Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Telegraph operator and Tricks - 1944 - 1946

    In June of 1944 I graduated from High School and found my first job working for a hide, fur, wool and tallow company as an assistant bookkeeper.  I did some filing  and there were people in various small towns in Minnesota that were buying wool.  I had to check their papers to see that they had the figures right on the amount of wool that they were buying.  My pay for the job was $14.00 a week.  My room and breakfast was $2.50 a week.  I would buy a food ticket at a restaurant for $5.00 and my noon meals were $.40 and that was a big meal.  I saved $10.00 a week and after working 8 weeks my job was over.  I then borrowed $150.00 from my parents so that I could attend radio school in Minneapolis  and obtain a better paying job.

    My mother went with me and Myrtle Olson to Minneapolis on the train, rented a hotel room for one night, enrolled me in school and my friend and I found jobs that day to support ourselves .  Myrtle went to work running some kind of a machine in a defense plant and I found a job at a cafe located at 6th and Hennepin in downtown Minneapolis.  The  hours were from 5 p.m. to 10 p m. seven days a week.  My pay was 40 cents an hour plus a few tips.  It was a combination cigar store and lunch counter but we did serve meals.  Mostly it was  ice cream and  sodas and coffee and sandwiches.  But we did also serve meals or so called plate lunches.    

    We found a room at 2433 Emerson Ave South and it had a hot plate in it so we could do some cooking.  The sink was out in the hall and the bathroom was down a flight of stairs.  So we did a little cooking.  There was a washing machine in the basement and we had to put a quarter in to make it run.  Also had an ironing board in the basement so was easy to take care of our clothing.   The room was located a block from the street car line and was 24 blocks south of downtown Minneapolis.  I went to school 5 days a week from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and would come home and study for an hour and then go to work and then come back home and study some more.  Myrtle was working nights so our paths didn’t cross much.

    We learned the international code in school, how to use teletype machines, typing practice and practiced making  airline reservations.  We also studied radio theory and took a test to obtain our amateur radio license.  Had to over to St Paul and take the test in a Federal Building and I passed it.

    In Oct of 1944 seventeen students in the radio school were hired by the Santa Fe Railroad to learn railroad telegraphy.  Our tickets were paid for and off we went to Chicago.  We went through Madison Wisconsin and came into Chicago in the early morning hours  There was miles and miles of industrial area on the way into Chicago.  We went to the Santa Fe  headquarters in Chicago and were hired and given a choice of states that we  could go to.  I picked Oklahoma as I wanted to see some of the country and I had an Aunt living in Elk City that I had never seen.  We spent the day in downtown Chicago and we saw Lake Michigan and we went through the art institute and walked around downtown.

    We found our way to the Dearborn Station and boarded Santa Fe train no 5 on our way to Oklahoma.   The train was crowded with sailors, soldiers and young mothers with crying children.  After 17 long hours on the train we arrived in Arkansas City Kansas the Okla Division headquarters for the Santa Fe. We went to the Train dispatchers office and Maurice Fultz assigned us to the town where we would take our training.  I picked Cherokee Okla , the county seat of Alfalfa  county and it was located in the heart of the wheat country.

    The next morning we left Arkansas City on train No 27.  We came through Ponca City and a lady on the train said this is Ponca City.  We went right down through the refinery on the train  and that was an eye opener.  Betty Soper and I de-trained at Guthrie and had a 3 hour layover.  We walked uptown and it was dirty and red dirt all over.

    We boarded the doodlebug going from Guthrie to Kiowa Kansas and that was another education.  The doodlebug was a gasoline powered train that had a place for express and a mail section and the rest was passenger seats.  My friend Betty disembarked at Crescent and I went on to Cherokee.  I went through Marshall, Lovell, Enid, Hillsdale, Nash , Jet and then Cherokee.  The train traveled through the south edge of the Salt Plains.  It looked like the middle of a desert and the Native Americans used to come to the Salt Plains to get salt in the old days.  I arrived at Cherokee about 3 p.m. and the depot agent took me to a small hotel.  I started work the next morning which was  Oct 18th 1944.

    I was able to purchase some new shoes and some nice winter clothing and made some friends while in Cherokee.  I stayed at the hotel for about 3 weeks and then found a room in a private home.  I stayed there for a couple of months and then found a different room.  Then the last month or so had a nice apartment with a friend and we had a stove and a ice box and did a lot of our cooking.  I stayed in Cherokee about 5 months and then was sent to Newkirk Okla on the main line so that I could learn how to copy train orders on the company telephone and how to run the interlocking plant.  The interlocking plant was used to move the trains from one set of tracks to another.  You pulled a  lever inside the depot and then you pulled another lever to let the train know that the switch was pulled the right way.   Stayed in Newkirk about a month and then was promoted to be a telegraph operator.

    My first job was as third trick operator at Ralston Okla.  Ralston was down on the old Second Dist and had a branch line going to Pawhuska and onto the Southern Kansas Division.  We were working the stock rush and cattle trains came into Ralston and then went into the small towns in the southern part of the Flint Hills to be unloaded.  These trains came out of Texas and the cattle were fed on the rich bluegrass before going to market.  Let me explain about tricks.  First trick was from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.  Second trick was from 4 p.m. to 12 p.m. and third trick was from 12 p.m. to 8 a.m.  On the main line most of the towns had 3 tricks as they had around the clock coverage for copying train orders and messages.  The operators also sold tickets, wrote up the ticket ledger and depending on where you worked you would also write up freight bills and abstracts. 

    My next job was a Red Rock Okla on the third trick and I copied train orders and cleaned the depot and caught mice.  I stayed there for a couple of months and the main reason I was there was to copy train orders.  The train orders were put out so that trains could meet each other at specific places.  One train would take the siding and the other would be on the main line.  There were siding tracks on the main line where there was not any town at all.  Kildare did not have an operator nor did Otoe , but they had sidings and trains met there.   Starting in about 1955 the Santa Fe installed Centralized Traffic Control and the switches and green boards were controlled by the dispatcher in Arkansas City.  A green board says you can go and a red board says stop.  Just like on the street signals.  This speeded up the trains and did away with the telegraph operators.

    My next job was third trick operator at Cherokee Okla for the wheat harvest.  It was a job for about 2 months and then was back on the extra board again.  The extra board was for operators that didn’t have a permanent job and we relieved operators and agents for their vacations.  Vacations were for 2 weeks at that time so when I was on the extra board, it was moving every two weeks.  The wheat rush at Cherokee was very busy.  Custom combines came into  Cherokee from the south and stayed for about 10 days harvesting the wheat.  The combines then moved on north all the way to Montana for the wheat harvest.  Wheat trains one after the other came into Cherokee on the way to the wheat terminal at Enid Okla.  That still goes on to this day but not so much as it was 60 years ago.

    I next went to Shawnee Okla on first trick for a two week vacation and had to sell a lot of local railroad tickets there.  Then I came back on the branch line and relieved the Agent at Hillsdale for her vacation.  Didn’t have much to do there but bill out a car of wheat ever so often and meet the doodlebug and take off the cream cans and express and mail.  I next went to Nash and relieved the agent.  It was about Oct and had to keep the pot bellied stove supplied with coal and   had to be sure and remember the combination to the safe.  I think I had to take the mail uptown and of course the usual express and cream to be unloaded. 

    I then went to Burlington Okla and relieved the agent there.  Burlington was a small busy little town and they got a carload of stuff in every week and so had to get the box car unloaded and the man came with his truck and hauled the stuff to the small business places.  Had to get the freight bills typed up in a hurry so he could collect the money on the freight.  The good thing about the small towns was that you just worked 6 days a week and didn’t have to work on Sunday.

    I had learned my bookkeeping well and the agents soon begin to ask for me to relieve them as I didn’t mess up the books.  Will tell you more next time as I just got through 1946 on this report.

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