Early signaling on the N&W

NW Mailing List nw-mailing-list at nwhs.org
Tue Oct 28 16:56:04 EDT 2014

Many thanks to Bruce and bolshoi spaceebo to Abe (the arm) for the great
information on N&W signaling in the manual days.  As always, I still have a
few more questions.  Was the semaphore used for manual blocking the same as
the "train order" signal that you sometimes see in station photos as late
as the 50's?  Under the permissive system, did an operator always just give
a following movement a yellow and hoop him up a card?  Did he only do this
if the caboose of the preceding movement had passed him a certain number of
minutes previously?  Did it depend on which was a freight and which was a
passenger?  Time of day?  Phase of moon?  Which side of the bed he had
gotten out of that morning?  How did the time table play into this system,
if at all?
Jim Cochran

On Tue, Oct 28, 2014 at 1:53 PM, NW Mailing List <nw-mailing-list at nwhs.org>

> To advance a train into an occupied block under Permissive Block Rules,
> the signalman ("operator") held the semaphore at Red and gave a highball to
> the train with a Yellow flag or lantern, and hooped up a "Permissive Card."
>  The Permissive Card was a type of clearance that authorized a train to
> pass a signal in Stop position and enter an occupied block.
> Attached is a scan of an N&W Permissive Card.  I found a pad of them in
> old "AN" Telegraph Office at Shenandoah about fifty years ago.
> The N&W had some interesting permutation on the Manual Block System of
> operation.  For instance, on the North Caroline Branch, freight trains were
> operated by Time Table and Train Order only, and were not "blocked."  But
> passenger trains were operated under Manual Block Rules.  However, it was
> not a hard-and-fast Manual Block operation, as freight trains could be
> allowed to follow a passenger train into an occupied block "after ten
> minutes."  Someone with access to a fairly complete set of N&W Time Table
> could probably work up an interesting article on this subject.
> The subject of Clearance Cards is in itself an interesting study.  Some
> larger railroads used four different types of Clearance Cards, called A, B,
> C and D.  Each was printed on a different color paper.  One was used to
> advance a train by a signal which was set at Stop to indicate that Train
> Orders were to be received.  Another was to advance a train past a Stop
> Signal into an occupied block under Permissive Block rules.  Another was to
> advance a train past a signal which could not be cleared due to a
> mechanical malfunction (e.g. the wire or chain pulling the signal arm had
> broken.)  The final type was to advance a train "when the means of
> communication have failed," allowing the train to run on its Time Table
> schedule and any Train Order rights it may be holding. Over the years, the
> system was simplified on most road to just two forms of clearance cards:
>  Clearance Form A and Clearance Form C.  I've long intended to make a write
> up on this subject, but have not done it yet.  I have seen no indication
> that the N&W ever used a clearance card system of this complexity.
> And while we're at it, Jim...  How about calling us signal afficianados
> "Signal Arms" instead of "Signal Heads" ???  :-)   :-)  "Arm" was always
> the proper official, proper nomenclature for that part of the signal which
> changed and conveyed information.  Being known as "Signal Arms" would set
> us apart in a class all our own!  The use of the term "head" in referring
> to signals only came around within the last fifty years and always struck
> me as railfan weenie talk.
> -- adb
> Self-Professed Curmudgeon and "Signal Arm"  :-)
> ===========================
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>     ... better than AT&T 4G LTE
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