HENDERSON, Ky. (WEHT) – While there are many cabooses around, especially ones labeled L&N, what exactly is their deal?
Outside the Hancock County Museum is a red caboose labeled L&N. According to the Kentucky Historical Society, there is a historical marker that indicates the building the museum is currently in was once known as the Hawesville Railroad Station. The sign says during its heyday, six L&N trains stopped in Hawesville daily. Local passenger service ended in the late 1950s.
According to locals, the leaders of the museum in the 1970s and 1980s obtained the caboose from the Louisville & Nashville Railroad Company, after the company stopped using cabooses. So, the museum leaders asked the company to bring a caboose down to Hawesville. Museum staff painted the caboose after it was acquired. A local individual tells us the museum got the caboose in the 1980s.
Thomas R. Lonnberg, Chief Curator and Curator of History with the Evansville Museum of Arts, History and Science, says for many decades cabooses were made of wood, but by the 1960s and 1970s steel was used. The dimensions of one caboose would have changed through the years.
Lonnberg explains that the caboose served as home for the train’s crew, which was where they ate and slept. The caboose was also the office of the train’s conductor and an important work area for the brakeman. Here, the conductor communicated with the train’s engineer and kept records of each car’s contents and destination. The brakeman utilized the caboose’s crow’s nest to watch for overheated axle journal boxes, commonly referred to as hotboxes. Caused by excessive friction because of inadequate lubrication or the presence of foreign matter, a hotbox could cause a wheel to come off a railroad car.
The Louisville & Nashville Railroad Historical Society says the Louisville & Nashville Railroad was born March 5, 1850, when it was granted a charter by the Commonwealth of Kentucky “…to build a railroad between Louisville, Kentucky, and the Tennessee state line in the direction of Nashville.” On December 4, 1851, an act of the Tennessee General Assembly authorized the company to extend its road from the Tennessee state line to Nashville.
The organization says by the end of 1971, the L&N operated more than 6,574 miles of track in 13 states. During that year, however, the Seaboard Coastline Railroad, which had owned 35% of the L&N’s stock for many years, bought the remainder of the outstanding shares, and the L&N became the wholly-owned subsidiary of Seaboard Coast Line Industries.
Officials say on December 31, 1982, the corporate entity known as the Louisville & Nashville Railroad Company was officially merged into the Seaboard System Railroad, ending the L&N’s 132-year existence under a single name. The Seaboard System quickly lost its own corporate identity as it and the Chessie System became CSX Transportation in 1986.
A local individual says when people notice a caboose, they should go take a better look at it. Cabooses are from bygone days and so are no longer used, and cabooses are a part of railroad history.
Locals tell us tours are allowed in the caboose, and the Hancock County Museum is open on Sundays from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and tends to close during the winter. A local individual tells us the museum is open from April to October.
The caboose is located near 110 River Street in Hawesville.
This is the ninth of a weekly twenty-one-part series that will help educate about some roadside attractions in the Eyewitness News viewing area. Check in every Sunday at 8 a.m. for the next one! Last week’s installment can be found here.