What was the purpose of the caboose on trains?

The caboose roof was a convenient spot from which to scan for problems. Technology has rendered the caboose obsolete, however.

_John D. O'Brien

Sterling, Va.

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The word caboose was originally a nautical term meaning "a house on deck where the cooking is done." As applied to trains, however, it meant the very last car. The train crew often used the roof of the caboose as an observation platform for detecting smoking brakes and other problems. The train caboose was also used variously as a bunkhouse, office, or kitchen. Advances in technology -- such as detectors that scan the train's wheels, take temperature readings, and relay that information to a central location -- have rendered the caboose unnecessary.