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There is no actionable penalty for carrying a pole on a locomotive. To this day NKP 765 still carries hers on the tender.

Here is the full image, shot by Rick Ahern. It is from a photo freight we did up in Owosso years ago. This shot, along with about 200 more, appear in my book about the 765.


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  • mceclip0
  • mceclip0
Last edited by Rich Melvin

Poling was also used when a crew had to get a car off a siding at a facing point switch, but they needed the car behind the locomotive. If there was no place to run around the car, poling was the only option. Today, the car would be picked up by a crew working the opposite direction so the switch was a trailing point switch. The car would then be taken to the next yard down the line, and switched into a train going the opposite direction. Not as efficient, but a lot safer.

Poling was a very dangerous process if not done skillfully. I have done it, both on the ground and as the engineer. One time when I was working the ground, the engineer shoved too hard on the pole and it literally exploded into hundreds of pieces. Thankfully I was standing well out of shrapnel range.

I'm also thankful that this operation is no longer legal.

Last edited by Rich Melvin
@Rich Melvin posted:

Poling was a very dangerous process if not done skillfully.

And that's the problem.  The crew, and especially the Engineer, had to have the feel and the touch, as this was strictly based on the skill of everyone involved.

Usually this is not mentioned, but, from steam days right through today, there are some enginemen and trainmen who are good enough to get by, but who never had, nor will they ever have, abundant finesse, the fine feel for how quick, how fast, how hard, to move, how the individual locomotive is going to react, will the car try to run away from the pole at that location, etc.  Some Engineers have that fine feel for things, and could pole cars without any problem at all.  Others, who would shove a little too hard, could break the pole.  Those who were too light on the throttle, allowed the pole to fall out of the pockets.

And the ground crew has to know their business as well . . . will the car stay against the pole or will it pick up speed faster than the engine?  Roller bearings or friction bearings?  Is the auxiliary track going to dip down or hump up before the car gets to the switch?

That's why it's dangerous.  It's entirely done with learned skills.

Last edited by Number 90

Nice refresher on this past bit of railroading.  Answered a few questions I'd had about the practice.

There was another hazardous bit of this profession that cost many a hand, arm, The link & pin coupling.  Once I saw this method of coupling cars, predominant in the 19th century, it was easy to project how manual dexterity was no more of a saving technique than sheer luck!  Then, too, there apparently was no standardization, meaning there was a wide variety of links and pins,  not all of which were compatible.  Thankfully Mr. Eli Janney had a better idea....which became the standard early in the 20th century, refined to this day.

Yepper....surely took some 'cojones' to do this...


Study this picture.  Think about what's happening...what's in motion, what's stationary.  Left hand, right hand, footwork, footing, 'targets', timing, weather,....  Bad aim, bad grip, trip and/or stumble, speed/steadiness of the approaching  engine/car, last second sneeze, cough, itchy nose, etc., etc.,??

No thanks!

Glamour job, indeed.



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  • link&pin
Last edited by dkdkrd

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