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Train Orders

Train orders were either a Form 19 or a Form 31 made on very thin 7" x 9 " onion skin paper, hence the nickname "flimsy." This allowed the station/tower operator to make multiple copies at one time. When a train order was re-written, it was read back to the Dispatcher to ensure the orders were identical.

A Form 19 was a special order from the Dispatcher to the Engineer and Conductor of a train, which gives them the authority to operate or modify the timetable schedule. The orders were transmitted from the Dispatcher to a Station Agent, then passed along to the crew of a moving train via "train order hoops."

A Form 31 required the train to be stopped, with the Conductor and/or Engineer picking up the order, reading it to the Station Operator to check for accuracy and then signing the order. The Station Operator would send confirmation of the signatures to the Dispatcher.

Train Order Signals were used to notify engineers that they must stop to pick up train orders at the interlocking tower or station.


Color Position Lights (CPL)


Color Position Lights (CPL’s) were developed and first used by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in 1921. Unlike the Position Lights used by the Pennsy, the CPL has no center lamp and uses larger lenses of three colors. The two lamps in each row are green (vertical), yellow (diagonal) and red (horizontal). The basic design is often modified with a lunar white marker above the main head.

More costly than other signals, a CPL has the advantage of safety redundancy. It displays in two ways, the position of the lights and the color of the lights.
The CPL's are a little complex as follows:
Color refers to the use of Red, Yellow, Green and Lunar on the main head, each of which is significant in terms of how many blocks are clear. Position refers to the 6 marker lights, each of which is significant in indicating route and speed. Light indicates the use of electric lights instead of the older semaphore system.


Lantern Codes


The white/clear lantern was used by the brakeman to give the general, more common signals around the rail yard. They were swung by hand. A white/clear lantern could be used to stop a train at a “flag stop” station.


A “flag stop” is a location where a person may ride one or two days a week, but it would otherwise be costly for a train to stop daily. It was hung from the building or swung by hand.




The red lantern was generally used to signal STOP. This could be at the tower, a “flag stop” station, etc. Sometimes a red lantern was hung on the rear of the tender or the end of a caboose as a rear marker. A red lantern might also be hung outside the tower to indicate the train needs to stop for Form 31 orders.




The blue lantern was used for marking equipment that was not to be moved. It was hung on equipment, such as boxcars or locomotives (under repair).


The green lantern was used as a tower signal indicating "proceed with caution." The green lantern was also used by yard workers or brakemen to indicate the switches were properly aligned. In addition, the green lantern was used by the wreck master (the person in charge at a wreck cleanup) to signal the operator of the wrecker and the engineer of the work train.




The amber/yellow lantern was used to mark "camp cars." Camp cars (MOW) were railroad cars that housed repair men. Switch tenders or brakemen also used the amber/yellow lantern for signaling to indicate the switches were properly aligned. An amber/yellow lantern could also be hung as a tower signal to indicate that Form 19 orders were to be handed to the conductor and engineer.








Insulators were first used in the mid 1840's with the invention of the telegraph. They were used to prevent the electrical current passing through the wire from grounding out on the pole and making the line unusable. Crossarms coated with creosote (substance used on railroad ties), usually displayed multiple rows of insulators. More common railroad insulators were Hemingray, Brookfield, Armstrong, Whitall Tatum, H.G. Co. and Dominion.
Railroads used many types of poles, but the majority had multiples of ten-pin crossarms. A branch line might have a single crossarm with five or six wires, whereby, a busy mainline might have four or five crossarms filled with wires.

Date Nails


When railroads began to “treat” wood ties in the 19th century, it was unknown which chemicals, methods or wood types were the most economical. A system was required to monitor the existence of these ties. So by 1899, most major railroads adopted the use of date nails.

Date nails were usually 2 1/2" long and date stamped on the head (a nail with a "41" stamp was from 1941). By the 1920's, date nails were common, peaking in the early 1930's with over 100 different railroads using the date nail system. After World War II, the number of railroads using date nails declined, mainly due to the improved treatment of ties and the reliance of stamps (located at the end of the ties) for record keeping.


The BR&P also used nails with “letters” (circa 1911 to 1932). A “substandard” tie, although still useable, were marked with an "X" stamped nail, while nails with a "B" stamp were driven into Beech ties, nails with a "CY" stamp were driven into Cherry ties, nails with a "G" stamp were driven into Gum ties, etc.

Calendars & Brochures 


Over the years, railroads have issued a variety of advertising publications to their employees and general public. This memorable 1953 Chesapeake & Ohio Railway calendar (artist Jerome Rozen) and Atlantic Coast Line brochure promoting their "Champion" passenger service, are colorful examples of a bygone era.

General Railway Signal
Type "B" Interlocking Board & Levers

Signal Definitions

Absolute signal: A signal whose “stop” indication means “stop and stay.” Usually identified by the absence of a number plate, but may also have a plate displaying the letter “A.” 


Automatic Block System (ABS): A series of consecutive "blocks" governed by "block" signals and/or cab signals, actuated by a train or engine, or by certain conditions affecting the use of a "block" (open switch, broken rail). 


Block: A length of track of defined limits, with "block" signals and/or cab signals, to govern its use by trains and engines. "Block" lengths vary depending on desired operating speeds and other factors governing the stopping distance of the train (typically ranging from a mile to 2 miles long.)


Block signal: A fixed signal at the entrance of a "block" to govern trains and engines entering and using that "block."


Cab signal: A signal located in the cab of a locomotive indicating a condition affecting the movement of a train or engine. Used in conjunction with interlocking signals and with (or inplace of) "block" signals.


Centralized Traffic Control (CTC): A traffic control system, whereby train movements are directed through the remote control of switches and signals from a central control panel.


Direct Traffic Control (DTC): A radio-based occupation control system for non-signaled lines in which the train crews receive exclusive authority to occupy one or more blocks.


Interlocking: An arrangement of signals and turnouts with controls interconnected to prevent conflicting movements through any combination of tracks, such as junctions, crossings and crossovers. May be operated manually, automatically or by remote control.


Interlocking signals: The fixed signals of an interlocking.


Manual block system: A "block" or series of consecutive "blocks" governed by "block" signals operated manually upon information transmitted by telegraph, telephone or other means of communication.


Permissive signal: A signal whose “stop” indication means “stop and proceed at restricted speed.” Usually identified by a number plate. Some permissive signals also have a plate with the letter “P” indicating that a train may pass a "stop" signal without stopping, but at restricted speed.


In Memory

Mrs. Howard's Hotel (Rowlesburg, W.Va.)

I was fortunate to visit and stay overnight at Mrs. Howard's Hotel in late May, 1975. After photographing trains between Cumberland and Grafton, I planned to stay overnight at this legendary establishment.
I arrived later than expected (near 11:00pm), catching Mrs. Howard prior to retiring for the evening. I will never forget how excited she was that I stopped by and planned to stay for the evening. We actually talked for another hour before I was taken to my room on the second floor. Mrs. Howard gave me the front room, next to the mainline (since she knew I was a railfan). The room was spotless, warm and bathing in antiquity. Was this 1975 or 1945?
After falling into a deep sleep from an exhausting day of travel, I was awakened to the roar of an eastbound coal drag coming off the "Cheat River" grade around 3:30am. I thought the train was going through my room! Next morning, I walked downstairs to find Mrs. Howard making breakfast. Eggs, bacon, ham, homemade bread and preserves, juice, coffee and more. What a feast! I realized as I sat in the old kitchen with Mrs. Howard, that this was an experience to be cherished. We talked for another hour before I had to depart. My bill for the overnight stay and breakfast......about $28.00.
After I spoke about returning the following year, Mrs. Howard stated she was returning east, to be with her sister in Annapolis. Little did I know, as we hugged and said Goodbye, I would never see her again. God Bless Mrs. Annetta Howard and her caring ways toward the many railroaders that passed through her hotel.

A recipe for "Mrs. Howard's Baked Cabbage" was printed in the 1974 edition of "Mountain Measures" (Junior Leauge of Charleston, W.Va.) with the following historical note:
"Mrs. Annetta Howard's Boarding House sits just across the tracks of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in Rowlesburg, West Virginia, once an important railroad center. Mrs. Howard came to Rowlesburg with her doctor-husband, who set up practice while she busied herself running the hotel and dining room.
She is still there serving home-cooked meals, but appreciates a call in advance, if you are coming."


"I shed many a tear when the steam engines went out of style on the railroads. I'd like to seem them come back, but I realize the diesels are more efficient."
Clyde Tombaugh

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