In bygone days, all the railroads in the U.S. operated wood cabooses. The Rock Island was no exception building 180 of the outside braced wood cabooses out lined in this article. They were numbered 17625-17699, 17725-17764 and 17785-17849 according to the January 1975 issue of "The Rock." I can remember seeing these cabooses trailing trains through Moline, Ill. during the late 50's and 60's as I grew up watching trains. The same design showed up in a cupola-less transfer caboose like 19166 shown still in use in 1971 (Fig. 2) and in the deadline at Silvis in 1977 (Fig. 3 & 4). At least one of the cabooses, 17655, is still in use as of July 1977 on the QC terminal switcher (fig. 1).
When Model Die Casting introduced their outside braced caboose in the early 70's, I noticed that it could easily be modified to match the RI prototype and produced a series of 3 cabooses. In the past year I have been interested in making a closer representation of the prototype. Plans for this caboose once appeared in "Railroad Model Craftsman." (November 1962) In this article, I will describe how I built both the simple and more elaborate versions. Please feel free to use as much or as little from both versions as you need.
Fig. 5 shows the MDC caboose as it comes from the box. To make the modern version of 17847 (Fig. 6) I simulated a steel underframe by deleting the truss rods and tool boxes and adding two parallel strips of 0.03 plastic between the truck bolsters. My scrap box yielded the pieces of the AB brake system and the more modern brake stands for the end platforms. MDC provides one marker light in each kit, so I used markers from two kits for this model. I glued extra roof walk material around the cupola as was the RI practice. It seems that the RI used both types of ladders to reach the roof although I used the ones that end flush with the roof on all my models.
To build the transfer style caboose (Fig. 7), I started out with the same underframe and end platform changes. These cabooses always seemed to have had several windows boarded up. I accomplished this by plugging the two inside windows with scrap plastic scribed to represent boards. I deleted the cupola and cut a new roof of cardstock to fit over the old roof. The roof walk supplied with the kit is full length and so presents no obstacle to this model. In my observations, the transfer style cabooses didn't have marker lights, but rather target type cards that protruded from the sides of the car showing red to the rear and green to the front. I cut these from 0.01 styrene as shown in drawing 1.
This series of three models satisfied me for some time, but I knew that they weren't completely realistic. So I took my camera and went railfanning. Fortunately a few of these cabooses are still around and I got some good photos. Then I redrew the RMC plans to give me some thing to work along with the photos. In close comparison, the most obvious difference between the MDC kit and the prototype is in the number and spacing of the outside braces. There is very little that can be done about this short of complete scratch building.
The next major discrepancy is the truck spacing. A new underframe can solve this problem. I removed the screw modules from the bottom of the body and filed the end walls flush with the bottom of the floor. Then I fashioned a new sub floor from 0.04 stryene so that it fit in side the side walls and protruded beyond the ends to provide end platforms. I cut new truck bolsters from a scrap frame (Athearn, I think) and glued them to the new sub-floor with the proper truck spacing. I joined these with a pair of Plastistruck "I" beams. Then I cut four small triangular braces from 0.02 stryene to complete the underframe. (See Fig. 8) Addition of the AB brake system follows next. You can do as much detailing of the underframe and brake system as you desire, but I stopped here since this side rarely shows. I used Walthers leaf spring caboose trucks.
Next, I went to work on the end platforms. I first cut a small piece of scribed wood to represent the flooring and glued it on top of the plastic sub-floor. The RI used small hand grabs (like single ladder rungs) on either side of the door above the "L" shaped hand rails. They should be added at this time. The now familiar modern brake stands and the other stock hand rails were added next. The RI used an extra horizontal and two extra vertical handrails. (See Fig. 9-14 and drawing 2.) I cut these from thin brass wire and attached them to the existing handrails and ladders with ACC. This is the trickiest part of the whole operation, so study the sketch and photos carefully. As the roof is removeable, do not glue the tops of these extra handrails or the ladders to the roof. Doing a good job on the ends makes for a very attractive model.
Since the end platform is full width, the next step is to fashion steps that fit outside the carbody. (See Fig. 13 and drawing 3.) I used 0.02 styrene for the back and steps and 0.01 styrene for the sides. You may have to trim these slightly to allow the trucks to swing freely.
On the roof of the cupola I added two more brass wire handrails. I also added the extra roof walk material around the cupola as before, but I narrowed them by trimming them down flush with the underside bracing. With these modifications complete, I sprayed the whole model Floquil Caboose Red.
This next step is purely optional, but I thought it would add a nice touch. I added GH products working marker lights. First I glazed all the windows with clear plastic. The GH markers were designed for a car open at the bottom, but work nicely in the MDC car. I trimmed the reflector to fit inside the removeable roof and wedged it in. The bottom reflector was trimmed to fit inside the car body just above the windows with a small piece sticking up so that the bulb does not shine out the rear door like a beacon. (See drawing 4.) The rest of instructions proceed normally.
My recollections of these cabooses in the 50's and 60's were that they were bright red with small lettering, so I painted them all caboose red. The transfer version had yellow ends in 1971 with a red stripe around the door. The underframes were black and of course, dirty, so I used Floquil Grimy Black. In their last years, the cabooses were painted Tuscan Red with large white lettering as the pictures show. The handrails seem to have been a silvery color, so I used Scalecoat Graphite and Oil to give a weathered silver appearance. I used Champ decals from the general road name set and the caboose set. The "Watch Your Step" label comes from a Miller Advertising Rock Island caboose set. These were followed with Decal-set and Dullcoat. Don't forget the small numbers over the doors even though these are hard to get around the end rail.
This pretty much completes the model and I must say that it was quite a satisfying project. In addition to the outside bracing already mentioned, it appears that the cupola is too close to the back end of the car. You may wish to correct this, which will involve some "plastic surgery." I hope you will enjoy building this distinctive caboose.