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Maurice Lewman

A woman named Phyllis

July 6, 2010
I have just received notice that Phyllis was not the first Train Dispatcher in the United States. In 1889 LIZZIE E D THAYER entered employment with the New London Northern Railroad that was leased to the Central Vermont. Lizzie was assistant Train Dispatcher for nearly a year when the Train Dispatcher resigned. She was in charge. The railroad looked for some time to get a replacement, but none was found and the job was being done well by Lizzie. She was made the official Train Dispatcher.

From that time until Phyllis took the job for the New York Central, there were no women dispatchers.

June 17, 2003
On June 9, 2003, I was fortunate enough to receive an invitation to the annual Retired Railroaders Breakfast in Indianapolis where I met several people that I knew or knew of. As one gentleman put it, "Where we come to swap lies." At a gathering like this, you can get a better feel for what railroading was like on the personal level and meet the men and women behind the trains. This year there were 186 in attendance.

I may write up my other impressions later, but for now, I met Phyllis, the first railroad Dispatcher and one of the movers behind this breakfast. She is a fascinating woman and any reticence her part to talk to me was overcome by Maurice asking her questions about her experiences while I taped. She did say that it wasn't easy. "No, I don't imagine that it was, Phyllis. I don't imaging that it was." - rph

What follows is a good run down on her background that was put together previously by Maurice. I don't believe that it has been published even though he did submit it to the NYCSHS.

Date: Tue, 10 Jun 2003 19:47:39 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Phyllis

Roger, will just send you what I wrote to the NYCHS. Keep or use any part.


Why would I name this story a lady's name? Because the story is about a lady named Phyllis. What did Phyllis have to do with railroading? She was the first woman train dispatcher in the United States. If anyone says they know of someone who was a dispatcher before her it is unknown then or now. There were many women who were operators but none were train dispatchers. Peter Josserand, in an article in the July 1953 Railroad Magazine determined that she was the first woman dispatcher.

She was born Phyllis Vohland and graduated from the Clarksburg, Indiana High School in 1944. Clarksville is one of those Indiana farm hamlets where you 'can't hardly get there from here' towns. So without any railroad nearby they played no part in her career choice. After graduating from high school Phyllis enrolled in a war workers training course sponsored by the New York Central in St. Louis Mo. where she studied telegraphy and accounting. Finishing the course in August 1945 she was assigned to the agent at Rushville Indiana to continue her training. After working at several different stations from the extra board for the experience she then worked as relief car distributer in Indianapolis. In her spare moments she watched the dispatchers at work. One of them jokingly suggested she try dispatching.

After she made her decision the officials had to be convinced, which they were, and Phyllis was a third trick dispatcher in training. During the day she was compiling morning reports, showing train performance on the division for the last 24 hours and they had to be correct. Every night she would dispatch trains while the regular dispatcher watched and taught. After she had been in training for six months, a dispatcher became ill. With no one to relieve him, Phyllis took over on her own. Phyllis' training was the same as a man would have to have in every respect. The night she was assigned to her first trick as a dispatcher was Jan.29, 1948. The railroad was in the grip of one of those Indiana winter storms where everything was ice covered with snow. During this time Phyllis proved herself as a dispatcher.

In 1951 she married and became Phyllis Pangburn. Phyllis retired July 1983 with 38 years of service. Her service as an operator was in Indiana on the Michigan and Chicago Divisions and as a dispatcher at Indianapolis. Some may wonder why I never addressed Phyllis as Miss or Mrs. This is not disrespect it is respect. Using her first name was an indication that, as they say today, she was part of the team. Having worked with Phyllis both before and after radio came, Phyllis had my respect and trust as well the respect and trust of all the engine and train crews.

[Phyllis and Larry Baggerly at the 2004 NYCSHS Convention in Indianapolis.]
Phyllis has kept busy after retirement going to Florida a few months each winter and attending several breakfasts for retired railroaders each month while in Indiana. Not content, Phyllis and retired dispatcher P. Gallagher organized a yearly breakfast for retired railroaders in June at Indianapolis. To say it was a success is an understatement. The breakfast has grown from 3 to 200 last year from the NYC, PRR, PC and Conrail, and a great time is had by all.

This is written as a tribute to a great lady and a fine dispatcher and friend, Phyllis Pangburn.

Maurice Lewman

From the Indy Star Obits:
Pangburn, Phyllis June Vohland - July 22, 2005
Phyllis June Vohland Pangburn 79, Indianapolis, passed away July 21, 2005. She was born July 30, 1925 in Clarksburg, IN. After graduating from Clarksburg High School in 1944, Phyllis enrolled in war workers training by New York Central Railroad, where she studied telegraphy and accounting. In 1948, she became the first woman dispatcher in the nation, credited by the New York Central System. She retired from the Railroad in July 1983 after 38 years of service as an operator in Indiana, on the Michigan and Chicago Divisions, and as a dispatcher in Indianapolis. Phyllis was a member of the Order of Railroad Telegraphers, Railroad Business Women's Association, The American Train Dispatchers' Association, New York Central System Historical Society, and the Order of the Eastern Star #47 in Greensburg, IN. Phyllis married Clarence Dewey Pangburn in 1951, and he preceded her in death in 1967.

Maurice worked the Michigan Division from 1947-1981. He then worked on the Bee Line from 1981-1992. From 1947 until august 1950, he worked on the section at Shirley and Markleville. In 1950 he started firing on steam and then on through the diesels. Maurice said, "I had the pleasure of working with C. C. Staley and Ron Buser many times."

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