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.

Days of Steam Report #7 – Signals

Written by Chip Deyerle  7-17-2012

Authors Note;  Sometimes tables don’t transfer correctly into WordPress-one of some difficulties encountered when dealing with a new soft ware.  Once I figure it out, I will make the corrections.  This report has to do with the signage and the sounds for the operation of steam railroads, and is taken from the pages of the N&W Rail Road Company Rules and Regulations Governing the Operating Department..

7.  Employees whose duties may require them to give signals must provide themselves with the proper appliances, keep them in good working order and ready for immediate use.

8. Flags of the prescribed color must be used by day and lights of the prescribed color by night.

9. Day signals must be displayed from sunrise to sunset, but when day signals cannot ne plainly seen night signals must be used in addition.

10.                                                     Color Signals



(a) Red                                                                                        Stop

(b) Green                                                                      Proceed with caution and as

prescribed by the rules

(c)  White                                                                                            Proceed and for other uses prescribed

by the rules.

(d) Green and White                                                                   Flag stop – See Rule 28

(e) Blue                                                                                         See Rule 26


11.       A train finding a fusee burning on or near its track must stop and extinguish the fusee, and then proceed with caution prepared to stop short of train or obstruction.

11 (a). Lighted fusees must not be thrown where they are liable to start a fire.

12.                                                     Hand, Flag and Lamp Signals

Manner of Using


(a) Swung across track Stop
(b) Held Horizontally at arm’s length, when the train   is moving Reduce speed or approaching meeting points
(c) Raised and Lowered vertically Proceed
(d )Swung vertically in a circle at half-arm’s length   across the track when the train is standing. Back
(e) Swung vertically in a circle at arm’s length across   the track when the train is running Train has parted
(f)  Swung   horizontally above the head when the train is standing. Apply air brakes
(g) Held at arm’s length above the head when the train   is standing. Release air brakes

13. Any object waved violently by any one on or near the track is a signal to stop.

14.                                                            Engine and Motor Whistle Signals



(a)    0 Apply Brakes – Stop
(b)    – – Release brakes.    Proceed.
(c)   – 0 0   0 Flagman protect rear of train
(d)  —- Flagman may return    from west or south, as prescribed by Rule 99
(e)  —– Flagman may return from east or north as prescribed by   Rule 99.
(f) — When running train parted; to be repeated until   answered by the signal prescribed by Rule 12 (e).
(g)    0 0 Answer to any signal not otherwise provided for.
(h)    0 0 0 When train is standing, back. Answer to 12(d0 and 16(c)   .  when train is running, answer 16 (d)
(j)    0 0 0 0 Call for signals.
(k)  -0  0 To call attention of yard engines, extra trains or   trains of same or inferior class or inferior right to signals displayed for a   following section. If not answered by a train, the train displaying   signals  must stop and ascertain the   cause.
(l)  –0  0 Approaching public crossing at grade.
(m) Approaching stations, junctions, railroad crossings at   grade and mail cranes.
(n)  – –  0 Approaching meeting points, and answer to meet signals   given by conductors of passenger trains.
(o)  0  – Inspect train line for leaks.
(p) Succession of short sounds Alarm for persons or live stock on the track.

15.  The explosion of two torpedoes is a signal to reduce speed and look out for a train ahead or obstruction.  The explosion of one torpedo will indicate  the same as two, but the use of two is required. (See Rule 99).

16.                                                         Communicating Signals

Note; The signals prescribed are illustrated by “o” for short sound; “-“for longer sounds.



(a) oo When standing, start
(b) oo When running, stop at once
(c) ooo When standing, back the train
(d) ooo When running, stop at the next passenger station
(e) oooo When standing, apply or release air brakes
(f) oooo When running, reduce speed
(g) ooooo When standing, recall flagman
(h) ooooo When running, increase speed
(i)oooooo When running, increase train heat
(j)–o Approaching meeting points
(k) Shut off steam heat
(l)  -o When running, brakes stick

16(a).                                                                       Track Signals





One Mile

Located one mile from outer switches of all tracks; also one mile   from semaphore signal at telegraph stations at which there are no passing   tracks. Speed of trains must be regulated there from  so as to be under control at outer switches   of passing tracks, or at telegraph stations at which there are no passing tracks. Note Rule 99(b).



Located one mile from outer switches of all tracks; also one mile   from semaphore signal at telegraph stations at which there are no passing   tracks Speed of trains must be regulated there from  so as to be under control at outer switches   of passing tracks, or at telegraph stations at which there are no passing tracks. Note Rule 99(b).


One Mile


Located one mile from water station 

Located one mile from water stations.


Speed of train must be regulated therefrom so as to be under control   expecting to find trains of same or superior class standing at tank unprotectedNote Rule 99 (b)

One Mile




Located one mile from coal stations Speed of train must be regulated therefrom so as to be under control   expecting to find trains of same or superior class standing at coal wharf   unprotectedNote Rule 99 (b)


Located one mile from coal stations Speed of train must be regulated therefrom so as to be under control   expecting to find trains of same or superior class standing at coal wharf   unprotectedNote Rule 99 (b)



Located at ends of yards.
Yard Limit.Note Rule 103 (a)
Y Located at ends of yards. Yard Limit.Note Rule 103 (a)


One Mile

Located one mile from drawbridge Drawbridge one mile distantNote Rule 98

R.R. Crossing

One Mile

Located one mile from railroad crossing. Railroad Crossing one mile distantNote Rule 98


Located at the approach to a curve where speed is restricted. Abrupt curve over which speed must be reduced to 25 miles per hour   for passenger trains and 15 miles per hour for freight trains.


Located at the approach to a curve where speed is restricted. Abrupt curve over which speed must be reduced to 25 miles per hour   for passenger trains and 15 miles per hour for freight trains.


Located one half-mile from points at which speed is reduced by   special instructions Reduce speed in accordance with special instructions.


Located at a point where all trains must stop. Stop before passing the sign.


Located on-fourth mile from road crossing Whistle for public road crossing as per Rule 14(l).(Note rule 31)

To meet another train

17. The headlight will be displayed to the front of every train by night, but must be concealed when a train turns out to meet another and has stopped clear of main track, or is standing to meet trains at the end of double track or at junction.

When an engine is running backward, a white light must be displayed by night on the rear of the tender.

17 (a).  When on siding, information that rear of train is clear of main track must be communicated to the engineer by word of mouth before headlight is covered.

18.  Yard engines will display the head light to the front and rear by night. When not provided with a headlight at the rear, a white light must be displayed.  Yard engines will not display markers.

19.  The following signals will be displayed, one on each side of the rear of every train, as markers, to indicate the rear of the train. By day, green flags, or marker lamps (not lighted); By night, green lights to the front and side  and red lights to the rear; except when the train is clear of the main track, when green lights must be displayed to the front, side and rear.

19 (a).  Light engines will display green flags by day and by other trains,  a red lantern light  by night as markers to indicate the rear, and when clear on siding, to be passed by other trains, a white lantern light will be substituted by the red.

19 (b).  On double track, when the train is turned out against current of traffic, green lights must be displayed to the front and side and green lights to the rear on the side next to the main track on which the current of traffic is the direction in which the train is moving, and a red light to the rear on the opposite side.

20. All sections except the last will display two green flags, and, in addition, two green lights by night, in the places provided for that purpose on the front of the engine.

21.  Extra trains will display two white flags and, in addition, two white flags by night in the places provided for that purpose on the front of the engine.

22. When two or more engines are coupled, the leading engine only shall display the signals as prescribed in Rules 20 and 21.

23.  One flag or light displayed where in Rules 19, 20, and 21 two are prescribed, will indicate the same as two; but the proper display of all train signals is required.

24.  When cars are pushed by an engine, except when shifting or making up trains in yards, a white light must be displayed on the front of the leading car by night.

25. Each car of a passenger train must be connected with the engine by a communicating signal appliance.

26.  A blue flag by day and a blue light by night displayed at one or both ends of an engine, train car, car or cars, indicates that workmen are engaged about or thereunder. When thus protected must not be coupled to or moved.  Workmen will display the blue signals at both ends of the engine, train, car or cars on which they are working, and the same workmen are alone authorized to remove them.  Other cars must not be placed on the same track so as to intercept the view of the blue signals without first notifying the workmen.


Days of Steam Report #6

Editor’s Note: From time to time, I will be posting messges from fellow authors who have consistently written what I believe to be noteworthy creations and should be at the top of your reading list. Tom Young is an author of extreme merit who writes from experiences in the world of techno-thrillers.  His latest work is ripped from the headlines of the Washington Post and presents a view of current combat reality.His note follows:

Dear readers and friends,

Just thought I’d take a moment to update the folks who’ve contacted me over the past year or so with kind words about my novels. Many thanks for your support; I appreciate hearing from you.

I thought you might like to know my latest novel, The Renegades, comes to bookstores on July 19th. In the opening chapter of The Renegades, a catastrophic earthquake ravages Afghanistan, and American troops rush to deliver aid. In his new role as an adviser to the Afghan Air Force, Lieutenant Colonel Michael Parson faces one of the biggest challenges of his career, aided by his interpreter, Sergeant Major Sophia Gold. The devastation facing them is like nothing they’ve ever seen–and it’s about to get worse.

A Taliban splinter group, Black Crescent, is conducting its own campaign–shooting medical workers, downing helicopters, slaughtering anyone who dares to accept aid. With the U.S. drawing down and coalition forces spread thin, it’s up to Parson, Gold, and Parson’s Afghan aircrews to strike back. But they’re short of supplies, men, experience, and information–and the terrorists seem to be nowhere…and everywhere.

In a starred review, Publishers Weekly says “Young’s precise, evocative prose brings a far-off war into sharp-edge focus while honoring the heroic servicemen and women who fight against extraordinary odds.”

You can find more information on my website at Thank you again for your e-mails and good wishes, and have a terrific summer.

With all best wishes,


Days of Steam Report # 4

Written and edited by Chip Deyerle

NOTE TO READER:  This is information taken from the Norfolk and Western Railway Company Rules and Regulations for the Government of the Operating Department – issued in 1917.


4. Each time-table, from the moment it takes effect, supersedes the preceding time-table.

            A train of the preceding time-table thereupon loses both right and class, and can thereafter proceed only by train order.

No train of the new time-table shall run on any division until it is due to start from its initial station on that division, after the time takes effect.

5. Not more than two times are given for a train at any station; where one is given, it is, unless otherwise indicated, the leaving time; where two, they are arriving and the leaving time.

Schedule meeting or passing stations are indicted by figures in FULL-FACED TYPE.

Where there are one or more trains to meet or pass a train between two times, or more than one train to meet a train at any station, attention is called to it by small type adjoining the full-faced type.

5(a)  Where telegraph offices are located at sidings or distant from stations of the same name, the time shown on time-table is at the telegraph office. Notwithstanding which, passenger trains scheduled or advertised to stop at such stations must not leave the point at which passengers are received or discharged before the time shown.

6.  The following signs when placed  before the figures of the schedule indicate:

“s” – regular stop

“f” –Flag stop to receive or discharge passengers or freights

“L” – Leave

“A”- Arrive

6(a). The following signs, when placed  in columns provided in the time-table, swill have the following indications:

Letters under “Telegraph Office’ indicate:

“D”-Day Telegraph station

“N”-Night Telegraph station

“DN”- Day and night telegraph station.

Letters placed after the names of stations indicate:

“W” – Water Station

“X”- Railroad Crossing

“O”- Track scale

“C” Coaling Station


“Y”- Wyes.

Comments and observations:

The time table has always been a very useful document, especially for passenger service. It is the “program’ so that you can tell who the “players” are and when.  The time-table was also the document the engine crews relied upon to do their jobs.  Time-tables continue in use worldwide even today.

Time-tables were also extensively relied upon by station and dispatch personnel, telegraphers, Train Masters and dispatchers. Time-tables were also used to determine staffing and resources needed at any given instance in supporting the time-table.

I remember a train I took in 2008 from Bonn, Germany, to Munich to catch a flight back to the US.  In order to make my flight, I needed to leave Bonn at a certain time in the morning.  Not readily familiar with reading the Germanic language, I was able to decipher the time-table accurately and marveled at the number of stops to be made as we rolled down the line on tracks built next to the Rhine River.

Thinking unrealistically that I should be at the station early, I arrived at my platform position (Track #4) and found the automated schedule board did not displace more than about five trains, none of which was the train to Munich. Concerned that I had misread something, I went into the station (baggage and all), checked again with the ticket agent who convinced me that the train was on time and would come up on the board about two minutes before the train arrives. “Not to worry!” he said in excellent English.

I returned to the platform to await my train due at 7:00 am. In the meanwhile, a local commuter train rolled in, right on time, exchanged passengers, and promptly departed the station just as scheduled.

The next train was a local which would make a number of stops on its way west of Bonn. In and out right on schedule-no problem.  By now the clock was moving very slowly and the next train showed up as scheduled, followed by the next and the next. All trains were on time and reached the platform as scheduled.

Amazed at how many trains moved through the station in the 20 minutes or so that I waited, my train was right on time as well.  In less than a minute I was looking for a seat in one of the main day coaches.  While I had last traveled from Berlin to Frankfurt in 2000, the trip down the Rhine with the sun rising was perhaps my greatest train trip. I might add that I have never seen real European castles before this trip down the Rhine. That day, I must have counted more than a hundred of all sizes and shapes.

Today, Time-tables follow much the same format as they did in 1917.  If you ride a commuter rail in the US, you probably won’t pay any attention to the time-table, particularly after a few rides. AMTRAK publishes it’s time-table, which is accessible via the internet or even via an app for your I-Phone.

One thing I’ve noticed is that at a lot of train shows, there are always Time-Tables from the past for sale. The next time you come across a time table from the days of steam, check to see if contains the data as much data as was published in 1917.



Days of Steam – Report #3 – STANDARD TIME: Living By The Clock

By Chip Deyerle

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

Time is perhaps the most important commodity of the railroads.  Every scheduled train depends on standard time-accurate within and instant. The following text is taken from the N&W Rule Book published in 1917 and much of that has not changed over the years except the concept of daylight savings time.

1.  Standard time is obtained from the Washington (Naval) Observatory will be transmitted to all points from designated offices at 12:00 o’clock noon, Eastern time; 11;00 o’clock a.m. central time, daily.

Eastern time will govern Williamson (WVA), and east thereof.

Central time will govern west of Williamson (WVA).

2.  Watches that have been examined and certified to by a designated inspector must be used by conductors, engineers, firemen, brakemen; section, bridge, mason, extra gang, signal and line foremen; signal maintainers, and such others as may be required.

The certificate of prescribed form must be renewed and filed with the proper officer every three months.

All men in train service will submit their watches once each week to a local watch inspector or other designated party for comparison with standard time, and secure weekly comparison card, Form 30, which should be promptly turned over to the proper officer.

3.  Watches of conductors and engineers must be compared before commencing each day’s work, with a clock designated by time-table as a standard clock.  The time when watches are compared must be registered on a prescribed form.

3 (a).  After conductors and engineers have compared with a standard clock, they will compare watches with each other and with the rear brakeman and fireman, respectively.

3 (b) Conductors and engineers whose duties prevent them from having access to a standard clock, must compare daily with, and regulate their watches by those of conductors or engineers who have standard time and have registered as provided.

The location of standard clocks will be designated in the time-table.

Where clocks are provided, station and telegraph operators must see that they show correct time.  When clocks are not in working order, faces must be covered.

Employees other than trainmen, who are required to carry standard time, and whose duties prevent them from having access to a standard clock must compare time with, and regulate their watches by those of the conductors or engineers who have standard time and have registered as provided.  This must be done at least once each week.

3(c).  Engineers and firemen of all trains will compare time at points where registers are located and at stations where they receive their orders.


From this rule, it was apparently very process-intensive to ensure that a mechanical watch carried by an Engineer or Conductor was showing the  correct time. In the digital age, we’ve left this chore well behind us. Yet the National/Naval Observatory still has the solemn task and responsibility for reporting the time.

The experience of the railroads by 1917 included major train accidents due largely to time errors. The only process available for ensuring some standardization of time was a process of checks and double checks until the arrival of dependable digital clocks and watches. This experience was also common among maritime shippers and air crews flying domestically and internationally.

During this period, time pieces were usually made of brass, gears and balance wheels with a tensioned spring drive that wound down after so many hours. That is why most railroaders kept their watches wound tight and why these watches were usually in need of almost constant repairs.

But pocket watches have always had a value, whether it worked or not.  Perhaps it is the nostalgia of the days of steam railroading, or the symbolic charm of  the roman numerals on its face reflecting the charm of  days gone by.

In today’s world, some folks have decided that their iPhone clock is as accurate as may ever be needed and consequently no longer use a wrist watch. Maybe that is the most accurate way to measure time, so long as you have a fresh charge on your battery. But are they still checking standard time through some sort of updated process?  Watch for further updates to this report.