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100 Cabooses

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100 Cabooses...and Still Counting

by Malcolm R. Campbell, Paul Grether

What kid, young or old, hasn't dreamed of hiding out in a bright red caboose in the back yard?

Look closely. There might be one next door or down the street. It's on display in a museum or fading away behind an old fence. Or, it contains a visitors center, a police station, a watch repair shop, a bunkhouse, or a beauty parlor.

When we began our Georgia railway equipment survey 12 months and 3,000 miles ago, we had a stack of confirmed sightings and a stack of tips and rumors. To make sense of this, we confined the project to preserved equipment (a pile of rust and rotten boards doesn't count), and to equipment not in use by general system railroads.

In addition to the cabooses, the evolving list includes diesel and steam locomotives, box cars, flat cars, baggage cars, diners, and coaches, totaling 365 items of rolling stock. We have also noted 7 coaling towers, 4 turntables, 2 roundhouses, 2 towers, 4 water towers, and 2 shop complexes.

Librarian Jamie Reid started the project so that we can "discover what's out there and determine what can be preserved." Though there are more leads to pursue, Reid says that he hopes the team--which includes assistant librarians Paul Grether and Fred Dodds--will complete phase one of the survey this spring.

The results will be published as the first in a series of museum monographs. Compiling the facts is gratifying. But the real fun is in the hunt, using old railway atlases, current DOT highway maps, cameras and notebooks.

Equipment turns up where we least expect it. Along a two-lane state road near Montpelier, a "Fall Railroad Festival" sign captures our attention: there are no nearby railroad tracks. We discover a Baptist church campground complete with railroad crossing wigwags and a Southern Railway-style caboose.

Three miles away in an area giving way to kudzu, we find a falling down depot that once served the old Macon & Birmingham, a railroad that ceased operation in 1923.

Near Warm Springs, a flash of sunlight through the trees becomes a sleeping car, two diners, and two coaches in a field. In Buckhead (near Augusta) we pass the rusted hulk of a streetcar; then we see a well-preserved electric bus--a former Atlanta Transit Company Trackless Trolley--with working lights!

The search will never end. Stuff gets moved around, a guy bush hogging broom sage and brush uncovers a box car, or somebody remembers seeing something down the road a few years ago. Maybe that "something" is another sighting of that yellow caboose along the Ocmulgee River, or maybe--with a little bit luck, it might just be a locomotive or railcar not yet on our list.

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Last updated June 13, 2006