In August 1981, my family and I were on a loosely mapped vacation in Pennsylvania.
On the second day of our trip, we were driving from Hazelton to Strasburg to visit the famous Strasburg Rail Road.
Fast forward 41 years: yesterday, if you’d asked me if I’d ever photographed Conrail running freight on the old Reading Company, I’d have been hard pressed to come up with an answer.
And, yet here is a Conrail caboose crossing PA 501 near Prescott, PA exposed on the move from the rear window of our 1969 Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser!
I scanned the negative a little while ago. Unsure as to the location, I enlarged the photo. Thinking back, I recalled a train crossing over us enroute, but as a teenager wasn’t good with my Pennsylvania geography. Looking a the photo, I noticed the Route 501 sign, which gave me the needed clue.
A quick Google search placed this location near Prescott (where 501 ducks under the former Reading Company Crossline route). Looking a Google Earth, I’ve nearly confirmed the location.
Ironically, the next few frames on the roll show static cabooses at Strasburg’s The Red Caboose caboose-themed motel. Ironic, because in 1981, cabooses (of all colors) were still common on most America freight trains.
Working with my old Leica IIIA loaded with Kodak black & white, I made this trailing view of a former Pennsylvania Railroad caboose at the back of an eastward Conrail freight on the old Boston & Albany at Palmer, Massachusetts.
The institution of the caboose on American freight trains was still going strong in August 1982. But within just a couple of years, cabooses on mainline through freights would become scarce.
Changes in technology and crew reforms accelerated by the Staggers Act of 1980 facilitated the elimnation of the caboose on most freight trains by the late 1980s. Conrail began eliminating cabooses on through freights on B&A route in April 1984.