Telegraph Systems

Discussion Related to the Reading Company 1833-1976 and it's predecessors Philadelphia and Reading Rail Road and then the Philadelphia and Reading Railway.

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Telegraph Systems

Postby jfrey40535 » Fri Sep 10, 2004 10:54 pm

In old time rail photos, and even on some lucky lines today, railroads were famous for having telegraph poles along their ROW.

Can anyone tell me exactly what they were used for? Anotherwords, was it used for station-station communications only?
Could train crews use them if they were stranded somewhere in the woods?
When was the system put out of use?

I remember riding the Newtown Branch in its final years, and one time we stopped about a 1/4 mile before the Bethayers diamonds so the engineer (or motorman since they were transit div. personell then) to signal the Bethayers dispatcher that we were ready to cross. He used a telephone in a box attached to a telegraph pole.

Most of these poles are gone today, some remain on the Newtown Line, but most Lines in the SEPTA system don't have them anymore. If you follow the mainline North of Lansdale they come back into view. Most even still have all their wires intact.

I'm interested in this because my great-grandfather was a telegraph operator in Sellersville, so I'd like to know what dates the systems were in place, and what succeded them.

Thanks in advance for any info.
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Them Old Telegraph Wires

Postby geep39 » Sun Sep 12, 2004 6:52 am

I'm sure some are more knowledgeable on this subject than I am, but I'll give it a stab. First, the Reading had its own subsidiary, the Pottsville and Reading Telephone and Telegraph Co., for the sole use of the railroad. It was eventually disbanded. Those wires were used for telephone and telegraph, as well as signals and crossing signals. That's why there were usually many more than two. Wires can be a real pain, with the weather being the most bothersome. Actually, the wires have not really gone away, they're bundled into a cable, and buried, where they're a lot less of a headache. While radio has replaced a lot of the lineside phones, a few are still around. There are a lot fewer dispatch locations, too these days, so those phones are needed a lot less.
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Postby AlexC » Sun Sep 12, 2004 9:00 pm

You could call towers or stations...
http://charyna.homeunix.com/trains/Perk ... 8t2sc.html

or anywhere(?)
not sure what "block circuit" means. I suspect it's for traffic control.
http://charyna.homeunix.com/trains/Perk ... 8t2bc.html

Here's a box at Arcola

And one in Collegeville
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Re: Them Old Telegraph Wires

Postby westernfalls » Sun Sep 12, 2004 11:43 pm

geep39 wrote:Reading had its own subsidiary, the Pottsville and Reading Telephone and Telegraph Co., for the sole use of the railroad. It was eventually disbanded.


The Philadelphia Reading and Pottsville Telegraph Company continues an obscure existence to this day, though not in railroading.

As for pole lines, their purposes will become clear with an understanding of how railroads used to operate. It would be very difficult to explain it all backwards from the pole lines.
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Postby jfrey40535 » Tue Sep 14, 2004 8:57 am

Very interesting. I didn't realize they were used for telephone too, but makes perfect sense.

Telegraph/Telephone systems along the Reading have always been facinating for me, because firstly, you didn't see them along the PRR. I suppose they had a much more complex system, especially on electrified lines. But the facinating thing is that a decent amount of the original system is still around today, although I'm sure its been unused for ages.

Thanks all for the info!
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Postby SRS125 » Tue Sep 14, 2004 11:01 am

The normal count of telephone poles in one mile along the railroad is 60 per mile this might vary railroad to railroad as well.

Something that I saw in an old time table that might be of intrest is to look at the insulators. Some insulators were diffrent shapes and colors. for exsample: O meaning a lage insulator o meaning a small insulator.

O red insulator might be a direct connect to philiy
O Green insulator might be a direct connect line to Reading
o clear insulator might be a signal cable
o Blue might be a phone cable
O Lite Green might be a telogragh wire
o Clear insulator Signal Wire
o Clear insulator signal wire
O Clear insulator phone wire
O Clear insulator phone wire

I rember seeing something like this in older New York Central times tables from the early 30's on threw the early 50's and in CP Rail books dateing as far back as the late 70's.
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Postby westernfalls » Tue Sep 14, 2004 8:48 pm

jfrey40535 wrote: ...you didn't see them along the PRR. I suppose they had a much more complex system, especially on electrified lines.


In the electrified territory of the PRR, as well as the RDG, the communication & signalling lines were put into shielded cable and mostly run underground. In the Conrail era, elimination of pole lines became a major safety priority.
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Postby wis bang » Wed Sep 15, 2004 9:20 am

While in college, I watched a crew remove & replace w a cable, the ROW side telagraph lines on the EL underneath the Harrison Ave Bridge during the re-furb of the bridge. Since the bridg & the EL were finished in 76 I don't remember if they switched them back like the crew originally indicated. they did coil the wire for re-use & hauled it away when finished w/ the cable...
Grandson of a LV Conductor & I remember the EL running behind the Univ. of Scranton [class of 76]
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Postby Schuylkill Valley » Tue Sep 28, 2004 9:15 pm

Philadelphia, Reading and Pottsville Telegraph Company.
Connecting with the Western Union Telegraph Company " To all Parts Of The World "

I have a paper from the year 1896 and thats what it reads.

Telegraph was used for many things . Moris code . . . _ _ _ . . . that means S.O.S ( Help ) They used Telegraph to contact one station to another station , and the conductors of a passenger train or frieght could used a portable code key to call for help if a train would be in trouble . they would just climb a pole , and atach the clips to each wire and rest the code key on the top of the pole . dit dah dit which is letter A . Dit dit Dah dit is letter B. Dah dah Dit is letter C .
Hope that helps,
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Postby SRS125 » Tue Sep 28, 2004 10:36 pm

vary intresting!! One question that comes to mind maybe someone knows and maybe not. When did Mexican Railroads stop useing the moris code system?? I know it was in service thew the early 90's I recall reading something about it in a Trains Mag but they did not give the year in which they stoped useing the system.
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Postby glennk419 » Wed Sep 29, 2004 3:00 pm

I believe the telegraph and code were invented by Samuel Morse.
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Re: Telegraph Systems

Postby Engineer Spike » Sun Jan 26, 2014 3:28 pm

Train crews would not have used the system. The dispatcher would have sent messages to train order offices to give the various movements operating authority. He could also tell a tower to route train x on track one, for example.

The company headquarters might have had a telegraph office used to communicate with various other company offices. There were connections to the systems on adjoining railroads too.

Many lines were converted to telephone use when that became more reliable. Signal control was on the poles too.

B&MRRHS had an extensive article about their communication system, and I'm sure most railroads used a very similar system.

Today the pole lines are not needed for several reasons. The control of the interlockings use data telephone lines. Some of the telephone lines are buried along the line. The railroad gets use of some circuits for their use, while the phone co. gets a lower land rental fee, since the railroad uses some of the lines.

The signals need to talk to each other, so the one protecting an occupied block tells the next signal to show approach. Much of this is run through the rails, as a code. This is since the rails are energized to detect train occupancy.
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Re: Telegraph Systems

Postby JimBoylan » Tue Mar 18, 2014 10:15 am

Sometimes the train crews' potable telephones had a long broomstick (like a pantograph pole for MU cars) with a cross bar and contacts on the end to hang from and touch the proper pair of wires. I don't know if the Reading used them. On some lines, there were sockets or "phone jacks" on certain marked poles for connecting the portable phones.
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Re: Telegraph Systems

Postby amtrakhogger » Tue Mar 18, 2014 10:36 am

The Reading's wayside poles also carried 4.4kv power for the signal system.
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Re: Telegraph Systems

Postby GCarp » Tue Mar 18, 2014 11:15 am

JimBoylan wrote:Sometimes the train crews' potable telephones had a long broomstick (like a pantograph pole for MU cars) with a cross bar and contacts on the end to hang from and touch the proper pair of wires.

amtrakhogger wrote:The Reading's wayside poles also carried 4.4kv power for the signal system.

I guess that could get...exciting :-O if the pole caught the wrong set of wires.
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