The tens of thousands of workers who contributed their labor to the creation of the American railroad network probably did not foresee the long term changes their collective efforts would bring to our country. Truthfully, there probably were very few, if any, Americans alive during those early days of railroading who could have predicted the impact they would have on our way of life. The following activities are designed to encourage students to look more closely at the “railroad era” and to express themselves on issues related to both the building of the railroad and the preservation of its heritage.
Activity 1: A Letter Home
Imagine that you are a railroad worker during the 1850’s. Select a job. It can be one of those mentioned above or one that you are familiar with from another source. Write a letter to your family (either in the “old country” or in some distant location within the United States). Describe your job, tell them about where you live, and other aspects of your life as it relates to working in the rail industry. Your letter should include things that you like about life as a railroader and any complaints you may have about your working or living conditions.
Activity 2: What ever happened to the Caboose?
The caboose was the home away from home for many thousands of freight train crew members over many decades. Following the Civil War, they were standard equipment for freight trains everywhere. Look at a freight train today, you will not see a caboose bringing up the rear as it passes by. By the early 1990’s they had all but disappeared as they were replaced by electronic devices and computer technology that do all the tasks that were accomplished by train crews, most of which were related to train safety. Try to find a caboose in your community, they are out there. Visit a local museum and ask about the history of the caboose, or look for them in use as a visitor’s center, or even a hot dog stand! Go to the internet, one website is arches.org; it will provide links to many other sites that advertise cabooses being used in many different ways.
Make a list of as many different examples of the caboose in use today. Create a poster or graphic display that focuses on the history of the caboose or on the many uses to which they are put today. The caboose of days gone by was the mobile office that created a bond between the crewmen who often risked their lives to keep others from harm. Their heritage is worth preserving!