1950s, controlling train traffic on the five Columbus railroads fell
to the dispatchers, train directors, operators and switch tenders
spread over twenty-five locations around Columbus. At the heart of the
network were the towers some being interlocking towers and others
employing switchtenders to manually throw the track switches. The
term “towers” implies a two story building situated alongside the
tracks. In most cases that is true, however, in a few cases the
building was actually a single story or the function was located in a
more distant building such as a yard master’s office.
the towers were located at junctions where one railroad crossed
another. The remaining towers controlled entrances to rail yards,
crossovers on the mainline or points were single track transitioned
to double track.
many railroad advances the interlock plant was a reaction to safety
problems. The railroads needed a failsafe method to align
complicated track switches and coordinate that with the signals
given the trainmen. The interlock was a way to ensure the multiple
moving parts of switches and signals were moved in the proper
sequence to ensure safe operation of the trains. The proceed signal
could not be given to the trainmen until all the switches were
were at least three ways to control switches with interlocking plants.
A mechanical connection using pipes and levers often referred to as
an "armstrong" plant. It could take a lot of muscle for the
operator to move the levers. Another type of plant, the
electro-pneumatic, moved the switches parts with air pressure. This
was much easier on the operator. A third type of plant was
electric switch machine.
the interlocking plant was installed in a two story building or
"tower". The first floor was for equipment. The towerman or
operator worked on the second floor. The second floor perch had the
added advantage of giving the operator a clear view of his domain. However, there were several variations as you will see in the individual descriptions for each operator location in Columbus.
dispatcher had overall responsibility for the operation of trains
over a large section of the railroad. He would issue train orders
to the operators who would then align the switches and signals and
pass the orders to the train crews. The dispatcher had to maintain
the big picture determining when trains moved and making sure that
high priority trains like passenger trains, mail trains and high
value merchandise trains were given preference.
director sat between the dispatcher and the operator in high traffic
situations. There was a train director located at US Tower, for example, that
directed train movement into and out of Columbus Union Station.
operator was responsible for aligning the switches, setting the
signals, recording the train movement, transcribing train orders and
passing the orders to the trainmen using a train order hoop. He,
and occasionally she, also inspected the passing train for defects,
shoveled coal into the furnace for heat and swept the floor.
that didn’t have an interlocking plant often had switch tenders that
work under the direction of the operator. The switch tender had a
small shack where he stayed during the quiet times. The operator
would communicate with the switch tender by loud speaker who would
then align the switches. They would be out in all weather, all times
of the day tending to their duties
been difficult nailing down the correct terminology for these
railroad control points I am referring to as “towers”. Different
railroads used different terminology and it is easy to confuse
function with a physical building. All the towers, dispatcher
locations and other locations along the railroad like hump offices
and depots had a name, and almost always, a two letter telegraph
identifier. The PRR typically referred to a tower by name which was
the name of the local village or in larger cities the closest
street. Sometimes it was by the name of the railroad it was
crossing but typically not its 1950's name but rather the railroads
19th Century name like “Miami Crossing” or “Valley
referred to its towers as a cabin as in “HV Cabin” with “HV” being the
telegraph call sign for a particular tower. The B&O called one
tower “US Tower”. “US” were the telegraph call letters, but putting
the word tower in the name was a little unusual. Even within a
specific railroad the naming convention was not always consistent.
of the two selects at the top of the page provide an overview list
of the Columbus area towers. The second select
illustrates through drawings the towers used by each of the five
right column are selects for detailed information and photos of the
individual towers and other operator locations. The title of each page will be the name and
telegraph call letters. In some cases the tower went by two names.
Under the name-call letter title will be the tower’s function.
Corrections and additions are most welcome and should be sent to