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Thread: Caboose Question

  1. #1
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    Default Caboose Question

    I've always been curious, as to why the side corner grab-irons on cabooses are curved? Is it to help the trainman, grabbing on the fly, to pull himself up? I've wondered this quietly for 40 years, and never asked anyone. So, does anybody know?
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    I have seen some old photos of straight grabs, too, at about a 45 degree angle in place of the curved ones.

    Thanks.

  2. #2

    Default RE: Caboose Question

    To assist Trainmen when when getting on the step of a moving caboose!

  3. #3
    chazlee1 Guest

    Default RE: Caboose Question

    As an old waycar rider, yes, they are to assist you in getting on the caboose "on the fly". The curved grabirons would allow you to grab on and swing yourself onto the steps.

  4. #4
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    Default RE: Caboose Question

    Thanks, Chaz, and Don. I appreciate it. Now I can sleep at nights. ;-)

  5. #5
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    Default RE: Caboose Question

    I disagree. A straight horizontal, vertical, or 45 degree angle grab iron would work just as well for the purpose. The human wrist can rotate 180 degrees, and the hand was designed for grabbing things at assorted angles, so there's no practical reason from an engineering standpoint. The purpose of the curve is the same as the curved roof and the sides of the steps - they were made in the era before MBAs walked the earth, and elegance was considered important enough in design to justify the extra cost. :*

  6. #6
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    Default RE: Caboose Question

    As one that boarded cabooses and other cars on the fly a few thousand times, the curved grab DOES make it easier. Elegance has nothing to do with it, although they are very pretty. :7 When you're getting on, having a hand hold a fraction of a second sooner than when your foot contacts the stirrup or step makes quite a difference and the curved grab does that, along with the fact that, as the hand slides up the grab, your wrist changes position without having to release you hand hold. The feel is much more comfortable and fluid. I don't know the physics of the whole thing...I suppose like the old saying goes, you have to be there. :7

    cheers,
    Ernie :)

  7. #7

    Default RE: Caboose Question

    Jim...have you ever boarded a moving caboose? Believe me when I tell you that the curved grab iron allows your hand to slid up where the verticle grab iron transmits shock to the arm and can cause one to lose his or her grip on the "Safety Appliance"!

  8. #8
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    Default RE: Caboose Question

    Hey ya old grump, you still alive?!

    Hmm, well, the short answer to your question is "no".

    DISCLAIMER:

    This is for informational purposes only. Boarding a moving train is dangerous as hell and can get you killed. Trespassing on railroad property can also be fatal, and today's atmosphere of anti-terrorist security and faster moving trains is absolutely nothing like the conditions I'm about to describe. For any coppers reading this, these events took place from 1964-1968, and the statute of limitations has run out, so you can't pin a thing on me. :P

    That said, I did some studying of the physics (without even being aware of the word "physics") during my mis-spent youth. I can sort of visualize what you're talking about, facing toward the rear of the train and grabbing that curved grab iron and swinging aboard. I was never a railroad employee, and consequently never jumped on to either an engine or a caboose in motion, since I wouldn't have been exactly welcome.

    I grew up just west of 40th Street yard next to the C&NW Galena line, so our method was to wait in a good hiding place (preferably on the outside of a curve so the crew couldn't see you from either end once the engine and a few cars passed), with a clear unobstructed running path alongside the track, including a margin for errors - no piles of crossties, switches, crossovers for a few hundred feet within 10 feet of the tracks. We learned most of this by watching the failures of the really clumsy kids and analyzing their mistakes, which never produced any serious injuries that I saw, but sharp ballast rocks combined with things to trip over and smack into produces some rather spectacular cuts and bruises.

    After the engine and several cars pass and the crew in the engine can't see you, run alongside the train, first grab the upper horizontal bar with the inside hand, second reach across your waist with the outside hand and grab the lower bar, then while pulling up with the inside (top) hand, lift the inside foot and put it in the stirrup.

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    It's kind of hard to describe the actual transfer from ground to train, but it's kind of a one armed pull-up combined with a running hop.

    That method gave us a lever and fulcrum type control, grabbing the same bar with both hands makes a wierd pivot point so it's easy to lose your balance. The outside hand on the lower bar with the inside hand on the upper bar gives a lot of leverage to prevent swinging around.

    Once on the train find a hiding place, inside empty gondolas and hoppers was the favorite, so you could watch the scenery but duck down when the train passed the River Forest Police Station.
    (Objective was getting from Chicago to the forest preserves by the Des Plaines River, about 4 miles west. Couldn't take the EL, since it only ran to Harlem.)

    Getting off again was just the reverse, climb back onto the ladder or grab irons facing forward, check alongside the track for obstructions, inside hand up, outside hand down, lower yourself, start running, and let go with the inside (lower) hand first, then the outside. Then get out of sight before the caboose comes! :o

    Anyway, I'll concede the point, curved grab iron makes a difference depending on how you're getting on. I still think the design intent was elegance tho.


  9. #9
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    Default RE: Caboose Question

    Anyone, not a railway running trades employee that tries to board a moving train is asking to be killed or maimed. It's as simple as that. You shouldn't be running to get on in the first place. Same with getting off. Man, it's a wonder you are still here to give bad advice! Rail equipment is not a toy, and no rail worker wants to be the one to pick up what's left of you. Forgive the attitude, but this is deadly serious. By all means enjoy the action around the right-of-way, but from a distance. Thanks for listening.

    cheers,
    Ernie :)


  10. #10
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    Default RE: Caboose Question

    Wasn't giving bad advice, Ernie, merely talking about past events. Read the first two sentences of the disclaimer again. That was a unique set of circumstances, the westbound freights were coming out of the yard at less than 10mph, and at the forest preserves they slowed down again where the main narrowed from 4 tracks to two for the trestle. With the volume of commuter traffic plus the 400 series express trains, freights went pretty slow for the entire trip. Those conditions from 40 years ago won't be repeated, freight trains everywhere are going way to fast to hop nowadays.

    Anyway danger is relative, the most dangerous thing I did in my adolescence was going to school. Back in the '60s they didn't have metal detectors to keep kids from bringing guns and knives to class, so hopping a freight train out to the suburbs was actually less risky!

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