Traveling The Irish Rails With Norman

A short story by Chip Deyerle

Authors NoteThis short story was released and published in an anthology entitled “New Directions” -for more information see Copies are available on

As the Irish summer wanes, European visitors continue to pour into Ireland to enjoy the green beauty of the Emerald Isle and to take in the sights and sounds around Dublin, a city with a history of more than a thousand years. The streets of Dublin are surging with a stream of visitors filling the pedestrian shopping areas of the old town. Restaurants and taverns, bedecked with hanging baskets of petunias, gladiolas, and yellow Gerber daisies, are busy serving up delicious bowls of classic Irish stew and brown bread accompanied by a pint of dark Guinness.

Cead Mile Failte read the top of the ticket envelope, which means “One Hundred Thousand Welcomes,” in Gaelic.  Am I in the right place this morning? After all, there are two train stations in Dublin.

I check my watch and it’s almost 6:30 a.m. Snack vendors are busy stocking fresh pastries and scones in the glass cases to be consumed by hungry travelers or commuters on their way to work. The scones are exceptionally large. Better take two on the morning train to Limerick for day tour. The station is dark in the corners, but the ticket machines are busy. Through openings in the skylight, an occasional bird flies around the ceiling looking for its nest.

It was in this setting that I first noticed an older man in a bright yellow rain jacket and polo shirt, with chiseled features and massive, medusa-like silver curly locks overlaying his receding forehead.  I guessed that he was in his early 70s, and he seemed quite spry for his many years. In his bony hand he held a list of what I guess were the names of tourists, like myself whom he would lead on a tour of the west coast of Ireland today.

Sitting there in the station, I held a very hot cup of Irish tea, contemplating which hand to hold the cup in and why I had even bothered to order tea in the first place. I soon realized that tea requires patience and that tea served the Irish for the practice of patience—yet to be discovered in the United States. But this is Ireland and I need to enjoy the customs of my host country.

“Are ya’ booked on the rail tour to Limerick this morning, lad?” asked the old man as I sat there on the bench, waiting for my cup of tea to cool.

“Why, yes I am!” I replied, surveying him as I sat there. At age 65, I did not consider myself a lad by any means. I presented my ticket for the tour. He introduced himself as Norman.

“Ah, yes, here you are! – and welcome!” said Norman, “and where are you from, Michael?”

“I’m from Northern Virginia, near Washington, DC,” I replied.

“Well, today, you’ll be travelin’ in the last car of the train to Cork,” said Norman, “Now be ready to board at 6:50.”

Norman spoke to other members of the group assembled in the waiting area, checking off each name and meticulously noting the time of check in.  He responded to questions genuinely reflecting well on his heritage and knowledge of the railroads, and particularly Iarnród Éireann, the Irish National Railway.

I later learned that Norman retired from a carpeting business fifty years to the day he started work.  After retiring, his plan included travel on every remaining steam train still running in Europe. After that, he really didn’t have a plan, but he did love railroading, which had led him to Poland, France, Italy, the Baltics, Belgium, Holland and Germany to ride scheduled steam trains and excursion trains throughout Europe.

One day, about three years ago, Norman met up with an old friend who asked if he had retired.  Norman assured he had retired for some time. His friend told him that there was a job that would be perfect for him, fulfilling his desires to work with the railroad. Nothing sounded sweeter to Norman nor brought more joy, than to ride the rails. It was as if he had been reborn.

Promptly at 6:50 a.m., Norman led our group from the waiting area, through the electronic gates, to the train platforms and the waiting train for Limerick.  The sleek aluminum and glass rail coaches were as aerodynamic as possible, permitting the train to sprint at speeds over 100 miles per hour. As we boarded, the conductor time-stamped our tickets, unlike the centuries-old ticket punch unique to each conductor.

Our departure from Dublin was smooth and soon we were on our way south to Limerick to meet a bus for excursion to Bunratty Castle, Doolin for lunch, the Cliffs of Mohr, and reaching Galway around 6:30 p.m. for the return to Dublin. It would be a full day of sightseeing.

As the tour guide, Norman provided commentary about passing landmarks, such as ruins of a castle, a stone bridge, a distant cathedral or village.  It was as if he knew each village and landmark personally and would gladly take us there for a tour at any time.  It was refreshing to meet someone at his age that was joyfully doing something he dearly loved.

“Now, in exactly one minute, we will be passing the Irish National Raceway, where you will see the grandstands in the distance and the many horses in the pastures surrounding the course,” said Norman as he pointed out the side of the fast-moving coach.  Sure enough, in exactly one minute, the race way became visible as well as a multitude of horses in the pasture.

After passing a few more landmarks, Norman sat down across from my seat, engaging me in conversation about the history of the railroad. Soon I realized we had a joint interest in model trains as well as railroading in general. Comparing notes, I asked how long he had worked for the railroad.

“I’ve only been working as a tour guide for about three years now,” replied Norman, as he further related his job in the carpet business, his retirement, and how he became a tour guide for the railroad “If I were to die tomorrow, I would pass happily,” confided Norman as he glanced out the window at the country side racing by. Here in the railcars, his definition of paradise was fulfilled. I am sure that Norman could live out his days on the train if permitted.

Reaching the Limerick station, Norman advised us of the plan to catch a bus and transfer to yet another bus to take us to Bunratty Castle and Doolin.  In pouring rain, we made our way from the train and to a seat on a crowed local bus.  After a hectic ride through Limerick, we arrived at the local bus terminal and stepped in the rain again onto another bus. Moments later we were on our way to visit Bunratty Castle.  Concerned about the schedule, Norman was always the Sherpa, waiting in the background, carefully observing, and ready to jump in where needed.

After visiting this six hundred year old relic of rock and towers standing impressively amid green pastures, fields and trees, it was awe inspiring.   Tours through the inside of the castle revealed stained glass windows created by hand in the 14th century. Passage ways led to the parapets and down to the dungeon of the castle.  Outside, there was the infamous poison garden filled with plants such as arsenic, night shade, oleander, and other things poisonous to man. Perhaps Sleeping Beauty was Irish after all and was actually waiting in an inaccessible tower of Bunratty Castle for her Prince Charming to make his appearance, but that’s probably another story.

Quickly now, we were headed to Doolin for lunch at a local tavern. Via back roads barely wide enough for one vehicle, the bus lurched around curves and sudden stops for oncoming traffic, finally reaching the small village of Doolin. In O’Conner’s Tavern, we took a break from the tour and had hot, tea and a creamy vegetable soup for lunch in a classic Irish setting. Not much had changed in six hundred years, according to Norman, except for power poles, satellite dishes and running water notwithstanding.

Buttoning his rain jacket, Norman stood by the tavern door, his curly locks mussed by the wind, observing the hilly green pastures just beyond the village street.  A stream bubbled as it meandered at the bottom of the hill and running toward the west coast of Ireland and the Atlantic Ocean. Norman makes this same trip three times a week, but seemed enraptured with the emerald hills and fields crisscrossed with stone walls and hedge rows.

Soon, we are on our way again. Norman is standing in the isle of the pitching bus as we head over to the Cliffs of Mohr.  He reminds us that the cliffs are over seven hundred feet above the ocean and that there are no real barriers to prevent us from fall into the ocean or smashing into the rocks below- “Please be cautious—I don’t want to have to explain this to my boss!’ entreated Norman.

I am sure that Norman must have made arrangements with the almighty for the weather to improve that afternoon, because the rains rolled out to the Atlantic and the clouds began to recede. Following Norman’s plea for caution, we made our way out to behold the emerald green atop the cliffs and it was well worth it. Norman was right; it was a long way to the bottom of the cliffs, but what a memorable and beautiful place in this world.

Back on the bus, Galway is next through terrain similar to a moonscape.  Huge rocky patches of limestone define the west coast of Ireland.  Driving through this area was remarkable for its lack of vegetation.  Lots of rocks were used to build walls running up the hills on one side of the bus and others running down to the ocean. Norman commented that the walls defined the property boundaries for centuries.

Reaching Galway, Norman led us to the station for the train to Dublin. The return trip would have us in at 9:00 that evening.

Once on the train, Norman was back in his element. His running narrative gave us more landmarks to see as we travelled along the countryside.  Another castle, another cathedral, and another old railroad station refurbished and still in use were highlights pointed out by Norman.

“From here, we will reach a speed of over 100 miles per hour, so hold on tight,” commented Norman as the train surged to higher speed. The sun was now setting rapidly in the west.

Seeing that his duties were almost over, Norman sat with me for the remainder of the trip.  I asked if he would be going home afterwards. “Oh, no, I am having dinner at Ryan’s Pub tonight!” said Norman. “They have the best food in all of Dublin; besides they have their own farm where everything served and that farm is over 125 years old.  You should try it before you return home.”

I thanked Norman for the tip and promised I would.

Entering Heuston Station in Dublin, Norman led us back through the gate from the platform to the station interior.  After a round of applause, there were profuse handshakes, hugs and tips for Norman from our group of fellow travelers.  I thanked him for sharing his vision of Ireland with me and especially his railroading experiences.

Now, when I have my Irish breakfast tea each morning, I remember Norman, proud of his heritage and proud of his country.  Perhaps one day, I could show him the beauty of my Virginia countryside.  I could only wish to relate my countryside as well as he did for Ireland.  All aboard for Washington DC? Anyone?

On Assignment: Danbury Railway Museum

Story and Photos by Chip Deyerle

Old Outter Yard Limit Sign for danbury, CT

Danbury, CT: In the Danbury Railyard Museum (DRM) it is beginning to look a lot like…winter. The docents are breaking out the heavy flannel shirts and wool sweaters to make the run with the 44-Ton GE diesel switcher. It’s slow to crank, but comes to life with a smooth rumble.  With two blasts on the Claxton, the engineer gets the signal from the conductor and up the old New Haven yard we go for a very short trip.

Not knowing what to expect, I ventured to the DRM one cold Sunday afternoon just after Thanksgiving  to see what treats were in store for this old rail fan.

According to the DRM website, the Danbury Railway Museum is a non-profit organization staffed solely by volunteers. The Museum, located in the historic station and rail yard in downtown Danbury, Connecticut, offers railroad history, tours, train rides, a collection of original and restored rolling stock, and opportunities for hands-on railroad work at “12 inches to the foot” scale.

The   purpose of the Corporation shall be to operate a railway museum in Danbury,   CT, to educate the public as to the history of railroading and to the role of   the railroads as part of our local and national heritage, and to engage in   any and all activities convenient to said purposes.

Our Mission is today as it was in 1994.


Built in 1903 for the thriving New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad, Danbury Station boasted adjacent railyard facilities including an engine house, a freight house, a round house and a turntable. Through the 1950’s and into the 1960’s, Danbury was an important station for the New Haven Railroad. Film buffs will find it interesting to learn that Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train was filmed in and near the station. But, the 1960’s began a period of decline for the railroad and the station, and by the 1980’s, the engine house had burned and it and the freight house were torn down.

Metro-North, the commuter rail system serving Danbury and NYC, closed the station in 1993; the once-lucrative hat business was gone, a new mall had been built 3 miles west of the city, the inner city was in decline and the station was crumbling. Not wanting to govern a city in decline, then Mayor Gene Eriquez proposed that interested citizens form an organization to develop and implement a plan which would utilize the available facilities and bring people into the city. With track in place, connecting rail lines in all four directions, a large turntable, and a 6 acre railyard, Danbury was the ideal place for a railroad museum.

For model railroaders, there are four layouts that are started with a convenient push button.  For most children and model railroaders, the layouts are challenging with lots of detail and of the best I’ve seen.  As you enter the main waiting area of the old station, the O-Gauge set up is found to the left and features several trains and landscape representative of the area. A little further one finds the HO layout which ahs lots of detail but was under some service when I visited. This is followed by a very interesting G-scale  with handcrafted wooden structures including a saw mill, a high trestle and other logging operational details. However, the biggest challenge was in building a replica of the  Station, the railyard, the water towers, the roundhouse, coaling station, sand tower, and surrounding roads and commercial buildings in operation in the mid 1950s…in “N” gauge, no less.

Peeking out fromthe right side of the piocture is the Tonawanda Valley Pullmancoach built by Pullman and operated by the NYC in 1928It was donated in 2008 by Dr.Diana Beardsley-unaltered since the 1920s. Donations have been accepted to refurbish the coach.

In the railyard, there are collections of old coaches, an original wooden box car, several cabooses, a crane, and support equipment. The collection of artifacts includes a number of diesel engines which the museum hopes to rebuild and put into operation.

#1455 is a 2-6-0 Mogul tht ran for the Boston and Maine Railroad as a passenger hauling engine for many years. Restoration is planned.


DRM is also home to one steam locomotive, #1455, built by American Locomotive.  This beauty is slowly being restored to its original glory. It is a 2-8-0 from the Boston and Maine RR.

There are also a Sperry Rail Flaw Detection Car, a Maine Central Caboose, a Canadian National Caboose, a Railway Postal Car and an E-9 Diesel.

The DRM is also looking for volunteers in the area to help with restoration, record keeping, archiving, fund raising, marketing and maintenance.  Besides, it’s a great way to spend a weekend or off-time at the most exciting place for rail fans…a railyard.

You are invited to visit the Danbury railway Museum at

NOTE TO READERS:  Please Comment if you enjoyed this article.

A GE 44-Ton Diesel Switcher pulls one passenger car and one red caboose for a tour of the railyard at Danbury.



“New Departures ” To Be Released This Month

Article By Chip Deyerle

There is a new writers group in the Manassas, Virginia area, called Write By The Rails (WbtR).  This group has undertaken publication of anthology of shortstories and poems generally related to new destinations and in some cases, travel, even by train.

The book, produced by the writers of WbtR, are applying their talent by showcasing multiple short stories and poems under one cover to delight readers with interesting stories  and poems. For some members of the team, this is a unique first venture into print media and they will actually see their efforts appear in print and distribution.

WbtR is a 501(c) 3 Virginia Corporation and a chapter of the Virginia Writers Club. To that end, New Destinations when published later this month  will be the first fundraising project undertaken.

Find out more about the book in the following” Book Trailer” by viewing the following Youtube video:

New Directions is expected to be available in hard copy and Amazon.Com at some point soon. Keep checking in with Days of Steam Website daily.



Winter Comes to the Railyard

Excerpt from “Last Train From Cleveland”  

By Chip Deyerle       

    It was a cold December first, under foreboding grey skies, when BL pulled his Overland into the gravel parking lot next to the 16th Street railyard.  With his metal lunchbox in hand, he locked the car and walked toward the yard entry gate to begin the day’s work. It was dawn and overcast, the yard lights cast shafts of light on the rising smoke and steam.    At 6:40 this morning and the yard was beginning to crank up with activity.  Steam and smoke curled up into the darkness from the yard engines, waiting for their “masters” to put them to work. A noisy freight train with box cars, flat cars and chemical tank cars rumbled near the yard on the main line and east bound past the 5th Street Bridge.

The gravel path to the Yard Office led across four sets of tracks and several puddles from the rain of the previous evening.  The lights were  on in the Yard Office revealing the three dispatchers busily preparing the day’s train orders and posting the train schedules for the day when BL walked in.

As always, his eyes were drawn to the Board to see what was scheduled for the day. He noted that Engine 813 was his assigned engine this day rather than an older engine he had to use while 813 was out of service for some long-overdue maintenance.

“Good morning, Mr. Deyerle, there is a message here for you to see the Trainmaster at the Roanoke Terminal at 8:00 this morning,” said the young dispatcher as he handed the note to BL.

Through weary eyes, BL read the note, which indicated a meeting with the trainmaster this morning. Immediately, he felt as if the wind had been knocked out of him.  What was this all about? There was no further explanation, but he now noticed a schedule board note that he had been substituted on his engine crew for the morning through lunchtime.

“Thanks,” replied BL, as he pondered the note. “Please confirm with him that I’ll be there at 8:00 to the Trainmasters office as requested, but I’d like to know what he wants to see me about.”

“I’m sorry, but I can’t do that, Mr. Deyerle,” replied the dispatcher.

Could it be that they were going to reassign him to other work because of his current health situation?  After all, he had not heard anything from Dr. Barrett.  Maybe the Trainmaster wants him terminated.  These were the fears lurking in the psyche of most railroaders. After all, the union efforts to represent members of the bargaining unit can only do so much these days. BL would have to wait to find out what the Trainmaster wanted.

With much skepticism, BL walked out of the office and slowly headed back to the parking lot.  Many thoughts were running through his mind, not the least of which was job security in these troubled times. After all, he had been a faithful engineer his entire career with the N&W, over twenty years. Imagining the worst case situation with the Trainmaster, he wondered what would he do without his job, without medical care as such? Reaching the Overland in the gravel parking lot, BL reasoned that maybe it wasn’t something so severe that he might lose his job. But what could it be?

Leaving the parking lot, he drove down the street the several blocks to the Roanoke Terminal, just east of the N&W Station near the city market area. Along this end of Campbell Avenue there were several small cafes where he could get a cup of coffee for a nickel and prepare himself best he could for his meeting.

He opened the door to the small café, busy serving breakfast to workers from offices up the street, and found an empty seat at the counter.

“What’ll you have this morning, Mister?”asked the man behind the counter, burley in appearance and wearing a greasy white apron and cap.

“Coffee, please,” replied BL as he got comfortable on the counter stool.  Moments later a steaming hot mug of coffee was placed before him.

“That’ll be a nickel, Mister!” said the man. ‘Here’s cream and sugar.”

BL placed a nickel on the counter and contemplated the steaming cup of coffee, reached over to the little cream pitcher and added some, followed by a teaspoon of sugar.  Checking his watch, it was already 7:20.  A newspaper remained on the counter next to him, so he picked it up and started reading it. As he quickly fanned through the newspaper, his eye caught on an advertisement for Lionel Electric Trains. Maybe this is something for Hampton or Little BL to think about for Christmas, which is just around the corner.

After sipping the coffee, and reading the front page of the newspaper, he checked his watch. Abruptly, he got up from the counter stool and walked out the door toward the Roanoke Terminal Building.

This was the first time in many years that he had been called to the Terminal or to see the Trainmaster for that matter.  He knew from the handbook that the Trainmaster was a direct link to the Superintendent and that the Trainmaster exercised the general supervision of employees in trains, railyards, and station services for the Division.  In fact, the trainmaster set the rules and made sure that all employees for the Division had passed the prescribed examinations. In this instance, Mr. Lowry, as the Roanoke Terminal Trainmaster had the same authority as the General Trainmaster for the N&W railroad.

BL checked his watch and noted that it was now 7:46.  Better to arrive early than miss the appointed time-“under no circumstances be late to an appointment” was BL’s mantra.

Checking the marquee directory by the front door, BL found the trainmaster’s office listed on the second floor and proceeded to the stairs, but wondered what was next.

On the second floor he found a larger counter with a scheduling board prominently displaying all train numbers operating this day.  Terminal Dispatchers were busy making adjustments, closing out trains and tracking delays and repairs to the line.  BL approached the counter.

“I’m here to see Mr. Lowry,’ said BL as best he could, trying to get the busy dispatchers’ attention.

One of the dispatchers with a green eye shade and gold-rimmed glasses stopped his scribing on the schedule board and turned to respond,” What are you here for?”

“ I have an appointment at 8:00 to see the trainmaster,” replied BL in a raised voice, irritated that neither of the dispatchers were paying any attention to his appointment.

“Oh, uh, Mr. Lowry’s office is down the hall on the left-but let me see if he is available-who are you?” asked the dispatcher.

“I am BL Deyerle, engineer from the 5th Street Yard,” replied BL in a quieter, less-stressed manner, now that he had gotten their attention. The other dispatcher kept posting the schedule board uninterrupted.

Momentarily, the dispatcher returned, saying “Mr. Deyerle, right this way to Mr. Lowry’s office.” He turned and headed down the long hallway.

Lowry was sitting at his, with a small window facing the N&W Shop yards.  He was a man in his mid forties with glasses, a trimmed mustache, a style that was very popular.  His felt had was hanging from the coat rack in the corner of the room.

“Sit down, Mr. Deyerle,” said Lowry, “I needed to see you first thing this morning because Dr. Barrett was by my office on Friday about a medical report about you.”

“Dr. Barrett has seen me twice about my thyroid condition,” said B.L, pointing to the swelling of his throat.

“Well, Dr. Barrett wants you to move to a temporary assignment training new engineers until you are cleared back on duty,” said Lowry. “You will start down here in the East Yard and work with Mr. Halliday, my trainer.”

“Just like that?” replied BL. “Are you sure that’s what you want me to do?”

“Mr. Deyerle, you are coming up on twenty years with the railroad and you have a lot of experience as a fireman and an Engineer,” stated Lowry. “After all, you’ll be on day shift and you will work your own schedule. We have a lot new engineers to train and this works out well for you and the railroad.”

“When did you want me to start, Mr. Lowry?” asked BL as he sat there wondering why this was happening.  All his life he had been the one to be the leader on the rails as an engineer. When he was first assigned to railyard work, he missed the work of moving multiple carloads of coal and hauling the load to Roanoke from Bluefield, West Virginia.  He had made the switch to yard engineer and while it was repetitive work, he at least got home at a regular hour, not missing days away from the family waiting to pick up a train at all hours and pushing the load to the Roanoke railyards.

“How about this afternoon, Mr. Deyerle?” said Lowry as he handed an introduction note to BL. “ Take that along with you to Mr. Halliday’s  office downstairs.”

“I appreciate your concern and your support, Mr. Lowry,” said BL as he got up from the chair and stepped out the doorway.

Descending the stairs, BL followed the room numbers to Mr. Halliday’s first floor office, knocked and was told to enter.

“You’re Mr. Halliday, I presume?” said BL to the man behind the desk.

“Yes I am,” replied Mr. Halliday. “What can I do for you?” replied Halliday.

“I just saw Mr. Lowry,” said BL as he handed Halliday the note from Lowry. “He said that you would be using me for instructing some new engineers.”

Looking quickly at the note, Halliday acknowledged BL, “Oh, yeah, Mr. Deyerle, you have a lot of experience in freights and railyards…do you think you’d be able to show some of our new engineers how to run a steam engine safely?”

“Yes sir, Id’ love the opportunity to do that, Mr. Halliday,” responded BL.

Report #9 – Movement of Trains – Part 1

Taken from the Norfolk and Western Railway Company Rules and Regulations for the Government of the Operating Department published in 1917.

Note: Train movements during the days of steam required coordination from point of origin to destination.  The governing rule is Rule 99 and should be studied as this is the principle guidance for movement of  trains and signalsas of 1917.

Movement of Trains

82.  Time-table schedules, unless fulfilled, are in effect for twelve hours after their time at each station.

Regular trains more than twelve hours behind either their schedule arriving orleaving time at at any station lose both right and scheudle, and can thereafter proceed only as authorized by train order.

83.  A train must not leave its initial station on any division, or subdivision, or a junction, or pass from double to single track, until it has been ascertained whether all trains due, which are superior, or of the same class, have arrived or left.

Stations at which train registers are located may be designated by time-table.

84. A train must not start until the proper signal is given.

84(a).  A communicating signal must nbot be used to start trains unless a signal by hand or lamp also.

85.  When a train of one schedule isonthe time of another scheudle of the same class in the same direction, it will proceed on its own schedule.

Trains of one schedule may pass trains of another schedule of the same class, and extras may pass and run ahead of third and fourth-class trains and extra trains.

A section may pass and run ahead of another section of the same schedule, first exchanging train orders, signals and numbers with the section to be passed.  The change in sections must be reported from the next available point of communication.

86.  Unless otherwise provided, an inferior train must clear the time of a superior train, inthe same direction, not less than five minutes; but must be clear at the time a first c-class train, in the same direction, is due to leave the next station in the rear where time is shown.

86 (a). Fourth-class trains may proceed ahead of third class trains and freight extras may proceed ahead of third and fourth class trains.

When overtaken at stations, local freights will permit through freights to pass promptly.

86 (b).  Freight extras may stnd between the switches of passing tracks and middle tracks, within yard limits, and at coaling and water stations, without protecting against third and fourth class trains, and third and fourth class trains may stand at such places without protecting against third class trains; except incase of fog, when rule 99 must be observed.

87. An inferior train must keep out of the way of opposing superior trains and failing to cler the main track by the time required by rule must be protected as prescribed by Rule 99.

Extra trains must clear the time of opposing regular trains not less than five minutes unless otherwise provided, qnd will be governed by train orders with respect to opposing extra trains.

88. At meeting points between trains of the same class,the inferior train must clear the main track before leaving time of the superior train.

At meeting points between trains of the same class, the train in therior time-table direction must take the siding unless otherwise provided.

Trains must pull into the siding when practicable; if necessary to back in, the train must first be protected as prescribed by Rule 99, unless otherwise provided.

89.  At meeting points between trains of different classes the inferior train must take the sidinjg and cleqar the superior train at least five minutes,and must pull intot he siding whenpraacticable.  If necessary tobackin, the train must first be protected as prescribed by Rule 99, unless otherwise provided.

89(a) When a train turns out at a siding where no time is shown, to be passed by a superior train, it must clear the time of the superior train as shown at the first station ahead or back.

90. Trains must stop at schedule meeting stations, if the train tobe met is of the same class, unless switch is right and the track clear.

When the expected train of the same class is not found at the schedule meeting point, the superior train must approach all sidings prepared to stop, until the expected train is met.

90 (a) On a siding to be used by trains of both directions, trins must run expecting to meet opposing trains.

The normal position of crossover switches of double sidings or middle tracks is for trains to pull through from one end to theother, and a train going beyond such crossover will protect against opposing trains.

90 (b). Conductors of passenger trains must give two long and one short blast of the communicating signal approaching meetingpoints made by rule with trains of the same or superior class,and approaching all poitns at which they have telegraphic orders to meet any train or to get a “31” order; also approaching points where they hold “wait’ or “right over’ orders. This signal must be given one mile distant from such points and must be acknowledged by the engineer as per Rule 14(a).

Engineers of freight trains must signal as per Rule 14 (n).  when approaching schedule meetingpoints with trains of same or superior class, and stations prearranged for or at which theyhave telegraphic orders to meet any train or to get a “31” order; also approaching points where they hold “wait” or “right over” orders.  This signal must be acknowledged by the conductor as per Rule 12(b). Where such signal is not given by engineer, conductor must stop the train at once.

90(c).  At meeting or passing points made by train order, conductors and engineers of respective trains will register with each other ; at meeting points made by rule, conductors and engineers of passenger trains willr egister with each other, and conductors and engineers of freight and work trains will register with each other.

90(d). Engines of freight trains must be detached therefrom before taking water or coal, but not until after train has comne to a full stop.

90(e) When a train stops on an ascending grade where itis possible for rear end to to run back,one man must be stationed on rea end.  When a train stops on a descending grade, itmust immediately be protected by the appliction of sufficient hand brakes on headend to prevent it from moving.

90(f).  When a train holding main track arrives at the meeting point first, employees in charge thereof must open switch for opposing train.  Train and enginemen will also change switches for eachother at meeting stations when time can be saved thereby.

91. Unless some form of block signal is used, trains in the same direction must keep at least five minutes apart , except in closing up at stations. A train following a train carrying passengers must keep at least ten minutes behind it.

92.  A train must not arrive at a station in advance of its schedule arriving time.

A train must not leave a station in advance of its scheduled leaving time.

93. Ommitted.

94. A train which overtakes another train so disabled that it cannot proceed willpass it, if practicable, and if necessary will assume the schedule and take the train orders of the disabled train, proceed to the next available point of communication, and there report to the Superintendent.  The disabled trainwill assumethe right or schedule and take the train orders of the last train with which it has exchanged, and will, when able, proceed to and report from the next available point of communication.

When a  train, unable to proceed against the right or schedule of an opposing train, is overtaken between communicating stations by aninferior train or a train of the same class having right or schedule which permits it to proceed, the delayed train may, aft er proper understanding with the following train, precedes it to the next available point of communication, where it must  report to the Superintendent.

When opposing trains are met under these circumstqances, it must be fully explained to them by the leading train that the expected train is following.

95. Two or more sections  may be run on the same schedule.

Each section has equl time-table authority.

A train must not display signals for a following section except as prescribed by Rule 85, without orders from the Superintendent.

95(a). Yardmasters ar authorized to start all regular freight trains and direct signals to be displayed for following sections, using the prescribed form.

96.  When signals displayed for a section are taken down at any point before that section arrives, the conductor, if ther ebe no other provisions, will arrange in writing with the opertor, or if there be no operator, with the switchtender, or in the absence of both, with a flagman left there for that purpose, to notify all opposing trains that the section for which signals were displayed has not arrived, and, in addition, the conductor must notify all opposing inferior trains or trins of the same class, until the fact that the signals were carried has been registered at the next register station.

97.  Extra trains must not be run without orders from the Superintendent.

97(a). Work trains will be assigned working limits.

Work trains may occupy the main track when protected, as provided by Rule 99, until regular freight trains approach, and run ahead of them to first siding, but must never occupy main track within ten minutes of the time of regular passenger trains.

When working on double track, work trains will protect against the current of traffic only, unless otherwise directed. .

97(b).  A train must not proceed on verbal notice from work train flagman . Written instructions must be given  and flagmen must require engineers to acknowledge receipt by endorsing same

If instructions require flagman to hold all trains at adesignated point, they should be addressed to him; but if they contain instructions affecting the movement .

97 (b). A train must not proceed on verbal notice from work train flagman.  Written instructions must be given e receipt by endorsing same.ctions must be given, and flagmen must require engineers to acknowledge receipt by endorsing same.

If instructions require flagman to hold all trains at a designated point, they should be addressed to him; but if they contain instructions affecting the movement of trains beyond the point at which flagman is stationed, they must be addressed to conductor and engineer of all trains affected, and such instructions must be written in manifold, a copy which must be delivered to the conductor as well as to engineer.

!nstructions to flagmen must contain only positive instructions, directing him to hold designated trains at a specified point.  If work train should leave point specified before the arrival of such trains, a second flagman msut be left to give further instructions.

Conductors musr deliver to their engineers a copy of all flagging instructions given their flagmen, and will require the engineers to acknowledge receipt by endorsing a copy to be retained by the conductor.  Upon this copy the conductor will also take the receipt of the flagman in the same manner, and at the close of the day, these copies of all flagging instructions given during the day  and endorsed by the engineer and flagman, must be sent to the Trainmaster.

When a train is stopped by a work train flagman and engineer receives instructions affecting the movement beyond the point at which flagman is stationed, engineer will blwo signal as per Rule 14(n) and not proceed until same is acknowledged as per Rule 90(b).

97(c).  When a flagman is sent from one sttion to any other for the purpose of holding a train for another train to move against it, the flagman must have written instructions in the form and manner of work train flagging instructions and will take the signature in the same manner.

The flagman is required to ride the engine to  point when he is being sent, and he will show his flagging instructions to the engineer of the engine on which he is riding,  and the engineer must sign his name to such instructions.

98.  Trains must approach the end of double track, junctions, railroad crossings at grade, and drawbridges, with caution. Where required by rule or by law, trains must stop.

Trains using a siding must proceed with caution, expecting to find it occupied by other trains.

98(a).  Entering or leaving sidings, crossing from one track to another, or in using turnouts leaving or entering double track, speed is limite dto fifteen (15) miles per hour for passenger trains,and ten 9100 miles per hour for other trains.

99.  When a train stops under circumstances in which it may be overtaken by abnother train, the flagman must go back immediately with flagman’s signals a sufficient distance to ensure full protection, placing two torpedos, and when necessary, in addition, displaying lighted fusees.

When signal 14(d) or 14 (e) has been given to the flagman and safety to the train willpermit, he may return.   When the conditions require, he will leave the torpedoes and lighted fusees.

The front of the train must be protected in the same way when necessary by the front brakeman or, in his absence, the fireman.

When a train is moving undercircumstqnces in which it may be overtaken by another train, the flagman must take such action as maybe necessary to insure full protection.  By light of day when the view is obscured, lighted fusees must be thrown off atproper intervals.

When day signals cannot be plainly seen, owing to weather and other conditions, night signals must also be used.

Conductors and engineers are responsible for the protection of their trains.

Flagman’s signals:

               Day signals – A red flag, torpedoes and fusees.

               Night signals – A red light, a white light, torpedoes, and fusees.

99(a).  Should the flagman be recalled before reaching the requireded distance , he must continue to goback a sufficient distance to insure full protection, and place two torpedoes on the rail, one rail length apart, and return to his train, unless another train is within sight or hearing.

During foggy or stormy weather , when a train is seen or heaerd approaching the flagman must display a burning red fusee, day and night, to insure stopping the train.

When on other than single track, trains are stopped unexpectedly or meet with accident, the nature or extent of which is unknown, flagmen must, without waiting to determine what racks are obstructed, go out inboth directions at once, to stop the trains on all tracks.

Bear in mind that where it is necessary to flag all it is necessary that it be done effectively, and that no excuse will justify a failure to do so.

99(b) All trains, except first class and those running on trainorder schedule, must approach all stations, water tanks, and coaling stations between stations, under control and so proceed until the track is plainly seen to be clear.  The responsibility for a collision at a station, coaling station, or water tank between stations will rest with the following or incoming train. Te  train, and enginemen from responsibility of portecting their trains stations , as provided in Rules 86 and 99.a

When a passenger train is setained at any of its usual stops more thqn three 93) minutes, the flagman must go back with the flagman’s signals and protect his train, as provided in Rule 99.

This gives all trains, except first-class, and those running on train order schedule, the right to stand anywhere between the outer switches of passing tracks, either on single or double track, and gives one train only the right to stand at a coaling station or water tank, outside of passing track limits, without protecting against trains which are not superior; except in case of foggy or stormy weather, when Rule 99 must be observed.

100. When the flagman goes back to protect the rar of the train, the next brakeman or the baggageman must,in the case of passenger trains,and the next brakeman in the cxase of other trains, take his place on the train.en provided, such action must be taken as will insure safety.

101.  Trains must be fullly protectected against any known conditions which interfers with their safe passage at normal speed.

When conditions are found which may interfere with the safe passage of trains at normal speed and no protection has been provided, such action must be taken as will insure safety.

101(a) Messages or orders respecting the movement of trains or the condition of track or bridges, must be in writing.

102.  If a train should part while in motion, trainmen must, if possible, prevent damage to the detached portions.  The signals prescribed by Rules 112 (e) and 14 (f) must be given.

The detached portion must not be moved or passed until the front portion comes back.

102(a )  On double track the front portion must give the “train parted” signal to trains running inthe opposite direction, and trains receiving this signal from train on the opposite track must stop and then proceed with caution until the detached portion of the train has been passed.

103.  When cars are pushed by an engine, except when shifting or making up trains in yards, a trainman must take a conspicuous postion inthe front of the leading car.

103(a). Cars must not be backed or cut loose and allowed to run over a street, highway orprivate crossing, in yard or elsewhere, without a trainman on the front of  or proceding the leading car.

103(b).  When within yard limits, trains must run with great care and under the control of the engineer.  Trains and engines have the right to move within the yard limits by direction of the Yardmaster.

104.  Switches must be left in proper position after having been used.  Conductors are responsibler for the postion of the switches used by them and their trainmen, except wheere switchtenders are stationed, but, when practical, the engineer must see that  the switches nearest the engine are properly set.

A switch must no be left open for a following train unless in charge of a trainman of such train.

104(a).  On single track, when  a main trck switch is set for a trin, the person attending such switch must go to a point at opposite side of track fromvthe switch stand and remain there until the train has passed over the switch.  On double track, such person must keep away fromthe switch stand while the train is passing.

104(b).  Normal position of a derailing switch is to derail.

104(c.)  Running switches must not be made.

105.  Both the conductor and the engineer are responsible for the safety of thetrain and the observance of the rules, and, under conditions not provided by the rules, must take every precaution for protection.ers at a station, and except where  proper safeguards are provided or the movement is ed.otherwise protected, must not pass between it and the station at whcih the passengers are being received or discharg

105(a).  During storms and bad weather, all trains  will be handled under control, without regard to making schedule time at allpoints where slides or washouts are liable to be encountered.

106.  Trains must use caution in passing a train receiving or discharging  passenger at a station, and except where proper safeguards are provided  or the movement is otherwise protected, must not pass between it and the station at which the passengers are being receivedcor discharged.

107.  In case of doubt or uncertainty the safe course must be taken.

D-151 On double track, trains must keep tot he right unless otherwise provided.

D-152. when a trin crosses over to or obstructs another track, unless otherwise provided, it must first be protected, as prescribed by Rule 99, in both directions on tht track.

A train must not cross over when a superior  train is due, except  to avoid delay to superior trains following.

In permitting trains to pass after crossing over, preference must be given tot he train of greatest importance.

In our next report we will look at Part 2 – Rules for Movement by Train Orders.

Days of Steam – Report #8 – Use of Signals

Article by Chip Deyerle

Author’s Note: This is yet another item drawn from the N&W Rules and regulations for the Operating Department published in 1917.

Perhaps the greatest problem among railroaders in the early 1900s was how to communicate safely and effectively in an age when there were no electronic signals available during the days of steam.  This report looks at what the N&W Rule Book had to say.  By 1917, it was quite apparent that railroads must move toward some sort of standardized signal system in order for trains to run on the majority of tracks in the US.

 Use of Signals:

27. A signal imperfectly displayed, or the absence of a signal at a place where a signal is usually shown must be regarded as a stop signal, and the fact reported to the superintendent.

28. A green and white signal will be used to stop a train only at the flag station indicted on its schedule.  When it is necessary to stop a train at a point that is not a flag station on its schedule, a red signal must be used.

28 (a). In the absence of a green and white signal so displayed either in a fixed position or otherwise, stop signals given by hand, flag or lamp will have the same indication.

29.  When a signal, except a fixed signal, is given to stop a train, it must, unless otherwise provided, be acknowledged as prescribed by Rule 14 (g) or (h).

30.  The engine bell must be rung when an engine is about to move and while approaching and passing public crossings at grade.

30. (a).  The engine bell must be rung when running through tunnels and through or across the streets of towns or cities, and when passing trains on double track, and when shifting or passing through yards.

31. The whistle must be sounded at all places where required by rule or by law.

31. (a). The whistle must be sounded at all whistle posts, but must not be sounded while passing or being passed by a passenger train, except to prevent accident.

32. The unnecessary use of either the whistle or the bell is prohibited.

33. Watchmen stationed at highway crossings must use stop signals when necessary to stop trains.  They will use white signals to stop highway traffic.

34.  The engineer and fireman must when practicable communicate with each other by its name the indication of the signals affecting the movement of their train.

35. The following signals will be used by flagmen:

Day signals – A red flag

Torpedoes and


Night Signals – A red light

A white light

Torpedoes and


35. (a) Torpedoes must not be placed near stations or road crossings where persons are liable to be injured by them.


Days of Steam – What it’s about

Steam Operations in 1924

Comments By Chip Deyerle

It was very late in life that I learned what I had forgotten about the days of steam.  There in my past, in my father’s past, and his father’s past, lies a story that is only now coming forth in literature. But it is ironic that it has been there all along, just hidden under what we call now modern technology and it’s constantly changing it’s face.  Oh, days of steam, we never knew you, really. We took advantage of you and the tools you provided, but we moved on to diesel and nuclear power during the same century and watched as steam began to fall away from its most apparent look.

The start of the days of steam in the US was prior to the 1800s, but grew famously during the 18th and 19th century. Mills of all sorts were once powered by steam, and some still are. The railroads were likewise the product of the days of steam, continuing to operate on steam until the late 1950s, when steam engines were sent to the scrap yards across the country.

So what does a large company do with all that energy generated by a steam plant? Sure, it turns the wheels of industry, processing a significant part of US production even today and around the world, but it also sparked ingenuity of the engineers and the technocrats, who produced advancements for industry, including air brakes for moving vehicles safely along our nation’srailways and highways.That would only be part of the story.

In medicine, steam protects patients from infection by sterilizing surgical and medical items every day of the year, cheaply and reliably.

While yet to be proven as an automobile, engineers did design and manufacture small steam engines for automobilesaround 1900, but the auto industry and consumers demanded gasoline engines instead of steam.

On the rivers and oceans of the world, commerce moved by sail and then gravitated to steam for shipping until the 1950s.  Recall Mark Twain’s riverboat stories to get an idea of how steam affected shipping commerce and life on the rivers of this country.

Early in the last century, electric power was produced by numerous steam plants located near major US cities or as part of a major manufacturing center, giving way in some location to turbines turned by moving water.

While the world deals with nuclear power, the dangers of steam becoming a monster in no way compares to fission-generated energy. I believe that steam will never be our master in this modern world and will endure through the ages to come.

The objective of Days of Steam is to focus attention on the path that steam has taken in our society historically and why it remains vital to society.  Steam is  one historical factor that has made our country great and it is our story of the contributions steam has made to our history. It is how we will want to be known across the ages.

Watch for more information about railroading here with more focus on the rules from 1917.

Shaffers Crossing – from 1923

Digging through back copies of the N&W magazine from 1923, I found a picture of the Shaffers Crossing railyards and roundhouse in the back ground.  The Js are parked to the right side of the picture and were probably being released from maintenance whenthe picture was taken. This was perhaps one of the biggest yards on the N&W system and is still there today. My thanks to the wonderful guys at the N&W Historical Society who work hard to make items like this available for us to remember the past.

Greenberg Train Show at Chantilly Caps Off Busy Summer of Model Train Activities

By Chip Deyerle – August 27, 2012

The Dulles Expo Center, just off Virginia Route 28 and in the shadow of Dulles International Airport, hosted the last season GreenbergTrain Show for 2012 at Chantilly.  The parking lot, as usual, was crowded on the first of a two-day show.  Lots of tots, model train collectors and model enthusiasts were crowding through the door just prior to lunchtime.

Some of the highlights of the show had to be the hand-powered cars set up for kids to propel around a railed track. Seated, the kids propelled the “railcar” on which they were riding by turning what looked to be a bicycle gear by hand. They appeared to be having great fun and a lot of excess energy was burned off.

At the back of the show room, a single bicycle was set up with a small bike generator which powered upa train layout and caught the attention of several children.

Unique to this show was a Z-scale train lay out which is actually almost half again as small as N-gauge. In the future, a maintenance yard will be added along with other features to the layout. Amazingly small, this miniature model train would seem to be very difficult to manipulate and the modeler would need to have very good vision in order to couple cars and re-track unit’s gone afoul. It seems that Marklin also produces some Z-scale. Order up a copy of the magazine  ZTrack, the magazien for Zscale Model Railroading. Fascinating!!

Other layouts were also prominently displayed by National Capital Railroad Modelers including N-gauge, HO-gauge, 0-gauge, Standard Gauge, and Garden Gauge.  The several model railroad clubs who participated are to be saluted for the great train layouts set up and running throughout both days of the show.  Tremendous dedication to modeling and great attention to detail was very obvious as was the care and the operation.

This show also provided great opportunities for vendors to sell their equipment.  Some dealers and collectors were willing to deal, while others stuck to some very inflated prices for what they were trying to sell.

Thankfully there was at least one author present – Jay Hersch.  Jay’s new book was available, entitled “Phantomrail-the railroad that never was”. This is a story about Highland County, Virginia, and the many efforts made by the county to attract rail service to one of the most beautiful spots in America, nestled in the famed Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Jay has skillfully written this short masterpiece based on his research of many sources, including interviews and official county records.  You can obtain a copy of the book in paperback or kindle through                       

If you are interested in perhaps the widest range of railroad books and publication, go to the website  and check out the listings provided. is the e-mail; address to use if you need help locating a book on railroading.

While the Dulles Expo center wasn’t exactly full, there were a lot of people throughout both days.  The Greenberg Train Show should return in mid to late January of 2013.

Some big shows coming up are sponsored by the National Collectors Club, as follows;

The Toms River Train and Toy Show – Elks Lodge, 600 Washington Street, Toms River, NJ (Sunday) Sept 23, 2012

The Wayne Train Show – Wayne P.A.L. Hall, Wayne, NJ – September 30, 2012., Bick NJ –

The Brick Train Show – Brick Elks Lodge, 291 Hooper Av, Brick, NJ. -November 4, 2012

The Great Railroad Problem of the 1920s

By Chip Deyerle

Note: The years leading up to the Transportation Act of 1920 set the stage for redefining labor management for the railroads. Owing to the politics of the day, the myriad labor issues facing the US rail services could not be dealt with successfully through any single piece of legislation, but required a more thorough approach to accommodate railroad management and labor demands through legislation to level the playing field. The keystone to get to such point is generally seen as the National Transportation Act of 1926.

Part I – Railroad Labor Legislation Prior to 1926

In the early 1920s, the Norfolk and Western Railroad Company experienced a sustained period of unrest and mismanagement as the role of the railroads had greatly expanded in national commerce. Consequently, the need for government intervention and legislation became more apparent to keep the trains running.  For certain, railroading was big business of the day, requiring significant manpower and investment capital to maintain the many paths of commerce required by the railroads. This included delivery of energy, primarily coal, petroleum products, chemicals, ore, steel, to name only a few commodities.

The railroad’s ascendency to national and international commerce marks its start in the early 1830s, with twenty-three miles of operating track and by 1862, there was well over 32,000 miles. Control of the rail services was merely an issue for each state to contend with via various and widely differing regulations.[i]

While the railroads were a major force in uniting the country from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans, the railroads saw profit as the primary motive for expansion of the rail lines. By 1869, there now almost 47,000 miles of railroad tracks supporting operating lines such as the Norfolk and Western.

In fact, the United States was now dependent on the railroads to supply wheat and produce, live stock, minerals and timber to the growing US economy.

“…by the 1880’s the interurban railroads encouraged the enlargement of urban centers and the growth of the suburbs.  Middle and upper class city dwellers now began to escape the noise and dirt of the mill and factory.”[1]

Throughout this period, the railroads worked  to achieve significant and seemingly unlimited  economic power and d anyone who might  stand in the way of the railroads had no place to appeal their practices, like eminent domain,  uncontrolled rate setting, unfair personnel practices, disabilities caused by unsafe operations related to the railroads. While Congress held hearings nationwide to hear public complaints, the railroads weren’t listening.  This led to the formation of the ICC in 1887 under the Interstate Commerce Act.


Clashes between union workers and the railroads set the stage for a period of hostility where the workers were not paid adequate wages for the work required.  Unsafe working conditions had taken many lives and caused irreparable harm to members of the workforce.  The unions formed by the railroads were based on those formed under John L. Lewis for the United Mine Workers (UMW) during the same timeframe. But more legislation was needed as the problems of the railroads continued to grow.

Prior to 1926, the following legislation was generated by the Congress, realizing that by 1878, the state laws were admirable action for trying to deal with the big railroads.  In Maryland, the state law allowed for the parties to submit unresolved disputes to tribunals composed of individuals appointed by a local judge and chaired by him. Though submission to such tribunals was voluntary, the award was to be binding and could be enforced by a judge.  Costs were shared by the parties.  A few other states followed suit, including New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Iowa, and Kansas.  These states were followed by Massachusetts and New York in 1886. It is no wonder that the Federal government sought to duplicate the successful outcomes at the national level by using these same models for the ICC.

But the problems of labor disputes still remained for the railroad industry. This led to the creation of the Arbitration Act of 1888. This was the first federal statute for dealing with the “railroad problem”, as it had been cited in the newspapers of the day.  Under this act, two means for settling a dispute were recognized – voluntary arbitration or investigation. Now both the labor union and the railroad could voluntarily agree to submit a dispute to a three-member board of arbiters.  It also allowed the President to appoint a three-member commission to investigate the causes of any labor dispute. It is here that e begin to see how politics could play an important part in returning a decision favoring one party over another.

Under this law, the Pullman Coach Company strike in 1894 became a lightning rod for an injunction against the strikers in their company homes located in Pullman, Illinois, with Federal troops called in at the first sign of a minor infraction by the strikers.[ii]

With the Erdman Act of 1898, the inadequacy of the Arbitration Act was re-written to omit the investigatory requirements altogether, but did not change the arbitration process of the Act. In fact, it included the possibility of mediation with regard to railroad labor disputes. It also brought together the US Commissioner of Labor and the chairman of the Interstate Commerce Commission when requested by either party of the dispute involving operating workers. Indeed, the Act supported every effort to settle the dispute by mediation and conciliation. While this was great news for the Unions involved, the railroads felt otherwise and thus the act was never applied in the period of 1898 through 1906.1913.

In 1906, mediation was recognized as of great importance in settling labor disputes. Thus the Congress adopted measures to strengthen the Erdman act with amendments to become the Newlands Act of 1913. Under this act, a permanent board of mediation and conciliation for railway labor disputes was established.  Under this Board, negotiation of agreements and innovations, such as those arising out of the interpretation of agreements, were progressive in reaching a much more meaningful conclusion.

As the “railroad Problem” became more defined, the railroad labor organization began a push for an 8-hour work day, preferring not to arbitrate or permit mediation of the issue.  With some disappointment over recently failed arbitration, the unions felt that there was sufficient economic strength to press the railroads successfully for the 8-hour day. Therefore a strike date was proposed, but the unions agreed to forego the strike action if the 8-hour day was enacted into Federal law. Congress responded with the Adamson Act of 1916 which legislated the 8-hour day for the railroads.

As things were heating up in Europe about this time, talk of war was spreading across the news papers of the day, worldwide at times. Under President Woodrow Wilson, the prospect of a world war affecting the US was unpopular, to say the least.  No one wanted the US involved in a War that seemingly did not affect the US as a Nation.  Thus isolation was the basic response from the American public.

As time passed, it became apparent that the US could become drawn into the war if its key allies were defeated by Germany.  Wilson was left with little choice to prepare for the inevitability of war in Europe.   By 1917, President Wilson “drafted’ the railroads into the Federal Government and placed them under the control of the Rail Road Administration. This served to strengthen the unions instead of the carriers and led to a number of important national agreements with standard labor organizations and the first system-wide agreements in the industry.  This led to a number of years of relative labor management harmony in the railroad industry.[iii]

One of the most important aspects of federalization during the WWI period was the fact that the railroads were given carte blanche to train movements with less emphasis on equipment maintenance. The trains must get through and on time to meet the demands of the military at war.

By the end of the war in 1918, the rail yards began to back up with equipment awaiting repairs of all sorts.  Nationwide, roadbeds were deteriorating and bridges needed replacing.  Shop facilities were having difficulty finding employees as the workforces had dwindled due to the draft to fight the war. The federalization of the railroads had proven beneficial in many ways and the Senate wished to retain some of the governmental controls it has created while returning the railroads to their private status. This led to the development of the Transportation Act of 1920 to carry forward unresolved disputes remaining from the WWI experience and to resolve those disputes to the new U.S. Railroad Labor Board for hearing and decision.  This Board would be responsible for carrying out mediation and arbitration functions, a feature which pleased neither the railroad unions nor the railroad owners.

“In failing to rely primarily on voluntary collective bargaining assisted…by mediation to resolve interest disputes, the Transportation Act of 1920 was not a attuned to the basic ethos of employee-management relations as it was developing in the United States.”[iv]

While for a time it seemed to be working, the Railroad Labor Board was not able to keep things peaceful with the railroad industry.  The Board was repudiated by the unions when the shop crafters walked out in July of 1922.  The Pennsy ignored the Act and refused to eliminate its company-dominated unions. Even the Supreme Court rejected the Railroad labor Board’s applications for enforcement of a decision directing the carriers to cease dealing with their dominated organizations.[v]

During 1923-24, the secretary of labor and both presidents Harding and Coolidge asked for changes in the National Transportation Act.  The platform of the Republican Party for 1924 provided that the 1920 law should be amended, stating:

“Collective bargaining, mediation, and voluntary arbitration are the most important steps in the maintaining of peaceful labor relations and should be encouraged.  We do not believe in compulsory action….Therefore the interests of the public require the maintenance of an impartial tribunal which can in an emergency make an investigation of the facts and publish its conclusions.”[vi]

On the other hand, there was bi-partisan support from the Democrats, but not as specific. The Democratic Party platform agreed that the Transportation Act of 1920 had proven unsatisfactory and needed to be rewritten.

As the election issues shaped up, a number of bills fell out of the Congress to amend the 1920 Act.  But the railroads stepped in and sought the Railroad Labor Board to try to work out the problems with labor, which was certainly within the RLB charter of oversight.  The Transportation Act would not pass until January, 1926.

When finally passed in 1926, the National Transportation Act established five basic purposes under Section II:

1.  Prevent the interruption of service.

2.  Ensure the right of employees to organize.

3. Provide complete independence of organization by both parties.

4. Assist in prompt settlement of disputes over rates of pay, work rules, or working conditions.

5. Assist in prompt settlement of disputes or grievances over interpretation or application of existing contracts.

The Transportation Act of 1926 would not be amended again until 1936. 

The Great Railroad Problem of the 1920s – PART 2

The period of 1920-1922 became a defining moment for the railroads and organized labor.  The enactment of the national Transportation Act, in retrospect, carried forward unresolved disputes remaining from the WWI federalization but did not resolve the disputes now confronting the new U.S. Railroad Labor Board (RLB) for hearing and decision.  The RLB now had responsibility for carrying out mediation and arbitration functions, a feature which pleased neither the railroad unions nor the railroad owners.[vii]

“The major section of the Railroad Labor Board Act…stipulated that owners (of railroads) and workers seek to resolve any dispute among them before applying to the newly established RLB for redress. Adjustment Boards would be set up to handle grievances regarding working conditions. Unfortunately for labor, decisions of the RLB were not legally binding; instead, the RLB’s power rested in “enlightened public opinion.” The ambiguous nature of this enforcement clause soon became a problem for the shopmen, as some railroads ignored RLB decisions.”[viii]

Part of the problem with the RLB is the makeup and membership of the Board. With its nine members respectively representing the railroads, the workers and the public, there was extreme concern that the unions would be blocked by the public members voting with the railroads against the workers. However, in July, 1920, the RLB announced a decision for a wage increase for all railroad workers.  The average increase was 20% which was appreciated by the railroad shopmen.[ix]

Following this victory for railroad workers, a railroad management and labor were heading to an inevitable clash over the shopcrafts, as management saw the need to reduce and eliminate shop crafts else the shopcrafts would ultimately become unaffordable. Dismantling the shopcrafts would provide greater control over manpower costs, facilities and benefits thereby decreasing the red ink of the railroads.  Thus, railroad management expanded the practice of contracting out for certain shopcraft support, preferring to forego the pension and benefits provided for railroad employees and workers. On some railroads, there was now a decided effort to contract out virtually all shopcraft by setting up small “shell” companies. With the election of Warren G. Harding, elected on a platform of a “return to normalcy”, which included elimination of “minimal labor strife,“ experienced during the pre-war period. Harding would not be the friend to labor that President Wilson had been.

Throughout 1921, the shopmen began to lose ground with the railroads. There were now efforts begun to destroy union representation.  The biggest tool that the railroads had in reducing shopmen and other personnel was the layoff. Union officials were threatened by some railroads that there would be massive lay-offs and threatened sanctions against union members including boards of adjustments remaining from the WWI period. The unions were now in a difficult position vis-a-vis the railroads. It would require the unions to accept the terms of management or fight management on a larger scale.

Following RLB deliberations concerning the New York Central Railroad, a decision favorable to the NYCRR was issued which reduced railroad worker’s pay by 12.5%.[x]  This prompted the unions to circulate a strike ballot and setting the stage for a national strike. President Harding added to the frustration of the Unions by making sure that the RLB was not to remain the fair and impartial board established under Wilson. Harding appointed a new public Board member, sympathetic with railroad management, and ostensibly ensuring that the Unions would not enjoy any advantage with its grievances.

While the Norfolk and Western Railroad Company shops were not listed as part of the Shopmen’s strike on July1, 1922, it is certain that that there were sympathies for the shopmen who did go on strike elsewhere and that the problems of other railroads were well known among the N&W shopcraft members.  Yet the unions faced the problems of solidarity and support for the strikers across the country. Those shopcraft members who were content with their working conditions and pay were not inclined to join with their counterparts on a national level walk-out.

With the strike vote, the N&W railroad added to its internal fully-armed police force taking the number to 750 personnel for a ratio of one police officer for every 10 employees.[xi]  Anticipating the need for a response force and additional security available on company property of at least 250 police officers on three eight hour shifts, the expansion of the police force was envisioned to protect the N&W Railway property from violence, vandalism or sabotage by strikers, or others.

As the N&W Railway contributed significantly to the prosperity of the Roanoke Valley and especially through its employees, the Roanoke merchants were less inclined to interfere with local commerce to have railroad employees denied services or shopping.  Other railroads requested communities to “outlaw” railroad shopcraft strikers to prohibit sales to strikers by local merchants. Efforts such as this provided little if any impact as most folks supported the strikers. Meanwhile violence toward strikers mounted in other parts of the country, taking its toll on union organizers and strikers.

For the railroad management, each region established its own “permanent strike organization” and “all of the supervisory officers…immediately assume their respective strike duties—some looking after the commissary, some after sanitary arrangements, others seeing to it that necessary work is taken care of,” etc.[xii]

The strike finally took place July 1, 1922, in which the shop crafters went on strike nationwide, but with fear that other unions would not honor the picket lines in solidarity.


After a review of the legislative history concerning the railroads and labor relations, there exists a special niche for both labor and the railroads in the US. It wasn’t until 1959 with the Labor –Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959, known as the Landrum-Griffin Act, US labor laws were never applied to the railroads. It would be 1974 before the Railroad Retirement act of 1935 was partially bound with the general Social Security system.

Unlike the Transportation Act of 1926, there followed the establishment of the Railroad Labor Unemployment Insurance Act of 1933 which provided unemployment insurance for railroad workers. Following WWII, this act was amended to include death, disability and sickness insurance programs, but independent of social welfare legislation.

Hence, we find that there are two special characteristics of the railroad industry today: the railroad workforce is national in scope, and represents about the same percentage of population of each state. Since the industry carries freight in every state, except for Hawaii, the unions speak with equal strength and receive equal attention.

Of equal or greater consequence is the historic and pervasive belief that the national welfare requires uninterrupted railroad service –what would the US do without the railroads?[xiii]

As time has long since brought further changes to the National Transportation Act with the additions and growth of the US Department of Transportation mission, the US economy remains as dependent today on the railroads as it has for the past 150 years, and this trend will continue to be a part of the American fabric.





[i] THE RAILWAY LABOR ACT AT FIFTY- By Charles M. Rehmus. Page 3. GPO, Washington DC. 1977

[ii] Ibid, Page 4

[iii] Ibid, Page 6

[iv] Ibid Page 7

[v] Ibid page 7

[vi] Taken from the Republican Party Platform of 1924

[vii] Power at Odds: The 1922 Railroad Shopmen’s Strike. By Collin J. Davis. P48. 1997 University of Illinois.

[viii] Analysis of Labor provisions of the new Transportation act,” MLR 10 (April 1920, 50-55).

[ix] Power at Odds: The 1922 Railroad Shopmen’s Strike. By Collin J. Davis. P49. 1997 University of Illinois.

[x] “Decision Number 2-july 20, 1920” – Decisions of the Railroad Labor Board with Addenda and Interpretations, 1920 (GPO, Washington, DC, 1921).

[xi] Decision No. 147-NY Central Railroad et al Vs Brotherhood of Railway and Steamship Clerks, Freight Handlers, Station Employees et al, June 1, 1921 U.S.R.L.B. 1921 133-51.

[xii] Power at Odds: The 1922 Railroad Shopmen’s Strike. By Collin J. Davis. P-71. 1997 University of Illinois.


[xiii] Ibid, Page 75.