Who Pulled the Strings on the Classification of Tidewater Coal?

nw-mailing-list at nwhs.org nw-mailing-list at nwhs.org
Mon Mar 28 10:01:34 EST 2005

And at the risk of information overload, during the boom times of the 80's and 90's a coal reservation system was introduced.  This system allowed for coal and vessels to be at Lamberts Point at the same time, thereby reducing the storage time as well as the need for car inventory.  Since Pier 6 was running 24/7 and colliers were lying at anchor in Hampton Roads waiting their turn, an organized system was sorely needed.  Under the reservations, vessels had guaranteed times at the pier and coal arrived from the mines on coordinated days.  Think of this as a coal version and a precursor of just-in-time inventory.  Lake coal at Sandusky was handled in a similar fashion, except much more simply.  The need for boat (lakers were known as boats, not ships) reservations were not necessary since pier time was much shorter and lakers could berth themselves, load and sail within 8 hours.  Even the longest boats (1,000 Ft) could pivot using bow and aft thrusters.  Since the pier there was a lake design similar to Pier 5 at Norfolk, the dumper was fixed.  This required the boats to winch themselves for loading.
As a matter of interest, I have always been fascinated with the vessels that called at Sandusky.  When I first became involved there, some were still steamers (bunker fuel as opposed to coal, but steamers nonetheless).  There very few calling at Huron for ore unloading and the Hewletts were long since dismantled.  Still some of the self- unloaders showed up mostly with gravel.  When the Conrail transaction took place, NS gained access to Ashtabula which was the last of the large lake ore docks.  One of the first vessels I saw there was MV A Andersen.  If history and memory serves, this was the boat that was traveling with the Edmund Fitzgerald  when it sank.
Hope I didn't bore you!     Don Corbin           
  ----- Original Message -----  
  From: nw-mailing-list at nwhs.org 
  To: nw-mailing-list at nwhs.org 
  Sent: Sunday, March 27, 2005 3:12 PM
  Subject: Re: Who Pulled the Strings on the Classification of Tidewater Coal?

  Taking Don Corbin's response a step further, it kinda depended on where the car
  was as to the string-puller.

  Norfolk Terminal -- coal arriving Norfolk did not go directly to the barney yard for
  dumping.  About one of every three trains of Tidewater coal went to Sewalls Pt.
  Trains arriving Lamberts Point usually set off in three tracks.  From there, the
  coal was dispersed to the Soda Yard, the Government Yard, etc. until the
  Piermaster put out a coal order (like Don said).  The coal order specified the 
  classes of coal needed to load a ship.  The General Yardmaster (in the tower
  near the beanery) using the coal order then delegated the duty of rounding up
  the classes of coal to the yardmasters at the Soda Yard, Sewalls Point, where-
  ever,  Bear in mind that the barney yard (actually two yards of 16 tracks each
  for Pier 6) might not hold enough coal for a ship load, so frequently the yard jobs
  had to replenish the tracks.  He who wrote the coal order pulled the strings.

  Atlantic Region- (points east of Bluefield up to M.P. N-8) -- the Asst. Manager
  Transportation - Atlantic Region determined what classes would be placed in
  the "pipeline".  He worked in an office up the corridor from Spike's desk. Over
  time, it was filled by Bill Watson and later by Bill Jackson.  With the Tidewater Coal
  Report in hand and juggling a dozen or so variables (crews available, space at
  Norfolk,  classes to be added as fill), he'd come up with a plan, called a "coal run".
  After fine - tuning the plan, it would be distributed to the Chief Dispatcher - Radford
  Division, Chief Dispatcher - Norfolk Division and others.  With plan in hand,  the
  divisions and Roanoke Terminal would begin to assemble the classes called for
  in the "coal run" - usually to be dispatched the following day.  With those 
  instructions disbursed, the Asst. Manager would then begin to make a plan for
  the 2nd day following.

  The "head string-puller" for points west of Norfolk Terminal (M.P. N-8) was ably
  assisted by the Night Chief Dispatcher at Crewe, the operator at "GO" office in
  Roanoke, and the (usually) VGN operator at South Norfolk tower.  I don't know
  who represented the Radford Division, but every morning between 2:00 AM and
  4:00 AM they prepared the overwhelming Tidewater Coal Report -- an inventory of
  all classes of coal on the Atlantic Region.   The report was about half the size of
  a train dispatcher's sheet and required 1.5 to 2.0 hours to complete.  It became a
  known -- if you didn't want the wax blown out of your ears, you didn't interrupt these
  people between 2:00 AM and 4:00 AM.   

  It doesn't take a genius to understand that you just didn't push the "stop" button
  and the pipeline would shut down.  Bill Watson once told me he received an inquiry
  from an officer on Norfolk Terminal relative to shutting down the flow of Tidewater coal
  in order to do maintenance work.  "yes," Bill noted, "but give me a couple of days
  notice before you attempt to do it."   Sure enough, several days later, he received
  a call to shut off all Tidewater coal en route to Lamberts Point like right now.  A
  gentlemanly reminder that he was to have sufficient notice just didn't get it.  So
  Bill went to the General Manager of Transportation,  W.T.Ross.  "Boss" Ross called
  his buddy on Norfolk Terminal.  "Harold, I understand you told Bill Watson to shut off
  the Tidewater coal."   "Yeah, that's right, Bill, maintenance work."  "OK, Harold,
  effective immediately, you're in charge of  the Tidewater coal movement."  The
  maintenance work ceased and coal trains rolled.
                                                                                         Harry Bundy


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