Railroad Time

I am into trains and I am into watches. I just got a new automatic watch and it made me think about conductor watches and “railroad time.” It was so different in the old days without these marvels of time keeping and the computerized mechanisms. Time was standardized in the mid- 19th century, the heyday of the industrial revolution. History tells us the Great Western Railway in England was the initiator. It became apparent that local times varied and had to be synched with a single standard. Slowly but surely it was adopted worldwide including North America, India, and Europe. Schedules could be more easily followed when everyone had their sights set on London Time, a time established by the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. There would be no more confusion caused by non-uniform local times. Every station stop had to operate by the standard. Accidents and near misses would decline.

It was chaotic at first with locals objecting to adjusting their clocks to London Time. But they got used to it and timetables were consistent. Oddly enough, it wasn’t until 1880 that the government of Great Britain finally enacted legislation to establish mandatory Standard Time and a single time zone throughout the country. So it was not always the way it is now. I love knowing and disseminating these kinds of facts about trains. We are very aware of time zones, especially as daylight saving’s is fast approaching. And train and plane service must transport passengers over thousands of miles in a couple of hours. Clear-headed thinking more than a century and a half ago paved the way for progress.

I can’t imagine an era when people told the time by tracking the sun. And now I have a state-of-the art automatic watch, the best I could find. I rely on its absolute accuracy so I am seldom more than ten seconds off. I arrive on time and on schedule to every appointment. A watch is more than an accessory as many people think, but it doesn’t hurt that it works perfectly and looks good at the same time. I had to make do for so many years with a budget timepiece but those days are over. I can splurge on quality. I wonder if there are watches out there for train buffs that run on railway time. I know we set our watches to our time zone, but are there dials that show railroad images? I think at best you would get settings like 24:00. I have been looking into it and the best I can do is Hans Hilfiker, a Swiss Engineer and Designer and employee of the Federal Swiss Railways as creator of the Swiss Railway watch. It looks like any other dial in basic layout except that it is done in the same design as the traditional federal Swiss railway station clock. I will have to be happy enough with that.

Model Train Convention

As a train enthusiast and self-professed rail fan, I attend model train conventions all the time. If they are miles away I look for an available train. But of course. How else would I get there? I always hope they aren’t in town. I look forward to meeting new people with a similar passion. I guess it is because I grew up listening to my dad describe the trains he rode back and forth on into the city to work. I was fascinated by the sights and sounds he so admirably described.

He was a good story teller and the love of trains he felt caught on. I can hear the whistlsmothe history of “iron horses” and covet collectibles that abound at the conventions. I love to watch Sheldon on Big Bang Theory especially when he gets excited about trains. He is my idol. I do believe he is a collector even though his heart may lie first and foremost with Star Wars memorabilia. But let’s give a shout out to the real train people who live and breathe their power and glory.

Foolishly, I expect him to appear in the grand hall amid the many exhibits. His silly face would beam at every turn.  The last time I attended a train convention, I was so surprised to see a smoking section. I knew that Sheldon would not be there. I thought public places no longer catered to smokers due to stringent local laws. I also didn’t know that train buffs were into this “filthy habit” as my mother used to call it. Needless to say, I don’t indulge. I was almost about to voice a complaint when I spied a huge air purifier to keep the smoke and smell away from the other attendees with a sticker that said Clean Breathing. Did they used to do that on trains and planes when smoking was rampant? Perhaps.

I know the old trains, like the amazing Orient Express, had glamorous smoking cars. You could walk in and see men and women, or should I say the gentlemen and ladies puffing away. Looking at them, if you didn’t smoke, you wanted to. It was an era of great sophistication and style. Planes had smoking sections in the back with no separation from the “normal” people. This all ended in the eighties I believe when people started caring about their health and second hand smoke. I think many of them just wanted to be irate. Before that smokers had their own privileges. But that time is long gone so why is smoking allowed at the model train convention. Unless I call the organizers, I will never have the answer. I can only guess.

Workin’ on the Railroad

When I was younger, I wanted to be a train conductor. I couldn’t imagine a better job. I’d get to ride trains all day. For a kid who was fascinated by trains, I thought that was about the coolest thing I could ever have thought of. Since then, I have decided that I do not have the proper temperament to be a conductor. It’s a little too much pressure and stress than I can probably handle.

Although I can’t say that I am working on the railroad (admit it, you’re singing now), I have seriously considered a job in that field so that I can spend time around trains. I’ve spent enough time on trains and watching/reading/learning about them that I understand many of the jobs available in this field.

I am probably not mechanically inclined enough to work many of the jobs in the field of maintenance, which includes awesome things like maintaining the signals, making and repairing tracks and the bridges they travel over, and welding. If I was mechanically-gifted, I think I would like being a carman the best. Those are the people who assemble railroad cars, inspect them prior to use and at periodic intervals, and also repair them when they break down.

Come on, though, how cool does the title Chief Yardmaster sound to you? If I could get one wish granted, this job would probably be the one. The Chief Yardmaster is the person who makes sure that the cars are placed where they belong, supervises the incoming and outgoing trains for both cargo and commuters, and runs the budgets. There’s other aspects, but those are my favorites.

Most railroad jobs are union-based, which is both good and bad. Good in that you get quality benefits including healthcare and a pension, and things like that. Bad in that it can be hard to break into, and you have to pay your dues – both literally (in that there are fees you have to pay to be a member of the union) and figuratively, in that you usually start at the very bottom and have to work your way up; there isn’t much as far as experience that can get you above a certain level without putting in the time and working all those the terrible shifts that other people don’t want.

Instead, I’ve got a regular desk job doing things that are not rail-related. Right now, my hobby stays a beloved hobby and my job is just the place that I go to get paid. Maybe one day I will be able to combine the two, but for now I can keep them separate. I tell myself it is so I don’t get sick of trains, but the longer I go being interested in the hobby, the less possible it seems that I will get sick of them!