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We'll Take The Caboose!
By Peter Wine

 
Reprints of this article come printed on quality paper with high resolution pictures

It isn’t every day that you see a caboose on a modern railroad. They are missing from almost every freight train you’ll find. They are missing from most any passenger train you come across. But they’re still around. Dayton has a couple floating on the end of local work trains. The CSX caboose is yellow (or gold-ish, depending on the sun angle.) I’ve seen a red one from time to time on the Norfolk Southern tracks through town. 

But at the Whitewater Valley Railroad, they not only have a caboose, they have a fleet of them. (Does this make them Cabeese? The debate rages on.) When Thomas the Tank Engine was in town, I got a picture of a PURPLE caboose. Purchased by the Centerville (Indiana) Lions Club, and used as a meeting room, it was put in the Whitewater Valley fleet when the Lions began to use the restored depot.

During Thomas’ visit, they had a caboose-only train running opposite the Thomas train, but it was an abbreviated trip, traveling just a small portion of the route. Today, we’ll go all the way to Metamora, and spend some time in a place that seems lost in time. We’ll be riding in the big red B&O caboose, just in front of the orange EJ&E caboose. There are only two cabeese on this train, and ours is filled with happy MVGRS’ers! Between “our” caboose and the engine are four standard passenger cars. 

Would you like a bit of history? One of the unique things about the Whitewater Valley RR unique is that its mainline was built on the remnants of the towpath of the Whitewater Canal. Purchased by the Whitewater Valley Railroad Company in 1866, the railroad allowed the canal to deteriorate for many years, while the local businesses withered. 

In 1947, the Indiana Dept of Natural Resources created a state historic site and the new future of Metamora began. Since then there has a been a revival of the area, and now over 100 shops, inns and restaurants can be found in the Metamora vicinity while we wait for the train to come back after us. You can even take a boat ride on the restored area of the Canal. At one point, the track is shared by the two modes of locomotion.

Weather was thought to be a major factor in the trip the day before. It rained, and rained, and rained. In some places they got 2 inches of rain. It wasn’t looking good for the caboosers. However, the weather was very cooperative, with nice puffy clouds in a beautiful blue sky. Temperatures were comfortable for most, with just a light jacket all that was needed to be happy.

During the trip to Metamora, there was a lot of attention paid to what was happening outside. Many noses were pressed to the windows and a couple of heads were spotted sneaking outside the caboose.

On the way back, the view wasn’t quite as important, or the conversation was better, as many folks were caught in conversations. You remember conversation, right? That’s what people did before they invented TV. Fortunately, MVGRS members are well practiced in the art of conversation, since we do it a lot.

What were people talking about? I’m not sure. I was wandering around taking pictures, and hardly even sat down. Looking back, that was probably a mistake, but I didn’t want to miss anything. 

And there was a lot to see, both inside and outside the caboose. Security was a bit lax on this train, though. There were two old-fashioned train robberies, during the first one, they hustled out of the caboose, and the train took off without us! It was for a good cause, though. They were really backing up, to do a photo run-by for the MVGRSers enjoyment. And except for the shootout, in which Tom Elliot got caught in the crossfire, it wasn’t too bad an experience. (Amazingly, Tom recovered quite quickly.) We were able to watch the train come back over the bridge, and it was quite a sight.

During the second holdup, the action was for the folks in the passenger cars. There was another shoot-out, and this time, it was the bad guys that got caught in the fire. It was all very realistic. Until one of the ”dead” guys started to get up, then laid back down when he saw the camera.

The scenery was magnificent, with a view that became punctuated with more stormy looking clouds as we ere headed back to the station. It never did rain, just got dark enough to be threatening. 

On the way back, I took advantage of the press pass, and spent most of the time on the back porch. (You know, that area near the steps where on the OTHER side of the door, where you’re not supposed to be.)

As I stood there, it dawned on me that I was experiencing something very special. I was, for all intents and purposes, alone with the train in a way reminiscent of what it might have been like to be a railroader 50 years ago or more. While I was standing there, I could feel the sway of the caboose in a way that I hadn’t inside. I got a nice dose of the diesel exhaust from the engine, since we were now second from the front of the train. And there was something else. There was a real clakity-klak coming up from the rails. This is jointed rail, made the way it was in the beginning, (and in some places it felt that it was the original trackwork from 1866,) and there was a real magic in the air.

Then we got back to reality when the train pulled into the station, and we got back in our cars and headed home.

Choo-Choo, Annie and I stopped in Liberty, Indiana on the way back for Ice Cream cones and a side order of chicken, and was treated to a final train of the day: A speedy CSX freight bound for who knows where, with who knows what.

 

Ahhh, the magic of trains.

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