Origins of the Term Cab Forward

I previously wrote about how our founder, Lance Vaughn, selected the CabForward℠ name for his software development company, and dug a little more deeply into the history of how railroads adopted the term cab forward, which is usually written “cab-forward.” The term actually dates back to the 1800s as far as I have been able to determine. Railroaders, using wood or coal fired steam engines, had to suffer difficult, often life-threatening, conditions due to the acrid smoke and scalding steam generated by their engine. Often it was found that operating the engine backward, or “cab-forward,” was safer and healthier, because it put the smoke stack and steam exhaust behind the cab. In many circumstances they operated their engines cab-forward for these very practical reasons.

WVRR25That practice is still used today. On a “Point to point” railroad, a single track connects a station or switching yard at each end, with trains going from one end to the other and back again without turning the locomotive around. An example of this is the Whitewater Valley Railroad which is a railroad museum operating on nineteen miles of historic former New York Central track.

Their typical operation includes pulling their trains from Connersville to Metamora with the locomotive at the head of the train with the front of the locomotive in the lead. At Leonard’s Siding, near Metamora, they “run around” their train to get on the other end, which puts the locomotive in “cab-forward” position for the return trip. This cab-forward orientation is enjoyable for the crew because of the unusually clear view of the tracks ahead and the lovely scenery on that rail line. I operated trains on that railroad for many years as a volunteer engineer, and can vouch for the sense of comfort and control “cab-forward” affords the crew.

Lance saw an analogy in the locomotive-cab-forward solution that could be applied to the outmoded waterfall software development process, and wanted to change that process around for his customers, giving them the freedom and control that would assure successful engagements. He applied this approach to the way we think about project management by putting the customer in the driver’s seat, and allowing them to steer the project from concept to completion. We adopted lean and agile processes to expedite completion while reducing overall development costs. No longer is the customer abandoned after the initial Discovery sessions. We partner with our customer to ensure they are involved in the development process every step of the way, so there are no surprises when the coding is done.

Whether developing in Ruby on Rails or other open source software, web application or mobile app, our company philosophy is to consistently apply this design concept to how we approach our projects for the entire software development cycle. We place you, our customer, in control and as close to the “front” of the project as possible, where you have maximum visibility. We Build While You Drive. That’s how “CabForward℠” evolved as a company name. It embodies our philosophy for life as well as for business.

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