Train orders on the fly at night

nw-mailing-list at nw-mailing-list at
Tue Jan 25 02:52:10 EST 2005

Date: Mon, 24 Jan 2005 03:35:24 EST 
To: nw-mailing-list at 
From: nw-mailing-list at
Subject:  Re: Train order forks


One night in the mid-70's I was working a temporary
block job west of Columbus on the old PRR Bradford
line when an eastbound came into town. I dutifully
handed the Clearance Card to the head end and waited
for the rear of the train. I saw the conductor waving
his lantern indicating to get away from the train. I
took it as a signal that he didn't want to stick his
head out the caboose window and snag the order and
stubbornly held my ground. He snagged the order and I
turned in time to see a dragging band a few cars ahead
of the cabin. I can still recall with a shudder that
ting, ting, zinging sound as the broken band danced on
the ROW. Just another day when I had an angel on my

Jim Kehn

January 25, 2005

Hello, Jim:

Your story and Harry Bundy's recollections reminded me
of the challenge of delivering train orders at night. 
Where a station had an outside light, one positioned
them-self so the train crew could see the placement of
the operator and position of the train order fork. 
However, following the the flood in 1972, the C&O
reverted to manual block operations on the Rivanna
Subdivision.  There was nothing at Shores which was
the west end of double track.  I had a portable
telephone connected to a twisted pair cable for the
dispatcher's line and sat in my car.  The car
headlights were my illumination.  At Scottsville,
there was a station building but no power.  An
operator always had a clear hand lantern when handing
up orders, and that light held near the fork was the
only guidance for the shadow of a conductor who
snagged the order more by sense than sight.  The
marker light on the caboose was better for me than my
lantern was for him.

Good night and good morning,

Dr. Frank R. Scheer, Curator
Railway Mail Service Library, Inc.
f_scheer at
(202) 268-2121 - weekday office
(540) 837-9090 - weekend afternoons 
in the former N&W station on VA rte 723 
117 East Main Street 
Boyce  VA  22620-9639
Visit at

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