by Jeff Johnson
On the D&RG narrow gauge, the distinctive piece of rolling stock that brought up the rear of freight and coal trains throughout the Rockies was an important part of a trainman’s life! These little “hacks” were essentially the office, living room, kitchen, bedroom, and sometimes game room for the hearty working men that chose to spend their life toiling on the rails from the late 19th Century and well into the 1960s.
From 1871 to 1923, the D&RG(W) built just over one hundred cabooses with many of these going through various configurations and rebuilds during their lifetime. The earliest of these were short cabooses of the four-wheeled variety with a body length of 16’. The first four little “crummies” were built by Jackson and Sharp, and the D&RG subsequently built dozens more to a slightly different design standard until 1885. After this time, short cabooses with an eight-wheel (two truck) design arrived on the scene.
Between 1912 and 1923, the D&RG(W) rebuilt five of the old worn out short cabooses in order to maintain a small fleet of durable and up-to-date cars. Eventually consisting of road numbers 0503, 0505, 0517, 0540, and 0574, these “rebuilds” were more or less new cars that utilized much of the hardware of their old forerunners. These cabooses are referred to as “Class 5” by Dr. Robert Sloan in his book “A Century Plus Ten of D&RGW Narrow Gauge Freight Cars 1871 to 1981”. Favored by railroad crews, the car bodies were 25 foot in length and sported wider end platforms than the earlier long bodies. Featuring a more traditional “round” roof style, these cabooses were based out of terminals all over the D&RGW narrow gauge system up to the end of operations.
Caboose 0517 in 1939, Mallory Hope Ferrell Collection
The “Class 5” long cabooses shared major dimensions that were essentially identical, however, the span of 11 years between their construction yielded some predictable differences in the details.
The 0503 was “built” in 1912, eight years prior to construction of the remainder of the class. Through the years, the 0503 had details that were unique from the other five road numbers including angled footsteps, larger cupola end windows, and individual awnings for the cupola side windows. The most unique feature of 0503 lies in the reversal of the “A” and “B” end when compared to the other cabooses. The chassis is essentially turned 180 degrees from the others, thus rendering the longer end of the caboose as the “B” end.
Other variations in the class five cabooses include distinctions in ladder dimensions, window moldings, awnings, cupola grab irons, and the 1950s addition of ladder extensions.
Today, all five cabooses of this class remain and three are currently operable. The 0517 sits on display with retired narrow gauge equipment in Fairplay, Colorado awaiting restoration while the 0574 is nicely preserved at the Colorado Railroad Museum in Golden, Colorado. The 0503 is being faithfully restored for service on the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad. The 0505 and 0540 are alive and well in Durango, Colorado serving the D&SNG Railroad. Interestingly, caboose 0540 was the very last caboose to be operated by the D&RGW narrow gauge working out of Durango, Colorado on October 6, 1980.
During the creation of this document we received input and material from a variety of people and places. We’d like to gratefully acknowledge the assistance of the following:
“A Century + Ten of D&RGW Narrow Gauge Freight Cars, 1871 to 1981” by Robert E. Sloan
Photo courtesy of Robert Grandt from the Mallory Hope Ferrell Collection.
© 2009 by Blackstone Models.