After 129 years, venerable caboose rolls on at Allaire

Published in the Asbury Park Press 8/18/03

A piece of railroad history dating back more than 100 years continues to roll in Monmouth County. Jersey Central caboose No. 91155 at the New Jersey Museum of Transportation's Pine Creek Railroad at Allaire State Park is one of the oldest regularly operated rail cars in the United States.

Built in 1874 as boxcar No. 31943 by the Southern Railroad of New Jersey, this car saw everyday service for many years. By the late 1880s the NJ Southern RR and all of its assets were absorbed into the Central RR of New Jersey.

Central of NJ embarked on a caboose-building program in 1902, and former Southern boxcar 31943 was rebuilt into Central caboose 91155, historically significant as the first of 400 eight-wheel cabooses.

As with all caboose conversions, it was rebuilt with vertical tongue-and-groove siding as well as a "second floor" windowed cupola that allowed brakemen to view the train ahead.

In 1921, No. 91155 was rebuilt with a steel underframe for safety. Heavy trains, especially Central's coal trains in Pennsylvania, were often pushed by locomotives from the rear to assist them over hills. Wood-frame cabooses could be, and often were, squashed by the pusher locomotive.

No. 91155 eventually was rebuilt with plywood siding and put to work on Central Railroad of NJ's Southern Division Main Line between Red Bank and Vineland. It faithfully served before the railroad retired its remaining fleet of wood cabooses in 1972, two years shy of its 100th birthday.

The Pine Creek RR acquired the caboose shortly thereafter as a donation from the railroad. The caboose was delivered by rail to Farmingdale, then traveled to Allaire on a flatbed trailer. It was soon rebuilt with new wheels and cosmetic repairs and entered regular service on the Pine Creek RR.

In days gone by the familiar red caboose would be the last car on a freight train and was a home on wheels to the crew. These men would live in the caboose, much like a travel trailer, cooking, eating, sleeping and handling paperwork while the train was under way.

Safety equipment and tools shared space with food, a stove, bunks, and other items you would expect to find in a self-contained rolling home. Many were even decorated with curtains and other homey appointments, including a cheesecake "girlie" calendar.

Pine Creek also has a second Central of NJ wood caboose, No. 91245, built in 1921, and well-known after sitting for the years at an abandoned siding in Toms River. This caboose is awaiting restoration.

Today passengers of any age can ride every regular operating day in a rail car that's almost 130 years old at the Pine Creek RR at Allaire State Park.

Gary S. Crawford is an author and historian and lives in Neptune

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