Morristown & Erie “Bobber” Caboose #1
The humble caboose was a fixture on the end of freight trains for more than a century. The name may have originated with a French or Dutch word describing a deck cabin on a sailing ship, but railroaders, always inventive, called it by dozens of slang names: cabin car, crummy, shack, way car, bobber, brainbox, shanty, hack and many others. The purpose was to provide a sheltered vantage point from which trainmen could watch the cars ahead, cook and eat their meals, and where the conductor could do paperwork.
Standing on display in the Whippany yard is a truly significant item of Northern New Jersey railroad history: Morristown & Erie Railroad (M&E) Caboose No. 1.
This unusual four-wheel “Bobber” was constructed by the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western R.R. (DL&W) as their No. 4 at the Keyser Valley, PA shops in 1899.
The standard Lackawanna caboose of the 19th Century was a four-wheel car without a cupola on the roof. In the late 1890’s, a four-wheel caboose design with a cupola was adopted. These little cars, numbered 1 up into the four-hundreds were built until 1910. Several saw work train service into the 1930’s.
Beginning in 1933, DL&W Caboose No. 4 was leased to the M&E for use on its freight trains between Morristown, Whippany and Essex Fells, NJ.
On April 26, 1937, the M&E purchased the caboose from the Lackawanna for $100.00, and it saw constant service until 1952, when it was retired due to its advanced age.
According to railroad historian Thomas Townsend Taber, III, the crew rarely rode in the caboose, preferring instead to travel in the locomotive. No. 1 was primarily a place to hang their rain gear and eat their lunch.
The diminutive car was very much a favorite of everyone on the Railroad.
Early in 1952, M&E management considered the idea of preserving their Steam Locomotive No. 7 and Caboose No. 1 on a special display track that was to be set up just west of the Whippany depot… but it was not to be. Instead, No. 7 was unfortunately scrapped, and the caboose was tucked away in the Morristown enginehouse until 1960, when it was sold to William Whitehead, who later started the Black River & Western Railroad (BR&W).
The caboose later became the property of the BR&W corporation, and for over 25 years it was displayed at their Flemington and Ringoes, NJ sites.
In the mid-1990’s, the BR&W conveyed title of the caboose to the United Railroad Historical Society of New Jersey (URHS). In 1998, the Whippany Railway Museum and URHS formed an agreement that, after a 38-year absence, would see No. 1 finally return to “home” rails.
Prior to its arrival in Whippany, the caboose first had to be trucked from New Hope, PA, its most recent storage site. On July 29, 1998 the caboose was delivered to the Morristown & Erie at its Eden Lane, Cedar Knolls, NJ crossing.
After it had been lifted off the trailer and placed on the rails, the axle bearings were generously lubricated, and M&E locomotive No. 18 coupled onto the caboose and towed it eastward on its mile-long journey to the Museum site.
Once the caboose was on-site, the real work began. “M&E 1” was in dire need of some major repair: there was a large hole in the roof over one platform,
In addition to a variety of other damage that had resulted from an earlier, abortive restoration attempt that had to be attended to.
In an amazing 5-week period, Museum members succeeded in transforming a tired and worn-out veteran of the rails into what had become a unique addition to the Museum’s display of local railroad artifacts.
Along with our Morristown & Erie Railbus No. 10, Old “Bobber” Caboose No. 1 is a very welcome sight at Whippany, providing visitors an opportunity to examine two historic pieces of equipment which have actually operated in regular service at the site during the first half of the 20th Century.