early operations and telegraphy

NW Mailing List nw-mailing-list at nwhs.org
Sun Apr 12 08:12:39 EDT 2020

Thanks to all who have added information on these topics. I am only
beginning to try to assimilate the wealth that has poured in, so rest
assured more questions will be forthcoming as I dig in. Special thanks of
course to Dr. Burnett for taking time away form his research on a cure for
the turnip epidemic to provide information and insight.

1. With regard to early telegraph lines, I suppose it would have been quite
convenient for a telegraph company to run a line along the path that was
cleared and maintained for a railroad. And I presume that for the
privilege, the telegraph company might grant the railroad certain usage of
the facility, but that since it was shared, this arrangement would have
been insufficient for operating trains. I found an entry at
http://www.csa-railroads.com/ from a meeting of the Virginia railroad
superintendents in May of 1861 at which they recommended that every
railroad construct a telegraph line for its own dedicated use as soon as
possible. However, I would image that the events that immediately followed
may have interfered with this plan. Also the descriptions of interruptions
to operations from acts of war such as burning bridges, destruction of
track, etc. are plentiful and if telegraph were being used for operations,
I would assume that the cutting of wires and downing of poles would have
been reported along with the other impediments. Based on this very shaky
foundation, I would hazard the assumption that telegraphic operations of
the N&W predecessors did not begin until at least after the Civil War.

I have also, thus far, failed to find any mention of stationary signals
during this period, but would hesitate to rule them out entirely at this

2. With regard to “blocking” and signal towers, it is my impression that
when early railroads were being constructed, stations were built at the
population centers along the route for handling passengers and freight and
not strategically placed for operations. Where the distance between
stations was great, I would assume fuel/water stops were put in place. With
the coming of the block system for operations, it would have been both
convenient and cost-effective to use the existing station facilities as
block boundaries, but there was a desire for some “regularity” in block
length and stations would not always be present at a location at which a
signal should be placed. I ASSUME at such places a minimal facility would
be built with a signal and housing for a telegrapher/signal operator but no
provision for passengers or freight. If information can be found as to when
such structures were built, that would seem to be an indication of
beginnings of train block operations.

Once again please comment, expand and correct my musings.

Happy Easter to all,

Jim Cochran
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