
cars had been removed and all-weather cab window extensions,
already in use on many of the CGW's road and yard switchers,
gave the two the safer, more modern appearance. The 618 holds
the distinction of being the sole bay window caboose on the CGW
to retain its number on the center of the car body. All others,
the 616 included, had the number moved to the left of center
and under the emblem. The maroon scheme, as applied to most cars
by this time, was the longest lasting scheme in the steel-car
era. When EMD Model GP30 locomotives arrived in red and black
in 1963, the caboose colors were changed to match. All other
details remained the same, but the two "new" cars (616
and 618) had been recently repainted and so retained their maroon
It was at this time that the railroad placed
its final order for cabooses. In 1963, five additional cars of
a bay window design, numbered 635-639 were ordered from the Thrall
Car Company. They arrived in red and black. After the merger
with the Chicago & North Western, the new managers began
slowly renumbering and repainting equipment to C&NW colors,
but many CGW cars, including the last five cabooses, retained
the old looks because they were subject to an equipment trust.
They were otherwise identical to their C&NW siblings.
The massive C&NW caboose rebuilding project
of the 1980s meant the end of the individual identity of the
former CGW cars. A few survive, as documented in Joe Piersen's
article, "Ex CGW Cabooses on the C&NW," NWL,
Fall 1985 (Vol. 12, No. 4). His roster shows that 616, one of
the experiments, is now C&NW 10515. This car is in Clinton,
Iowa in a riverside park with a "new" number of 51015
applied, for reasons unknown, after the car was moved. A number
of the center cupola steel cars have also been saved. One is
at Illinois Railway Museum at Union, Illinois, another at the
National Railway Museum at Green Bay, Wisconsin, and a third
was recently acquired by the Boone & Scenic Valley at Boone,
Iowa. One of the bay window cars can be seen at Oelwein, Iowa
at the Hub City Museum. If the numbers are correct, this is former
CGW 6371, the C&NW number showing as 10536. This is significant,
if for no other reason than that there are surviving cars from
the first order for steel cars, a sample of the interim (616,
at Clinton), and one of the last Thrall Cars. Using these, data
and measurements can be obtained for the modeler, even though
the 1980s C&NW rebuilding created some noticeable changes
in the side panels and roof lines.
From new cars, cabooses inherited by merger,
cars purchased on the second hand market, to boxcar rebuilds,
the Chicago Great Western operated quite a mix of equipment during
its lifetime. Some were bland and utilitarian, others quite unique,
but all served the crews and the CGW well. The cabooses, be they
red, maroon, brown, or a some faded approximation, may be gone
from the rails, but memories remain. As a child, the author and
siblings waved countless times to rear end crews from the baggage
cart at the Fort Dodge depot as the manifest or local passed
en route to their terminals. Kids still wave at the rear of passing
trains, but an EOT device will never replace the smile and outstretched
arm of a friendly brakeman in a caboose.