Mr. Cochran: N&W Telegraph Calls, Operators' Personal Sines
NW Mailing List
nw-mailing-list at nwhs.org
Sun Apr 5 09:24:48 EDT 2020
The section about Personal Sines was interesting to me because of the “misspelling” of sign and it’s not the first time I’ve encountered. I spent many years working for an airline and have encountered “sine” also used in a similar fashion although during my time, it was pretty much as a synonym for an agent’s user ID for the reservations system. But I suspect it goes back to the pre-computer days when similar to how railroads handled passenger reservations, all seats on a particular flight were handled by one reservations office (nearest the origin) and requests for space had to be messaged to that office and the “sine” said who sent the message (of course, in those days, every character saved in a message saved time due to slow communications rate so everything possible was abbreviated, something still true in the raw commands used in a reservations systems although today, they all work with a fancy front end).
Much of airline procedures came from railroads. Similarities that come to mind:
- U.S. airline unions and their contracts are under the Railway Labor Act
- The biggest union representing railroad clerks also represented them at many airlines (BRAC - Brotherhood of Railroad and Airline Clerks - I believe Steamship also was in the name at one time)
- Most U.S. airlines used to observe the same westbound odd, eastbound even numbering for flights as railroads did for trains not that there really was any meaning to it at an airline (no superiority by direction like a railroad operating by timetable). One that still does is Hawaiian (at least for inter-island flights).
At one point, I needed to write a computer program that looked only at westbound flights and initially wrote it just to look at odd-numbered flights. Eventually, I had to cobble up a different way when schedule planning stopped following that rule. Why just westbound? Thanks to wind, it’s the critical direction for scheduling crews as westbound flights are always scheduled longer than eastbound flights so if a crew legality issue was going to come up, it would be with the westbound.
lstone19 at stonejongleux.com
> On Apr 5, 2020, at 4:57 AM, NW Mailing List <nw-mailing-list at nwhs.org> wrote:
> Senator Cochran asks about N&W telegraph calls (a.k.a. **office calls.**) Here are a few things I have learned which may be of help.
> 1. OFFICE CALLS. The Chief Train Dispatcher on each Division had the say on office calls. The important thing was that the same call could not be used for two locations. Even when station names were changed, the original office calls were generally kept. (Example: Rural Retreat, Va, on the Bristol Line, was originally known as Mount Airy, and the office call was AY. When the name of the town and depot was changed to Rural Retreat, the telegraph call remained AY. And BC was kept as the call even though the station name was changed from Basic City to Waynesboro.) When Divisions or dispatching territories were merged, and two identical calls resulted, one of them had to be changed.
> The N&W does not appear to have listed telegraph calls in the Time Tables until the late 1890s. That is a stone wall for research. Ain't much way around it.
> 2. PERSONAL SINES. Related to office calls is the matter of an **Operator's personal sine.** This is the mark, consisting of one or two letters or other identifying character(s,) each Operator used in signing for messages on the wire, or for endorsing messages, or for identifying himself on the wire. Generally the Operator could chose his own **sine,** but again, the Chief Train Dispatcher had the right of approval, and no two men could use the same sine on a Division. Often an Operator chose a letter or combination of letters in some way related to his name. I once knew a telegraph operator named Ralph Spangler who sined AP. One day I asked him how he got the letters AP out of the name Ralph Spangler. He said AP were the initials of his girlfriend when he learned telegraphy in the 1940s, and she eventually became Mrs. Spangler. My sine has always been the character Ampersand, which is one Dot, a space, and three Dots... but then I am obstreperous and go down the paths in life where normal people dare to tread.
> Unfortunately, Operator's personal sines went largely unrecorded. In 50+ years of researching this stuff, I have only seen one company list showing Operator's sines. It was a seniority roster (PRR Williamsport Division, 1910) which also showed the employees' sines.
> Back in the 1970s, I sat down with Troy Humphries, a 1940 Shenandoah Valley Operator, and wrote down all personal sines he could remember for Shenandoah Division Operators. I will attach a PDF showing my pencil entries of this information. I knew Troy because were were both members of the Morse Telegraph Club in Roanoke. Troy is the man in O. Winston Link's two well known photos at the Waynesboro telegraph office... one of those photos being taken through the broken window pane.
> If one wishes to engage in research at the level of separating the fly specks from the pepper, he can spend endless hours combing through the digitized old editions of Operator magazine, published by the Order of Railroad Telegraphers, and read the letters sent in by the magazine's correspondents. The correspondents almost always mentioned locations by their office calls and used personal sines instead of men's names... it was shorthand and everyone knew the abbreviations. The problem for us is that the N&W correspondents were largely a silent breed, and seldom sent anything in.
> On the other hand, I know a lady telegrapher at Erie, Pa, whose Grandfather was a PRR telegrapher. She never asked her grandfather what his Operator's personal sine had been. She spent several years combing through the old magazines, and finally found the answer. His Operator's personal sine had been SK. This detective effort only worked because she knew his name (Sid Kennedy) and the locations he worked, and he was referenced the magazine correspondents as "SK at JN" (meaning, Sid Kennedy at Emporium Junction.)
> 3. LISTS ??? So you want lists of N&W telegraph calls? I can help you a little bit, as I was rooting for this information 50 years ago, and wrote everything down. Mr. Blackstock and Mr. Bundy have helped me immensely by ferreting out arcane bits of information at the Archives. For me, they have been like the little Dutch Boy in fairy tales, who sticks his finger in the holes when the dikes spring a leak... lifesavers, indeed.
> I shall post my humble little lists of office calls, by Division, in a day or two. They are not beautiful, and if I were doing them today, I would set them up in Excel. But these documents date back to 1988, when I was first learning Microsoft Word, and all my skill-deficiencies are obvious. I never worked on the Pocahontas Division, so the Pokey list will be a case of blind man's bluff. (My list of Reading telegraph calls is 23 pages long, single-spaced !!!)
> The ATTACHMENT has pencil notes on Shenandoah Division Operators' personal sines, given to me by Troy Humphries.
> Hope the above helps.
> -- abram burnett,
> Rutabaga Power !!!
> <N&W List No 63_Aug 1_1942_Cover & pp7-11_Shen Valley_optimized.pdf>________________________________________
> NW-Mailing-List at nwhs.org
> To change your subscription go to
> Browse the NW-Mailing-List archives at
More information about the NW-Mailing-List