Where? < Ball's Hole >

NW Mailing List nw-mailing-list at nwhs.org
Wed Nov 16 14:19:28 EST 2016

Bruno in Blacksburg: 

Ball's Hole is the big dip west of Singer, stretching to the beginning of the uphill grade through Tie Yard Hill to Elliston. 

It is still a major dip, but in years gone by, it was an operating obstacle for long trains. About 1956-1957, the grades were partly ameliorated by filling in and raising the middle of the dip. And if I recall correctly, the east end (at Singer) was also cut down somewhat. 

Long before Singer was a name on the railroad, there was a station of some sort at Ball's, which was a mile or so west of present Singer (I think.) I do not know if Ball's was a Train Order Office and Block Station.  When a Train Order office was established at Singer, the office call BA was applied to it, so whatever old office had been at Balls was closed before that. (I do not know what year Singer Tower was put in service, or if it was equipped with an interlocking,) but Singer shows in Time Tables as early as 1906.) 

The September 1896 "Statement of Block Signals in Use on the Road," which I sent out to the List, the Archives, and all my personal N&W contacts several years ago, does not show any open offices between Deyerle (near the Salem Brick Yard east of Glenvar) and Elliston. 

You are probably curious about the operating problem, too... As train lengths grew to upwards of a hundred cars, many eastward trains would break in-two while going downhill into Ball's Hole. How could this happen? 

Here's how. The Engineman would have to apply the Automatic Brake (the "train brake") to hold the speed within the authorized limits while dropping down into the Hole. When speed was down and the train was nearing the bottom of the hole, he would release the brake. The brakes would release on the head end of the train before they released on the rear end, and the head end would tend to "run away from" the rear end, and the engine brake was not capable of holding the head end back. And somewhere in the train, this run-out of slack would break a knuckle, and the train would part. This was such a problem that the railroad installed a special hand operated crossover un or approaching Tie Yard Hill, named Bachelor's Crossover (supposedly named for old Engineman Harvey Batchelor, who could never make it through Ball's Hole without breaking in-two.) 

Following a train separation, the engine would cut off and proceed east to Singer, crossover to the westbound track, run west to Batchelor's Crossover, move eastwardly through the crossover, couple to the caboose, and shove the rear end of the train eastwardly and couple it up to the head end of the train. Then the engine would reverse the process: run back west to Batchelor's Crossover, run the westbound main line back to Singer, and get onto the head end of its train again, and then try to get the train started out of Ball's Hole without breaking it in-two again, or requiring the engine of the following train to shove it out of the Hole. 

Problems like this would not happen today, due to two things: (1) the advent of dynamic braking, by which a tremendous amount of retarding force is available to hold back the head end of a train, and (2) the invention of the Accelerated Service Release feature on the tripple valves of freight cars, an invention of the 1960s. With Accelerated Service Rlease, when the tripple valve on a car anywhere in the train sees just a 1 to 2 pound increase of Brake Pipe Pressure over Auxiliary Reservoir Pressure, it dumps the air from the Aux Reservoir back into the Brake Pipe and gives a speedy "kick off" of the brakes. Ergo, the brakes on a long train release MUCH more quickly than they did in the old days. 

I could probably dig up the MP for Batchelor's Crossover from my notes, if you need it. Sorry my memory is not more exact, but it is now over a half century since I began working on that territory, and in the intervening years I have had to learn about three thousand miles of additional railroad.  
So sometimes things get lost in my memory.  If you want the the 1896 "Statement of Block Signals in Use on the Road," contact me off list.

Tracking down the history of the station at Balls would be a good assignment for that doggedly indefatigable master detective, Mr. Harry Bundy ! 

-- abram burnett, 
superannuated trainman 

Sent to You from my Telegraph Key 
Successor to the MAGNETIC TELEGRAPH LINE of 1844 

More information about the NW-Mailing-List mailing list