The Red Caboose Page
My classmate, Bob Klingbeils’, dad was the section foreman in Altoona yards and every Summer the
railroad had extra help to work on the section so Bob and I were lucky enough to get a job there when we were 16
years old. There was a section house that we reported to every morning about 8 a.m. We did various jobs, from
using big sickles for cutting grass to replacing worn out creosote ties. Replacing the ties required removing steel
plates by pulling out spikes on each side of the rail then removing the old tie from under the rail, dropping large
gravel stones in the hole around the new tie and using a spade to tamp rocks under the tie to ensure that it was tight
against the rail then driving the spikes through the steel plates to hold the rail in place. We usually worked in hot,
sunny weather in groups of men, many who chewed snuff requiring spitting often. We had one water jug to drink
out of, the non-chewers and the snuff chewers. I vowed I would not drink out of the same jug as the chewers but the
heat got to me and I did.
Al Klingbeil was our boss (a great guy) and one of the old time workers was Bill Hempelman…who
smoked a pipe that was always in his mouth and after some years of use it made flat groves in his lips. The Fall
Creek section crew came up to Altoona one hot July day to remove the corn from a boxcar that had broken down
and we were pressed into service to help do the job. The door to the broken down car was open with grain doors
nailed across the door to about six feet high. A metal chute was placed from the broken down car to the open door
of the good boxcar door across several grain doors about three feet high. The foreman from Fall Creek, named
Wilhelm, gave us scoop shovels and we climbed into the cars with the corn and started shoveling corn out and down
the chute. Of course our foreman, knowing we were young and inexperienced informed us that the speed record for
a boxcar transfer was four hours, hence we had something to shoot for even though it was 90degrees in the top of the
corn loaded car. We got the job done, but no record.
In the late 1940’s I was able to gain employment at the Roundhouse, which was a huge round building
located between the Depot and Lake Road on the north side of the tracks. The main purpose of the building was to
house steam engines that came from Minneapolis in the West through Spooner or Superior or from Marshfield,
Adams or Elroy in the East. Once they arrived in Altoona, they left the main rail yard and came down a spur track,
first coming to a cinder pit area where the hot coals and clinkers were removed from the firebox area of the engine.
Rheinhold Schlewitz was in charge of the area and I had the privilege to help him on many occasions. When the
engine was stopped with the firebox over the cinder pit we used a huge lever to fit on a rod that shook the grates so
the fire and clinkers fell out into the cinder pit below the firebox. There was always an engineer on duty called a
“hostler” and his job was to run the engine back to a round table located like the hub of a wheel in the center space
of the Roundhouse. The hostler helper lined up the round table tracks with the tracks the engine was on and the
hostler backed the engine onto the round table where it was balanced on a pivot point in the middle. The helper then
moved the round table around to the spur where the engine would go to be serviced before ordering it back out on a
run again. The table was run by an electric motor and worked nicely when the engine was balanced. When lined up
the engine was moved into the spur and stopped when the smoke stack was lined up with the smoke stack in the
Roundhouse roof so any smoke from the engine would rise or be blown out of the round house into the air.
On several occasions the engine was not stopped in time and hit the back of the Roundhouse wall causing
the brick wall to collapse.
The day hostler for years was Mayor Fred Gloede the Altoona Mayor for many years and as nice a
gentleman as you could ever meet.
MACHINIST AND BOILERMAKER
The engine’s boiler was now inspected to see that no leaks were in the boiler walls. Al Boetcher worked
the night shift for years, going inside the boiler through the firebox door to check for leaks and then to the pit under
the engine to look up and inspect the underside of the firebox and boiler for leaks. Once he was satisfied, he gave
the okay for its release to go on the road again.
At the same time the boiler was being inspected, the mechanics were greasing and adjusting moving parts
of the wheels and power rods from the steam cylinders to the wheels. When all appeared to meet inspection, the
engine was off for service again. Newell Peltier, Ernie Steuding and others worked the 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. shift for
many years at the mechanics job. Any abnormalities noticed by the engine crew that brought the engine in off its