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  Railroads of Madison County
Jim Peters
Tales of the Rails

Tales of Woe
By Jim Peters

Mar 12, 2003
One Saturday during the war #43 made a special stop at Irving to pick up the bridge gang. I ran the Ford into the freight room and got on to go to Erie for the weekend. I was carrying my sturdy typewriter case containing dirty clothes. It was SRO and there was a bunch of soldiers in the coach vestibule. One of them asked me if he could sit on the case and I said sure. It was the least I could do for my Country, right? When I went back later to retrieve it, what was my reward for the good deed? Someone had vomited on it.

Back in the 30s I remember standing on the rear platform, watching the manual crossing gates rising one by one as we passed slowly through Dunkirk. In 1940 the tracks were elevated, eliminating the road crossings. However, the passenger station wasn't built until after the war, but still using the old Erie RR station/hotel. The new station was a small brick structure at ground level. A divided tunnel led from the waiting room to a stairway up to the platform between Tracks 1 & 2. The other section ran from the loading area to an elevator for the baggage/mail carts, called trucks.

When I was at Dunkirk Ticket 1960-1961, there was no Baggageman on 2nd Trick. One of the trains I worked was #51. I loaded baggage onto the LW combo, storage mail onto a HW baggage car and First Class mail on and off a HW RPO, in that order. On this particular day the RPO Clerk was a little slow handing me his sacks, and the train began moving! As he pulled by the old crab of a Conductor yelled, "We can't wait around for you to do your visiting!" I screamed back, "Up your a--!" When I got back down to the office I was trembling with rage. I called the Chief, Fred McCurdy, and told him it was easy enough to get killed around here, and when I'm working a train I expect it to stand still. I never saw old man Dugan after that. He either stayed inside, bid another job or retired.

One day #51's Conductor (I think his name was Anderson) said he had a teenage girl who got carried by Buffalo. She was enroute to a Canadian destination and had left the Detroit coach in Buffalo. When she reboarded the train the Detroit section had departed. I tried to calm the hysterical girl during the two hour wait for #208 to get her back to Buffalo. I notified the Station Master at BCT to have someone from Travelers Aid meet her on arrival. All in a day's work.

Jim Peters

Hot Stuff
By Jim Peters

Mar 15, 2003
Axle journals were lubricated by oil-soaked wasted packed in the journal boxes. The waste was shredded cloth, so fine that only the threads remained. An overheated journal was evidenced by the emission of dull gray smoke, and then by flames when the packing ignited. The train was stopped, the crew doped the box and the car was set out for the Car Dept. to handle. If the journal was undamaged it was rebrassed and forwarded to destination. If it was deformed or cut the car was sent to the nearest shop for new wheels. A burn-off occurred when the bronze-alloy bearing, called a "brass," melted, allowing the wedge that held it place to cut down through the journal. The result was a derailment, usually ending in a big pileup. Time was, a burn-off resulted in an investigation, and someone had to answer for it.

In the mid 50s this system was replaced by an oil-soaked sponge, held in place by a spring clip in the bottom of the box. It eliminated waste grabs, but the drawback of this setup was that if the sponge dried out there was no warning of a hotbox, other than its high-pitched squeal. This situation was remedied by hot box detectors every 20 miles or so. They relayed the presence of excess heat to recorders in the Dispatchers' office.

I don't remember its symbol but we handled a unit train consisting of 70-ton capacity gons loaded with large slabs of steel, moving from Bethlehem Steel Co. in Lackawanna (Seneca) to their mill at Burns Harbor, IN. When I was working the Report job in Cleveland part of my duties included reading the tapes spewed out by the recorders. One day Supt. Swanson came into my cubbyhole just as I signaled the East End Dispatcher of an indication on the slab train at Silver Creek. I told Mr. Swanson, "You're gonna have hotboxes on this train all summer long unless you can get Buffalo to oil the boxes before it leaves Seneca." He snarled, "You just pay attention to the recorders!" But a few months later mechanical oiling devices were installed at Collinwood for the eastbound trains of empties. Did I get any credit for my suggestion? Hardly. Did it eliminate burn-offs? Not quite.

Part 2
We were getting the slab train more and more on 3rd Trick. One night I was dispatching on the East End and it had an indication at CP 79 (Harbor Creek). I radioed the head end, giving him the wheel location on the 10th head car. The caboose also had a radio, and between them they thought I said 10th rear car, which was found to be OK. When they reached CP 85 (P&E Xing) the journal burned off and the derailed car plunged through the wall of the Erie City Iron Works. It happened near the end of my tour and Supt. Brinkworth told me to stick around until they knew what happened. He asked me if I had given the crew the correct location and I said, "Yes, check the tape." He said, "Only phone talk is recorded, not radio." I thought that odd, since 3/4 of communication was now by radio. Later, of course, everything was recorded. If there was an investigation I was not invited to attend. Anyway, as a result of this mixup we were instructed to specify so many cars from engine or caboose.

Sometime later the slab train had an indication at this same detector, this time the 7th car from the caboose. I told the head end to pull down far enough at the depot to clear the Interlocking at CP 85, then told the Yardmaster at East Yard to have his engine take off the bad order from the rear. But Louie Albert, the Chief, happened by and overruled me, telling the YM that the railroad was "too busy" to make that move. Actually, it would have taken all of 15 minutes. He told me to make the setout at CP 92 (Chapel Road). I was then relieved by 1st trick and went home. The next day I learned the journal had burned off when they were setting the car out (that must been some maneuver). The crew outlawed there. Not a word was ever said to me about it. Evidently these incidents, which used to be considered very serious, were now the least of Management's woes.

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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