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The inside of the cupola.

Cabooses came into usage during the 1850's and were attached to the end of all freight trains. Some had bumpouts on either side and some, like the History Center caboose, had cupolas. These were the observation places from where the conductor and other train crew could keep an eye on the train.

What were they looking for? Any signs of trouble like axle bearings over heating ("hot boxes"), maybe some loose freight on a flatcar or even hobos trying to jump onto the trains.

"gem of a passenger depot"

That's what The Madison Courier called it in 1895, which is when the Madison Railroad Station was built. It continued serving passengers until declining use resulted in its closure in 1931. After the great flood of 1937 damaged the freight yards that were closer to the river, the station was converted to freight use. The stattion was sold to Wilco Electric Co. by the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1961. The Jefferson County Historical Society bought it in 1987, and volunteers restored it to its present condition.

The railroading era had come to Madison in 1836, the year construction was started on the incline and on the tracks from North Madison toward Indianapolis. Eleven years later, after a lot of sweat and toil, it reached from the Ohio River to Indianapolis. The two-day, horse-drawn coach trip was shortened to 5.25 hours by railroad coach. Having the first railroad in the state and one that connected to river transport as well made Madison an economic hot spot.

The History Center Caboose

Along with being an observation platform, the caboose also served as a traveling home for the train crew. This one had four bunks, a small icebox, a water tank, a desk, a toilet and a coal stove for cooking and heating. While that might sound almost like a modern camper, it was anything but. Being at the end of the train made for a whippy ride. And the lack of modern shock absorbers made it very rough and noisy. Then there was the inherent danger of being the first thing to be hit if another train ran into you. More than a few train crews were killed in such accidents. "Caboose" may have been a romantic notion to a youngster; not for those who rode and worked in them.


The inside of the caboose.


Caboose arriving on flatbed truck.

How did the History Center caboose get here? It came on a flatbed truck. The reality is that cabooses never did come to Madison by rail. The incline was too steep to warrant any extra weight, and a caboose wasn't needed on the short ride down and up the hill. This particular one started life on the Louisville and Nashville Railroad in the early 1920's. It was given to the Boy Scouts in the late 1960's for use as a meeting house. By 1976 is was part of the Kentucky Railway Museum, but exposure to river floods caused it to deteriorate. It was given to the Jefferson County Historical Society in 1988, and restoration was completed in 2003. It's a fitting tribute to Madison's having the first railroad in the state.


After restoration.