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Jim Peters
Tales of the Rails

Redskins and Firewater
By Jim Peters

Jan 9, 2003
Ed Radian, the Agent at Irving, NY, retired, and I was awarded the position. When I went there January 24, 1944, a big project was starting to get underway- replacing the bridge over Cattaraugus Creek. The Contractor was the Walsh Construction Co., and I was soon busy with the inflow of construction materials for them and the railroad. The project took nearly two years to complete, and included temporary wooden trestles to keep the traffic moving.

Regular carload business was derived mostly from Silver Creek Preserving Co. Bartlett Oil got an occasional tank car from Texaco and Cattaraugus Sand & Gravel loaded creek sand in hoppers for the NYC engine terminal in Buffalo. The station was located on the Seneca Indian Reservation, and I got along with them quite well. But where alcohol was involved they could be a bit nasty. The guard at the bridge site was robbed and his rifle broken. One day I was "requested" to hand over two dollars, and complied. I bought a revolver and obtained a permit to carry it. I was never bothered again.

One day I was sweeping out the freight room, with my shirt off. "Hellooo!" It was a beautiful blonde, about my age. She was wearing brief white shorts and halter top. She was there to pick up an Express shipment. I carried the medium-sized carton as we started through the dimly-lit passageway to the office. She stopped before a closed door, and wanted to know what was inside. "It's just the oil room." She asked to look at it, so I opened the door and she stepped inside and I continued to the office. I set the carton down on the well padded bench, put my shirt back on and handed her the Prepaid Express receipt to sign . Then she asked for a cigarette, and after a few puffs asked to see the carton's contents. I pulled out a leather pony saddle and we bent over to examine it. By now I was getting a bit excited and wondering if she was going to hang around until my lunch hour. Then she says her car has a flat tire on the road alongside the tracks. Just then a truck pulled in to load and unload. I asked the driver if he'd passed a disabled car. He said he hadn't, and when we returned to the office she was gone. Ever since, I've wondered if she was just a chick on the make or a Company spy trying to set me up for discipline. I knew the Company employed people as "spotters," but I wonder what would have happened if that damned truck hadn't shown up.

The spring of '46 brought the bridge project to a close and bad news for Ol' Jim. Six months after the war ended I received this message: YOU ARE DISPLACED AGENT POSITION IRVING BY A R HUNT EFFECTIVE MARCH 14. ADVISE YOUR CHOICE OF DISPLACEMENT. ABH I had 10 days to do just that or go on the Extra Board.

Jim Peters

Getting Around
By Jim Peters

Jan 9, 2003
When I was bumped from Irving in '46 by Alan Hunt there were no younger Agents I could displace. My only option was the Ticket Clerk-Operator at Painesville. I went to see the Chief to give him my bump notice in person. I didn't want to go to Painesville if I could avoid it, so I made the notice "effective date later." I wanted some time off, and maybe a temporary vacancy would turn up. As if reading my thoughts the Chief said, "Porter Blackney is off sick until further notice and we want you to go there." Fredonia was a dream job. I didn't wish Mr. Blackney any bad luck, but....

There were two clerks in the office. I wore a suit and tried to look wise. Mine were the usual Operator's duties: Copy and deliver train orders, handle messages and operate the Manual Block semaphores. I took care of damaged freight claims and sold goods that were on hand, refused or unclaimed. The Clerks did all the rest. This happy state of affairs lasted five weeks, then Blackney came back. I still wanted some time off before going to Painesville. Instead, I was requested to cover a vacancy at North Girard, PA, starting April 23rd.

This was a seven-day assignment, which meant the Agent's day off was Monday, covered by a Relief Man. Charley Chase, the Clerk, had Sunday off, so the Agent was alone that day. I thought Sunday would be an easy eight hours. But in addition to the four regular passenger trains, there were three special stops that day. Ticket business was quite brisk. This was a joint station with the PRR, which used NYC tracks between Erie and Girard Jct. The PRR had a passenger train each way between Erie and Pittsburgh that also stopped here. There were five accounts to handle: NYC Freight & Passenger, PRR Freight & Passenger, and Railway Express. I walked in on a sorry mess. The accounts were not in order and there was a cash shortage. The extra man I had relieved was not crooked, just incompetent. Finally, a qualified extra man relieved me, and this time I did take time off.

Jan 10, 2003
There were no such things as vacations back then. Any time off was on your own. I used mine to visit a school chum of mine, who after the war was living in Schenectady. Returning home I could no longer postpone the inevitable, so I headed for Painesville. At that time there was a Ticket Agent and Ticket Clerk-Operator on 1st Trick, plus a Baggageman. Also, a Ticket Agent on 2nd. On May 19th, the day before I was to start there, I stopped in to size up the job. I was there about an hour, between trains. It consisted of message work, making reservations and compiling reports on the previous day's business and cash balances.

A tragedy occurred on my first day there. Around Noon the Dispatcher rang and said an ambulance was needed to meet the work train, a man had been electrocuted. I called the hospital, telling them where to send it. The work train arrived first and the crew laid the poor man on the ground next to the platform. He was not breathing and his skin was a horrible blue-grey color. The ambulance crew worked on him, but it was too late. He was the Signal Maintainer and he had been cleaning out a battery box and brushed against the high-voltage contacts. Today I wonder if he may have been saved if CPR was known and practiced back then.

I arrived from Erie each morning on #21, and in between office chores, worked the trains: Baggage off 90, mail onto 151, mail onto 52, storage mail off 32 (this was an unmanned car; I had to get inside to read the mail tags for the surrounding towns). Then mail onto 43 and mail onto 44. As soon as 44 was loaded I hopped on and rode to Erie. The hardest part for me was the monthly shipment of catalogs that went on 151. Those sacks weighed 100 pounds and there were at least a dozen of them. It was a real workout, but I had developed muscles wrestling freight at Willoughby. All of this was in addition to the mail and baggage handled by Charley White, the Baggageman. Painesville was a very busy station.

Behind the half-dozen headend mail and express cars on 44 were an old "Standard" coach and one of the new ones on the rear. On my first day, not finding an empty seat in the "hot" car I started to enter the one with air-conditioning. I met Conductor O'Connor in the vestibule and said, "Any seats in there?" He yelled, "Turn around and go back where you were!" So I stood until we reached Ashtabula. Every Saturday it was the same, so some of us deadheads sat on mail sacks in the car ahead.

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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