Tuesday, March 25, 2008


From: "Doctor Z" panther9@skypoint.com

A friend and I were talking the other day about the history of the Transcontinental Railroad, and a question came up.

In the 1870's there was no radio communications, and telegraph needed a hardwired station, and the fact that there was telegraph means the Pony Express was gone, so we were wondering about this and hopefully you will be able to provide an answer.

Let's say you have a passenger train heading along the Transcontinental Railroad and the Locomotive breaks down. Exactly how did they get word to alert the other trains that the tracks were blocked, and how did they get the locomotive repaired when it was stuck in the middle of nowhere, and how did they care for all the stranded passengers during the wait?

I guess that was three questions but they all relate to the one situation. Exactly what was the procedure in place at the time to handle mechanical failure 100's of miles from nowhere in the 1870's?



Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "RANDALL HEES" hees@astound.net

There is not a single answer, but rather a series of answers that collectively offer a solution. They would never have been hundreds of miles away from an agency, even across the Humbolt sink. Some railroads carried a telegraph key which could be cut in at a telegraph pole. There is evidence that some railroad considered carrying velocopides or other light pump cars in the baggage car as a sort of life boat.

The schedule gave a train the right to track, with some level of allowance for late arrival... The crews of other trains. At some point, your authority or ownership of that track ended and other trains could proceed. Trains, particularly those going the other direction would be keeping track of the trains they met, knew which trains they should meet and where. If a train didn't arrive at a meeting point by a certain time the train could continue with caution looking for the broken down train. The crew of the broken down train had a responsibility to "flag" or protect their train. This would consist of crew members walking out for as much as a mile in each direction placing flags or torpedos (a small explosive charge, like a firecracker, which would be set off by the wheels of an approching train, to signal danger)

As early as 1870 there were at least 6 trains on the Central Pacific mainline, so the wait would not be "forever." Additionally crews were creative, and could make some repairs to allow the train to continue.

—Randy Hees

3/25/2008 4:22 PM  

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