Experiences Of A Yard Clerk

Experiences Of A Yard Clerk
by Jim Harrison

We are always trying to improve the operation on our railroads to make them more realistic, but not to worry. The real railroads made many mistakes.

I have spent many hours in the Geneva yardmasterís office going over computer tapes trying to trace lost cars. More than once I had industries call trying to find out why they had not received a car promised to them. One time, after much searching, I found out that the car had been received in the Ashtabula yard, but had never been spotted. The car had then been shipped out to the home road as an empty car. A mistake by either the yardmaster or the switch crew.

The worst case of a lost car that I ever heard of occurred during World War II. The car had been traced to Alaska with supplies for building the Alaskan Highway. All traces of this car disappeared after this move. Several years later, a work crew spotted a car frame on a weed choked siding. They found the numbers of the lost car on the frame. It was finally determined that the car had been an old wooden box car and had been cut up for firewood by a cold road building crew.

Another pain was trying to read the numbers on the hoppers in Harbor Yard. When loads would freeze up, workers would heat the sides of the cars to thaw them out. Many times they would overdo it and the numbers would be burned off. Imagine the fun of trying to write these numbers down in a driving rain at night. We used the back of car cards and grease pencils. We then tried to transfer the information to yard books back in the yard office.

It was a dangerous area to work. There were two switchmen killed and another lost an arm. One time we had a switchman break his back while switching out the safety car. I donít know how they ever explained that.

One of my worst times was when the yardmaster sent me out to grab the numbers on the inbound track and then forgot and ordered switch crews to pull both tracks on either side of me. The only thing to do was to lay down in the mud until the tracks were cleared.

There were also many good days, especially on third trick in the summer. You could watch the fleet pass by. Four or five sections of the Century and several other name trains would go roaring by about ten or fifteen minutes apart.

I also remember my dad taking us to the depot to watch the fleet go by. We would sit on the baggage carts. There was a 50 mph speed limit over the J & F and Pennsy crossing which was about 100 yards from the depot. As soon as the Hudsons would clear the crossing, the engineer would let out the throttle and the bark of the exhaust was something to hear.

I held 13 different jobs in 11 years as this time was the start of downsizing all departments. In 1959 I quit and went to work on the Railroad Post Office cars.