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Photo of the Month - August 2010

ca. 1960s East Columbus


        An inbound B&O RR freight crossing the NYC (T&OC) at East Columbus tower on a very cold and snowy day in the early 1960s.  Steltzer Rd is crossing overhead, the camera is pointed east.  Photo by Dave Bunge.

        This cold and snowy scene reminds us that railroaders work no matter what the weather.  There may be 8 inches of snow on the ground, if the train needs to be walked a crew member gets out and starts walking.  Off the picture above a NYC switch engine was stopped while the crew went into the tower to find a warm place to eat their lunch.

        At the ORM we did most of our track work in the winter.  In the mid 1950's we were expanding the track west of Proprietors Rd.  I was surprised to learn, as a teenager, that keeping warm was no problem as long as you kept moving.  Carrying ties and rails as well as driving spikes kept you nice and toasty.  That is until the temperature dropped below 20F.  After that it was hard to keep hands and feet warm and misery would set in.

        My father-in-law, George Patty,  was a conductor on the Waterloo Cedar Falls and Northern Railroad an interurban line in Iowa.  There is not much to block the cold artic air from reaching Iowa in the winter.  It is not unusual to have weeks when the temperature never reaches above freezing.  Temperatures of -30F are not unheard of.  That's 50F below my comfort level. 

        The WCF&N had a good freight car business around Waterloo servicing the Rath Packing and John Deer Tractor Plants as well as serving many local businesses on their belt line that circled Waterloo.  They used electric freight motors equipped with trolley poles to reach the overhead wire.  As the freight motor went about its switching duties one of the crewmen would be the pole man, assigned to ride outside holding on to the rope connected to the trolley pole to make sure it didn't jump off the wire when the freight motor was backing up.  At -30F that just may have been the worst, most miserable job on the railroad.

        Every railroad had its undesirable jobs and since railroads work on the seniority system guess who got the coldest or in summer the hottest jobs. 

        When George Patty retired from the railroad after 30 plus years nobody appreciated looking out the window at a cold Iowa winter day as much as he did.  He had paid his dues.