Mount Airy Caboose (MAC)

History

The Mount Airy Caboose (MAC), also affectionately called Mackenzie, was one of 401 type I-5d cabooses built by the B&O around 1925. Now fully restored, C-2095 proudly sits on Main Street and its stories of a glamorous railroad era can come to life for current and future generations.

The caboose was the ultimate multi-purpose car on the rail and played a most critical role in railroad operations. The conductor managed operations from the caboose and the ‘cupola’ gave the rear train crew a place to observe the train in motion. Flagmen and brakemen looked for overheated wheels, dragging equipment, or shifting freight loads. If anything wrong was spotted, the engineer was signaled to stop the train.

Trainmen could be gone for weeks and the tiny caboose provided fold-a-way bunks for sleeping, stoves for cooking, a storehouse for tools, supplies and even a stretcher was fastened to the ceiling for emergencies. During cold months, the crew huddled around the pot belly stove to keep warm.

 

Despite its charm, the caboose’s location at the end of the train made it a dangerous place to work. Jerking at the train’s starts and stops rippled back to the caboose where the ensuing jolt could knock crew to the floor. In the days of wooden cabooses, rear end collisions were often fatal to caboose occupants.

Over time, some wooden cabooses were built with up to a foot of concrete below the floor. This structural enhancement improved safety and also allowed cabooses to be “pushers” -- a stable buffer vehicle for a helper engine to push the train forward from behind. This change added versatility by giving a railroad the option of adding power from behind the caboose without doing damage to the train.

This feature was indispensable in earlier railroad history for a couple of reasons:

  • First, it allowed trains to climb steeper inclines, including Mount Airy’s Parrs Ridge, that were too steep to be negotiated with a standard forward located locomotive which only had power to run on level terrain.

  • Second, it allowed for extra cars, thereby increasing the amount of weight or freight (commerce) the train could carry over certain inclines.

 

Our MAC was the last of the wooden styled cabooses with a cupola. The next generations of cabooses were all steel and the cupola was replaced by side bay windows. C-2095 was retired from service in 1978.

B&O Railroad Caboose C-2095, Our Mackenzie, in Earlier Days