Story - Caboose Identification
By Roger Kirkpatrick
There are a number of ways to identify the railroad from which a caboose originated. If the caboose has lettering on it for a railroad that used that style caboose it is probable the caboose is from that road but always use caution in accepting the markings as correct. Cabooses are painted into many schemes including those of railroads on which they did not run. For example, L&N 6284 is repainted into "ATSF 999284" at Shawnee, OK. An old paint job and/or trucks from the same railroad as the markings are good signs that the markings are correct.
Places to check for letters and numbers that might identify the car include the center sill (main beam), cast into the truck frames, and/or stenciled on truck cross frames or axles. If the ACI panel, the colorful UPC style bar code, is present and readable check the number on that. The car number is on the left side and reads up for 6 or fewer numbers to the word "STOP". It would be best to try this method on a car or two of known number to be sure you understand how this works.
If the caboose has no visible markings on the sides, ends above or adjacent to the door, roof ends, cupola, frame, or trucks, the number might be found inside the car above the doors or desk or in the bay or cupola. Also look in the closets and cabinets for safety rules or other notices that may bear the car number. Older cars may have the road number under cushions or on other appliances as repaired equipment used to be returned to the same caboose it came from.
If no markings of any kind are found it is possible that the painted over markings will show through the new paint when viewed at a certain angle or under certain lighting conditions.
If all else fails check to see if photos of the car were taken before the repainting took place. Owners will often have shots of the caboose being loaded at the railhead for movement to their site and being put in place on their property which may show the original letters and numbers. Another source of "before" photos would be local railfans or, for a fairly recent placement, the local newspaper.
Good luck with your caboose identifications!