How To Prototype Railroads Model a merger-era caboose fleet

Model a merger-era caboose fleet

By Cody Grivno | June 2, 2023

Burlington Northern’s roster was filled with many railroad-built cars

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When the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy; Great Northern; Northern Pacific; and Spokane, Portland & Seattle merged to create the Burlington Northern on March 2, 1970, the new railroad had an interesting fleet of cabooses. While there were plenty of cars built by commercial builders, mainly International Car Co., BN’s fleet was also filled with cabooses (or waycars, in CB&Q speak) constructed at the predecessor roads’ shops. Locations included Aurora, Ill., and Lincoln, Neb., on the CB&Q; St. Cloud, Minn., on the GN; and Brainerd, Minn., on the NP. When the St. Louis-San Francisco (Frisco) joined the BN on Nov. 21, 1980, it brought a new mix of commercial and shop-built cabooses to the roster. So how do you model a merger-era caboose fleet?

For many years, kitbashing and scratchbuilding were the two primary ways to add railroad-built cars to your HO scale BN caboose fleet. Brass models have been imported over the years, but they’re not always easy to find on the secondary market and they can sell for premium prices.

In the past two decades, the number of HO scale models based on railroad-built cabooses has increased. Mass-produced plastic models, laser-cut wood kits, and cast-resin kits have made it easier than ever to model BN’s caboose fleet during the railroad’s first decade.

Want to learn more about the BN? Check out these articles:


Color photo of wood offset-cupola caboose.
Burlington Northern 11028, stenciled “Glasgow Train Service,” was built in May 1886 as Burlington & Missouri River 50. When it became part of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy fleet, it was renumbered 14146. The caboose was destroyed in November 1973. Jim Hediger collection

Burlington Northern 11028, part of the railroad’s 11007 through 11086 series, was among the oldest waycars in the fleet at the time of the merger. The car was built in May 1886 in Plattsmouth, Neb., as Burlington & Missouri River 50. The car later became part of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy NE-1 class and was renumbered 14146. In December 1970 the double-sheathed waycar was repainted Cascade Green with yellow ends and renumbered 11028. It was destroyed in November 1973.

American Model Builders offers a three-window waycar in HO scale as item 866. The laser-cut wood kit includes Grandt Line turnbuckles, a white metal smokejack, and resin platform steps. The kit does not include trucks, couplers, end ladders, or decals.

Q Connection produces two different detail kits for the American Model Builders waycar. The base kit includes Athearn trucks, Kadee wheelsets and couplers, a smokejack, and a toilet vent. The craftsman kit contains 3-D printed trucks with InterMountain wheelsets, etched-brass ladders, Kadee couplers, a smokejack, and a toilet vent. Both kits are currently listed as out of stock, but they may be available on the secondary market.


Color photo of steel offset-cupola caboose.
Burlington Northern 11462 was photographed between assignments in 1980. The waycar was built in March 1930 at the CB&Q shops in Aurora, Ill. Jim Hediger collection

In addition to wood waycars, the CB&Q also constructed its own steel cars. Burlington Northern 11462 was built at the CB&Q’s Aurora, Ill., shops in March 1930 as 13517. The 30-foot class NE-10 cars (CB&Q 13500 through 13524, BN 11445 through 11469) were the last waycars produced at the CB&Q’s suburban Chicago shops. To learn more about CB&Q waycars, read The Burlington Waycars by Randall R. Danniel and Marian L. Reis with Joseph R. Douda (Mile Post 206 Publishing Inc., 2012).

Q Connection produces a cast-resin kit of the class NE-10 waycar in HO scale. The model is currently sold out. Athearn offered BN offset-cupola cabooses in three numbers from the 11445 through 11469 series. The model is sold out at the manufacturer, but it may be available at brick-and-mortar and online retailers. The Athearn model is based on an Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe prototype, so the details don’t follow those of the CB&Q prototype.


Color photo of transfer caboose.
Burlington Northern 11474 is a product of the Great Northern shops in St. Cloud, Minn. The transfer caboose was built using the trucks and underframe of a Baldwin VO-1000 diesel locomotive. John C. Benson photo

The trucks should give you a clue to the history of this transfer caboose. Burlington Northern 11474 started life as Great Northern Baldwin VO-1000 137. It was one of four transfer cabooses built by the GN at its St. Cloud, Minn., shops in 1964. The cars were originally numbered GN X-177 through X-180. In March 1970, one month before the merger, the cabooses were renumbered X-322 through X-325. On the BN, the four transfer cabooses were numbered 11471 through 11474. For additional information, photos, and prototype drawings of these transfer cabooses, see Reference Sheet 216 from the Great Northern Railway Historical Society.

HO scale brass models were offered by Overland Models/Ajin in the early 1980s. Stand-in models decorated as BN 11474, GN X-177, and GN X-178 were offered in HO and N scales by Bluford Shops.


Color photo of steel caboose with streamlined offset cupola.
Burlington Northern 10413 is another graduate of the CB&Q shops. The 30-foot steel waycar was built at the Havelock Shops in Lincoln, Neb., as CB&Q 13547 in September 1954. Jim Hediger collection

Burlington Northern 10413, part of the railroad’s 10391 through 10425 series, is another product of the CB&Q shops. The 30-foot steel waycars were produced at the Havelock Shops in Lincoln, Neb., between May and November 1954. The NE-12 waycars were numbered 13525 through 13559.

A second batch of waycars, 13560 through 13589 (BN 10331 through 10360), was built between August and December 1960 and assigned to the NE-12A class. The difference between the two groups was the brand of brake release valve (Westinghouse on the NE-12 and Sloan Valve Co. on the NE-12A).

Bachmann Trains has offered this waycar in its HO scale line for many years. A model decorated as BN 10420 is coming soon (item 14005). In addition, Q Connection produces a flush-fit window kit for the Bachmann model.


Color photo of offset-cupola caboose in yard.
Burlington Northern 11366 was serving out its final years in yard service. The welded-side caboose was built at Northern Pacific’s Brainerd, Minn., shops in May 1951. Jim Hediger collection

Northern Pacific contributed an assortment of wood and steel cabooses to the BN fleet. Burlington Northern 11366 (11332 through 11380) was built at the NP’s Brainerd, Minn., shop in 1951 as 1034 (1000 through 1049, later 10000 through 10049). In addition to the 50 NP cabooses, 12 cars were also built for the Spokane, Portland & Seattle as its 860 through 871. For more on the 1000-series and other NP steel cabooses, read the Summer 1988 issue of The Mainstreeter from the Northern Pacific Railway Historical Association.

Scratchbuilding is probably your best bet for NP 1000-series cabooses. Brass models have been offered by Overland Models Inc. and The North Bank Line.

To learn more about the BN caboose fleet, read Burlington Northern Railroad Cabooses, 1970-1995 by Robert C. Del Grosso (Great Northern Pacific Publications, 2006). Additional information on cabooses can be found in the Guide to North American Cabooses by Carl R. Byron with Don Heimburger.








One thought on “Model a merger-era caboose fleet

  1. Nice article Cody! Several years ago, I found an undecorated brass model of 11474 at a local hobby shop. I bought it and proceeded to look for pictures. I couldn’t find great pictures of it that showed me the color of the deck. And I found out that a museum in British Columbia has that caboose. I emailed them, but they took so long to respond that I went ahead and guessed and painted the caboose. It looks like I guessed correctly. And, I have my own copy of 11474.

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