|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
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.