The On-Line Magazine of Rideable Model Railroading


June 18, 2007  

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#308 For The MSRy
(The Toybox Caboose)


This two truck bobber caboose was an easy conversion from a little boy’s toy to a big boy’s toy.


Written by Rick Henderson

For several years I have wanted a bobber caboose, which is commonly known as a logging caboose. My preference was in the style of the West Side Lumber Company’s two truck caboose as opposed to the often modeled two axle style. The idea was put on the back burner for years while other large scale projects took priority. That is until a good friend mentioned a kit he had purchased many years ago and had never gotten around to doing the conversion necessary to make it a working piece of 7½" gauge rolling stock. I offered to purchase it; however, he generously gifted it to me just to see it get built.
The kit originally cost $17.95, produced by Fesco and marketed to the live steam community by Koster's Miniature Railroad Supplies out of Homestead Florida c1973-1974. These kits were made of a very thick and durable plastic. The entire bottom was one molded piece of the steps and truck side frames. The walls and roof pieces were all snap on for simple no tools construction. Although very basic in design, it did have enough detail to make it useful as a 1½" scale caboose, so much so that an article on how to convert one into a working model was published in the March 1973 issue of Live Steam magazine. It was apparently a fairly popular item for a while. After starting to work on this one, I have noticed a few others in photos from other railroads around the country of this item that was marketed over 30 years ago, converted into a working caboose.

The original kit was actually a child’s toy box, as seen here behind the future under frame and trucks.

Test fitting after cutting roof to move cupola.

Getting the roof back together took three days because I could only do one joint at a time.

As the railroad I run at requires safety chains, I notched out a piece of 1" steel angle iron to hold the chain eye bolts (bottom of photo).

I could have built it as an end cupola and saved myself a lot of time and effort; however, I really desired to have the center cupola version so I was left with making several extra cuts in the roof to move the cupola. The platform and steps that came on the molded bottom were actually very nice and well suited for use on the caboose so they were simply cut off the center section, which was tossed out. After making all of the cuts to the one piece roof section, I used tape to test fit everything to get an idea what was going to be needed to put it back together again with out looking like a toy box on wheels.
The Arch Bar style trucks came from Mountain Car Company, which I do not think offers these any longer as they were more expensive than modern trucks with a declining market for them. I used a one piece center beam for the main frame and coupler pockets. Since our railroad has card-order operating, the caboose will wind up between a locomotive and a string of cars being switched. All of the train weight and stress will pass from coupler to coupler through this single tube with no stress to the caboose body.

The safety chains I installed are required for good reason at the railroad I run on. It is mostly on grades and trains do come uncoupled as evident by one member’s caboose coming uncoupled before chains were required and rolling 900’ down a 2% grade and off the end of the track under construction. The sudden stop destroyed the end platform and steps.

Normally the caboose walls would be permanently attached to the floor; however, as it had to be transported in a compact car trunk to the railroad after being built, the roof and walls had to be removable. As it is now stored at the railroad, the walls will likely soon be more securely attached to the floor. The roof and cupola will remain removable.

I’m going to run it, as is, for a while before deciding on finishing it to finer detail. Equipment in riding scale railroads gets handled a lot more than smaller scales so fine detail work can get damaged easily by someone brushing by accidentally. For now I may just add the road number 308.

All of our cars use the same safety chain arrangement. You’ll note the open hook is to the left.

This safety chain bracket is held in place under the center beam with the couple bolt.

In retrospect this was not a really cheap way to get a new piece of rolling stock. The $17.95 caboose cost an additional $550 to $600 once you added in the Arch Bar trucks, couplers, other hardware and materials necessary to complete the entire project. If people don’t look too close, most will never realize it started life as a cheap plastic toy box from the last century.

The brakeman riding the rear platform was from a 9" tall fireman figure found in a Dollar General Store toy section.

The floor has plenty of room for a battery for lights should they be added in the future.

When I found the figure to act as brakeman, I was surprised to find that most of his joints were very flexible, including his fingers that wrapped around the handrail. He had fireman’s boots that I cut down to work shoes. After gluing him to the rail and steps, he turned out to be an attractive $5.00 addition.

Should you chance to still have one of these toy box kits laying around that you never got around to building, there would be any number of people today that would be happy to purchase it and put it to good use. Consider listing it on Discover Live Steam and you may see your kit finally put to good use. You may even make a little money on your $17.95 investment…


Written by Rick Henderson

the end

Do you have one of these caboose toy boxes?  Contact Rick Henderson



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