2nd trick op wrote:Most of my personal exposure to train orders came via "unofficial" visits to block towers on Pennsy's Harrisburg-Buffalo-and-branches Northern Region; almost all PRR train-order offices were at interlocking plants. Train orders were very seldom needed on multiple-track mains where running by signal indication was the rule, and Pennsy did not "card" symbol freights in Employees Timetables; everything ran as an extra. But the Northern Region was mostly either CTC or single track, and "Block-Limit Stations" or "Unattended Block Stations" ( a forerunner of Southern Pacific's DTC system introduced in the Eighties) were very common. A fatal accident at Stanley, NY in the early Sixties also brought back the use of "running orders" on many single-track lines -- for a time.
The one time I got to witness TT & TO operation in its purest form came during a vacation in 1984; I was on a long-and-spontaneous trip, most of it by bus, and had several hours to lay over in Alamogordo, NM, on the SP's former Golden State Route with Rock Island. The line was then in the process of what would be an extensive upgrade, and a visit to the office found an operator copying orders, with another set ready to be "hooped up" -- and no interlocking machine or CTC panel anywhere in sight; DTC was still a year or two in the future.
I DO have personal experience as an Agent/Op, or Train Order Clerk on the Southern up into the 1980's.. This was on the Main line between Salisbury, NC and Spartanburg, SC where I copied orders for the Carolina Division and the famous Saluda Mountain Grade. It was quite interesting to listen/talk to trains on their way up to/down from Melrose. At Charlotte, NC, there were 3 Divisions that came into my station, each of which I had to deal with: Piedmont/Main Line, Columbia, and Carolina Division as well. Second trick was the absolute worst because not only did you have to deal with 3 dispatchers, you had all the "hotshot" pigtrains that built or OS'ed at Charlotte, and one's anxiety was certainly high as he copied orders, papers flew, and he ran...literally RAN down thru what was called "The Mole Hole" that went under Track 1 and up onto the passenger landing where the Train order stanchions were. You could not let a hotshot have to stop because your TO signal was "Yellow" (Approach Slow for Orders ) and NO orders in the hoop. You'd get yelled at for that!(Huff-puff, Huff-puff!
You did not get a break on this shift as you typed "Form 19" and threaded them into the "hoop" that looked like a large slingshot. If the stanchion was broken, you had to rush up to the landing and physically hand these orders up to both the engine and the cab, making sure the spring and knot was facing in the direction of the train's travel. If it was wrong, it would jerk the entire hoop out of your hand, perhaps injure the crewman's arm! Being on that landing has its own set of stories. During the flurry of afternoon activity, the train order board could be lit up with ALL 3 dispatcher wanting to talk to you...BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ! BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ! BZZZZZZZZZZZT!!!!!!! You could only talk to one at a time. Some dispatchers were patient; a couple were not and would scold you for not dropping everything and answering him right away. In some ways it WAS like
the 1940's as we had the steam excursions, and we had to handle them just like the rest of the trains, copy orders for them (Order four naught five, to C & E Engine 4501 [forty five naught one]. Period. Engine 4501 (spell again) runs Extra from Charlotte Yard (spell) to Spartanburg, SC [spell] protecting against scheduled trains. Period. Meet 118 at Thickety [spell]. Period. Signed: REP/JC." Then it was up to the landing to stick 'em in the holder, OR hand them up to the train. I have pictures I took of 611 passing my station at outlying points. NO orders, but I had to watch the train by per the Rulebook to watch for hotboxes, dragging equipment, or sticking brakes. "Six Eleven, you're lookin' good on the West side, Over!" And so on. Such was the time-honored job of Agent/Operator.
I saw many things in my career, many of which some of you dream about. I heard freight trains "slipped down" on Saluda, and having to double the hill at Melrose, sometimes setting off half of their train in siding there after flagging back to clear up. Trains used to stall at Spartanburg trying to get into the yard.
Train order and timetable was the rule of the day, and I lived it! Got lots of stories related to it. During that time, it was VERY stressful. I was NOT amused!
Today I can look back and say, "Well, I did it and..............if they asked, I guess I'd do it again. ...........................Maybe!