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  Railroads of Madison County
Jim Peters
Tales of the Rails

Trainmasters
By Jim Peters

Jan 23, 2003
The Trainmaster was akin to an Army Sergeant, ie, a liaison between the brass and the troops. He was a seasoned railroad men, up from the ranks of Trainmen and Operators. Discipline was managed fairly, with no taint of vindictiveness. Most infractions were violations of Rule G, a common occurrence. Culpability resulting in death or major damage was dealt with severely. When I came upon the railroad scene the Erie Division was run by Supt. Jim Frawley, Asst. Supt. Gus Hart and Trainmasters Tim Harrington and Norb Fitzgerald, an Irish hierarchy you might say. The wartime boom brought Leo Cole, whom I fondly remember as the one who had instigated my employment.

Tom Horton was short in stature, earning him the nickname, "Tom Thumb," though not in a derogatory sense. One Monday morning in 1943 I was at Erie station to catch #21 to go to work at Willoughby. It was picking up draftees at Willoughby that day. Dad was there on his way home after deadheading from Collinwood. We were soon joined by Tom, on his way to his office in Ashtabula. He knew that Ralph Dean, the Agent at Willoughby, was trying to find someone to fill the vacant Clerk's position, including a part-time mortician. Tom asked me how the undertaker project was progressing and I replied, "I'm afraid it's a dead issue, Tom," getting a laugh. He sat next to me on the train and I welcomed our conversation. #21 was running a bit tardy and got me to work a half hour late. Ralph had docked me in the past for being late and asked me, "Did anyone see you on the train?" The next time I saw Dad he said, "You should have called him 'Mr. Horton'." "Why? He doesn't call me Mr. Peters."

H.N. ("Pete") Curtiss's cherubic face wore a perpetual grin. The Book of Rules classes conducted by him were short and informal. Even after being promoted to Asst. Supt. he still loved getting out on the road, visiting towers and stations. When leaving your office he always said to tell the next guy up the line he'd be there soon, something we always did anyway when we had "visitors."

I thought George Wieland was a prince among men. More than once he caught me in, say, an awkward situation. One day at Perry he showed up when I was outside polishing my new '56 Ford. I expected a reprimand when we went into the office, but he didn't say boo. In the summer of '59 Sally and the kids were staying with my parents near Buffalo following her near-fatal miscarriage. This day she was on #35 for an appointment with her obstetrician in Euclid. I was to meet her at East Cleveland. The train was late and I was afraid she'd miss her appointment. I got ahold of Neil Harrison at Painesville to notify the Conductor to have her get off at Collinwood. I drove over from Wickliffe and who came out of the "Y" but George. He never questioned what the hell I was doing away from my office at that time of day, but quietly accepted my explanation.

Yes, the railroad operated in an atmosphere of mutual respect, due to fine gentlemen such as these. Then there was Ned Crowley.

Trainmasters, Part 2
By Jim Peters

Jan 29, 2003
We were required to observe passing trains, and if any defects spotted, to give a "swingdown" (stop), or if none a "highball" (proceed). I stopped a lot of westbounds at Irving with hot boxes due to wastegrabs on cars that were humped at Gardenville, notifying the Dispatcher each time. Once in a great while I missed a train while waiting on someone shipping or picking up freight or express. Ned Crowley, whom I soon dubbed "Crawly," was purported to be the nephew of a former President of the road. His manner was that of a person always in a hurry, hellbent on some avenging mission, and never smiling. One spring day in 1945 he came storming into the office and yelled, "You're never out!" I wanted to ask him if he was on every single train, or to check with the Dispatcher to show that he was wrong, but I figured he had a short fuse so I held my tongue.

"Why don't you scrub this place out once in a while!" "There's no water here." Actually, I did scrub the floor once with hot water supplied by a high-wheeled Pacific on the work train. He then systematically opened every cupboard and drawer in the place, searching for I know not what. In one was my holstered revolver. "Who belongs to this!" "I have a permit to carry it." He just grunted and closed the drawer.

During the winter I had bought a gallon jug of Port wine, which I called my "blood thinner." The now-empty jug was on a shelf under the counter. I held my breath when he pulled it out, holding it like he had just found the Holy Grail. "What's this!" "It's to carry drinking water." I thought I was cooked when he uncapped it and sniffed. But his red nose did not betray me and he put it back, much to my relief. Later on he and I had a row over supplying empty reefers to the canning factory.

I had previously written the Supt. regarding lack of water at this station, to no avail. Now, Ned had given me a wedge. I wrote to Tom Hadley, the ORT Chairman, stating I had been reprimanded by Mr. Crowley for "not scrubbing this place out once in a while." Shortly thereafter a deal was made with the canning factory to supply water to the station. The B&B Dept. laid a water line under the yard tracks and installed a basin in the office.

One day after work I stopped at Silver Creek for a chat with the Agent, Marty Leone. An extra Operator, Ray Matlock, was there tending the hand-throw crossovers. Ned walked in, and evidently he and Ray had tangled earlier that day. "Tell the Dispatcher the work train is ready to head for Dunkirk!" "Tell him yourself, I'm off duty!" "Then get the hell off Company property!" I left before he could jump on me for something.

Fast-forward to 1960. I was worked a relief Job out of Dunkirk, with Monday at Warren. One day I returned from lunch and was chatting with the Asst. Agent, Harold Hovis. He happened to mention Crowley. I described the details of the encounter at Irving, and added that if it hadn't been for good old Ned the place would never have had water. Just then the door to the toilet opened and out stepped Ned! All he said was, "If anyone is looking for me tell 'em I'm heading north!" When he left I asked Harold how long he'd been in there. He just shrugged, so I said, "I hope he got an earful!"

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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