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  Railroads of Madison County
Jim Peters
Tales of the Rails

From the Grand To the Grind
By Jim Peters

Jan 22, 2003
At age 39, with the prospect of no more getting bumped, it looked as if we could finally put down roots. It had not been easy on Sally and the kids. But she never complained. When someone asked her how she could put up with all the moving she said simply, "I go where my husband goes." Fixing up the old house kept us busy for quite some time. We contracted for new wiring and copper plumbing, and for the kitchen to be remodeled. We rented a power sander and refinished the hardwood floors. We laid new carpeting in the living room, stairway and upstairs hall, and linoleum in the kitchen. We wallpapered all the rooms and painted the ceilings and wood moldings. In 1952 I built three NYC cabooses in 3/16" scale in the Sinclairville depot. Five years later, when we were in the apartment I purchased an American Flyer electric train set. It became the basis for my S Scale model railroad in the basement. It was begun in the fall of '64 after the new wiring was in and I had built a workbench in the offset under the den. At last I had the space to build and operate miniature trains.

The first 21 years on the railroad had been enjoyable and rewarding. I met a lot of people and every day was different. Sometimes the events were comical and sometimes scary, but never dull or boring. Getting paid for this adventure made it even better. In Cleveland that situation changed, and the job became just that, a job. It consisted of detailing freight and passenger train performances, delays, unusual occurrences, etc. These reports were typed up for various local officials and phoned to the General Manager's office three times on each trick. The Cleveland Report Clerk handled eastbounds and the Erie man the westbounds.

In addition, there was a bank of 20 recorders receiving input from lineside ot box and dragging equipment detectors. As you scanned the tape emerging from a machine, you flashed a red light or green light to the affected Train Dispatcher, depending on whether or not there was an indication. In the beginning my job was saddled with the work of the former Chief's Clerk in Erie. This impossible situation went on for about a month until an appointed position was established. It was put on with the stipulation that in event of future force reduction it would be abolished before any Operator's position.

Moving the TCS machines from Erie had proceeded smoothly, with very little disruption of traffic. The plan was to combine the three Dispatching desks in Erie with the two in Cleveland, eliminating three Chiefs, three Dispatchers and 2 Relief Jobs. But the result was chaos. Everything came to a standstill until the original assignments were reinstated. Also, an additional Chief was appointed to oversee the total operation. Management was astounded when seven men from the Erie office opted for severance pay instead of moving. Net result of the Consolidation was that the Operators lost one job, the Chiefs gained one and there was no one to handle Relief and Extra Assignments.

For the previous 12 years the Operators had been paid a training rate to learn new jobs. To become an extra Dispatcher you still had to learn on your own time. Only two extra Operators had been recruited and the Dispatchers were complaining about not getting any days off. Finally, in January of '66 six of us with regular positions were selected to be in a Dispatcher's training program. We were to be paid the same rate as that for learning Operator's jobs. We said no way. We wanted the same rate as our regular positions, plus maintaining the right to return to same if we wanted to drop out. Mr. Vajda, who was in charge of the program, said, "We're not buying Dispatchers." That ended the meeting.

Four months later we were again called in and told that our conditions would prevail. Enough new people had been hired to cover our jobs, which would be classified as temporary vacancies until we obtained regular Dispatcher assignments. I didn't train on any of the Cleveland desks but got qualified on all three Erie desks. I worked my first day as extra Dispatcher on 2nd trick East End November 27, 1966.

Jim Peters

Pay High, Esteem Low
By Jim Peters

Jan 22, 2003
In spite of their clout, those who were represented by the American Train Dispatchers Association, suffered under worse working conditions than the Operators. If an Operator was diverted from his regular assignment to another, he was paid the higher rate of the two jobs, plus time and a half for anything outside his regular hours. Dispatchers received straight time for the job diverted to, regardless of the hours. If displaced from a position a Dispatcher could be notified at any time, even at home, whereas an Operator had to be notified on the job, at least two hours before going off duty. At one of the Book of Rules sessions, conducted by Mr. Curtiss, he asked me the main reason I wanted to become a Dispatcher. I replied, "For the money!" He got a pained look on his face and said, "What about the prestige?" It was hard to suppress a laugh.

The good thing about Dispatching was the pay: In 1966 it was $32.92 a day, versus $24.09 for my Operator's job. The bad thing was, it was too low, considering the responsibility. But the extra work was steady. A bit too steady, in fact. In July of '67 I worked 27 days, including 13 in a row. The ATDA did not consider you to be a Dispatcher until you held your own regular position. Working extra you were still under the jurisdiction of the TCU, but because it was a non-TCU category, you were in limbo if you got into trouble.

On Sunday, September 10th I was working 1st trick on the East End. There was an endless parade of trains in each direction and they all had to change engine crews at Erie, a two-track bottleneck. The eastbound monster auto train, ML-12, could fit in only three of my sidings, and two of them were occupied with other trains. I could have put ML-12 in the long siding at North East (blocking a couple road crossings), but it would have meant big delays to a half dozen westbounds while it crawled up the grade and crossed over ahead of them into this siding on the north side. Because of the engine crew situation at Erie, I let everything run, following each other, westbounds on 1, eastbounds on 2. The crews were jumping off one train and doubling back on another, and there were no delays waiting for crews.

The shit hit the fan when ML-12 reached Frontier with hot van trains SV-2 and SV-6 right behind her. The Buffalo Superintendent was enraged because Frontier Yard was not built to handle this situation. He had previously been at Cleveland, and this time he wanted me fired. This was impossible, as there was no rule violation involved. Instead, I was notified that I was "disqualified" This action was unprecedented, but Mr. Swanson had to be mollified. The other Dispatchers were dismayed, because if it happened to me, it could happen to them. After taking two weeks vacation I went back on the Report job, where at least I'd have regular hours and days off, and much less pressure. I didn't mind losing the "prestige."

On January 22, 1968 I was walking through the Terminal concourse, and the ATDA rep was waiting for me. He said that he thought he could get me back Dispatching. All I had to do was meet with the Superintendent alone and agree to whatever he said. I said OK, but I wouldn't beg. Mr. Cravens asked me if I wanted it and I said yes, and he said he would notify the Chief. I had two Operator days off and then marked off sick two days. I was back as extra Dispatcher on the 27th. Then, two Dispatchers took appointments elsewhere. One of the Cleveland men went to the Power Office in Philadelphia and Art Tiedeman, the incumbent of 3rd East End, went to the General Manager's office on West 3rd St. On March 22nd I was awarded 3rd East End on a regular basis. No more phone calls at all hours of the day and night to work extra assignments. In the eyes of God and the ATDA I was now a Train Dispatcher. In the meantime, the Crime of the Century had taken place. Some of the atrocities resulting from this fiasco will be revealed in future Tales.

Jim Peters


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

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