Saturday, November 13, 2010
The Passing of the Caboose
I think that the vanishing of the caboose may be the harbinger of our current times, unnoticed, unremarked. Here and there you can find a person who loves the caboose. Some have been adopted as ready made cabins or storage buildings. A few can be found in museums. A great lot of these charming break rooms on the roll have no doubt been scrapped for their metal. You could be riding in a former caboose, or part of one, just as your wedding ring could possibly be composed of Cleopatra's fillings. Mostly, the caboose has just vanished. I watched a coal train pass by a few days ago, some eighty cars, all rolling down to a coal-fired electric generating plant which serves our needs here in Chatham County. It ended simply with the last of the coal cars. No jolly red punctuation mark, smoke coming out of its little chimney, or the brief glimpse through a greasy window of overalled men standing around a potbelly with cups of coffee in their gloved hands. Though I will say that the coal, itself, was on the verge of nostalgia, and probably could I have clambered atop a car and stomped around on top of the coal, the old smell from my days of shovelling coal into the hopper in our basement furnace would have brought back many memories, since even remembering the smell as I write evokes immediately that basement and furnace--the pipes and dials, the red clinkers in the belly of the firebox, the wonderful metal tongs I would use to clean said clinkers away, the big coal shovel, hanging at the ready on the wall, and perhaps best of all, the pictures of dinosaurs which my father had painted onto the coal bin door, without comment. (And my dad was born on a farm in 1901!)
Sometime in the past, between that coal bin door and this moment writing in the kitchen amidst the peak moment of fall foliage in my woods, some men in suits decided that the caboose was unnecessary. Little did they know the implications of their seemingly unremarkable decision. The precipice continues to crumble beneath our feet.
Update. On the other hand, William Rivers Pitts does have a point: