The scene is winter, 1964.
The snow came down hard. Then, a man with a broom came out . . .
Modern railroading is amazingly high-tech. The BNSF completed installation of PTC, so it knows where every train is. LORAM units pass by, slowly resurfacing rails. Track gangs have laser sighting devices so track is always straight. Tier 4 locomotives maximize horsepower while minimizing pollutants.
It wasn’t always so.
In fact, back-in-the-day grunt work wasn’t that long ago. When it snowed, you called out a man with a broom to keep flange-ways clear of ice. Sure, switch heaters were in use, but they were filled and ignited by the man with a broom. All in all, railroading was very personal.
The Norfolk &Western’s Clare Yard was an interesting place to watch the railroad drama unfold. The then westbound end-of-the-line, it extended into the Cincinnati environs to serve a few local customers and to interchange with the six other railroads around the Queen City. Two Pennsylvania mainline tracks crossed the N&W’s one at a many-lever interlocking plant. The yard was short and built upon a hill. Inbound trains came in until the caboose was clear, then doubled back the front half of the train. Outbound trains had to double out of the yard.
Managing an outbound train was quite the production, especially at night. After crossing the Pennsy, the N&W tracks curved sharply to the right, crossed a small river, then curved to the left. The engine crew was far out of sight for the ground crew. How to communicate while making the double? With lights mounted on utility poles. Using special blink codes, the hind-end crew told the engineer to stop, back, back slowly, stop, cut in the air, air test, and depart. It was quite the sound on a dark, cold night.
Making up a train in a driving snow is neither fun nor easy.
Four Geeps finally departed the yard. You can see the communication lights on top of the poles. Blink. Blink-blink. Blink-pause-blink-blink. Stop, backup, easy . . .
William R. Jolitz – Photographs and text Copyright 2019