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PENNSYLVANIA RAILROAD
N6b CABIN CAR (CABOOSE) NO. 981590
Copyright 2013 by Steven P. Hepler

PRR N6b 981590 in service

Some Background History

PRR N6b 980781

PRR N6b 980016 Harrisburg 4
The Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR), “The Standard Railroad of the World”, constructed nearly 1,200 N6b class wooden cabooses (or “Cabin Cars” as they were called on the PRR) from 1914 to 1923. Surely one of the longest-serving and best-known styles of PRR cabooses, the N6b with it's high arched cupola roof, became a system-wide trademark for more than 50 years. The Museum's car, No. 981590 was built at one of the PRR's freight car shops in June 1923.
Prior to March 1920, the Pennsylvania Railroad was divided into two operating entities, known as Lines East (of Pittsburgh and Erie, PA) and Lines West. The management of the two operating regions had different thoughts regarding the design and construction of cabin cars under their jurisdiction. PPR System Map
PRR NC 190753
PRR NC Class Cabin Car-1893

PRR ND Cabin 5
PRR ND Class Cabin Car-1904
At the start of the Twentieth Century, the PRR owned a large roster of small, wood-construction, four-wheel cabin cars. At its car shop in Altoona, PA, PRR Lines East began building steel-underframe, wood superstructure ND-class cabins starting in 1904, and all-steel N5-class cars beginning in 1914. Lines West on the other hand, began rebuilding wood four-wheel cabin cars into eight-wheel N6a and N6b types, which combined steel-underframes with wooden superstructures. Conversions of older cabin cars into N6a and N6b's continued until 1923.

PRR N5 486751 1914
PRR N5 Class Cabin Car-1914

PRR N6a 981131
PRR N6a Class Cabin Car-1914
PRR N6b 980105 Thorndale PA May 5 1951
PRR N6b Class Cabin Car-1914
These rebuildings came as a direct result of a new law enacted in Ohio in 1913 that required a steel underframe on cabooses used in pusher service . The old, all wood-construction cabooses of the late-19th century were no match for the huge steam locomotives of the new century that would assist the leading road engine by coupling up to the end of long, heavy freights to help push the trains up over long mountain grades. All to often the spindly wood cabooses would be literally crushed by the powerful locomotives shoving at the rear, causing severe injury and even death to freight crews riding in these fragile cars. PRR N6b 982153

PRR ND 485327 w-pusher c1898
1898
PRR N6b Diagram crop 2
PRR N6b Exterior Plan - Click to enlarge

PRR N6a Diagram crop 2
PRR N6a Exterior Plan - Click to enlarge

Rebuilding included lengthening one end of each car resulting in an off-center cupola. A small number of N6b cabins received centered cupolas, like the one No. 981590 was built with. There were differences in the size and style of the cupolas as well. The N6a cupola extended over and across the full width of the car, while the N6b design sloped inward from the car sides, creating quite a different appearance atop what were near-identical carbodies.

PRR N6b Exterior Plan
PRR N6b Diagram - Click to enlarge

The distinctive curved roof N6b cupola cut a much slimmer swath than did the style used on the N6a cabins. It wasn't long before PRR train crews gave the N6b's the nickname 'Mae West', alluding to the voluptuous figure of the legendary stage and film actress...a moniker that to this day remains a part of the N6b history. Mae West 1 

Lines West utilized the “Fort Wayne” wide-cupola N6a design because of its generous side and overhead clearances. Decades later, this would have been called a "wide vision" cupola. But due to the restrictive clearances in several tunnels in Ohio, the narrow N6b design cupola was employed in that territory. In subsequent years, most of the N6a cars were either scrapped or rebuilt to the N6b design, apparently to provide better clearances on the Eastern portions of the PRR. By the 1940's virtually all of the N6a cabins had disappeared from the scene.

PRR 1944 Calendar

PRR N6b 982405 
Throughout the 1930's the PRR continued to build new all-steel cabin cars. At the start of America's involvement in the Second World War at the end of 1941, 600 steel cabins were ready for mainline freight runs, resulting in the transfer of many N6a's and N6b's to local freight and work train service. Between 1940 and 1953, the wooden cabins assigned to work train service were painted battleship grey; in 1954 they were given a bright yellow work train scheme. At the same time, many N6b's were sent East, far from their original Lines West territory.
PRR N6b 492414 Work Train Gray 1940-1953
PRR N6b in Work Train Gray Paint
PRR N6b 492401 Work Train Yellow
PRR N6b in Work Train Yellow Paint
A 1957 listing of PRR cabin car assignments shows that No. 981590 was a Northwest Region car, assigned to the Fort Wayne Operating District. It was eventually transferred East and became a PRR New York Region car during it's last 5 years of active service. PRR N6b 981590 in service copy
PRR N6b 981590 in service on the New York Region
circa, late-1950's
PRR N6b Cabin Car Chicago Feb. 1961  The N6b was the most numerous type of cabin car on the PRR and made up over half of the cabooses owned by the mighty “PCo.”. In 1957 nearly 870 N6b's were still in service...they were used throughout the vast Pennsylvania system and they represented the largest single class of caboose ever constructed in the United States.
But, by the early 1960's, the once ubiquitous N6b's could be seen sitting idle in railroad yards, grouped in lines, waiting to be scrapped. After the cars were stripped of reusable hardware, such as air brake appliances, most met their demise by purposely being set afire. Today, of the nearly 1,200 wooden N6b cabin cars built by the men of the Pennsylvania Railroad, less than a dozen survive in preservation in the 21st Century. Lucky No. 981590 is one of this very rare breed. PRR N6b Lineup

Scrapped Caboose 

Entering the Preservation Era

PRR N6b 981590 Motown NJ 1964 A Ham

PRR N6b 981590 Motown NJ 1964 A Ham 2 
In late-1963, No. 981590 was “white-lined”, and retired from the PRR's ledger books, on account of “Bad Order”. An interesting side-note relates to the two distinct paint schemes this particular cabin car displayed at the same time. On one side of the car , the lettering scheme dated from the 1954 – 1957 era with 13-inch high “PENNSYLVANIA” letters above the windows, and a large “shadow keystone” monogram. The other side of the car revealed a faded scheme that dated from the 1926 – 1930 time period. Here, 7-inch “PENNSYLVANIA” letters were placed above the windows, but there was no 1-inch thick over-line bar above the name that was typical of PRR lettering styles of that era. Also typical was the absence of a keystone herald. Another unusual feature of this particular scheme was that the car number was centered low on the carbody, whereas normally it would have been approximately 24-inches below the company name and it would have been underscored. One can only surmise that at some point in the mid-1950's, the wood on one side of the car had worn out and needed replacement. After the new wood was in place, and painted in the PRR standard “Freight Car Red”, the then-current lettering scheme was applied to only that one side of the cabin.
 PRR N6b Reside  PRR N6b 981736

Early in the New Year of 1964, the weary cabin car was spared from certain destruction when it was purchased by Earle H. Gil, Sr., who was assembling and methodically restoring a collection of vintage railroad rolling stock that would eventually become part of his soon-to-be-operational Morris County Central Railroad (MCC). The MCC was one of the first historic preservation rail ventures in the country, and it was the first excursion line to operate restored, standard-gauge steam locomotives in New Jersey. Gil's railroad made it's first public revenue run on May 9, 1965 out of Whippany, NJ, with the former PRR N6b (now lettered for the MCC) quickly becoming a family favorite as seemingly everyone wanted a chance to ride in a classic, wooden, “Little Red Caboose”.

MCC 5-9-65 12
MCC Opening Day, Whippany, NJ May 9, 1965

MCC PRR 3 Cabin

MCC PRR 5 Cabin Earle  4-1965
MCC PRR 31 Cabin Car

MCC PRR 10 Cabin 
For 5 years, the MCC's cabin car gave countless passengers their first-ever ride in an authentic railroad caboose. But the time came in 1970 when it was determined that due to over 40 years of long, hard service at the rear end of PRR freight trains, the superstructure of the wooden car body was beginning to noticeably sway, and so the little 'Mae West' was reluctantly retired from active train service. It was soon parked on a siding behind the MCC's Snack Car, and was quickly refitted as the railroad's new Birthday Party Caboose. While the exterior retained the red MCC paint scheme, the interior soon boasted pastel yellow paint for the walls and ceiling with pastel blue trim. The original PRR bunk seating was removed in favor of opening up some interior floor space so that a picnic table could be installed for party use. A refrigerator was added for guests to keep cake, ice cream and drinks cold.

MCC PRR 15 Cabin 981590 c-1971   MCC PRR 16 Cabin B-Party Car June 1971

When the Morris County Central relocated its excursion operations to Newfoundland, NJ in 1974, the N6b took on yet another role... this time as the MCC's Gift Shop concession. Once again the interior was restyled with shelving to display various books and souvenirs, as well as installing a compact sales counter. Just like it did in train service, the original PRR coal stove was still used to heat the interior of the car on cold days...the aromatic soft coal smoke wafting out of the smokestack recalled an earlier time. MCC PRR Cabin Car Gift Shop  Snack Car Nwfld Sept. 18 1976

MCC PRR 18 Cabin Car - PVTM Gift April 1982

All good things come to an end, and unfortunately the Morris County Central Railroad went out of business at the end of 1980. From this point on, the car suffered much from vandalism, deterioration from the weather, and was very nearly scrapped.

MCC PRR 18A Cabin Car Nwfld July 1983
July 1983
In 1982 the assets of the former MCC were transferred over to the Delaware-Otsego System (DOS), owners of the New York, Susquehanna & Western rail line that passed through Newfoundland. By December 1983, the MCC rolling stock, including the N6b, was still parked within the station area...and every car was by now being very heavily vandalized.
During 1984, after many complaints by Jefferson Township officials and police, the DOS moved the equipment down to the MCC's former engine terminal area within the borders of Rockaway Township, about a quarter-mile East of the station. MCC PRR 18B Cabin Car - at enginehouse Nov. 3 1984
Nov. 3, 1984
MCC PRR 18D Cabin Car in dead line at Green Pond Shop Aug. 5 1986
Aug. 5, 1986

MCC PRR 19 Cabin Car 12-28-1986
Dec. 28, 1986
As the calendar turned to 1986, Anthony Citro, who owned the Newfoundland Station and some of the surrounding property, sold his holdings to Robert Tilden. After the sale, Tilden quickly arranged with the Delaware-Otsego to purchase one of the former MCC coaches as well as the PRR cabin car. Both cars were moved back into the station area and located on a siding that backed up to the West side of the water tank. Tilden soon began a restoration of the station building and also started some initial stabilization work on the caboose and coach.
In January 1988, the Delaware-Otsego had come to the decision that the former MCC equipment in Rockaway Township was a liability due to its deteriorated state and arranged to have a railroad salvage company scrap the rolling stock on-site. Although the scrapper was expressly told not to touch the caboose and coach at Newfoundland Station, the salvage company employees ignored the instructions and soon set to work on preparing the privately-owned N6b for destruction. The caboose was lifted up in the air by a crane so that men with torches could set to work on cutting up the original PRR wheels and truck frames. As the remains of the trucks were being cleared away, the wooden body was lifted higher in the air by the crane... the intent was to quickly drop the car to the ground so that it would splinter apart and thereby make the reclaiming of any remaining steel (such as the frame) that much easier. At the same time, other workers were preparing the coach for scrapping as well. MCC Scrap 1A LG
Jan. 1988
MCC PRR 19A Cabin Car after truck scrapping 1988
Cabin Car 981590 with underframe on ground at Newfoundland, NJ after its trucks were accidently scrapped - 1988

MCC PRR 20 Cabin Car Jan. 1989
Cabin Car 981590 resting on replacement trucks
January 1989
Luckily, a local resident who was watching the proceedings kept telling the scrapping crew that the equipment they were destroying was privately owned and that they should cease and contact the railroad company for verification. The resident put up such loud protestations that finally, the foreman of the salvage crew did contact his company, and at nearly the very last minute, the scrapping was halted. The caboose body, now minus its trucks, was gently lowered to the ground. In the end, Tilden rightfully demanded that a replacement set of trucks be installed under his caboose, and within a short time-frame, this was accomplished.
In 1990, a somewhat disillusioned Robert Tilden sold the property and cars to Bill Jentz, who soon put a concerted effort into completely restoring not only the station, but also the two railcars. Jentz decided to leave the coach on the now-disconnected siding at the West side of the water tank, but had the caboose relocated to the East side of the tank and crane-lifted onto a newly-constructed section of panel track built specially for this purpose. By 1994, the two cars looked splendid in new woodwork, glazing and paint. Even the large Morris County Central herald was faithfully repainted on both sides of the caboose. Some time afterward, Jentz acquired a steel Erie Railroad caboose and had that car set down on yet another new section of panel track next to the N6b. MCC Coach 1001 4-1-2002

MCC PRR 22 Cabin Car Newfld. Restored 11-6-1994
Nov. 6, 1994

 MCC PRR 22B Cabin Car w-MCC Herald Nov. 6 1994

After holding onto the property for 15 years and doing much restoration work, Jentz sold the Newfoundland Station and railcars to the Klemchalk Family in 2005. Matt Klemchalk, Sr., and his son, Matt, Jr. have a great interest in the history and artifacts of the Erie Railroad. To that end, both father and son were able to acquire the steel superstructure of an authentic Erie wooden caboose. The intention is to restore the car by installing all new wood on the “skeleton” of the caboose, but the matter of what to do with the PRR N6b (which by now was again beginning to badly deteriorate from adverse weather), was first and foremost.

MCC PRR 27 Cabin Car Jan 2012 sm  In May of 2011, the Klemchalk's let it be known that they would be willing to donate the N6b cabin (minus the trucks) to the Whippany Railway Museum if the Museum could remove the car from the Newfoundland site. A generous offer of such a rare PRR artifact comes but once in a lifetime. But moving a railcar, regardless of size and weight is not something that is accomplished overnight in the majority of cases. Long months of preparation generally lie ahead before an over-the-road transport can be made.
It was very fortunate that the Museum's generous benefactor, Joseph Supor, III, president of J. Supor & Son Trucking & Rigging in Kearny, NJ came to the Museum's aid with his offer to move the N6b from Newfoundland to Whippany. Mr. Supor's father, the late, Joseph Supor, Jr. had donated Locomotive No. 385 and Engine No. 7240 to the Museum in 2007. The company has also greatly assisted the Museum with the restoration of its Steam Locomotive No. 4039. Supor 
PRR N6b Cupola Print It was quickly determined after measuring the cabin car for overhead clearances that the 'Mae West' cupola would have to be removed in order for safe transport under the many low overpasses that the caboose would have to travel under. During the Winter of 2012, Museum members researched original Pennsylvania Railroad blueprints, and were able to successfully detach the cupola from the carbody.

MCC PRR 29 Cabin Car removing cupola 1-23-2012  MCC PRR 30 Cupola Tarp 1-23-2012

Meanwhile, in the Spring of 2012, the Museum made contact with Bruce Abeles of Dealaman Enterprises in Warren, NJ. Dealaman's property was home to a badly deteriorated PRR N6b cabin car that was about to be demolished because of advanced age and rot. Dealaman Enterpises kindly allowed the Whippany Railway Museum to salvage materials and hardware from their cabin car for ultimate use in the N6b that would return to Whippany. Upon stepping inside the caboose in Warren, it was amazing to find an un-restored N6b in 2012 with nearly all of its original fittings virtually intact. Over the course of two work days, Museum members salvaged the original PRR coal stove , coal bin, all 16 window frames, brass air brake gauge, water urn, a complete set of window hardware (clips, latches and “finger-lifts”), handrails, two original entry doors, marker brackets, air brake equipment, locker doors, plus a host of other original PRR cabin car fittings.

Warren PRR J

Warren PRR A

Warren PRR C
April 2012
Warren PRR D  Warren PRR E 
 Warren PRR K  Warren PRR M
 Warren PRR L  Warren PRR N
 Warren PRR R  Warren PRR S
MCC PRR 30A ME Panel Material 3-30-2012

MCC PRR 31 Cabin Car  Panel Track May 2012 sm 
The rails and crossties required to build a section of panel track at Whippany to display the cabin car were supplied by the Morristown & Erie Railway. The trackwork itself was built through the generosity of Railroad Construction Company of Paterson, NJ. Lastly, a set of original PRR trucks needed for the wooden carbody to rest on was donated to the Museum by Kean Burenga, president of the Black River & Western Railroad in Ringoes, NJ

MCC PRR 32 Trucks 6-10-12

After final preparations were made, the cabin car was finally ready for its journey to Whippany. In the meantime, the Klemchalk's Erie caboose "skeleton" had been towed to Newfoundland in late 2012, its frame and side bracing sandblasted, primed and painted. MCC PRR 34 Cabin Car Erie RR Caboose Frame Nwfld NJ 3 Nov. 2012
MCC PRR 35 Supor Crane Nwfld 7-10-2013 SPH After a number of delays, July 10, 2013 was selected as the day that the long-awaited lift and transport of No. 981590 to Whippany would occur. At 8:30 AM that morning, the crew of J. Supor & Son Trucking & Rigging began setting up their massive crane in anticipation of the work that lie ahead.
After preparing the crane, the first order of business was to remove the already-severed cupola from the cabin car. This was accomplished in short order, and was soon set safely of the ground to await loading onto the low-boy trailer that would haul the carbody to Whippany. MCC PRR 37 Cupola lift 2 Nwfld 7-13-2013 SPH

MCC PRR 38 Cupola on ground Nwfld 7-13-2013 SPH
 MCC PRR 39 Spreader bar Nwfld 7-13-2013 SPH The rigging crew soon had heavy, 11-foot spreader bars secured under each end of the cabin car; this would prevent the lifting cables from literally squeezing the wooden sides of the 90-year old car in on itself.
At approximately 9:25 AM, the 23,000-pound cabin car body was lifted off the (Erie RR) trucks it was sitting on at Newfoundland and swung over the mainline of the New York, Susquehanna & Western Railway. Within a matter of minutes the N6b was gently lowered onto blocking and made fast to the waiting low-boy trailer. MCC PRR 40 Lift 1 Nwfld 7-13-2013 SPH

MCC PRR 41 Lift 2 Nwfld 7-13-2013 SPH MCC PRR 42 Trailer Nwfld 7-13-2013 SPH

MCC PRR 43 Blocking Nwfld 7-13-2013 SPH MCC PRR 44 Cupola Nwfld 7-13-2013 SPH

 MCC PRR 45 Cabin Car Erie Frame 1 Nwfld 7-10-2013 SPH

MCC PRR 46 Cabin Car Erie Burn Nwfld 7-10-2013 SPH
Next, the Klemchalk's Erie caboose "skeleton" frame was moved in alongside the crane and Supor's men began attaching the lifting cables to the 5-ton frame. Meanwhile, a welder crouched under the frame as he burned off a number of heavy-duty bolts that were securing the caboose frame to its temporary roadway wheels. At 10:45 AM, the Erie frame was lifted into the air, swung over the NYS&W tracks, and within two minutes, it was successfully lowered onto the waiting wheelsets. Finally, the cupola for the Erie caboose was then lifted, lowered and secured in place...completing this very unique transfer of historic railcars originating from the same time period.

MCC PRR 47 Cabin Car Erie Lift 1 Nwfld 7-10-2013 SPH MCC PRR 48 Cabin Car Erie Lift 2 Nwfld 7-10-2013 SPH

MCC PRR 49 Cabin Car Erie Cupola Nwfld 7-10-2013 SPH

At 11:21 AM the PRR cabin car left Newfoundland enroute to Whippany via Route 23 South, Route 287 South and onto Route 10 East to the Museum site. At exactly 12 Noon on July 10th, No. 981590 had finally arrived back home at Whippany. MCC PRR 50 Cabin Car leaving Nwfld 7-10-2013 SPH

MCC PRR 51 Cabin Car Rt. 10 Whippany 7-10-2013 SPH MCC PRR 52 Cabin Car at WRyM 7-10-2013 SPH

MCC PRR 53 Lift 1 Whippany 7-10-2013 SPH MCC PRR 54 Lift 2 Whippany 7-10-2013 SPH

A well-deserved lunch break was taken by all, and soon, after once again setting up the crane, the entire process was done in reverse order with the cabin car being set on its display track at 2:03 PM...the cupola back in place as the PRR intended.

MCC PRR 55 Cupola 1 Whippany 7-10-2013 SPH MCC PRR 56 Cupola 2 Whippany 7-10-2013 SPH

Start to finish, and with a bit of time off for lunch, the whole process took about 5 hours. It was a hot, muggy, sweaty day, but Supor's men enjoy their jobs and they make things look so much easier than they really are. They are an amazing group of professionals. Supor 2 7-10-2013 SPH 

Supor 3 7-10-2013 SPH

Supor 4 7-10-2013 SPH Supor 5 7-10-2013 SPH

Supor 6 7-10-2013 SPH Supor 7 7-10-2013 SPH

Supor 8 7-10-2013 SPH

The Whippany Railway Museum extends its sincere Thanks and appreciation to the Klemchalk Family for their wonderful donation of this very rare and historic railcar to the Museum's collection.

A most grateful and humble tip of the hat, and a BIG round of applause goes not only to Joe Supor for being so generous with his company resources, but also to his outstanding professionals: Dave Becker, Murphy Triano, and the rigging team of Ronnie Leonard, Phil Rodino, crane operator Mike Bucher and Kenny Stefanik.

Thanks also to the New York, Susquehanna & Western Railway who provided the Museum with the permit to access their property in order for the cabin car to be lifted across their very active right-of-way. It turns out that the NYS&W Track Foreman for the day, Tom Charette knew a number of people who had been involved with the Morris County Central, as well as our friends at the New York, Susquehanna & Western Technical & Historical Society.

MCC PRR 57 Whippany 7-10-2013 SPH

MCC Drumhead 7-23-1966 MB
Original MCC Drumhead / Tailsign July 23, 1966
Now that the cabin car is back home in Whippany, the first order of business will be to order new siding for the entire car. Work will progress as time and funding permits. The eventual paint scheme will be PRR, with the black-painted cupola. There will be a nod or two to the car's MCC heritage as well, a bit later down the road.
The cabin car is now oriented in the same direction it was when it operated on Morris County Central trains at Whippany from 1965 until it was taken out of service in 1970. MCC PRR 8C Cabin Car 7-16-1966 MB crop
No. 981590 at Whippany, July 16, 1966
MCC PRR 11B Cabin Car Whippany c-1968
No. 981590, Whippany circa-1968

At the close of an eventful July 10, 2013, Morristown & Erie signal maintainer (and MCC veteran) Paul Yanosik stopped at the Museum site in Whippany. As he looked at the cabin car with so many memories from years gone by, Paul made a very appropriate comment: "All the children are coming back home."

Yes indeed...

MCC PRR 58 Whippany 7-12-2013 SPH