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  #1  
Old 06-13-2012, 06:17 AM
River Rat Ranger River Rat Ranger is offline
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Why Don't Trains Have Cabooses Any More?

Cecil's answer of decades back was correct as far as it went, but the truth is always stranger than fiction. My brother-in-law Paul was working back then for an electronic company in R & D when they were approached by a railroad company (I think, but am not sure, Union Pacific) to come up with a sensor box and hookups to replace the caboose. Paul had worked for years on auto-pilots for small airplanes and had some good ideas. He soon had the electronics figured to go in the box on the back car coupler, but needed an enclosure. So he made a model out of cardboard at home, which my neices and nephew played with until he found an aluminum fabrication company in Colorado who would make the prototype. He took the model away from the kids and UPS'ed it out there. The model was handed over to my brother, also named Paul, who fabricated the first enclosure and took the model home and let that set of neices and nephews play with it.

The railroad was pleased and ordered the devices into production. The engineers immediately made up their own name for the box perched on the back coupler.. F***ing Rear End Device or F.R.E.D. It could only happen in America.
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  #2  
Old 06-13-2012, 07:57 AM
C K Dexter Haven C K Dexter Haven is offline
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Welcome to the Straight Dope Message Boards, River Rat Ranger, we're glad you found us, and thanks for the comments. For future ref, when you start a thread, it's helpful to other readers to provide a link to the column in question. Saves searching time, and helps keep us all on the same page. In this case, I assume, it's http://www.straightdope.com/columns/...booses-anymore

No biggie, you'll know for next time. And, as I say, welcome!
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  #3  
Old 06-13-2012, 10:04 AM
campp campp is offline
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I believe the official acronym stands for Flashing Rear End Device.
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Old 06-13-2012, 11:38 AM
svd678 svd678 is offline
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I thought that the reason there are no cabooses is that the tail end of the train has the most accidents, so they decided to leave it off.
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  #5  
Old 06-13-2012, 12:13 PM
johnpost johnpost is offline
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cabooses weren't removed because the end of the train had the most accidents. if that was the reasons then trains would keep getting shorter and shorter.

the truth is someone said. 'look at that large caboose'; the train thought someone was making fun of its rear end and decided to leave it off.

the car served functions like applying or monitoring brakes, depending on when in history it was. looking for problems in wheels. providing a person at the rear to throw switches. technology provided solutions to eliminate those needs.
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Old 06-13-2012, 03:27 PM
BrotherCadfael BrotherCadfael is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by campp View Post
I believe the official acronym stands for Flashing Rear End Device.
Yeah, and RTFM stands for "Read The Fine Manual".
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  #7  
Old 06-13-2012, 04:21 PM
ftg ftg is offline
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I have no idea of the veracity of the OP's statement, but I can personally vouch that a lot of acronyms in computing start off with a "colorful" origin and get cleared up before things are officially released. So what the acronym means now might not have a lot to do with its origin.
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  #8  
Old 06-14-2012, 12:27 AM
Mr Downtown Mr Downtown is offline
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The caboose was, in fact, pretty dangerous, and not for the obvious reason. Freight trains are slack-coupled—the cars are pulled into motion one at a time, which is why you hear the couplers pulling taut one at a time down the train. By the time the movement gets through a mile-long freight, the caboose jerks forward several feet in an instant. The seats in a caboose were generally designed so the conductor and brakeman could brace themselves with their feet when they heard the couplers clinking taut ahead of them.
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  #9  
Old 06-14-2012, 05:22 AM
Becky2844 Becky2844 is offline
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Well, thank you Paul for eradicating generations-worth of employment.

My stepfather was a railroad engineer (after spending years as a fireman, actually stoking the fires before diesel.) His brother was a conductor. At some point the passenger trains disappeared and so did my uncle's job, along with the caboose. I have no basis of fact here but "knew" that the conductors, brakemen and such always rode in the last car. Guess it wasn't needed when the line became all freight.

All the cars jerked forward independently of each other. My grandfather (a brakeman) had his arm torn off while trying to uncouple two cars. He was carried to the hotel where all the men stayed for lay-overs, where he bled to death. I have the will he dictated, dated 1937.

Railroading is not something that can be done from an office (same for logging.) The white-collars might make the decisions but it's the men who keep it on the rail.

(A proud member of the Ladies' Society of the B of LF &E.)
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  #10  
Old 06-14-2012, 11:21 PM
John W. Kennedy John W. Kennedy is offline
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Something’s wrong here. A caboose was not normally used on passenger trains, because passenger trains already had cars to ride in. A caboose was for freight trains.
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  #11  
Old 06-15-2012, 12:19 AM
Mr Downtown Mr Downtown is offline
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True. But who said anything about passenger trains?
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Old 06-15-2012, 03:49 PM
Powers Powers is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mr Downtown View Post
True. But who said anything about passenger trains?
Becky2844 did.


Powers &8^]
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  #13  
Old 06-15-2012, 04:18 PM
moronpolitics moronpolitics is offline
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Cabooses not needed

The simple answer is they have cameras, sensors and remote controls that obviate an actual person standing back there to do anything. None of these things will wave at little kids waiting in cars for the train to pass. We used to get really thrilled if the guy in the caboose waved back. Of course, we were pretty much simpletons. DUH. I never got over the fact they eliminated elevator operators. Don't tell me about those idiots that stand there in the really really fancy hotels and stuff. I mean OPERATORS, they used to have to close the door, then the interior cage then operate the clutch and throw the switch to change directions when needed. It was a highly skilled position (if you were a simpleton.).

Last edited by moronpolitics; 06-15-2012 at 04:18 PM..
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  #14  
Old 06-15-2012, 10:09 PM
t-bonham@scc.net t-bonham@scc.net is offline
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Another reason for the elimination of the caboose: as Cecil said, the conductor was in there doing paperwork. But computers eliminated most of that paperwork for the conductor -- it was done by computers in the main offices, and the resulting orders sent out to the yards.
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  #15  
Old 06-15-2012, 10:52 PM
John W. Kennedy John W. Kennedy is offline
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Do large, high-rise buildings still have elevator dispatchers?

(To return to trains, Avalon Hill used to have a game called “Dispatcher”, which simply had the two players running the two halves of a railroad for a day (?), facing weather outages, mountains that needed extra helper engines to be temporarily added, random breakdowns, and special orders. It was the most hellishly difficult game they ever produced.)
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  #16  
Old 06-15-2012, 11:42 PM
LawMonkey LawMonkey is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by moronpolitics View Post
The simple answer is they have cameras, sensors and remote controls that obviate an actual person standing back there to do anything. None of these things will wave at little kids waiting in cars for the train to pass. We used to get really thrilled if the guy in the caboose waved back. Of course, we were pretty much simpletons. DUH. I never got over the fact they eliminated elevator operators. Don't tell me about those idiots that stand there in the really really fancy hotels and stuff. I mean OPERATORS, they used to have to close the door, then the interior cage then operate the clutch and throw the switch to change directions when needed. It was a highly skilled position (if you were a simpleton.).
Fancy hotels?! There's an elevator with operator in some random subway station in northern Manhattan. (It's near Fort Tryon Park, as that's where I was going, but that's about all I know.) He sits on a little stool behind a little fence and pushes the button. This elevator has exactly two stops. So when it's at street level, he pushes the button for the underground, and vice versa. Gotta love those union jobs, eh?
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  #17  
Old 06-16-2012, 10:40 AM
doorhinge doorhinge is online now
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Cabooses were originally added to trains to carry the conductor, brakeman, and any switchmen that might be needed on the journey. That is also where they stored lanterns, signal flags, torpedos (small contact explossives to warn trains of a stalled train or track damage ahead), wrenches, pry bars, axes, oil, grease, etc. Everthing needed to make a train trip less dangerous and aid the journey.

The early train systems didn't have all the high tech safety and communication devices we see today. When the train apporached a crossing, the engineer blew the whistle to tell the farmers to get their horse drawn wagons off the track and to get a tight grip on the reins. Brakemen had to scramble from car to car to apply the brakes (before air hoses coupled cars), switchmen usually worked in the switch yard but might be required to assist the conductor throwing switches on particular stretches of track that requred a lot of switch changes.

When the need for conductors and brakemen no longer existed, there was no longer a need to carry the dead weight of the caboose. Engineers literally got a chance to kiss their rear end goodbye.
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  #18  
Old 06-25-2012, 05:14 AM
Becky2844 Becky2844 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by doorhinge View Post
Cabooses were originally added to trains to carry the conductor, brakeman, and any switchmen that might be needed on the journey. That is also where they stored lanterns, signal flags, torpedos (small contact explossives to warn trains of a stalled train or track damage ahead), wrenches, pry bars, axes, oil, grease, etc. Everthing needed to make a train trip less dangerous and aid the journey.

The early train systems didn't have all the high tech safety and communication devices we see today. When the train apporached a crossing, the engineer blew the whistle to tell the farmers to get their horse drawn wagons off the track and to get a tight grip on the reins. Brakemen had to scramble from car to car to apply the brakes (before air hoses coupled cars), switchmen usually worked in the switch yard but might be required to assist the conductor throwing switches on particular stretches of track that requred a lot of switch changes.

When the need for conductors and brakemen no longer existed, there was no longer a need to carry the dead weight of the caboose. Engineers literally got a chance to kiss their rear end goodbye.
Thank you.

Last edited by Becky2844; 06-25-2012 at 05:15 AM..
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