The Commonwealth of Virginia has a long and rich railroad history, and artefacts of this transportation heritage can be seen on public display in a number of locations throughout Virginia and West Virginia.
In 2010, the Virginia General Assembly established the state's Rail Heritage Region, which includes  Alleghany, Amherst, Bedford, Botetourt, Campbell and Roanoke Counties as well as the Cities of Bedford, Covington, Lynchburg, Roanoke and Salem together with the towns in the region.
Historically, this part of Virginia was home to the largest concentration of rail facilities in the state, such as:

•          the famous shops of the Norfolk and Western Railway in Roanoke
•          the shops and yards of the Chesapeake and Ohio at Clifton Forge
•          the Southern Railway facilities at Monroe near Lynchburg
•          and the facilities of the Virginian Railway in Roanoke.


It is therefore no surprise that there are numerous rail heritage museums, sites, and societies to be found in this region. One specific reminder of the rich railroad heritage are the numerous cabooses on static display. Mostly donated by the N&W to local cities and towns, they can today be found close to railroad facilities (e.g. the former depot in Abingdon), in public parks (e.g. Green Hill Park in Salem) or at a rails to trails locations (e.g. at the Powell River Trailhead in Appalachia).


Abingdon VA, 26 September 2017

  Bluefield (WV) City Park even hosts a static exhibit of an entire short train, standing only a few feet from the Virginia state line (and just a few yards from another caboose on display) and made up of N&W 2-8-0 "Consolidation" G1 #7, a N&W H-9 open hopper and N&W C-9P Caboose #557761 (built in 1954 as Nickel Plate #761).  

Bluefield City Park WV, 19 October 2016

These red cabooses (mostly lettered for the N&W using the "block white NW" lettering scheme used by the railroad from 1971 to 1981 and representingt a large variety of different model types) simply cry out to be included in a layout loosely based on the area; not only do they make for a colourful little scenic item but they also serve as immediate geographical and period "markers". That being said, I have yet to actually see this little cameo feature on a model railroad layout of any scale, although I'm certain it's already been done multiple times.

There are actually a number of different plastic injection models of cabooses available in Z Scale, but I knew right away that my caboose on display would have to be a generic representation rather than an exact replica (in other words: a classic case of theatrical layout design). Two models have been around since the early 1980s (Märklin's riveted steel caboose with off-center cupola and Micro-Trains' steel center cupola caboose) and two were introduced by AZL in 2011 (C-30-5 bay window caboose) and 2015 (wide vision caboose); the latter even have detail adjustements according to the actual railroad depicted. My first thought therefore was to go for AZL's N&W bay window caboose model, which would have been a simple plop-down on a short piece of track. However, two things made me do otherwise: first, the vast majority of cabooses on display in Virginia are of the cupola type (rather than the bay window type), and most of them carry the "block white NW" logo (AZL's bay window has the "hamburger N&W" logo and the N&W cupola model is N&W blue).

Märklin's Z Scale caboose seems to be based on a Santa Fe Ce-1 prototype and is actually quite a nice model with a high quality finish and many intricate details such as the etched brass ladders and railings. I had bought a few of them back in the 1990s, including a NYC version (Märklin #8680) which could pass as a reasonable representation of a NYC "standard" caboose. More importantly for my project, it sports a red paint scheme close enough to the N&W colours I was looking for. This would enable me to go for the easy "conversion job" I had in mind and keep the model's factory finish minus its NYC logo and number.

    Getting rid of the NYC logo and number without damaging the paintwork on the model (nor the plastic model itself) was comparatively easy; some gentle rubbing with a Q-tip soaked in methylated spirit did the job in just a few minutes.
    Next, I separated the body shell from the underframe and disposed of the unsightly Märklin couplings.

These are also the reason why the bogies on most Märklin Z Scale models are set back noticeably further than what would be prototypical; the result is rather glaring and looks completely off on most of Märklin's own range of US models, but it's slightly less of a problem with this caboose.

  Decals for Z Scale are few and far between, so there are basically two options available: either make them yourself or use N Scale decals which more or less fit.

In this case, because I needed white lettering (which makes the DIY method more complicated as most printers don't print white) I opted for a set of N&W "block white" caboose decals from Walthers; although N Scale, the smaller size "NW" logos seemed about right, and so did the (fictional) numbering.

The bogies on this 1980s Märklin model are oversized, but just replacing the coarse metal wheels with black plastic wheels from Micro-Trains is enough to improve the visuals to the point where I opted out of some major surgery to the metal underframe (which would be necessary if fitting Micro-Trains bogies).
Most of the 1:1 scale cabooses are put on display on a short stretch of track which is slightly longer than the caboose itself and usually slightly elevated.
Rokuhan's 55mm long straight track (R024) is a perfect fit, glued down on a thin piece of plywood. Discarding the two connectors, the rails were painted with Woodland Scenics track painter pens in "rusty rail" and "steel rail" colours before carefully applying Woddland Scenics fine grey ballast (B74) - these display areas are usually fairly neat even if the caboose itself may show signs of wear and tear from the weather.  
  Addings some semi-worn yellow warning paint (which, like a lot of things in Z Scale, looks quite good from normal viewing distance but rather terrible in close-up pictures) and sealing it all with clear matt varnish, the caboose is ready to permanently go onto its short stretch of track.

Glueing down the caboose on the Rokuhan track was rehearsed with several dry runs, as I didn't want any wheels in permanently derailed position. After adding just a little superglue onto the top of the rails, the caboose was carefully rolled onto the track.

This little cameo scenic item is now ready to be made a part of a larger scenic setting.

Plan B

If you don't have access to transfers (or don't care to wrestle with any) but would still like a retired caboose on display somewhere on your layout, here's a perfectly prototypical plan B - just use the caboose without any markings at all.


  It's the same caboose on Depot Square in Abingdon Va, but in October 2018 it was given a repaint by the volunteer group taking care of the display. As a result, the caboose lost its NW logo for a short while.

A nice little cameo would be to include some Preiser figures representing volunteers at work...



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All images unless noted are (c) Adrian Wymann


page created 28 July 2018
last updated 31 July 2021