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Sun Sep 1 13:25:45 EDT 2019

Mention of the Tug River Pool brought to mind another recollection.  Back when the Hours of Service law was 16 hours, a train and engine service pool operated east out of Williamson.  It operated to Bluefield, Eckman, Wilcoe, Iaeger, Richlands (through Iaeger up the Dry Fork) and probably to Luke on the Buchanan Branch.  They would take empties to these locations and turn back with loads.  It was a very competitive pool, operating first-in first-out out of Williamson.  Crews hated to get the Richlands jobs because they couldn’t make it back to Williamson and had to get rest at Richlands.  A couple of noted engineers in this pool were Junior McCoy and “Sweetie Pie” Cline, who was one of the most level-headed employees on N&W – tobacco juice ran out of both sides of his mouth at the same time.

Among these engineers was one Jay French.  When he came to Wilcoe to turn back, he always complained about his air test on his outbound train.  Wilcoe had a third trick carman named Frank.  To comply with the Power Brake Law of 1958. Jay had to triple his train together (Wilcoe’s tracks held about seventy cars, and the River crews got their train off three tracks) and pump up the air within fifteen pounds of the feed valve setting on the engine, which was 75 pounds; this ment that they had to have 60 pounds of air on the caboose, after which Frank would tell the engineer to set the brakes.  Frank would walk the set to the head end while the engineer made his leakage test.  When Frank got to the head end, the brakes  would be released and the train would depart, pulling by Frank who would see that they were all released.

One fine warm summer evening, Jay put away his 200 empties and went over to the engine track, where he swapped two of his three inbound units for two of our mine run units to go back to Williamson for service.  Jay asked me what the hell kind of air test he was going to get tonight, and I told him just like usual.  Get 60 pounds on the caboose and Frank will tell you to set ‘em up, and he’ll walk to the head end and you can release them and go.  So Jay took his engines down to the far end of the yard to put his train together.

Wilcoe Yard had no radio, although the engines and cabooses had them.

Everything was going my way – I had two crews up the branch working busily at their usual chorse, so I thought I’d go out to the caboose and get the latest gossip from the Conductor while Frank watched the air gauge.

The pressure was crawling up the gauge toward 60, and we listened on the caboose radio to another River crew about to leave Eckman with a train of loads.  Whoever got to Tug Tower first would go first, thus scooping the other crew by getting into Williamson first.

So you can figure what happened.  Frank finally radioed Jay that he had 60 pounds on the caboose and to set ‘em up.
Frank and I had to get off the moving caboose; Jay wasn’t going to take a chance of having that other crew scoop him so he was leaving.

Next time I saw Jay I asked him what kind of brake test he wanted, and got no printable reply . . .

- Ed King, formerly(1962) third trick Assistant Yardmaster at Wilcoe (might have been the best job I ever had)
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