Layers of great stuff in that Delano photo


In a message dated 6/25/2007 9:03:14 PM Eastern Daylight Time,
fleeta@... writes:

What if there were cars buried in the tracks that were empty, or single
loaded ones in a field of empties? Would the blocking cars typically be
moved and respotted to get at the buried car? (After clearing all blue
flags, of course.)

Even if that's NOT what Pieter wanted to know, I would.



I loooove this photo. That DL&W car in the middle of everything is one of
the F&C/NEB&W kits for the 45000-series double-sheathed boxcars with Murphy

Keeping those platform tracks organized isn't as daunting as it might
appear, keeping in mind that in those days there were plenty of people to
participate and there were lists and info passing between the railroad and the
platform before and after each drill. There would have been clerks/agents on each
platform keeping track and informing those who need to know which cars and
products were where. That information the clerks got from the train crew from a
switch list or wheel report that they made up when they assembled those
cars. The cars may or may not be in any order, depending on the needs of the
platform or traditions; lumber may traditionally go to the bumper while crated
stuff head out, for example. It could be anything -- name your habit or
style. Slow unloading stuff would typically be at the bumper, fast unloading
stuff would be head out. I'm betting this platform had bumpers and was not
double ended, only because the photographer had to be standing on something,
likely the head house for the freight house. The vehicles on the platforms had to
come from somewhere.

Spotting cars individually or in pairs is quite common, and it still goes on
today. The tracks would have been likely protected by a hop-toe derail that
flops over the top of the rail; blue flag or some form of stop signal is
quite possible. Another legal method would have been a separate lock on the
switch off the ladder. Since the ladder in this photo is such a long walk from
the platform, protection would have likly been a lot closer, a flag or a

Normally it would be the clerk's job to apply and remove the derail / blue
flag; the dropping of the flag would be the crew's signal that the track was
ready and that it could enter that track. In those days most rulebooks said
that a blue flag could only be removed by the person who put it up. Today it can
be removed by another person in the same craft, since men could, and
occasionally did, shut down significant trackage by placing a blue flag and going

It is unlikely that bridges would have spanned from platform to platform
through all five rows of cars.

The clerk / agents would inform the railroad somehow that a track or group
of tracks is empty and ready to go, then raise drop the flag. When the
railroad got around to it, a crew would show up with a drill engine. Two trainman
would walk down both sides of a line of cars checking for chocks and bridges
and making sure doors are closed, and a brakeman would likely climb up to the
roof of the first car and start knocking off brakes. The conductor would
likely bump-and-shove the cars together in quantities that he could safely do,
based on the engineer's visibility of hand signals, the brakeman going from
roof to roof. A safe way to do this is to stop at the second or third or fourth
bump; let the ground men lace up and knock off the brakes, and do it again.
With enough guys on the ground passing hand signals, they might bump 'em all
together and lace the hoses. Today with radios and lower hand brakes,
eight-car cuts such as these would often be bumped together and laced up by one man
on the ground. Today there are rules for assembling spotted cars, and crews
will do what crews will safely do. (Where I work today we still get LPG cars
with high handbrakes, and Toys-R-Us on one of our branches a few years ago
was still getting SP boxcars with high hand brakes -- climbing up there is a
lot of work, and I mused at how brutal it would have been to have every brake
up high like they did in the era of this photo.)

If for some reason there was a car buried in a string that needed to go back
in, then the crew would pull the car out with the rest of the string of
cars. It could then either set the car out on one of the other tracks just clear
of the switch to be shoved back in with the next cut of cars, or matched into
another string of cars going into that same track. Or the crew could simply
leave the car in the string of outbounds and let the next crew or the hump
deal with it. Cars having to be re-spotted was quite common for a variety of
reasons, as it is now. Then as in now, some crews cared and tried to give
good service and would get the car back in when it was requested, while others
spend their day trying to go home. I say "when requested" as the owner of the
load may not be back for a day or two, so the car may need to be held out
for a specified period of time, for a specified charge.

On the inbound side, yardmasters would either hand the drill crew a list for
a made-up track for spotting, or have the crew go into a yard to dig out the
cars for the platform, which may or may not need to be in a sequence. Often
they had to be in order, but the cars could also just be put in as they fell
and the clerks simply instructed the load's owner where that load could be

Clerks could organize that platform on a single sheet with five columns for
each row of cars, with room for notes. It could also be done with five
separate sheets with the spots numbered. Each track might be lettered or numbered.
The platform clerks would either take the train crew's lists of cars and
transfer them to his form, or walk the tracks themselves to be sure, or both.

Outbounds were often brought to a part of the yard where empties gathered
and were used to fill out trains that were light on tonnage. After dropping the
outbounds, the crew would go after the next set of spotters and bring them to
the platform. I'll bet this platform was worked one or two tracks at a
time. It would be impractical to wait for every car on every track to be empty
before pulling it all out. I'm wondering if all five tracks were ever
switched in the same day.

Great stuff. Fun modeling operation. I organize nearly 400 railcars on 50
tracks every day, with 37 single cars spotted daily, and keeping track of a
five-track Conrail yard since Conrail won't do it and we need to know where
every car is every day. I was doing much of it by pencil and paper until about
two years ago when Excel finally conquered, ultimately saving hours per day.
While we were doing the work with diesels, the basic work is pure steam era.

Having been a trainman, yardmaster, and now a trainmaster, I notice that not
enough modelers include a man or two with clipboards walking up and down
yard tracks making track checks, or standing at a switch or yard throat writing
down car numbers as trains come and go. Every yard had at least one, and
every good yardmaster eyeballs every car that enters or leaves his yard.

Mike Del Vecchio

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