It is currently Sat Jul 04, 2020 11:03 am

All times are UTC - 5 hours [ DST ]




Post new topic Reply to topic  [ 21 posts ]  Go to page 1, 2  Next
Author Message
 Post subject: Western Union at the tower?
PostPosted: Mon Dec 12, 2016 9:40 pm 

Joined: Tue Aug 02, 2005 1:25 pm
Posts: 5806
Recently, when looking for something else on the internet, I came across a series of photos for sale on a website called "WESTERNRAILIMAGES". This particular set was on the Gulf, Mobile & Ohio and contained a lot of interesting images, including Baldwin passenger diesels, original "Rebel" train sets, Alco PA's, etc. The primary photographer seemed to be a gentleman by the name of Jim Ozment and he and a guy named George Bilmeyer apparently photographed and rode the GM&O's motorcar train in 1957 that ran between Bloomington, Illinois and Kansas City, Missouri. What caught my eye was a photo described as being at Louisiana, Missouri and showed trailing RPO/coach #2552 crossing another rail line at a diamond on Train #9 westbound on June 4, 1957. Just in the corner of the photo is what is obviously a typical two story interlocking tower, with a ladder next to a post which obviously was the towers train order signal. But what REALLY caught my eye, and the reason for this rather lengthy thread entry, was a blue sign with white lettering reading "WESTERN UNION". Now I know that station agents at depots were telegraph operators and could send Western Union telegrams for customers. But this is the first time I ever saw any indication that tower operators could also do it! Obviously, in the old days, towermen knew Morse and could send telegrams, but I had always thought that interlocking towers were off limits to the general public. But this sign made me wonder! I am also a bit confused as to why an interlocking tower operator would advertise, and be able to send, telegrams for Western Union, when there was a passenger station right in Louisiana, Missouri where the GM&O's trains stopped. Additionally, the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy also had passenger trains that served Louisiana, MO. My thought is that perhaps this photo wasn't taken there, but at some other point on the GM&O's line to Kansas City. I looked on the internet for other photos of towers in Missouri, but was not able to come up with any. So there is the question; did railroad interlocking tower operators, also sell Western Union telegrams, and how prevalent was the practice?

Thanks for any input.

Les


Offline
 Profile  
 
 Post subject: Re: Western Union at the tower?
PostPosted: Tue Dec 13, 2016 10:53 am 

Joined: Mon May 24, 2010 10:22 am
Posts: 540
I am working with Northern Pacific AFEs, (am up to 1914), and in the case of the NP, Western Union supplied all the material for the main telegraph lines, and the NP supplied all the labor to install and maintain the telegraph lines.

Who knows what the agreement was with Western Union, could be that in your case there was a requirement that where ever there was a key, there was a sign.

Maybe it's a special case, big shipper nearby?

But I have never seen a WU sign on a tower.

-Hudson


Offline
 Profile  
 
 Post subject: Re: Western Union at the tower?
PostPosted: Tue Dec 13, 2016 12:36 pm 

Joined: Tue Aug 02, 2005 1:25 pm
Posts: 5806
HudsonL wrote:


But I have never seen a WU sign on a tower.

-Hudson


Hudson -

Neither had I, and that's why I was shocked when I saw the photo.

Good luck with your NP project.


Les


Offline
 Profile  
 
 Post subject: Re: Western Union at the tower?
PostPosted: Tue Dec 13, 2016 3:16 pm 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 12:15 am
Posts: 555
Could there have been a slightly more than a flag stop station w/ telegraph office in the lower section of the tower (or next to tower, with tower being a better advertising location)? How far away was the nearest Station and Freight house for either railroad?

Just some thoughts,
Rich C.


Offline
 Profile  
 
 Post subject: Re: Western Union at the tower?
PostPosted: Tue Dec 13, 2016 3:58 pm 

Joined: Tue Aug 02, 2005 1:25 pm
Posts: 5806
Rich -

Yes, that is a possibility. Especially since we can't see the balance of the tower from that photo. The only problem is that the photo was supposedly taken at Louisiana, Missouri and I have seen photos of both of the stations located there (GM&O and CB&Q) and neither one has a tower attached to it. It IS possible, that the photo is incorrect as to the location, but I have no way of knowing that.

Les


Offline
 Profile  
 
 Post subject: Re: Western Union at the tower?
PostPosted: Tue Dec 13, 2016 4:01 pm 

Joined: Sat Apr 01, 2006 5:19 pm
Posts: 469
Location: Bowie, MD
Long post, but a first hand description of what's in question as well as an explanation (well, at least for one Ohio town).

In his autobiography, Starlight Nights, amateur astronomer Leslie Peltier (born 1900, Delphos, Ohio) writes about his first comet discovery, Friday, the 13th, November, 1925, and his attempt to wire Harvard College Observatory (the keeper of such things as comet discoveries in those days). Peltier swept the night sky with his telescope, looking for uncharted objects, which would often be comets) so this event took place in the very late night. First to report a comet gets it named after them, so time is important:

"I tried three times but got no answer from Western Union. I rang once more and at Central's "Number Please", I asked her why I got no reply from the telegraph office. She replied that it closed at 6 o'clock but that emergency telegrams could be sent at night from the signal tower at the Pennsylvania Railway depot. "Will you please connect me with the tower?" I asked. "I'm sorry, she replied, "there is no local telephone connection."

... then he described a late night bicycle ride, as his parents had the family car. Arriving:

"I leaned my bicycle against the wall of the depot and climbed the long flight of wooden stairs to the little square room at the top of the signal tower. The operator, a middle age man wearing a green eyeshade, had his fingers glued to a stuttering telegraph key and didn't even look up when I entered the room. He continued to worry the key for another five minutes then stopped, walked over to a long bank of levers all of which looked exactly alike, selected one and gave it a a pull. He then sat down on a stool in front of a small east window and stared intently into the night. Soon a tiny light appeared in the distance. Like an approaching meteor it grew in brilliance and then sound was added to the picture framed in the window - sound that swelled to a deafening roar as a west-bound passenger train slurred its whistle up, then down the scale and shook the little tower until it rattled."

"Suddenly the green eyeshade loomed in front of me and a voice come from under it. "You gotta a telegram?" I admitted that I had and handed it to him. He read it through twice. "This some sorta code?" he inquired. "Sorta," I replied. He sat down at his instrument, placed my copy before him and began tapping out the message, his fingers bunched up together stiffly on the key except for one divorced digit which wavered about like a lone antenna. Finally he stopped, counted out the words, made a brief calculation and told me the cost. I closed the tower door just has he was pulling down another lever and, carefully, feeling my way down the steep flight of stairs, I remounted my bicycle and started for home."

The body of the message was:

NINTH MAGNITUDE COMET ONE FIVE NORTH FORTY FOUR DEGREES RAPID MOTION SOUTH

Peltier, who quit school in 1917 to work the farm when older brother matched off to war, went on to discover about twenty comets, a record only broken in the 1990's, and made large contributions to the science of variable stars.

He writes in a simple, folk style that is fun to read and very descriptive. While the book is about his adventures as an astronomer, it, IMHO, is the best description of growing up in rural America in that time frame I've read, as it touches on all aspects of life.

https://www.amazon.com/Starlight-Nights ... 0933346948

Bob Bunge


Offline
 Profile  
 
 Post subject: Re: Western Union at the tower?
PostPosted: Tue Dec 13, 2016 4:53 pm 

Joined: Tue Aug 02, 2005 1:25 pm
Posts: 5806
Bob -

Quite a story! And now we know that at least one tower operator sent out Western Union telegrams!

Thanks very much for the post!


Les


Offline
 Profile  
 
 Post subject: Re: Western Union at the tower?
PostPosted: Wed Dec 14, 2016 10:28 am 

Joined: Tue Sep 03, 2013 9:50 am
Posts: 78
An additional interesting fact was that the telephone operator knew of the PRR tower, where it was, and that he could go there to send a message.

Those who made the foray to the tower must have done so with some significant emotional pressures.


Offline
 Profile  
 
 Post subject: Re: Western Union at the tower?
PostPosted: Wed Dec 14, 2016 7:48 pm 

Joined: Tue Aug 02, 2005 1:25 pm
Posts: 5806
NKP1155 wrote:
An additional interesting fact was that the telephone operator knew of the PRR tower, where it was, and that he could go there to send a message.



NKP1155 -

I don't think this is quite as remarkable as it first sounds. Remember, the year was 1925. Telephone operators for a local phone company probably just knew this stuff. I'm not sure how big Delphos, Ohio was in that year, but the local operators probably knew a heck of a lot about their home towns. There might have been more than just this one occasion when a local resident had to send an important telegram "after hours."

What I find interesting, is that this was apparently a "standard operating procedure." It seems to explain WHY that tower, if it WAS in Louisiana, Missouri, had that WESTERN UNION sign. GM&O and CB&Q station agents not on duty? Go out to the tower; the tower operator can send a telegram for you from there!

Les


Offline
 Profile  
 
 Post subject: Re: Western Union at the tower?
PostPosted: Wed Dec 14, 2016 11:04 pm 

Joined: Sat Apr 01, 2006 5:19 pm
Posts: 469
Location: Bowie, MD
Les, I suspect, is on the money.

One aspect of reading Peltier's book is a good sense of just how "slow" rural life was in the first half of the 19th century even as technology was changing at a pace that is just as fast, if not faster than today. From his teenage years to age 25, he describes the coming of electricity (he wired the house that his father had built) and the telephone. In his early teens, he describes lengthy horse drawn wagon rides to town on weekends to sell produce from the farm, but by 1925, they had a family car and in the 1930's took a honeymoon trip to the southwest US to camp and explore, funded by collecting minerals he sold to museums.

You can garner a sense of the pace when you consider after biking across the fields in darkness, without lights, excited by the most important discovery of his life, he sits or stands there for FIVE minutes waiting on the operator, and the WAITS for the train to pass! Someone today sending a similar email to Harvard would likely reload their email 15 times expecting a response during the same amount of time! A minor side story; he was in a hurry because he knew it was early enough in the night that there would be a chance that Harvard would be able to forward the news to the big obseratories in the west (several hours later then Ohio) and be able to collect science on these objects that at the time were not well understood.

And you bet those telephone operators knew just about everyone and everything going on in town.

The sign outside the tower in the photo likely was there to ensure customers they were in the right place.

My question is; does anyone on the board understand just how this message would have been routed? An address on the message and would it be forwarded to operators down the line until it got to the local WU office who would print it and deliver? Any examples of the headers that would be used?

Bob


Offline
 Profile  
 
 Post subject: Re: Western Union at the tower?
PostPosted: Thu Dec 15, 2016 9:44 am 

Joined: Fri May 28, 2010 9:52 am
Posts: 90
I suspect the tower had a dedicated Western Union line which the operator could access.

Busy towers, stations and telegraph offices typically had several lines entering the facility, each with their own sounder chattering away – remember each circuit is composed of a single line (i.e., wire) with the facilities ground rod into the earth completing the loop. The number of lines and facilities connected to any one wire was established by the railroad.

Line connections were specified by wire number (1, 5, 22, etc) and offices by call letters (NB, PG, J, TEST, etc). A single line may be connected to local towers/stations on a branch while another reserved for work on the division, etc. A Western Union wire connection was commonly shown with a simple WU.

Lists of telegraph wires, offices, office calls and such comprising the telegraph service for the road were typically published in a small booklet. My booklet for the Lehigh Valley Railroad (an anthracite road running through NY, PA, and NJ) is dated January 1st, 1904. Likewise, wire locations on an individual telegraph pole were typically published in a small pocket- size book for C&S maintenance personnel.

Messages typically began with call letters. A good operator would be alert to his call letters, amid the background clatter, directing his attention to an incoming message. His facility may also have a small switch board – a small board containing a metal matrix which allowed connection to individual lines by inserting a metal pin, isolating his line for whatever job at hand.

In addition to the 26 letters of the alphabet and punctuation marks, there was also shorthand for commonly used phrases. Beside railroad business, operators would chat with neighboring offices, helping to pass the wee hours of the night at lonely outposts, until the DP would blast a “…clear the line…” message to rouse the loafers. Likewise, lines would be cleared for the daily time check, to assure all clocks were on the same sheet of music.

In the case of the WU line, the message would likely be received by the intended office, typed out, and delivered as needed.

This overview is by no means complete, but hope it helps. The one item not completely clear to me (yet) is how the money was managed.

Jim K


Offline
 Profile  
 
 Post subject: Re: Western Union at the tower?
PostPosted: Thu Dec 15, 2016 11:09 am 

Joined: Sat Apr 01, 2006 5:19 pm
Posts: 469
Location: Bowie, MD
Jim,

At risk of going OT, I find your information really interesting. For a number of years, I managed a data system for the National Weather Service that had it's roots in the telegraph system. Even today, connections via both public (IE the Internet) and private telecommunications lines using TCP/IP are referred to by line numbers even though the concept of a wire is long gone.

We still use site numbers/names in header fields to identify where the data came from and where it needs to go.

It is only now, in 2016, that the US National Weather Service is finally dropping the use of all capital letters in most text products. For the past 15 years, this has mostly been because computer programs written over the years to parse and read the text products were written expecting all upper case.

For decades, the weather offices (800+ until the 1990's, 122 today) informally chatted over the line, exchanging ideas about their weather work. In the 1990's it was formalized into a product called the "area forecast discussion" and was usually written in a unique shorthand format. With the coming of the Internet, the AFD started to be read by the public and by 2015, the use of shorthand was (mostly) dropped.

The AFD's can be accessed here:

http://forecast.weather.gov/product_sites.php?site=NWS&product=AFD

Bob


Offline
 Profile  
 
 Post subject: Re: Western Union at the tower?
PostPosted: Thu Dec 15, 2016 12:58 pm 

Joined: Thu Aug 26, 2004 2:50 pm
Posts: 2540
Location: Northern Illinois
Mr. Kovach's explanation was really good, but I have a couple comments, gleaned from talking with old timers.

I believe the "sounders" he mentions are actually relays. Not exactly sure how they worked, but it is my understanding that they were signal intensifiers. Being mechanical relays, they made an audible click as they functioned, so the operator could indeed hear all the traffic on all the circuits that went through his facility.

While the wires on the poles had normally assigned functions, each office had what was called a "patch board". This allowed the different wires on the pole line to be used for different functions. There were normal assignments, usually one circuit reserved for train dispatching, another for company business (car reports and the like) and one or more for Western Union. A tower operator would normally monitor the dispatcher line. If his line went dead, due to a wire break or whatever, he'd use one of the other lines to raise another station and work out rerouting his dispatcher line onto a different wire.

When the operator heard his station sign on the relay of a different circuit, he'd plug his sounder into that line, the louder sounder overpowering the background noise so he could concentrate on the business at hand. Likewise, if he had to send on another line, he'd plug his key into that line.

A comment about towers being "off limits" to the public... they were not off limits to anyone who had legitimate business there. That Western Union sign told the public that yes, indeed, this facility was public access to the Western Union system.

_________________
Dennis Storzek


Offline
 Profile  
 
 Post subject: Re: Western Union at the tower?
PostPosted: Mon Jan 16, 2017 6:42 pm 

Joined: Tue Aug 02, 2005 1:25 pm
Posts: 5806
JTKovach wrote:


Messages typically began with call letters. A good operator would be alert to his call letters, amid the background clatter, directing his attention to an incoming message. His facility may also have a small switch board – a small board containing a metal matrix which allowed connection to individual lines by inserting a metal pin, isolating his line for whatever job at hand.

Jim K


Jim -

Thanks for all the info. My guess is that none of these small switch boards have been preserved, but I wonder if any photos of them might exist? I've looked at some photos of the interiors of towers, but haven't seen any of these boards. But then again, I'm not quite sure what I should be looking for in the photos!

Dennis Storzek posted a comment mentioning "patch boards" and I wonder if this is the same as the switch board mentioned?

Finally, through an interlibrary loan, I secured a copy of Leslie Peltier's book "Starlight Nights" as mentioned in a post by bbunge. I agree that it's a good book about rural life. Apparently Mr. Peltier telegraphed some of his later comet discoveries, but didn't have to use his bicycle in those cases, to get to the Western Union operator.

Les


Offline
 Profile  
 
 Post subject: Re: Western Union at the tower?
PostPosted: Mon Jan 16, 2017 7:56 pm 

Joined: Thu Aug 26, 2004 2:50 pm
Posts: 2540
Location: Northern Illinois
Lots of good info here:

http://www.morsetelegraphclub.org/library/files/html/dodge/dodge.htm

Also, a brief explanation of why these systems use sensitive relays to drive the sounder from a local battery, and how these relays can also be wired as repeaters.

http://www.vias.org/albert_ecomm/aec09_telegraph_systems_004.html

On Edit:

Searching Google for "railroad telegraph switchboard" will bring up multiple images of the boards described in Dodge's book, some of which have been on e-bay in the past (none at the moment.) Here's one:

Image

_________________
Dennis Storzek


Last edited by Dennis Storzek on Tue Jan 17, 2017 1:04 am, edited 1 time in total.

Offline
 Profile  
 
Display posts from previous:  Sort by  
Post new topic Reply to topic  [ 21 posts ]  Go to page 1, 2  Next

All times are UTC - 5 hours [ DST ]


 Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Google [Bot], Majestic-12 [Bot], NS6770fan and 40 guests


You cannot post new topics in this forum
You cannot reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot post attachments in this forum

Search for:
Jump to: