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Inside the Cupola - Missouri Pacific RR / Screaming Eagles
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the Conductor's Perspective
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From Inside the Cupola -
the Conductor's Perspective

With this page we are aiming to bring you the nuts and bolts of railroading from the point of view of the people that ran it. It's something that you won't find too much of on the Web.

Eventually we hope to compile stories as told by former employees of the Missouri Pacific, photos inside the "office on rails", caboose slang, and any other interesting information we come across. Enjoy!

The Job

Conductor/Brakeman: the eyes & ears for the engineer during backward movements. Traditionally, the Conductor who walked up and down the aisles of the passenger cars taking tickets, etc.

Flagman - Usually, the brakeman assigned to duties at the rear end of the train. To be a Flagman, the brakeman had to know how to read (so he could understand train orders), which from time to time would be changed enroute.

For many years freight trains were operated by train crews consisting of at least four men: a conductor, a brakeman, a locomotive engineer and a fireman. The brakeman was the conductor's assistant. Every conductor had served his apprenticeship as a brakeman.

Other Terms:

Big C, The Brains, King Pin, Skipper, Ram-rod, Conducer - more names for t he Conductor.

Brakie, Pinner, Pinhead, Baby lifter - more names for the Brakeman.

Swing - A brakeman who has responsibility for breaking up the train by setting out cars or sections of cars in the center position of a freight train.

Crows Nest - The cupola or box-like structure raised above the roof of a caboose from which a trainman may see along the train while it is in motion.

Highball Signal - given by conductor to the engineer when the train is ready to proceed to the next designated stop.

Spotting Cars - Switching freight cars to a specified location for loading and unloading.

Waybill - A document for handling and accounting for a shipment of freight.

Way Car - A box car (or caboose) from which LCL shipments are loaded and unloaded at various towns.



Caboose - hack, crummie, brain box, cabeese (plural for "caboose").

The term "Caboose" is the best known name to describe any car attached to the rear end of a freight train for use by the train crew. The word "caboose" itself may have derived from the older term of "cabin."

Called a Short Bay Caboose (a shortbodied w/ platform-type caboose, used in road service) by the MoPac, those that pulled and rode in them simply referred to them as "doghouse cabooses", a term that stuck to this style like glue. Despite appearing to be lighter than more traditional way cars, they actually offered a pretty good ride.

Including the "Doghouse" nicname, "outhouse," "shack on a flat," "Jenks party barge," and the usual assortment of 'colorful' terms were used to refer to this caboose style on the MoPac and most other roads that used them.

Other caboose nicnames include "crummies" (as some of them really were) "crumb box," "hacks," "brain box" (sic), "loony bins," "cabins" (a PRR term), "van" (Canadian origin) and "buggies" (a New England term). I've heard a few Conductors refer to the extended vision cab cupolas as "the Throne." And I always thought that was the toilet. (thanks 'Tuch' and R. Kirkpatrick)

A DODGER caboose is one assigned to local service, something of a "southern" term. A dodger is another word for a  local freight.  Since it has the lowest priority of anything on the line; it dodges into the available siding whenever the dispatcher gives the word.


The C&EI War Wagons
"Tuch" Santucci

In the Chicago area owing to some problems with a few of the neighbors and a Conductor getting robbed while his train was stopped at 40th Street in Chicago when the headend crew was making a set out, two of the cabooses assigned to Yard Center received major modifications.

The 12510 and 12512 (ex 13510 and 13512 nee C&EI 37 and 39) received steel mesh over all the windows. The doors were equipped with bars on the inside that could be lowered to bar the door shut so that they could not be kicked or smashed in. They were dubbed the "War Wagons" and a Car Inspector at the RIP track even stenciled them as such. On the bottom of the bays on either side just below the window in big white letters was "WAR WAGON" on both cabooses. These cabooses were required on the daily Yard Center to BRC Clearing Yard and Yard Center to 37th Street Yard transfer assignments. Everybody from top officials down to the Carmen  commonly referred to them as the war wagons.

After several months, someone decided that this name on the side of these cabooses might be misconstrued by the neighbors as a term of aggression against them, so the word WAR was blanked out with white paint. Somebody later took a lumber crayon and wrote the word GUT in the place of where the word WAR was, but the term war wagon lived on right up until they ceased using them.

Being that the 12509 and 12511 were on locals that operated outside of Yard Center, they never received this treatment. The 12511 was assigned to the Watseka local L400 and the 12509 was assigned to Villa Grove and used on locals there, usually L402 and L403 if memory serves correct.


Houston, Texas; date unknown - © Brian Paul Ehni photo


From the Conductor's Office on Rails

Doghouse, cabin, hack, crummie... but most popularly known as the Caboose (the word "caboose" itself may have derived from the older term of "cabin"). It is the train crew's office on rails, and home while they are on the road.

It handles the business-side of the transportation of merchandise -- The conductor keeps a complete record of all transportation produced and sold, each carload or less-than-carload shipment handled by the train, freight charges, the contents of each car, and weight of materials, the shipper, the station at which it was received, the station at which it is to be unloaded or left, and to whom it is consigned.

The caboose is equipped with a table, a drinking-water cooler, benches/beds and chairs, a washstand and lighting. Modern cars made use of a wheel-mounted electric generator to produce electricity and charge the batteries.

An oil stove (older cars used coal) provides heat in winter and for warming the crew's food at meal time.

The cupola atop the car is the "watch tower" of the train. When the train is running, the conductor or one of the brakemen usually sits in the tower and watches in both directions to see that the train is running satisfactorily and that nothing is approaching from the rear.

The lockers are provided for members of the crew and for the necessary flags, lanterns, light repair tools, oils and other supplies.

On the older wood cabooses there were brackets on the corners of the car hold signal lights when the caboose is attached to a train. Modern steel cars replaced these with electric marker lights

The conductor makes out daily reports concerning the crew, the cars he picks up or drops off between terminals, the railroad they belong to, and so on. The waybills tell him the contents of each car in his train, and to what station, yard or junction point each car or shipment in the train is to be delivered.


Caboose Stories

Related Links:


KO&G 1529 short caboose

This caboose was a very short car with a VERY short wheel base. Back when the MP (via TP) assumed control of the MV/KOG, this caboose was assigned to the Kirkwood local. A jobs conductor had been complaining about the condition of his 700 series wood caboose and as a result this car was assigned to his train. After a few trips banging down the track, he wanted his wood hack back. (B. Hoss)



The Office on Wheels - Up Close & Personal Photos

From MP 12124's doorway - conductor's office and oil-burning stove (standard steel T&P-built caboose).

MP 12124 - View of the office(standard steel T&P-built caboose).
MP 13309 (standard steel riveted caboose) View of the conductor's office.

MP 12124 - the cupola seats and conductor's office(standard steel T&P-built caboose).
MP 13309 - looking up towards the cupola and the emergency brake lever (standard steel riveted caboose).
MP 12124 - Emergency braking instructions posted on the wall of cupola(standard steel T&P-built caboose).

MP 13309 - Looking up toward the cupola and the "A" end.


Bay Window

MP 13689 - interior shot showing the 'office area' with the stove behind (long bay-window caboose). 11/12/01 - © T. Greuter photo

MP 13689 - interior shot (long bay-window caboose), the stove is to the right, bunk bed frame at lower left. 11/12/01 - © T. Greuter photo


Power & Radio System

MP 7504 - (ex-13823) closeup of axle-driven generator (Dayton type T-2 axle end mounted drive, which replaced interior axle mounted drives on the MOP's last three caboose classes) mounted to the truck of a shorty cab. The side sill has a cut-out to allow plenty of freedom-of- movement for the device. August 11, 2001 - © T. Greuter photo

MP 12124 - with battery box opened. These batteries depended on the wheel-driven generator for charging.
The Missouri Pacific was always looking ahead, technology-wise. Such was the case when the road became one of the first to experiment with radio equipped locomotives and cabooses. In 1945 the company was issued a license and by 1947 the first trial runs. The first radios were huge affairs that literally would weigh down the side of the caboose that they were installed to. This caused some rethinking and redesigning of the arrangement of the caboose interiors to balance the car out. Radios run on electricity, so the caboose needed a source. Several types of axle- or wheel- driven generators, such as the Daytonaxle mounted and Precowheel mounted drives. By the 1950s radios were successfully being used system-wide. Over the years the radio and generator models were fine-tuned. The Dayton drive became the preferred design on the MoPac, powering cabooses from the 1940s on into the '70s. Also batteries for storing the generated electricity were improved to hold thier charge for longer durations if a caboose spent a lot of time idley sitting on a siding.

Before the introduction of the 13000 -series numbering system to the caboose fleet, cars that were radio equipped had an -R suffix added to the number. After the new numbering series, a simple white dot was placed above the car's number on the side of the cupola or body.


MP 13689 - International Car Co. builder's plate from long bay window caboose - T. Greuter Photo

Short Line Junction, Iowa. 8/13/97 - photo © RailArc

This Site is Dedicated to those who ran the MoPac
and made her one of the greatest roads in the Nation.

MPRR Employee Feature Pages - Input from all former-MPRR Employees welcome!

Special Thanks to All the Former Missouri Pacific RR Engineers and Employees
who have contributed their lives to the Railroad and their unique knowledge to this site:

James Blagg MPRR Telegrapher-clerk, Concordia and Omaha Sub's, 1973-1987

Bob Currie MPRR Engineer DeQuincy Division, 1972-1990 (engineer 1973-1990)

Daryl W. Favignano MPRR Mechanical Engineering Dept. at St Louis, 1974-1986

Jay Glenewinkel MPRR/UPRR Crew Van Driver, 1992-1997

Nathan Griffin MPRR/UPRR, Hoskins Junction, Clute, Texas, 1975-Today

JD "Tuch" Santucci MPRR Engineer, Dolton and Villa Grove, IL , 1978-1985

Recommended Websites operated by former MPRR Employees:
Bob Currie's MISSOURI PACIFIC DeQuincy Division - MP Engineer
Hot Times on the High Iron by "Tuch" Santucci - MP Engineer
Missouri Pacific Railroad Memories by C.E. "Cliff" Satterfield - MP Superintendent
B.M.W.E. Union, Lodge # 0455/Missouri Pacific System Federation

MPRR Employees Service Forum - Devoted to sharing information of former MoPac employees. Feel free to post names or information of those who worked on the railroad -- former MP Employees are Welcome!

Help Save Lives
Operation Lifesaver


Railroad Clipart courtesy of
The Ultimate Railroad Clip Art Library

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 l Last Update to this page: 16 April, 2008
          All images & text 2000-2008 T. Greuter / Screaming Eagles, unless otherwise noted. All Rights Reserved.