Working at Remote Locations in the Old Days

nw-mailing-list at nw-mailing-list at
Mon May 30 20:18:36 EDT 2005

Recently I have been discussing with a friend and former co-worker (retired 
from Conrail headquarters in Philadelphia) some things about the Central 
Pacific's  "Promontory Old Line" between Lucin and Ogden, Utah.  Specifically, we 
were discussing things like the number of train order offices between Corrine 
and Lucin.  

N&W Listers may be interested in part of our exchange, as I think it sheds 
some interesting light on "how things were" in the "old days" on just about 
anybody's railroad.  It couldn't have been much different on the N&W.   (The "4.2" 
men per job he refers to is the number used by railroads in calculating how 
many employees it will need to staff one job 24/7.)

-- abram burnett
Fred's Question: 

"Here's a question for you.  Those telegraph stations were in the middle of 
nowhere.  No autos, too far to ride a horse, sparse passenger service, freight 
trains pretty irregular.  Do you suppose CPR had to maintain 4.2 operators in 
residence at each of those Godforsaken places?"       

My Answer:

Oh, I figured that out long ago.
Only about half the train order offices were open at night, sometimes less.  
The others were "one shift offices."
At a "Day/Night" telegraph office, there were ONLY two men... the daylight 
man and the night man... 12 hours each.
When an extra man was farmed out for a vacancy, he rode whatever train or 
engine was going his way.  Same coming home.
Some years ago I talked to a 1920-hire Port Road (PRR) telegrapher (Bruce 
Woodrow) about this.  He said that for each location, "everyone knew" which 
nearby farmer et ux took in boarders, and the extra man would head there for his 
lodging and meals.  Unless, of course, there was sufficient room to "make a bed" 
in the "ware room" of the station.
My next question was, How did they get supplies?  Answer:  Da Comp'ny ran a 
"supply train" every few months.  Ahead of this, each office would order so 
much lamp oil, so many lamp wicks and chimneys, so much coal, so much ink, so 
many matches, so much soap, so many block sheets, so many balls of train order 
string... whatever they needed.  (The daylight man "did the ordering," as well 
as adjusted the telegraph key to his own touch ! )   All the goods would all be 
sent on the supply train (usually a baggage car)  which, mirabile dictu, also 
had a clamshell and a gondola full of coal and would fill up all the coal 
sheds along the line !
Emergency items, of course, would be put in the combine car of the local 
passenger train, and set off (or thrown off) at the required location.
It was a different world back then.  The 1920-hire telegrapher I mentioned 
told me that one Sunday he was called out to open the tower at Garashee's Lane 
(Shellpot Branch,) due to a wreck.  (The joint was normally closed on Sundays.) 
 He said that when he got there, he had to tell the train dispatcher that it 
would be a while before he could do any work, because the ink well had frozen 
and he needed to build a fire and thaw it out !
Next question... ?
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