Jewish World Review July 29, 2003 / 29 Tamuz, 5763

Jeff Elder

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Consumer Reports

Little red caboose rolling outta sight; From my 'I'll be a monkey's uncle' file | Q: What do cabooses do? - Stephen V. Gilmore

A: Well, ours just keeps getting bigger and Jennifer Lopez's keeps getting more attention. But we think the caboose you mean, Stephen, is disappearing from the American freight train.

In the past, freight conductors and rear brakemen would do their paperwork, watch for safety problems and cook meals inside cabooses. Riding in cabooses also helped railroad workers make track switches, set the trains' brakes in emergencies, and signal when their trains were stopped on the tracks.

But cabooses are disappearing, mostly because they're expensive to maintain.

Since crew members ride inside, cabooses must have special safety glass. Electrical needs, kitchen costs, and a host of other maintenance expenses add up. And cabooses don't do anything for the railroad's bottom line: They don't carry freight.

There have been significant crew reductions on American railways in the past 15 years, and remaining crew members can easily be accommodated in new, larger cabs in the front of the trains.

Many of the old duties accomplished in cabooses - such as making switches and signaling during emergencies - can now be accomplished electronically or from other parts of trains.

A last knock on cabooses was the knocks in cabooses. As the last car of the train, they were a bumpy place to ride. Some of the railroads' most frequent work-related injuries happened in them.

And so, the little red caboose, once a mainstay on the American horizon, is sashaying away


We were thinking about trains the whole time, we swear.

SOURCE: the National Railway Historical Society


Folks send me stuff they know, little knuggets of knowledge. Mind you, nobody will tell me how to make a million bucks just by eatin' barbecue and watchin' baseball. I keep waitin' on that info. Maybe a Powerball winner will gimme a grant.

But I like the quirky factoids people do send me. Today I'm gonna bust out some stuff from my file labeled "WELL, I'LL BE A MONKEY'S UNCLE!" Each item is followed by the name of the reader who sent it.

  • The model for artist Sandro Botticelli's "The Birth of Venus" (sometimes called "Venus on the Half-Shell") was the sister of the man for whom our continent is named, Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci. - Bev Gilman

  • The team that has won the most NFL championships, the Green Bay Packers, is owned by its fans, whose stock pays no dividends, is not tradable on any exchange, and does not appreciate in value. - Ray Otstott

  • In what small Italian village was Leonardo da Vinci born? He was born in (duh!) Vinci. That's what Leonardo da ("of") Vinci means. - Don Poe

  • On Venus, the sun appears to rise in the west and set in the east. (Pluto and Uranus also rotate clockwise.) - Scott Minch


Was `73 really 30 years ago? Seems more like 30 minutes

Time for our quiz of the week, this time on 1973.

1. When L.A. proved too much for Gladys Knight's man, what did he take?

2. What September 1973 event, held in Houston's Astrodome, was watched by 50 million people on TV?

3. What did President Nixon release on Dec. 8, 1973?

4. What two handsome guys outsmarted Robert Shaw in a 1973 box office hit?

5. What parts of the "The Six Million Dollar Man" were bionic? (Keep it clean).



1. "Midnight Train to Georgia"

2. Tennis' "Battle of the Sexes" between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs

3. The Watergate tapes

4. Robert Redford and Paul Newman, in "The Sting"

5. His legs, his right arm and his left eye

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Jeff Elder is a columnist for The Charlotte Observer. Comment or try to stump him by clicking here.


07/24/03: Road scholar: A lesson on asphalt; when identical twins marry 07/23/03: The sweet science of Life Savers' sparks; how do Pop Rocks work? ripping newspaper

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