Monday, March 5, 2018

Winter Travel by Caboose

Heated caboose on sleigh runners labelled "Saskatoon Beer", 1900-1909. Source:
Western Development Museum Curatorial Centre, Saskatoon, SK

Did the above image grab your attention? It sure caught mine. I was researching images of winter transportation, such as school bus sleighs in heavy snow zones, when I happened upon what I first thought was an early party bus. Considering it is heated by a stove and shows two women and a man in well-dressed clothing, it seemed to be the right setting. However, further research seems to indicate that the heated caboose in this 1900-1909 photograph was actually used to transport beer from Saskatoon Brewing Company to Saskatchewan's thirsty bars, and not the people who would drink it.

The word caboose intrigued me as I'd only heard it referred to as the back end of a train, but when I searched for winter caboose I found an exhibit for 100 Years of Transportation in Lanigan and District at virtualmuseum.caThanks to the Lanigan & District Heritage Centre for granting permission to show them here. 

Home-made Winter Caboose, ca 1940. Courtesy of the Lanigan & District Heritage Centre, Lanigan, SK

The common denominator of a caboose is the presence of a small stove. In the accompanying text, Marion Barclay writes, "...They were quite comfortable and warm. You plodded along and you never got there very fast. It was a little better than walking."

I discovered that a caboose was often invented and built by a farmer for any winter travel whether it was for school use, church, shopping, or visiting.

Closed-In Rig, circa. 1930. Courtesy of the Lanigan & District Heritage Centre, Lanigan, SK

One prairie province over to the left, Alberta was using the same type of caboose for winter travel. Sometimes they would take an old car or buggy topper and put it on a wooden sleigh bottom - anything to stop the wind and keep the heat inside.

Go-devil sleigh, Dorothy area, Alberta, ca. 1930s. Courtesy of Glenbow Archives, Calgary, AB

Heading back into Saskatchewan, we see how a Catholic priest completed his parish circuit during the prairie winter. 

Father Thomas J. Ash near Meacham, Saskatchewan, n.d. Courtesy of Glenbow Archives, Calgary, AB

You can see the smoke stack in some of the photographs, such as this one from the Sask History Online site with the Western Development Museum (WDM) which shows two women waving from the inside. A note written across the top says, "One like this tipped over with mom inside." 

"One like this tipped over with mom inside", 1930-1939. Courtesy of the Western Development Museum Curatorial Centre, Saskatoon, SK

Also with the WDM we have this image of a caboose showing a man and children with lunch pails. It doesn't say if they were going to school, work, or whatever, but it looks like they would be gone for the day.

The rig we used for winter travel ‘47. Courtesy of the Western Development Museum Curatorial Centre, Saskatoon, SK

Travelling east to the prairie province of Manitoba we find what they called an "Early Bombadier [sic] type bus" used to ferry miners to the Flin Flon mines. I'm fairly sure they meant a Bombardier, although as an anglophone, I remember calling it a "bombadeer" in my younger days as well.

Early bombadier type bus, Manitoba. Ca. 1930s. Courtesy of Glenbow Archives, Calgary, AB

In the 1950s, the Lanigan School Unit purchased a Bombardier for getting students to and from school, and by that time the winter caboose had started to look like the modern version we know today.

Lanigan School Unit No. 40, 1950-1960. Courtesy of the Lanigan & District Heritage Centre, Lanigan, SK

As you've noticed, all of the above images are from the Canadian prairies, but not for want of looking. When I crossed the Manitoba border into Minnesota, however, I found this one in the fonds of the Beltrami Island reforestation project...

This cabin was mounted on sleigh last winter to transport four children to and from school. July 1936. Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.

The writeup for the Beltrami Island one says, "This cabin was mounted on sleigh last winter to transport four children to and from school. A stove was kept inside to protect them from the severe cold. The children only missed one day of school the entire winter. Used to leave the house at 6:30 a.m. so as to get to school by 8:30 a.m."

There should be more of these types of images in photo albums and museums all across the snow belt of America and I'd love to show them here as well. If you know of any pre 1950 images like the ones above please let me know, either here in the comments or through the Contact page of my website.

Do you have a preference for winter travel when all of the above images are taken into consideration?


Anita Mae Draper's historical romances are written under the western skies of the Saskatchewan prairie where her love of research and genealogy yield fascinating truths that layer her stories with rich historical details.  Anita's short story, Here We Come A-Wassailing, was a finalist for the Word Guild's 2015 Word Awards. Her novellas are included in Austen in Austin Volume 1, The American Heiress Brides Collection, and The Secret Admirer Romance Collection. Readers can check out Anita's Pinterest boards for a visual idea of her stories to enrich their reading experience.  Discover more at:


  1. Interesting post and pictures of past travel modes during the winter. Thank you for this informative history. Blessings.

    1. Thanks for visiting, Marilyn. Praying your day is full of light.

  2. Interesting! Any of the covered sleigh ideas seem like a good idea, unless they WERE prone to tipovers! Thanks for your research!

    1. Hi, Connie. I'm not sure any mode of travel was safe back then. One of our family letters from 1912 tells of an upset in a buggy on a flat road. I imagine riding over uneven snow drifts would cause the vehicle to sway, too. And of course, the speed would matter. Both our letter and this image doesn't mention the speed they were travelling. Interesting. :o

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing. :)

  3. What a fun post! I love discovering new historical facts like this. It's sort of like finding a new vein of gold. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thank you for stopping by, Barbara. I love research, especially old pics, and appreciate you for stopping by and letting me know you like them too. :)

  4. People are so resourceful. I love the way the people in the pictures found ways to stay warm in cold weather. Thanks for the interesting post!

    1. Great point, Vickie. The prairies were settled by very resourceful people on both sides of the border, and many of those families still live on those farms and ranches. I love driving past farms and seeing the "centennial" and "generational" farm signs which show that those people had the qualities needed to stick it out.

      Thanks for sharing. :)

  5. This is very interesting. I enjoyed reading this post.