Whither the Link and Pin ?

nw-mailing-list at nwhs.org nw-mailing-list at nwhs.org
Wed Jan 25 23:29:44 EST 2006

N&W did many studies of this type. I believe one is in the new N&W - GIANT OF STEAM. It was in the old one, too.

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Sent: Wednesday, January 25, 2006 7:34 PM
Subject: Re: Whither the Link and Pin ?

Not much has changed I guess. Kind of like fuel economy numbers in cars. Speaking of fuel economy, has anyone ever looked at the fuel efficiency of steam (ie coal) vs. diesel fuel on a strictly fuel efficiency basis? That is, don't take into consideration maintenance on steam vs. diesel motive power?

Ed Svitil

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Subject: Re: Whither the Link and Pin ?
Date: Mon, 23 Jan 2006 23:46:46 -0500


I read an article recently in "American Heritage of Invention & Technology (magazine), Winter 2006, Vol.21, No.3.

The article entitled "The Strongest Handshake in the World" was written by John H. White, Senior Historian Emeritus at the Smithsonian Institution, and professor of history and mechanical engineering at Miami University, in Oxford, OH.

A very interesting article about Mr. Janney, inventor, and Mr. Lorenzo Coffin, who took up the "cause", and finally got the coupler mandated by law.

He states that President Harrison signed the Safety and Appliance Act on March 3, 1893, his last full day in office. This act also made air brakes mandatory. "Railroads were given five years to complete the transition." By that date, 1898, only 68% of cars had the new couplers. They were granted an extension to Jan. 1900, then another eight months after that! He says that "by 1900 coupler related injuries dropped from 32% to 9% of all injuries", and then to 4% in 1902.

Like many inventors, Janney did NOT get rich from his life-saving invention.

Jeff Sanders
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Sent: Sunday, January 22, 2006 5:47 PM
Subject: Re: Whither the Link and Pin ?

Asketh Jim Kehn:

>> Everytime I see one of those I wonder how those old timers ever switched a train. You must have had to hold the link up to enter the pocket of the other coupler and use the other hand to insert the pin. How in the world did they give a stop signal, etc?? <<

Well, Jim, "the literature" speaks of trainmen using a stick in one hand to hold up the link and guide it into the pocket of the standing car, and using the other hand to drop in the pin. Of course, one had to be between the cars to do it.

I have seen several good line drawings of trainman using link and pin couplings over the years (invariably copied out of publications like Leslie's Weekly &c,) but I couldn't point you to one at the moment.

The Railway Safety Appliance Act of 1893 (or was it 1892???) took aim at the link and pin coupler and also addressed such things as ladders, stirrups and brake wheels. The railroads screamed bloody murder and implementation date for the provisions of the Act was extended several times. By the end of the decade, I'd imagine that everything running on the main lines had been replaced by Janney couplers.

To get a fix on the date that railroads made a commitment to the change-over, I once sat down with the builders photographs from Altoona Works and looked for the first engine outshopped with a Janney coupler on the front end. It was the Spring of 1893... April, as I recall. That should be a good index for practices in the industry.

As for how one would "wave down" the engineman while both of his hands were engaged in coupling, you got me. But remember that switching crews back then had three, four and five brakemen on them (just look at the old photographs,) so perhaps one stood outside the coupling and gave the signal. I'm just guessing. (And road trains had a third brakeman who was called "the Middle Man," who "hand broke" the cars in the middle of the train.)

As a young kid, I knew a man who had hired in 1896 on the Roanoke & Southern/Punkin' Vine, or whatever you want to call it. (He called it the "Roanoke & Southern.") He told me some interesting things, viz. that when the crew was heading out to their train after reporting for duty, everyone grabbed as many links and pins as he could carry, and put them on the engine and caboose... because they knew they would need them. Another thing he told me was that ashes from the coal stove were a valuable comodity, and were stored until needed under the bunks on the caboose. During snow and icy conditions, a trainman "on the tops" would carry a bucket and scatter them on the running boards of those cars in the train which he was "braking," to assist in avoiding falls. Oh, I wish I had had the questions then that I have now, and could ask that old gentleman !

-- abram burnett
(also an old trainman)


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