by Steve Drassler, former Alaska Railroad Locomotive Engineer
My favorite story concerns the number boards the ARR used on the lead locomotive to identify a train. All freight trains when I was working there were run as "extras." The passenger trains (except the Whittier Shuttle) all ran on a schedule. A freight train might have five or six locomotives on the head end; the ARR train dispatcher might issue the "running order" for the extra train and use a locomotive that was one of the trailing units, instead of the locomotive that was actually in the lead. This made it easier on the train dispatcher if he wanted to issue the running order and knew which locomotives were being used on the train, but didn't know the actual locomotive on the lead of the consist.
When the engineer arrived at the yard office and received the train orders from the operator there, he would have to read the running order to determine what locomotive number was being used to identify the train. So, the order might state: "Engine ARR 1524 run extra Anchorage to Healy." But, the 1524 might be four or five deep in the consist and the ARR 1510 might be in the lead. Well, this problem was solved by a little box of number silhouettes that was mounted down in the nose. The ARR locomotives back then did not have permanent numbers in the indicator box at the front of the locomotives. The engineer (or the fireman if one was assigned) would mount the locomotive and the first thing he did was to go down in the nose and collect the number silhouettes that made up the number that the train was running as, in this case 1524. Those four numbers, preceded by an "X" were placed in the holder tray on both sides of the locomotive nose hood and illuminated, along with the white indicator lights on either side, to designate the train as "X1524." When the train completed it's run, the numbers were to be taken down and put back in the storage box and the indicator lights extinguished.
Just as marking the rear end of the train with the caboose marker lights show the train was complete, the locomotive number board panel indicated what the train was running as. Crews on opposing trains at meets as well as maintenance of way workers could identify the extra train when it passed by.
On one particular trip south back to Anchorage from Healy, I must have been having either a bad day or had something planned for the afternoon upon my return (fishing?). Our train arrived at the Anchorage yard and received a track in which to yard the train. We stopped to clear the caboose at the north end and then pulled down to make a cut to clear the south lead. I then pulled the remaining portion of the train south to clear and then stopped. I gathered up my gear and walked back and secured the locomotives and walked back up to my loco cab, grabbed my grip and dismounted the locomotive. As I got into the van for our shuttle ride to the yard office, I glanced up at the lead locomotive and noticed that I had forgotten to remove the X and the train's running number from the number box. I thought, "Oh, well, the hostlers are coming and will take the X and numbers down for me." Ha, ha. Joke was on me as it turned out. I didn't think about the chance that Weaver Franklin might be cruising by to check on things, cab cleanliness, locomotive inspection reports, securement, etc. So, I drove home and prepared myself a late lunch. Then my telephone rang. IT WAS WEAVER FRANKLIN CALLING MY HOUSE! This had never happened before. I gulped after saying hello; I knew I was in trouble for something, hoping it wasn't speeding (from the locomotive speed tape). Weaver began to chew on my rear end for being sloppy and for not properly completing my run-- he colorfully told me that I hadn't taken down my X and train number from the number board. I admitted my mortal sin and I could only attribute it to an oversight and being in a hurry and then to swear that it would never happen again (which it didn't, not after that phone call).
That was my only "incident" concerning Weaver Franklin and that was enough.
© 2012 Steve Drassler