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Railroaders' Nostalgia > Hand Signals


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Date: 01/03/24 08:05
Hand Signals
Author: train1275

In another TO discussion it was asked, how many new hires know much, or are proficient on hand signals. Good question.
Also mentioned was about three step and acknowledgement in these modern times, and I think about the longer cars, longer trains and further away you now work from the head end compounded by 2 man crews, meaning you don't have the additional trainmen to relay signals.

When I started, I worked 16 years before I ever touched a radio. And when we were issued radios, no one wanted to use them. They were originally what we in the east termed "lunch boxes", later were the Motorolas which were much smaller but strapped over the shoulder with a clip on mike.

It seemed day, or night with lantern signals we had good communication. Signals or pre-arranged moves for about everything. All the nuances of movement (come ahead three, back up 4, ease it down ..... car counts etc. Other signals were, going over to the firemans side (when we had firemen) going in between, charge them up, release them, and brake test ok. Other signals were given to felllow trainmen in the crew such as up the middle, down the siding, pull track 3 and such. And of course the old game of toss and catch where you kicked cars into a track with a field man down there and then shoved down on another track to pick up and pull. The field man following the lead and knowing what to do. Some of the real good old timers also used whistle signals, not the locomotive horn but they whistled through their mouth or fingers. I was never able to whistle and didn't pick up on those nuances which as a young green guy they didn't involve me in those moves. 

Today is certainly a different world. I suppose I always favored hand signals as that is the way I started, but then many newer guys didn't know as much or newer enginemen were not comfortable or good at reading them. If we had longer cuts you always planned the work so you worked close to the lead with the locomotive visible. I had the opportunity to work both as an engineman and a trainman and as an engineman it would piss me off when someone was out of sight and they didn't have to be (with a radio). I was in several instances where radios failed and it was not good. If you are expecting a car count and don't get it ..... stop and then check it out. I've seen some guys keep right on shoving ..... "George are you there, George .... can you hear me?"

In the "old days" (ha ! it's funny because I didn't think of those times as the old days) we also had pre-arranged signals like if you didn't have radios and had to set out a car 50 deep. A little dicey and dangerous because sometimes you would pull the air by opening an angle cock. It took a good feel for the engineer and a little grit for the trainmen. Enginemen used to gauge their car counts, especially at night by the adjacent pole line.

Anyway, just a walk down memory lane and I am beginning to realize I am getting to the point of forgetting more than I knew, but it sure was fun. Oh, one ore thing I noticed is that especially between the Western roads and the Eastern roads there were hand signal differences. you could watch a guy and tell whether he was a western or eastern guy, sort of like a vocal dialect I guess. I'm not so sure about southern / northern guys, maybe someone has experience with that.

Railroading without all technology was sure a different world. Anyone left that worked with 31 orders ?  I only recall 19's  ,,, which is another whole and interesting path down memory lane.

Glad to be retired now.

Photo attached shows one of those later Motorolas from the late 1970's.



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 01/03/24 12:10 by train1275.




Date: 01/03/24 09:04
Re: Hand Signals
Author: patd3985

I still have my Dad's  "Adlake Switchman's Lantern"! I remember going down to the yards at night to pick him up from work. I always showed up early so I could watch them switch cars at night! Nobody could throw a "kick" sign or "washout" like the old man could! 



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 01/03/24 09:05 by patd3985.



Date: 01/03/24 11:44
Re: Hand Signals
Author: cewherry

Well written discourse on the subject. Here's my recall of one of my first experiences with hand signals.

At the time of this account I had been railroading, probably, two weeks, doing what I had only dreamed about
for the last few years and had received some indications from prior crews that I was being accepted in the
fraternity. By no means was I an accomplished 'rail', but I felt good about my abilities, so far---such as they were.

It was on the Pacific Electric at their Butte St yard in Los Angeles; I had been called to work as a brakeman
on a daylight yard switcher and, as it was in almost every case, assigned to 'follow the engine' while the
conductor and other brakeman worked 'in the field'. Most of PE's locomotives at the time were equipped
with radios but all our movements were being made with hand signals as the use of portable hand-sets were
still in the future.

Mid-morning found us switching out a cut of cars. The 'field man' was deep, down the lead, catching the
cars as they rolled into their assigned tracks and tying a hand brake on the first car into an otherwise clear track,
then opening the knuckle on each car as it passed his location--thus insuring the next car into each track would not
'bull-head' into the preceding car necessitating an additional move into each track to couple 'em-up. The conductor
had prepared a 'tag' while in the yard office showing the number of cars I, as the pin-puller, was to 'let-go' on each 'kick'.
This 'tag' was then attached to the back of a glove (my choice) with a paper clip for easy viewing. The conductors job
was to align each switch for the next car or cut of cars, making sure the preceding car(s) were moving along into their
assigned track before giving the motorman (engineer, on steam roads) the next 'kick' sign. 

The conductor gave a 'kick em' sign to the engine No movement. Another 'kick em'...no movement. I looked back toward the
engine and immediately saw the reason; the motorman's view of the conductor was blocked by several poles PE had placed
during their days of electric operations to support the overhead wire used by PE's 'juice jack's', i.e. locomotives.
Ah, ha...this was going to be an easy fix. I stepped a few feet away from my position at the 'cut-lever' of the next car and gave
the motorman my version of a kick sign....again, no movement.

The conductor walked over to me and in a calm, reasoned voice said: "There is only one conductor on this job. That motorman
will only move on my signal; as long as it's a signal to move. If you gave him a stop signal, he will stop----but he will not move
on a signal given by anyone other than me." Immediately I saw my error, good intentioned as it was.
As I thought more about that experience, now 63 years ago and counting, I will always be grateful for the guidance those old-heads
provided me. It kept me and others safe as I readily adopted their sound advice, incorporating it into my 'style'. 

Charlie



Date: 01/03/24 12:03
Re: Hand Signals
Author: RetiredHogger

When I started in 1977, the hand signal (when possible) was the preferred method of communication. That said, virtually every job had one radio on the ground. Some two. You just didn't use them if hand signals were possible.

Something that was pretty much gone when I started was guys "riding high" and giving signals. Back in the so-called day down in the Brooklyn/Venice, IL area, the Wabash, GM&O, and NYC all had yards that were basically next door neighbors. I've been told that at night, there might be crews from all three railroads working with guys riding high and giving hand signals. Throw into the mix that all three railroads' yards had a slight curve built into them...and you can see where the potential for real problems existed.

But they were professionals, and they made it work.



Date: 01/03/24 14:56
Re: Hand Signals
Author: Trainhand

I have worked with crews in the yard who had a radio but would not use it. They preferred hand signals. It alwaays seemed like you got a car of pulpwood or a wide cupola(big top) cab nest to the engine and it stayed there half the night. That was very annoying if the job was backing up. The yard engines were turned a specific way for each job and the backwards jobs were murder on your neck shoulders and back.

Sam



Date: 01/03/24 16:30
Re: Hand Signals
Author: rrcaboose

In early CR days, all the prior RR seniority districts still used basically the former craft agreements. Then we started getting radios (motorolas) for each man, picked up at yardmasters office at beginning of each trip.
The radios were basically a pain because a radio allowed the crew to be a brakeman short and we then got $1.50 more because of the 'missing man'!

Had a road job that got rest at a motel and each man had his own room. We even assigned a room for brakeman  R.Adio. Took the trainmaster a few trips to figure this out because nobody wanted this $1.50 brakeman and the trainmaster didn't know this brakeman...R. Adio.

Another time a crew was switching on the main and a car started rolling before the hand brake took hold and the ground brakeman just placed his radio against the wheel...it stopped the car but that radio never worked properly after that.

Both are true stories.

rr caboose 



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 01/03/24 16:34 by rrcaboose.



Date: 01/03/24 17:24
Re: Hand Signals
Author: LocoPilot750

If you had the seniority for passenger service, and wore the uniform, you wanted something fancy to match the position, so you carried one of these proudly as you strolled through the cars punching tickets.








Date: 01/03/24 18:58
Re: Hand Signals
Author: patd3985

patd3985 Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I still have my Dad's  "Adlake Switchman's
> Lantern"! I remember going down to the yards at
> night to pick him up from work. I always showed up
> early so I could watch them switch cars at night!
> Nobody could throw a "kick" sign or "washout" like
> the old man could! 
 
Sorry about the last quote...It is a "Conger" Switchman's Lantern...Not an Adlake!.. But even so, "The Old Man" could throw the Glim!!!



Date: 01/04/24 04:58
Re: Hand Signals
Author: atsfer

When I hired out as a switchman in 1973...hand signals were about all we had....no pack sets yet.   Hand signals are about a lost art now, a good foreman could give you a few hand signals and you could be lined up for an hour or more with work.  One incident I remember was I was riding the point of a car at night shoving alongside a scrap yard when I spied a skunk running down the track in front of me.  Suddenly, the skunk stopped and raised its tail...my lantern shot up and then I gave a washout as I bailed off the car.   The foreman found it all funny but the engineer said how was he going to explain flat spots on the wheels trying to avoid running over a skunk?
   Another crew had a problem with a crew member who was dangerously incompetent and was giving hand signals to the engineer when men were between the cars and so on.  Screaming at him or threats had no effect.....so, they told him they were going to use nothing but the packsets from now on, no hand signals, and then they gave him a packset with no battery in it and no he did not catch on.
     Did the same thing that RRcaboose talked about to stop a car but used my lantern and not the packset..cheaper for sure.



Edited 3 time(s). Last edit at 01/04/24 05:56 by atsfer.



Date: 01/04/24 08:37
Re: Hand Signals
Author: Trainhand

I had a trainman on a local use a radio for a chock. SCL made him a trainmaster.

Sam



Date: 01/04/24 11:08
Re: Hand Signals
Author: Notch7

Trainhand Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I had a trainman on a local use a radio for a
> chock. 

I had a switchman on a yard job use a radio for a chock.  He decided he wanted me to be his local chairman.  Later he had a three day investigation over derailed and heavily leaking tank cars.  I got him off, all charges dropped and pay for all lost time.



Date: 01/04/24 13:20
Re: Hand Signals
Author: atsfer

wow..3 day investigation...over a crushed packset yet...glad you were able to prevail and get him paid to boot.



Date: 01/04/24 22:56
Re: Hand Signals
Author: Notch7

atsfer Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> wow..3 day investigation...over a crushed packset
> yet...glad you were able to prevail and get him
> paid to boot.

Actually the full three day investigation  was about a later incident involving that switchman after he became one of my members.  That lengthy investigation stemmed from a run-through Century switch on a yard lead and the resultant derailment and rupturing of tank cars.  That Century switch had beveled undercut switch points that NS favored at the time.  In many cases when combined with big switch point protectors, the run-through gap with the undercut points is not that noticeable.  Five crews used the switch.  NS cited four crews for investigation (three NS and one AC&W shortline).   NS forgot about one crew - a midnight yard extra that they called.  I didn't forget .  I gave that crew my engine, and both the conductor and the engineer of that crew were my members.  For that reason, I was not going to involve the yard extra crew in the investigation if I could find another way to clear my charged switchman member.  After the third day, the superintendent said if I would stop my continual objections and let him conclude the investigation; he would drop charges against my switchman member.  For me, the matter was ended.

As for the previous matter of the smashed vintage MT-300 walkie talkie/chock,  the railroad was told it fell out of his back pocket while riding a high brake on a humped hopper to a coupling - hitting first the drawhead and then the railhead doing the damage.



Date: 01/05/24 04:16
Re: Hand Signals
Author: atsfer

OK thanks for the followup, as usual "the rest of the story" is very interesting.



Date: 01/05/24 21:19
Re: Hand Signals
Author: RetiredHogger

I've heard of trying to use a radio for a wheel chock. But I've never seen it in person.

I have seen a radio that died beneath a tank car. Working a local one night, and as we were pulling a track of tank cars, the cut went into emergency. I couldn't raise the conductor on the radio, so I walked back into the plant, and there was my crew. And the conductor with a smashed radio in his hand. He had lost his footing mounting the cut we were pulling, and the radio started to fall out of his pocket at the same time (no holsters back then). As it was either his leg or the radio, he had no trouble making the choice.

 



Date: 01/06/24 18:56
Re: Hand Signals
Author: Trainhand

Retired hogger, that was the "official" statement of what happed with the trainman I witnessed.

Sam



Date: 01/07/24 12:01
Re: Hand Signals
Author: ntharalson

True story told by a now deceased trainman to me.  Shortly after the IC started using radios in the Waterloo, Iowa, yard, the FCC showed up to check things out.  The conductor on the yard job told his crew, "watch my hands," as they began their work.  The crew began switching, and the conductor would put the radio mic up to his mouth, but not SAY ANYTHING.  After some five minutes, the FCC guy started goinig over his equipment and after ten minutes, packed it up and left.  While I can't personally attest to the veracity of this story, I do believe it as the FCC does check recent radio installations.  

Nick Tharalson,
Marion, IA



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 01/08/24 08:15 by ntharalson.



Date: 01/07/24 15:43
Re: Hand Signals
Author: PHall

ntharalson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> True story told by a now deceased trainman to
> me.  Shortly after the IC started using radios in
> the Waateerloo, Iowa, yard, the FCC showed up to
> check things out.  The conductor on the yard job
> told his crew, "watch my hands," as they began
> their work.  The crew began switching, and the
> conductor would put the radio mick up to his
> mouth, but not SAY ANYTHING.  After some five
> minutes, the FCC guy started goinig over his
> equipment and after ten minutes, packed it up and
> left.  While I can't personally attest to the
> veracity of this story, I do believe it as the FCC
> does check recent radio installations.  
>
> Nick Tharalson,
> Marion, IA

The FCC checks recent and not-so-recent radio installations. Usually in response to a complaint(s).



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 01/07/24 18:26 by PHall.



Date: 01/07/24 15:50
Re: Hand Signals
Author: sf1010

ntharalson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> True story told by a now deceased trainman to
> me.  Shortly after the IC started using radios in
> the Waateerloo, Iowa, yard, the FCC showed up to
> check things out.  The conductor on the yard job
> told his crew, "watch my hands," as they began
> their work.  The crew began switching, and the
> conductor would put the radio mick up to his
> mouth, but not SAY ANYTHING.  After some five
> minutes, the FCC guy started goinig over his
> equipment and after ten minutes, packed it up and
> left.  While I can't personally attest to the
> veracity of this story, I do believe it as the FCC
> does check recent radio installations.  
>
> Nick Tharalson,
> Marion, IA

I love it!



Date: 01/07/24 15:56
Re: Hand Signals
Author: train1275

Messing around one afternoon and started switching speaking German.
FRA happened to be close, they were not amused.
Switched to English, everyone happy.



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