Northern Pacific 1264

Wooden Caboose

Northern Pacific 1264
Photo by Eric Hopp

For years, this caboose was believed to be Northern Pacific 1294. In 2000 it was placed on display at the Jackson Street Roundhouse and given a cosmetic restoration. While researching its proper appearance, historians discovered it was, in fact, the 1264. The paper presented below was written by the historians to record what they'd learned, and appears with the permission of Mr. Schrenk:

Northern Pacific Railway Caboose No. 1264 (ex-No. 1144)

This wood caboose, originally owned by the Northern Pacific Railway, reached its one-hundredth birthday in 2001. It was built in 1901 and was on the NP's roster for sixty-eight years. Its original number was 1144. This was changed to 1264 in May 1942. When this car was retired in 1969 it was the oldest caboose still in service on the railroad.

A railroad caboose, located as the last car in a freight train, served as an office for the train's conductor. It also provided a place from which the conductor and the rear brakeman could observe the train while in transit. They would watch for such problems as shifted load and overheated bearings, either of which could cause a wreck.

Beds and a stove located in the caboose were used by the conductor and brakemen as a place to sleep and eat if they were required to remain overnight away from home. On the Northern Pacific it was not uncommon for a caboose to be assigned to a specific conductor. In such a case, he might be very particular about the care "his" caboose received and even get shop workers to construct some special features that were not officially authorized.

Around 1901-1902, the Northern Pacific was experiencing a severe shortage of cabooses. This was in part due to an unusual number of accidents involving cabooses. Sixteen were destroyed in 1900 and twenty-two in 1901. As a result, the Northern Pacific purchased several batches of new cabooses in 1901 and 1902.

Caboose No. 1144 was built for the NP in 1901 at the South Baltimore Car Works in Baltimore, Maryland. It was one of thirty 26-foot long cabooses produced there that year for the Northern Pacific Railway. They were constructed with wood bodies and wood underframes. When delivered to the railroad, these cars carried road numbers 1139 through 1168. The purchase price of No. 1144 in 1901 was $994.76.

Caboose No. 1144 apparently spent most of its life on the west end of the NP. As of October 1920 it was at Pasco, Washington. In May 1939, No. 1144 was in service on the railroad's Idaho Division which had its headquarters at Spokane, Washington. The Idaho Division handled trains between Paradise, Montana, and Yakima, Washington. The division's major yard and service facilities were at Parkwater, Washington, just east of Spokane.

In July 1939, No. 1144 was sent to the railroad's shops at South Tacoma, Washington, for a complete rebuilding. The car's body was shortened to 24 feet from its original 26-foot length. In addition, a steel underframe was applied, replacing the original wooden one. The caboose then returned to service on the Idaho Division.

Still based at Parkwater, the caboose was renumbered 1264 in May 1942. It was the third caboose to carry this number on the NP. The first No. 1264 was destroyed in a wreck at Beache's Spur in March 1895. When the railroad constructed a group of new cabooses at its own shops in 1909, one of the new cars became the road's second No. 1264. This car was gone from the roster by June 1917, probably due to a wreck.

Third No. 1264, the former No. 1144, was retired and listed as "dismantled" as of July 29, 1969. Reportedly, it was donated to a retired employee that year. After passing through several owners, the wood body of No. 1264 was eventually acquired by the Minnesota Transportation Museum. Somewhere along the line, the number of the car was mistakenly changed to No. 1294 and it carried this number for some years.

In the recent past, caboose No. 1264 has been located at the Minnesota Transportation Museum's Jackson Street Roundhouse in St. Paul. There the car served as an office for the supervisor of renovation work at the roundhouse. Subsequently the car was moved to the east side of the roundhouse to make room for major renovation work on the west side of the building.

In 2000 the Minnesota Transportation Museum undertook major reconstruction of No. 1264 to replace timbers and siding which had decayed. During the process of rebuilding, workers discovered the caboose's correct number, 1264, stamped into some of its window frames. Such a stamping of a car number was a common practice at railroad shops so that parts from different cars would not get mixed up.

L.P. Schrenk and R.W. Leach
Northern Pacific Railway Historical Association
June 14, 2001