Communication Before Radio


Dear John,

I am having a hard time remembering how our section forman stayed in touch with the Dispatcher when we were doing track work on the section. I know we had to take the gas car off the track while we were working. We had to let trains pass where we were working. They must have had telephones in the section houses, but what did they do out on the line? I think he used a portable telephone which he connected to the telephone lines on poles along the right of way. I think he used a telescoping pole to reach up to the telephone line and clip on too wire. But I am thinking about sixty one years ago and my memory isn't too good. I have spent some time searching the web looking for descriptions of this equipment and have found nothing. Do you have anything on this subject in your vast collection? It would be very interesting to know more about how the communication system worked back in the days before radio. I saw your copies of train orders, they were handed to the Conductor. How many places along the line could the train crew get written orders? Was the Conductor able to call in to the Dispatcher? Again thank you for your help. Regards, Frank Robertson

[Webmaster's note: I forwarded Frank's question on to Steve Love. Below is his reply.]

John & Frank,

I'm glad to pass on my knowledge of ARR's communications prior to going to the radio system the Railroad uses today. When I came to work for the Alaska Railroad in August of 1958 radios were in use on the trains, the Yards at Seward, Whittier, Anchorage, Healy & Fairbanks. Most all of the line had open wire telephone lines between Seward, Portage & Whittier and then it was the phone lines between Anchorage & Fairbanks. The main line between Anchorage & Portage it was VHF radio/telephone system.

Those of us that worked the tracks and used track (gas) cars had to depend on the telephones at Section houses, Depots that had a train order operator and telephone booths at each station (sidings) to talk to and get information from the Train Dispatcher. Each section and gang track cars were equipped with a portable (ex Army) field phone & "fish" pole that came in three sections that you put together in order to reach the wires to hook up onto the dispatcher wires. We didn't get portable radios to use until about 1962/63. We mostly used these to talk to the trains or yardmaster when working in the yards. We were still using the portable phones & fish poles up to about 1980. By the early 1970's radio repeater sites had been installed about every 50 miles to where if you were within 6 to 8 miles of the site, the portable radio could be used to key in to the train dispatcher.

On a normal work day the section foreman would get on the Dispatcher phone to get a current line-up of trains operating that day. We, all the sections and track gangs, working would be on line to copy the line-up of trains. When the Dispatcher would complete the line-up, then would call on one of us to repeat it back and if found correct, would call out to each foreman to acknowledge with his initials that you had copied. (My initials were SL). The next thing was to brief the crew and read to them the line-up of trains, discuss what work and location. If you didn't have any train traffic and the main track was clear, we would get the track car set on and proceed to the work site. Once we got to the work site, the track car would be set off and we would go to work. Around noon we had a set time, depending on which subdivision of the Railroad you were in, we would set up our portable telephones to check in with Train Dispatcher and copy an updated line-up.

Frank, your name looks familiar, what part of the ARR did you work and during what time?

I started out at Curry on Extra Gang 3 August 1, 1958. I was on that gang until 1961 working mostly between Talkeetna and Healy. In 1961 I was assigned as a relief foreman working on sections, Willow, Gold Creek, Hurricane, Broad Pass, Cantwell & Garner.

Steve Love. ARR 1958 to 2008

Page created 5/5/10 and last updated 5/5/10