Jan 3, 2003
The area controlled by WV extended a distance of two miles. It had 90 levers of the pistol-grip type. Squeezing its "trigger" allowed each lever to be pulled or pushed about three inches into its locking position. They were wired to the switch and signal motors. Most of the movements involved relaying locomotives on eastbound freights, the heavier ones requiring pushers. Also, East End and West End cabooses were exchanged on each shift between Downing Road and Walbridge Road. In between the moves through or across the plant were the passage of about 14 passenger and M&E trains on 2nd Trick.
I drew up a large diagram of this complex and soon memorized it. From his desk "Pep" would call out the moves ("The yard to 2 siding!") and I handled the levers. At dusk I cleaned, filled and lit the red and white lanterns. I thought this was as close as I'd ever get to working on the railroad. One morning in early November, 1942 I arrived home from the machine shop and brother Bill said that Mr. Peplinski had called. He wanted me to contact the Chief Train Dispatcher. But I called "Pep" first, to check. He told me that Mr. Cole, the Trainmaster, had seen me in action, and had referred me to the CTD as a possible candidate for employment.
On the way to Erie's Union Station to see the Chief, Dad said, "If he asks if you drink, you say no." "OK, I won't mention the beer case in the back seat." The Chief's Clerk, Howard Klang, made out some papers, one of which established my seniority date, Nov. 10, 1942. I said I'd quit my job the next day and Art Hyder, the Chief, said, "You'd better hold off, you still have to pass a physical exam." Actually, I was ready to quit the other job anyway.
I was sent to the Trainmaster's office in Wesleyville for a vision and color test and issued a Book of Rules and Employee Timetable. An appointment was made with the Company Doctor and surprisingly, I passed, making me think they were really hard up for help. When I posted at Dock Jct. my spindly legs and 118 pounds were not enough to move the mechanical levers into locking position. Getting qualified in the four electric plants would result in very few assignments from the Extra Board. That meant that I could only qualify in electric plants, not the mechanical ones, resulting in not enough assignments to make it worthwhile, so I gave up.
However, in addition to Towermen, the Chief had jurisdiction over Station Agents. He encouraged me to try that category as stations greatly outnumbered towers. He assured me there was nothing to it. "Just put your feet up and look out the window." An advantage was, that Stations were day jobs, with Sunday off. I posted with Bob O'Brien at Harbor Creek and he showed me how to hang the mail for #35 to grab on the fly. Also, the rudiments of handling express shipments. Next I went to Fairview, and when I walked in Andy Nielsen was frying bacon and eggs on a hotplate. He said, "The first thing you gotta learn is how to cook."
The Chief wanted me to cover a vacancy in the freight house at Hubbard, OH, but I didn't want to go there because of the difficulty in getting back and forth to Erie. I had heard that the extra man working at Derby, NY wanted out of there so he could go to Cassadaga, to be closer to his home. I persuaded the Chief to send me to Derby. I went from the Chief's office down the hall to MS Telegraph Office. Dick Barry, the 1st trick Operator, rang up Derby and advised Kenny Hunt that his relief would be on #60 the next day. He said, "Good, I'll meet him at Angola on my lunch hour."
When I arrived at the Chief's office the next morning, I picked up a message addressed to C&E No. 60: ERIE, PA, DEC. 17, 1942. No. 60 STOP AT ANGOLA TO LAND OPERATOR J A PETERS. JJF When the train pulled in I handed a copy to the engineer and one to the conductor, and got aboard. As I settled into my seat I felt rather smug. I couldn't help thinking, "Aha! The adventure begins."
Jim Peters "Tales of the Rails" stories are Copyrighted by Jim Peters Ja76peters@aol.com 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