For me, the caboose has always been one of the most interesting places to explore in railroading. Until generally the last decade or so of their usage on freight trains, a caboose was typically assigned to a specific conductor. As such, they were often “accessorized” and decorated at the whim of the conductor, sometimes with help from his brakeman. Photographer Jack Delano captured this caboose image in January, 1943.
The scene is inside an Indiana Harbor Belt caboose, featuring the conductor’s work desk. It’s a splendid study of the workspace that’s used by the boss of the train. There are the usual railroad supplied appurtenances such as the oil lamp, the rack that holds rule books, timetables and other paperwork, and the wall mounted gauge which displays the train line air pressure. Then there are the personal touches such as the pin-up photos, a thermometer, a couple cartoons, and even some photographs of (perhaps) the conductor’s pet dog. Note the pencil holder tacked to the book rack, and the blackout applied to part of the lamp shade. I wish we could tilt up the desk surface to reveal what is stored in its compartment. It’s one of those photos that begs to be studied, and doing so reveals a wealth of interesting detail.