How were they used?
train order was a safety device which contained information instructing
concerned persons, or
parties of conditions along the line they'd travel, or how one or more
trains were to be operated. These were transmitted from a dispatcher to
side location- A train order office, a depot, larger city station,
tower or block station, where it was copied by an agent, operator,
leverman or in later years simply by a clerk. Originally this was done via
telegraph, which was later supplanted by telephone and finally modern
electronics such as radio, fax and then computers.
for train order use varied from railroad to railroad. Basically, what
you first needed were
some set rules. Within the company, those were law. They covered
safety, signals, forms of train orders
and much more. These were often published in a book form and also some
could be found as part of Special Instructions in an Employee
Timetable. This book was referred to as a "Code of Operating
Rules." Where several
railroads in a region operated and interacted, they might also adopt it as a group- A
couple of these multi-railroad examples were the ("UCOR") Uniform Code
of Operating Rules and the ("CCOR") Consolidated Code of Operating
From those rules, railroads could then issue an operating schedule,
which would come out in the form of an Employee Time Table. Such a time
table might, or might not also contain some Special Instructions for
operations- These were at times published separately. Alterations to
their rules or employee timetable could be made by issuing a bulletin.
Or a train order. Which a train order could modify all the above or supersede other train
How many orders might copied at any one time? Well, that would have
depended upon what a specific dispatcher deemed necessary. He
could have one operator copying, or multiple stations, the same order
all at once. For any order, the only limitation was how many sheets of
a form and carbons, was an operator able to impress through a clearly
readable image. At minimum, if simply issuing instructions to a single
station's telegrapher, one order might be transmitted. That could annul
an existing order, tell them to hold a train at their depot, if in
control of multiple tracks, which one to use when advancing a train and
more. From this point, the next number was three, if a single train was
addressed. One each for the conductor, the engineer and the operator's
station file. The copied numbers went up from this point. If a specific
instruction needed to be used by many trains, or over a period of time,
it might be recopied many times.
The Train Order Office- What
constituted a train order office? Actually, there might be
no permanent structure at all! If there was need of a place to copy
orders, on a temporary basis, they might use whatever was handy. I knew
one operator who sat atop a boulder with a telegraph key, for several
days at a wreck site. Other times a personal or company vehicle was
employed. Or a telephone booth. Whatever was handy, they'd use. If
warranted, they might even bring in a temporary shack via flat car.
More permanently, they'd have a structure at a site just for the
purpose of copying train orders. If at a remote location, it could
include living quarters. These buildings could be quite small. Perhaps one
room of less than ten feet by ten feet in size. (Hopefully that person
inside did not suffer from claustrophobia!) Or a depot with attached
freight house and bedrooms upstairs. An office tucked away inside a
large city union station, a yard office, at a freight house, the
roundhouse, or in an interlocking tower. Wherever they were needed...
Train Order Signals- These
could be none- Generally, where none could be seen, was at a terminal
point. (Also known as an "initial station.") Crews at these sites picked up
their orders inside the depot, before beginning their run.
Then came a simple flag, or hand held lantern. Common in the very earliest days, later often
used at places such as a temporary block station. A site such as this
could often be found near where some sort of work was ongoing- New track
being placed into service, maintenance, flood or accident damage
repairs, signals being changed, etc.
Moving up the scale to more permanent equipment, came the ever famous
rope and ball system. An approaching train crew would look to see if
the ball was low, which meant stop, or raised up, which meant proceed.
In the raised position, it was high- Hence came the term still used
today for clear signal, proceed: "Highball!"
There was a two
position paddle, with or without a lantern atop, known as a "Swift"
signal. (Some folks mangle this as "Smith." Swift is the correct name.)
This was mounted either on a timber extending from the depot wall or
roof, or on a metal framed support arm. Upon those paddles they
would sometimes hook a yellow panel or
indicate train orders awaiting.
Finally, was a separate mast which held either
upper or lower quadrant semaphore arms. These were operable in either
two or three positions, from within a depot, or even in a few rare
sites outside. Which the
latter must have been no fun at all in extreme weather conditions-
Examples I witnessed in person were secured by a switch lock, which had
to be removed before arms could be operated. (Meanwhile rain, wind or
snow and ice...) Last
and later in time, was bladeless two
or three position color lighted signal.
Train Order Delivery- After
copying, an order was then hand
to the appropriate passing trains. This was done through employing the
device. Made from bamboo, or large doweling this was a wooden "9"
shape, which a trainman could poke their
arm into as they sped past. The process of handing it up, and being
caught was known as "hooping up" orders. This was not the most
comfortable way to do so,
resulting in more than a few bruises. They'd retrieve their paperwork
from a metal clip on the hoop, then quickly toss it back off.
Unfortunately many times this would mean the hoop landed in brambles,
nettles, brush or other fun places from which it required rescuing for
use when the next train came by.
Although the hoop remained in use far into the twentieth century, (I
witnessed these used well into the 1970's), it was replaced in most cases by the
delivery fork. Still termed as a "hoop," this was a "Y" shaped device holding string in a
triangular shape. Train orders were tied into that string. The trainmen
would stick their fist into the triangle area, which would release onto
their arm. This left the fork in the operators hand, no longer needing
to be hunted down in the dark from some ditch. A fork could also be
held by a metal or wooden stand. Which allowed the operator to be doing
other chores while waiting for a train to arrive.
An exception to this was
where rules required the train to stop, it's crew to come inside a
depot and be witnessed signing what was known as a restricting (Form 31) order as proof it had been received.
Train Orders In Effect-
Once issued by a dispatcher, a train order remained in effect until
fulfilled by those parties to whom it had been delivered. Or until a
time specified within it's body. A train order could also be superseded
or annulled by appropriately assigned authority.
upon the size of a railroad, there might be one person dispatching all
movements, or many people working assigned track segments known as
Divisions and Subdivisions. These people were generally located at a
central point. Such as the main office, or divisional offices. For
small operations, this work could be done by a clerk, the General
Manager or Superintendent.
Train Orders- Those papers: I
have noted earlier here, the many types of paper used. Most of the time
they came in a pad format. There were
also many, many variances in the forms. From a completely blank sheet,
on to a
form already complete except for date, train, locations and times to be
added. Some required a sheet of carbon paper to be inserted between
pages, some had the carbon as a part of the back side of a sheet. This
latter style is often associated with train crew copied orders.
However, they were also used by line side operators.
Some pads did not include the name of a railroad, others had the
company name showing at top. There were even issues used for families
of companies- Where at times more than one name was printed, or referenced under an
all encompassing name such as "Burlington Lines," "Missouri Pacific Lines," "New York
Central System," "Rock Island Lines," and many others. This allowed use by the parent
company and also for their various subsidiaries, thus reducing printing expenses.
In earlier times, these carried no designating number as to
form. As time went by we would come to know these by names such as
"Telegraphic Train Order." Then numbers so very familiar- "19" and
"31." But there were others as well. 5, 17, 19X, 19Y, 31X. In Canada,
they had many letter designators. 19-A, 19-B, 19-C, and so on. Their
most well known probably the 19-R. (The "R" notes a restricting order.
Interestingly, the "R" may be pre-printed, or penciled on the order by
an operator as deemed necessary by a dispatcher.) These papers were not
just a plain
white in color, but came in many hues: Of brown, yellow, green, orange,
pink, blue and who knows what else I might have omitted!
Interesting Terminologies- Times
changed, and so did the ways they instructed train order
recipients. At first, train orders were addressed to the Conductor and
Engineer, using their names. You would see an order such as "TO: JONES
AND BROWN- MEET SMITH AND WHITE AT...."This could and did cause
problems, as trains passed each other. In order to be certain the other
train was the one you'd been instructed to meet, you had to see the
engineer and conductor. At night, in bad weather or at track speed,
this could prove difficult, if not impossible. Thus came the use of
engine numbers within the instructions copied. Initially they still
used the crew names, combined with engine number, finally dropping
names as being redundant.
There were instructions, which seem quite colorful compared to
later times, when
looking back to early days. A train which was not on the schedule, in
more modern days was told to run as an "extra"from X to Z- This makes
sense. Into the early 1900's, you might see the same type of train
issued an order which instead stated "...RUN WILD..." Another
interesting, however seemingly calmer version for an extra movement was
copied as "...Run Special..." Then there would be the instance of being
instructed your train would move "...with rights over..." the old
method would say "...RUN REGARDLESS..." Those old instructions seem
As An Art Form- During those
days prior to typewriters, orders were obviously hand written. As with
too much of the so-called penmanship today, some were awful and difficult to read. We can only
wonder if those examples led to a few accidents between trains.
However, some were written with what they termed as a "hand," that is
absolutely beautiful. There were even contests held to see who had the
best "hand"of all. When copied upon the rainbow of paper colors, you indeed had works of art!
With Great Sadness: I
must note how few people have noted these precious papers existed, and
still can be found. Railroadiana collectors may be the guiltiest-
Instead, usually opting for the herd mentality, flash and glitz of
other items. Museums or railroad historical societies rarely
acknowledge these items. Let alone know how to correctly display any,
or inform the viewing public of their proper use. How many times I've
walked into a "preserved" depot and seen this to be true, or listened
to someone misinforming a visitor. History has been done a disservice
which is worse than tragic. Historians, collectors, or whoever you
might be, WAKE UP!!!
© 2008-2011 by the sole owner of Train-Orders.com, Ken Secrest.