From train order forks to....

nw-mailing-list at nw-mailing-list at
Fri Jan 28 02:29:38 EST 2005

To: "N&W Mailing List" <nw-mailing-list at> 
Date: Sun, 30 Jan 2005 01:31:54 -0800 
From: nw-mailing-list at
Subject: Re: Train order forks

Frank, The one I have is the "Y" design. Open at the
top of the "Y" with just the string going from end to
end.  I consider myself lucky first just to have one.
Second to have gotten it from the user with it's
unique history.

Ron Wilkinson

January 28, 2005

Hello, Ron:

I think you are lucky in both respects, Ron.  Every
artifact has an interesting history.  For many items,
it is just unknown.  Provenance always adds value, so
the more one knows about it, the more valuable it is
--which is not always measured in monetary terms.  
Likewise, whoever has the hoop used for the photo
shoot that kicked off this message thread owns
something that now has an additional legacy; it is
always nice to be able to point to something with a
recorded history, point to it, and say "this was the
one that was..." and in this case, the hoop that was
in the picture, held by Bruce Wingo.

I worked briefly as Assistant to Trainmaster on the
Decatur Division in 1975 and early 1976.  The commuter
train-set that was used on the Orland Park local was
deadheaded to Chicago from Decatur early Monday
morning, and brought back late Friday night.  It was
stored in Decatur over the weekend at the former
Wabash car shop where repairs were made during the
week to cars that were swapped into and out of the
consist.  The way this is linked in my mind to your
statement is that I passed the tower at Reddick where
your fork was used one time as I rode the train from
Dearborn Station to Orland Park on a Friday, then as
it continued beyond that point on the deadhead
movement to Decatur.  I had made a visit to the NW
piggyback ramp for familiarization earlier in the day.
 So, who knows... the train or engine crew I was
riding along with may have plucked a clearance card
and order from that fork now in your hands.  If so,
you and I are joined in a way either of us ever
imagined, even if only by tenuous train order twine.

I hadn't thought about that evening in 30 years.  The
train was perhaps five or six coaches with interior
lights extinguished once it left revenue service.  It
was eerie (no, not the Erie) riding through the cold,
dark Illinois night with the cars being as dark inside
as it was outside.  Aside from the rumbling under the
car, it was silent as if it were a ghost train
retracing first part of the journey of the Bluebird or
Banner Blue.  And perhaps it was.  I was along in a
coach all to myself; no one to talk with, nor a need
to speak with anyone.

One other interesting aspect about the train: it was
kept on a steam line the whole time during it's
layover when in Decatur during the winter.  Aside from
keeping the chill out of cars for an ensuing Monday
morning commuter trip, it kept the condensate in the
line from freezing.  I have a vague recollection that
someone failed to do so one time, putting most of the
cars out of commission because of burst heating lines
and a $20,000 repair bill --hefty anytime, but
especially in the 1970s.  Cars were, I think, borrowed
from another Chicago area railroad to protect that
week's local operation.  Few think about it today, but
the Orland Park Local was the last "NW" passenger
timecard, not counting the brief Amtrak service that
it hosted.  It was a far cry from any of the Cavalier,
Powhatan Arrow, Pocahontas, and the like.

I suppose that for a non-passenger railroad post 1971,
it was amazing what was still left in Decatur four
years later.  It had the remnants of the Wabash system
car shops, with a few carpenters and upholsters for
example that maintained the equipment as well as
caboose fittings such as cushions.  The former engine
shop had become the NW location for rewinding all
traction motors.  Shortly after I departed that to
pursue the next step in my transportation career, just
about all of those facilities disappeared.  I didn't
appreciate it enough at the time and surely wish I
could have absorbed more of it while there.   But a
trainmaster's day doesn't permit the indulgences of
railfan pursuits.

I might also add that as a transplanted Virginia boy
who was known to be associated with Roanoke, I had it
pretty rough.  Maybe every green train supervisor
believes that not only train and engine crews don't
like them, but that they are also the whipping post of
management echelons.  The assistant superintendent
--who later rose to become an officer of the company--
was known as "The Bear."   One expected The Bear to
chomp on your ass periodically.  However, part of that
negative experience was based in being in fiercely
loyal Wabash country.  Despite what folks back East
thought about the "Cannonball" N&W logo and that
Herman Pevler was president for a while, many Wabash
personnel had a grudge about that "back East" railroad
ruining a system that they believed worked operated
better that N&W's "precision transportation," which
was also history by that time.

Hmmm, I'd better stop there, Ron.  See where a train
order fork from  Reddick can take you?



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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