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I always enjoy watching vintage footage or train orders being passed up...even into the 1990's.  Just the days of radios and dispatcher/tower control...why were paper orders needed...when a radio communication could inform the crew?  Also, is there a regulated speed at which trains must be passing when receiving train orders.   What if they miss?

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From the past...Frisco engineers carried blank Form 19's in their grip and copied orders dictated by station agents or DS via radio.  Then they repeated the order by spelling out the order to verify it was received correctly.  These orders were usually left in the lead unit after we tied up, but I guess they would be needed in the case of an investigation of an accident.

Everything used to be written down.

I was on a road switcher that received a verbal order to make a setout that required a "drop" into a siding.  The conductor said he would not do it unless he was given a "message" dictating the move...he got a typed message handed up at the next open station...there were still a lot of open stations in those days.  It was a "cover your backside" type of situation for a hazardous move.

I picked up orders at 60 mph on numerous occasions. In dark territory where the max speed is 49 mph picking up orders at 50 was S.O.P. out here. Make sure you have a glove on at least the hand you are using to pick em up

Many conductors wanted you to slow to around 35 mph for them to pick up orders on the caboose, too much swirling dust at high speeds I guess.


 There must have been some type apparatus to hold the train orders. I can't imagine an operator standing that close to the track with the long hoop at 60 per..


As for the Conductor   wanting to slow down to 35 . Not only did the tail end crew  get train orders but probably a  bundle  of way bills  and company mail as well.  If some one drop or misses the hoop you not gaining anything by  the time you get stopped and recover the orders.

Last edited by Gregg

Train orders were hooped up. There were different styles of hoops. The Missouri Pacific operators used a Y type. A lot of stations had racks to set the hoop in. Those operators who stood by the track and hooped them up had balls!!!


The crew would know that they had to pick up orders by watching for the Train Order signal. Many were of semaphore type with lights for night operating. The Rock Island had some that were just lights. Green meant no orders, red meant you had to pick up orders.  



Searched Google and found these. +order+hoop&rlz=1T4GGNI_enUS553US553&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=ANg-VdnOFLDPsQSn34DwAw&ved=0CB4QsAQ&biw=1366&bih=526


If a train missed the orders, they would have to stop and walk back to get them.


On the Mopac, into the 1970's, the crews got extra pay if they copied train orders via radio. That extra pay went out the window later on.  


Here is the crew of Katy train #105 picking up orders on the fly at Vinita, OK. I took this way back on October 5, 1977. Notice they only had a Train Order signal with just lights.



MKT 216 tr105 Vinita OK 10051977

MKT 142 cab tr105 Vinita OK 10051977


Images (2)
  • MKT 216 tr105  Vinita OK 10051977
  • MKT 142 cab tr105 Vinita OK 10051977

As a side note, not train order related, but picking up stuff on the fly, for many years the Missouri Pacific crews between Dupo/E. St. Louis, IL and Poplar Bluff, MO picked up lunch on the fly at Illmo/Scott City, MO. (This came about when the crew change was eliminated at Gale, IL.) (Illmo was a crew change point on the Cotton Belt at the time. )


Crews would call in their meal orders before leaving Poplar Bluff or Dupo. When they were 5 or 6 miles from Illmo/Scott City, they would shout out their train ID so the cook could fly up the egg sandwich or make they coffee or soup that the crew ordered. 


The cook set the basket on a special rack between the two tracks. The engineer would slow down so the trainman could stick his arm in the hoop of the picnic basket or just grab the handle by hand, grab the bags and toss the basket on the ground. The speed was important, if the order included coffee or soup, the syrofoam cups would explode if the basket was picked up at over maybe 25MPH.


Sometimes if multiple trains had called, someone might get the wrong lunch. To bad, so sad! If you stopped for a meet, you could raid the kitchen!




Look up Scott City in RRpicturearchives and there are a couple of images of crews picking up the meals. 





Back in the 1970's, I was on the Engineer's extra board at San Bernardino.  The assigned Engineer on the Super-C Valley side (i.e., San Bernardino to Los Angeles and return) laid off at the last minute, and I was called for the job.  There had been a washout on the Third District via Fullerton, so we went to Los Angeles over the Second District, which was governed by ABS, timetable, and train orders.  Number 18 was late getting out of the station at Los Angeles, so the DS issued a train order to set up a meet between our train and 18.  We had just left San Bernardino when this occurred, so he transmitted the order to Kaiser, the next open office to the west.  


The Operator at Kaiser was -- well, let's just say it in plain English -- a pot head.  And he was not used to seeing 79MPH freight trains, so, when we hit the annunciator circuit, he figured he had plenty of time to do things leisurely.  When he heard our whistle, he realized that he had better go into action.  He should have set the train order signal to red when the DS said "Copy West", but, he did have that marijuana impairment I mentioned earlier.  The Super-C was bearing down on Kaiser at high speed and I called the green train order signal to the Brakeman.  We were about a half mile from the depot when the train order signal changed from green to red.  I made a full service brake pipe reduction and called the waycar to advise them that there would be orders at Kaiser.  The Operator was out on the platform working furiously to hang the orders in the high speed stand.  He finished just before the engine passed at about 75 MPH.  I used a flag stick to snag the orders.  And it was a good thing I did.  The pot head operator had hung the fork backward, so the string did not slip off of the hooks, and I got it all -- orders, string, and sticks.  By the time the waycar passed the depot, the speed had been reduced to 60-65 MPH, the Conductor radioed, "Got 'em," so I released the brakes, got the four big SD45-2's back into Run-8, and we were soon streaking across the San Gabriel Valley at 79 MPH, en route to our meet with Number 18.

Originally Posted by Wyhog:

Over the thousands of times I picked up orders on the fly I think I had to stop less than a dozen times and most of those were because the operator flinched out of reach at the last second or the order string broke. I'm pretty sure we saved a lot time picking up orders at 45-60 mph than we ever lost having to stop because of excessive speed. When the orders you just picked up says "... has right over..." or are giving you a few more minutes on the opposition's wait times then a minute or 2 saved picking up orders can make the difference between going to Felix or heading in at Lariat for him and THAT makes a 40 minute difference. That 40 minute difference might mean you have to head in for 1 or 2 more trains before reaching your terminal that you could have met at the terminal instead. Where I worked that multiplying effect meant ONE or TWO minutes saved could easily be the difference between a 6 hour trip and a 9 or 10 hour trip.

Now, that was railroading.  Thanks for posting, Al.

Originally Posted by Mike W.:

. . . is there a regulated speed at which trains must be passing when receiving train orders.   What if they miss?

Nope.  Just good sense, taking everything into account.  See Wyhog's post.


If you missed the orders, you stopped and retrieved them.  In unsignaled territory, compliance with train orders was the difference between living or dying.  The very best outcome you could hope for, if there was no wreck, was that you and your entire crew would be fired.

 Sanding on the lower step of a caboose, hanging on with one hand, and leaning out to get the hoop with the other is not that much fun at 60 per. It's actually dangerous. Might be OK when you're 20 .

 Most of our guys would keep the speed down out of respect  until we gave them high ball via the radio.



Good story, train crews don't like getting scooped on the road.  At the way from home terminal it was usually first in , first out.   It could mean the difference of hanging around the bunk house for hours  waiting for the next train. I hated getting scooped.


 Hope  the tail end crew had the caboose makers turned to green when you zipped by  them indicating they were in the clear.

Last edited by Gregg
Originally Posted by Wyhog:

But the best time was one 106 degree day at a temporary T.O. station (an old non-air conditioned  metal shack)  out in the wilds of Wyoming. There, as we approached at 50 mph was the good looking operator holding up the fork with the T.O.s attached... wearing nothing but black panties, white tennis shoes, and a great big grin  

Zoom and we are past in a flash.  Did I really see that

Darn!  They always wore their clothes wherever I was working. 


Another good post, Al.  Thanks.

Below you will find Youtube links to a BN promo film of the very early 70s. The film may predate Al's hiring-on at BN, but it will certainly give you a feel for the type of railroading being discussed here.  In addition, in the first segment, there will be a scene where orders are hooped-up to a passing freight.


This promo film has been a favorite of mine for decades. I think it has a good balance of presenting the trains in interesting ways (some very creative camera work and good use of a camera), does a good job of describing what the railroad does, and every one of the original music pieces do an excellent job of tying it together.  If you are interested in trains and you don't enjoy this series... well... sumpthin' ain't right with 'ya!!


Part One:


Part Two:


Part Three:





Last edited by laming

We used to get train orders to run against the current of traffic on our way to or from conway yard north of Pittsburgh...anyway as a young trainman i thought you grabbbed the train order from the triangular hoop and was never shown to just put your arm through the there was a time even though i was good at snatching the orders i MISSED !! and we had to stop and your humble narrator had to go for a embarrasing walk!! conrail john

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