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  Railroads of Madison County
Jim Peters
Tales of the Rails

A 1930s Vignette
By Jim Peters

Dec 27, 2002
When lifting or punching a coach passenger's ticket the Conductor would issue a seat check. This was a small strip of pasteboard, colored to indicate a local or through destination. On the locals he would mark them as to where the passenger was getting off.

One day my brother Bill (11) and I (13) were on No. 52 returning home from Cleveland. Leaving Collinwood I showed the Conductor Mom's pass, and said, "Erie." He grunted, "OK," but did not give us a seat check. Out of Painesville he said, "Going to Ashtabula?" "No, Erie." Still no seat check. Leaving Geneva it was the same: "Ashtabula?" "Erie!" This time he made out the check and stuck it into its slot atop the seatback.

Our open window was on the North side and when we arrived at Ashtabula the westbound work train pulled alongside with its caboose stopped next to us, waiting to get into the yard. It was Dad! We asked him how he was getting home and he said, "After we put the outfit away I'll catch 32" (a mail and express train). "OK, we'll go with you!" When Bill and I got off and walked across the platform we were practically on tiptoe.

Jim Peters

Mr Railroad
By Jim Peters

Dec 28, 2002
Dad's love of trains (which I inherited) induced him to quit school and work on the railroad. His first job was Yard Clerk on the PRR at Erie. In 1916 he went on the NYC as Brakeman, giving the legal age of 21, rather than his actual 16. When Railroad Retirement became effective some 20 years later it was difficult proving his real age. Luckily, when he joined the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen he had applied under his real age, and the Retirement Board accepted this as legal evidence.

When I was growing up I loved his stories and riding with him on freight trains. I think he was secretly pleased when I joined the NYC. He showed me hand signals, some of which were not in the Book of Rules, and stressed the importance of being constantly alert when on or near tracks and trains. He was never one to boast, but he prided himself on his use of the brake valve. It required a certain finesse when one "pulled the air," in order to avoid broken couplings or even a derailment. Also, it required good judgment as to where the head end, often a mile away, would stop. This was especially true if the train was on Track 1 or 2, or as he put it, "out in the deep."

Nepotism on the railroad was rampant. It usually consisted of brothers, or fathers and sons. In our case it was both. One morning in 1943 when I was at Willoughby, Trainmaster Fitzgerald came into the office and when he saw me he said, "Oh, oh, here's another one. I just had breakfast with your dad at the Y and bumped into your Uncle Bob at the yard office."

Dad was very convivial after a few drinks and called everyone "Neighbor." In the 50s and 60s Sally, the kids and I often visited my parents in Cheektowaga. One night, after the children and ladies had retired, he and I "railroaded" for several hours, killing a quart of Canadian Club in the process. I guess all that talk kept us from getting stoned.

Jim Peters

Jim Peters "Tales of the Rails" stories are Copyrighted by Jim Peters and may not be used without his express permission.
"My Dad, Al Peters, was a Trainman and Conductor, starting with the NYC in 1916. Retired in 1968. I started in 1942 as Agent-Operator, and worked on the Erie Division until retiring on disability in 1981. Some of the positions I worked were Freight Agent, Ticket Agent, Teletype Operator, Dispatcher Report Clerk and Train Dispatcher in the Cleveland Union Terminal, when the Erie Division and Cleveland Divisions were consolidated in 1963. Altogether I worked at 20+ stations and offices in New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio, Main Line and Valley Branch. - Jim Peters

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