Freight Car Friday – B&O’s I-12 Caboose

27 12 2013

A caboose seems just the right way to bring the year to a close on Freight Car Friday. This year we take a look at one of the most iconic of these crummies, the B&O’s distinctive I-12 “Wagontop.”

In an era where railroads were often fiercely independent, it was not uncommon to see in-house designs for equipment. This was especially true for cabooses. On the Baltimore and Ohio, these unique designs were born out of more than just corporate pride – it was a matter of economic survival in the Great Depression.

The Wagontop Design


C-2445 has retired to Grafton, WV – a town as closely associated with the B&O as the “Wagontop” itself.

Amid the troubled years of the Great Depression, the B&O was faced with many problems. Two of the most pressing were a need for new freight cars (but with little funds for new purchases) and a work force in need of meaningful labor. The B&O could not afford to keep idle hands on the job, but at the same time did not want to see a valued labor pool sent home – nor morale of the workers retained drop any lower.

In 1934 the B&O’s Chief Mechanical Officer, John Tatum, devised a new car design that could solve both of these problems. Tatum’s design utilized the frames of old wood boxcars as a starting point. Steel support hoops – shaped in an upside down “U” were attached to the frame. Steel sheets were then attached to the sides of these hoops to form the sides and roof. This gave the cars a look similar to the classic covered wagon and the “Wagontop” was born.

The first experiments were with boxcars. Covered hoppers followed soon after. Through the remainder of the Depression, the B&O turned out more than 4000 Wagontop cars in its own car shops. The cars not only kept the workers employed, they could be built for less than the cost of new equipment. And the design itself proved quite valid – as durable as it was distinctive.

The I-12 Caboose

Following on the success of these revenue cars, the B&O applied the same design and construction principles to a new caboose. The first prototype cabooses were classed I-5. Shortly thereafter, construction began on a fleet of 100 similar I-12 cabooses in the Keyser, WV shops. These were completed in 1941. An additional run of 25 came by 1945.

B&O Caboose

The B&O’s “wagontop” cars featured bay-windows long before they became popular on other roads.

In addition to the distinctive Wagontop construction, these cars employed another design feature that was relatively novel for the time, the bay-window. While not the first examples of bay-windows being used on the side of the caboose, the B&O’s were the first to do so on a large scale. The company liked them so much that they became the standard on the line for future orders as well. It would not be until the 1960s that other roads took to the bay-window in a big way.

The lower height afforded by the lack of a cupola was accentuated by the short length of the I-12 as well. At only 30 feet in length, the I-12 was petite compared to standards on other roads. While they were short, they were also quite rugged. Their sturdy construction made them the caboose of choice in mountains where pusher locomotives were coupled to the rear of the train. This eliminated the need to put the caboose behind the locomotives or have the crew ride in the cab.


One of the more noticeable (and regrettable) additions to many of the I-12s later in their careers were rock guards on the windows.

Many of the venerable cars lasted well into the Chessie era. Unlike the early cupola-equipped cars of other roads, the view from the innovative I-12 was never compromised by new high-cube boxcars. While some of the details and crew comforts were upgraded (like the switch from coal to oil heat) the iconic look of the cabooses remained relatively unchanged over more than 40 years of service.

Today many of these classic cars have been preserved in museums and parks all across the former B&O territory. Lionel has reproduced this car as well and it will look right at home behind an EM-1, a set of Sharks, or even an SD40! It’s just one of many reasons why its hard not to love the B&O.

New Product Spotlight – SD40-2 Diesels

1 07 2013

The best-selling locomotive of all time. Anyone who has spent any time beside the rails from the 1970s to today would have no trouble believing the SD40-2’s rightful claim to that title.


6-38918 Chessie System

The SD40 was overshadowed in the trade press by the more powerful SD45 when EMD introduced the locomotives in 1965. But crankshaft problems and high fuel consumption in the midst of rapidly rising oil prices caused many railroads to quickly reconsider the priorities of horsepower over efficiency. Soon the “mid-size” SD40 was gaining ground and finding buyers all across North America.

When EMD introduced it’s upgraded “-2” electrical package in 1972, the SD40 became even more attractive. The 3,000 horsepower road engine was just the right size for nearly every task. Its efficient and reliable operation sealed the deal.


6-38924 B&O

In order to accommodate the new HT-C trucks without compromising the space for the fuel tank, EMD used a longer frame for the SD40-2. The result was a pair of very large “porches” that gave the SD40-2 a distinctive look. When EMD modified the radiator air intakes for the “Tunnel Motor” SD40T-2, most of the back porch was eliminated. We’ve included this variation on our Union Pacific model.


6-38936 Union Pacific (SD40T-2)

In total, EMD sold 3,982 SD40-2s between 1972 and 1989. A testament to the locomotive’s reliability,  most are still in service today. Many railroads have rebuilt their SD40-2 fleets as opposed to selling or trading them. Most of those that have been sold have gone to leasing companies which loan the locomotives back to the railroads when traffic demands are high. Other locomotives like SD45s and SD50s have been rebuilt so that, at least internally, they are identical to the SD40-2.

Found on railroads coast-to-coast (and beyond), Lionel is proud to add five new roadnames to our growing family of SD40-2s. All of the models feature:

  • LEGACY Control – also capable of running on TMCC or Conventional


    6-38933 Conrail

  • Odyssey II Speed Control
  • LEGACY RailSounds including
    • CrewTalk and TowerCom dialog
    • 6 Railroad speeds
    • 8 Diesel RPM levels
    • LEGACY Quilling horn
    • Single hit or continuous mechanical bell
    • Sequence control provides sounds and dialog for an entire trip around your layout
    • Current speed and fuel dialog and refueling sounds
  • ElectroCouplers on front and rear
  • Dual motors with flywheels
  • Refined Transformer Control with lower starting speeds
  • Traction Tires
  • Fan-driven smoke unit with adjustable output
  • Directional lighting including LED headlights
  • Working Marker Lights
  • Illuminated number boards
  • Lighted and detailed cab interior with figures
  • Operating Ditch Lights
  • Metal frame
  • Die-cast metal trucks, fuel tank and pilots
  • O-31 minimum curve

Two LEGACY powered and one non-powered locomotive are available for each roadname allowing you to recreate a typical 3-unit consist. These locomotives also frequently wandered from one railroad to another, so mixing some of your favorites will look perfectly prototypical.

Non-Powered locomotives feature:


6-38939 Norfolk Southern

  • Die-cast metal trucks, pilot and fuel tank
  • Select separately applied details
  • Magnetic couplers

In addition to the five new roadnames pictured here, the SD40-2s are also available decorated for the Norfolk and Western, Missouri Kansas and Texas, Burlington Northern, Frisco, Chicago and Northwestern and CSX. See our 2013 Catalog for more images.

From sea to shining sea, the SD40-2 is the perfect power for anybody who enjoys the trains of the 1970s to today. See your local dealer to add this best-seller to your roster.