History of CNJ Caboose #91197
By Frank T. Reilly
November 4, 1989 (revised November 24, 2008)

CNJ caboose #91197 has a very colorful and unusual history that is over 130 years long. It was built in 1874 as an all wood box car for the New Jersey Southern Railway (NJS). (The NJS’s predecessor, the Raritan & Delaware Bay RR, opened its railroad in 1863 from Sandy Hook to Atco, NJ. The NJS acquired the R&DB RR in 1870 at which time the R&DB became the NJS. The times did not treat the NJS well; it went into bankruptcy that ended its existence at a foreclosure on March 31, 1879 when it was sold to the CNJ.)

Freshly painted with heralds
July 1998
When new, the box car predecessors of the caboose #91197 dimensions were: 28 feet 1 inch in length, 9 feet 2 inches in width, and 11 feet 8 inches in height. After acquiring the NJS, the CNJ renumbered these NJS boxcars (#31801 to #31985) that would eventually become the CNJ cabooses in the #91100 number series cabooses.

In the snow
February 23, 2001
By the end of the 19th Century, business was booming for the CNJ. During the years 1898, 1899 and 1900, the CNJ recorded the highest revenues in the history of the railroad. While the CNJ had added equipment to its fleet of locomotives, passenger cars, and freight cars, it did not increase the number of cabooses needed for freight trains. At the turn of the Century the existing fleet of cabooses was all 4-wheel (2 axle) cabooses that could not be safely assigned to the heavier and longer freight trains. They were old and incompatible with the rapidly growing railroad.

Sister caboose 91165
June 19, 1971
Another problem the CNJ faced was with the former NJS box cars; they were too small and inefficient when compared to modern freight cars in use at the time. But they weren’t old enough to scrap during these times of growing business and the need for more equipment.
After the fire
May 8, 2003
CNJ management examined the situation and decided to convert the old NJS box cars into cabooses! After all, the former NJS box cars, less than 30 years old, still had plenty of useful years remaining. The conversion program took about four years and started about 1901. By October 1905, only two of the original NJS box cars remained in service as box cars. The conversion program was a huge success.
After the fire
May 8, 2003
In 1902, one of the former NJS box cars numbered 31801 to 31985 was rebuilt into an all wood caboose and assigned CNJ caboose #91197.
During the early 1920’s the CNJ overhauled their #91100 series cabooses, the former NJS box cars, to enable them to be assigned to longer and heavier freight trains. On February 2, 1923, caboose #91197 with a book value of $534.62 was taken out of service by authority of AFE #7711. At that time it had a wooden body with wooden underframe, was 31 feet 5½ inches long, and still had its original 8 wheel arch-bar trucks.

The 1920’s overhaul was actually a major rebuilding program of these cabooses. On March 8, 1923, caboose #91197 rolled out of the CNJ’s Elizabethport car shops prominently displaying the New Jersey Central ball herald on its sides. It was rebuilt under AFE #7557 at a cost of $1,597.07; of which $1,112.33 was for materials and $484.74 for labor. When completed it had been strengthened and the length reduced from 31 feet 5 ½ inches to 26 feet 5 inches. The strengthening included the replacement of the wooden underframe with a steel underframe and the capacity was increased to 50,000 pounds. It still had arch bar trucks, but it is uncertain if they were the originals or new.

At least through the first 40 years of the 20th century CNJ cabooses were not permitted in interchange service. Starting with the October 1905 Official Railway Equipment Register, the oldest edition available at the time this was written, it contained this statement for the CNJ cabooses, “These cars (are) not allowed to leave the rails of the CNJ.”

In 1942, 1943, and 1944 the CNJ was almost bursting at the seams handling record amounts of freight (and passengers), it was the peak of World War II. All types of old equipment were pressed into service, including cabooses.

During the first half of 1944 the CNJ took five old wooden cabooses and modernized them to get a few more years of service out of them. The work included the installation of plywood siding over the old wood sheathing to make them sleeker and add strength to them. Other small modifications were made.

In June 1944 CNJ’s Superintendent of Motive Power and Rolling Equipment, G. H. Massy, said in an interview with the editor of the CNJ employee magazine, “The experiment has been completed on five bright red cabooses and would be carried out on five more.” The experiment on modernizing the old cabooses was a complete success, even though wood had to be used instead of scarce metals that were needed for the war effort.

He further stated, "We have 50 steel cabooses, but heavy business makes it necessary to keep our older types in service, and we believe plywood is much more attractive than the usual vertical sheathing. We also believe it is stronger and has better insulating qualities.”

The #91197 remained in service until January 1973 when it was officially retired by the CNJ …. 99 years after it was built. Three months later, on March 15, 1973, it was sold to the Sickley Brothers Company of South Orange, where it remained on their private siding, across from the Erie Lackawanna Railway’s South Orange passenger station.

In April 1986, Mr. Peter Terp purchased the #91197 and moved it to his home in Bloomsbury, NJ, via a flat bed trailer. Mr. Terp has since engaged in restoration of this historic and unusual caboose.

It was subsequently donated to the Phillipsburg Railroad Historians in 1996 and moved to their Phillipsburg, NJ Museum via flatbed truck. There additional restoration work took place. Unfortunately, low life no good vandals set the caboose on fire on May 8, 2003 causing considerable damage inside and out.

The #91197 gained nationwide fame in 1980 when the Jim Beam Company produced this caboose as a ceramic decanter and filled it with bourbon whisky. This colorful collectible was very popular and is now a highly desirable collectible among railfans and others. Jim Beam actually produced a full train, which included the caboose. The train consisted of a Grant built CNJ steam locomotive #197, locomotive tender #197, a baggage car, a coach, a dining car, an open ended observation car, and the caboose #91197. The original sales price was about $40 and its value today ranges from $50 to $75.


Photo Index | Caboose Photos