Station lighting prior to rural electrification

nw-mailing-list at nw-mailing-list at
Tue Jul 5 21:39:48 EDT 2005

Frank: This reply is crude as I haven't the time to pull all of the bits
and pieces together for a truly definitive answer.

On the Cincinnati District, electric lighting was completely installed
into the stations basically when the line side position light signals
were installed. For the 'Peavine' this was in 1926.

There would have been an Authorization for Expenditure (AFE) to install
the lighting in each station or a grouping of stations.

The Peavine power came from a power plant and rotating machine in Seaman
Ohio (about half way) and from the Cincinnati Gas & Electric service in
Cincinnati. Later there was a power hook up to the grid in Portsmouth.
The Seaman plant provided DC power in the late 1890's, too.

Stations near power service did get connected earlier than any signal
work. The station at Idelwild four miles west of Clare Yard in
Cincinnati at the connection to the Cincinnati, Lebanon & Northern (PRR)
was connected to electrical power about 1910 when CG&E power was
distributed throughout northern Cincinnati and Norwood/ Evanston area.

Basically, the economics of electric lighting was obvious compared to
kerosene lamps. Station agents got their stations connected as soon as
the service was installed nearby. The key timing was dictated by the
installation of the local AC power grid.

Electric grids were mainly run by electric traction companies using the
excess capacity of the power plants to provide power to the neighboring
towns and line side villages. These distribution grids became the
valuable property for the traction companies as cars and roads took over
their transportation business. Most were sold to the public service
companies and became part of the public grid.

Insull, the big traction line magnate from Chicago, was the key
individual in promoting AC power and making electric power inexpensive
for the little guy. He worked very closely with Tesla and Westinghouse
in developing the AC industry in opposition to GE, Edison and the
short-range DC grid. For his efforts, he got railroaded out of the
country and died a poor man in Paris.

For your area, look up the traction and street car historians. They
could tell you in detail when the services were installed and where they
went. This should gicve you the clues to determine when the electrical
power might have been installed in your station.

G Rolih, Cincinnati

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Subject: Re: Station lighting prior to rural electrification


Off hand, I don't know of any definitive info on N&W station electrical
supply pre 1930's, or even what the signal system supply was in those
Probably the best clues come from reviewing the results of a search of
Va. Tech photo collection for "stations." I'm confident that these
photos are mostly from the 1915 - 1920 period of ICC-mandated property
valuation activity. The pole lines in these pictures look different
the more modern pole lines with their 3-phase, 4800 volt lines and
static line supports. In some photos the pole lines appear to come into
station at right angles to the track, suggesting a non-railroad supply.
other photos, such as
the pole line feeding the station runs parallel to the track, suggesting
railroad supply.

For a couple of interesting 1917 views of a power house (presumably for
signal system) at Dwight on the Norfolk Division, check out these two
to the Va Tech photo collection:

This power house may be a good illustration how the N&W obtained power
its signal system before rural electrification.

Gordon Hamilton

----- Original Message -----
From: <nw-mailing-list at>
To: <nw-mailing-list at>
Sent: Friday, July 01, 2005 2:31 AM
Subject: Station lighting prior to rural electrification

> Date: Thu, 30 Jun 2005 09:51:47 -0400
> From: nw-mailing-list at
> Subject: Re: Lineside Poles.
> To: "NW Mailing List" <nw-mailing-list at>
> July 1, 2005
> Good morning, Gordon:
> Before rural electrification, electricity usage in
> small communities and farming areas was uncommon.
> While some small stations and block offices utilized
> oil lamp lighting, others were wired for about 60
> amps. I suppose the 4,800 volt pole line was the
> source of station power during the pre-1930s era.
> If anything turns up in the Archives that supports or
> refutes this theory, I'd like to learn about it. In
> the meantime, turn on the station air conditioning
> (read: open the windows) and keep cool this Summer!
> Frank
> Dr. Frank R. Scheer, Curator
> Railway Mail Service Library, Inc.
> f_scheer at
> (202) 268-2121 - weekday office
> (540) 837-9090 - weekend afternoons
> in the former N&W station on VA rte 723
> 117 East Main Street
> Boyce VA 22620-9639
> Visit at
> ________________________________________
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