Richard Tanner, husband of Tribune and Cambrian reporter Kathe Tanner, is a second-generation Southern Pacific employee.
Here he shares some railroad recollections with Tribune readers.
Train Day 2015 will be celebrated Saturday, May 9, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the San Luis Obispo Railroad Museum.
Richard Tanner writes:
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My dad, called D.W. or Doc, was a Southern Pacific brakeman in 1925 when I was born. He worked as a brakeman/conductor until he was promoted in 1939 to assistant trainmaster in Montello, Nev., a helper station for engines to get the trains to the top of the Pequop range.
There were 12 kids in the high school, and three were my dad's.
Dad was promoted to trainmaster Carlin, Nev., in 1941. That's a midway terminal between Ogden, Utah, and Sparks, Nev., part of the Salt Lake Division of the Southern Pacific Railroad. He was promoted to trainmaster Ogden, then assistant superintendent, then superintendent until retiring in 1964.
I started to work for Southern Pacific in January 1942 as call-boy.
I turned 16 the month before Southern Pacific dropped the age minimum from 18 to 16. Still in high school, I worked a minimum 48-hour week as call-boy or crew dispatcher until I graduated on January 1944.
I joined the U.S. Maritime Service (it was the only branch that would accept me and my bad eyesight).
I did my basic training at Avalon, Catalina, Calif., then to Hoffman Island, N.Y., for training as a radio officer.
I graduated Jan. 2, 1945, and my last trip ended in New York in June 1946.
I took back my railroad seniority and went back to work for Southern Pacific. My wife and I moved to Reno, Nev., to work through college. I worked in mail and baggage at Reno Depot, including V&T (Virginia & Truckee) Railroad.
Then, with a wife and son, I decided I needed a better job, so I learned wire Morse code, which is different from the wireless code I'd used at sea.
I worked as telegrapher, station agent and finally train dispatcher for 11 years. Then I ran out of seniority.
Southern Pacific eventually went from nine dispatcher offices to two.
Railroad museums are fun.
They show huge steam locomotives, cabooses and all the items needed to help build and connect this big country of ours.
Well, almost everything.
While going through one nice one, I noticed and mentioned to my wife, they got it wrong. I was immediately confronted by the young curator, who'd obviously overheard my comment, and asked what I had found.
I said they had the wrong can in the telegraph display.
He had no idea why there was a pipe tobacco can in the telegraph sounder or why it was wrong.
I explained that a telegraph sounder made only clicking sounds, which were often hard to hear because our offices were by the train tracks.
You needed a sound magnifier, an empty pipe tobacco can was good and a Prince Albert can was the "Bose" of them all.
Other brands were just not used!
Of course try to find a pipe tobacco can now. They are all in pouches now.
You hear Morse code used in background on TV or radio now.
But it is wireless, as we used aboard ship — short and long sounds.
Wire Morse code — as used for land transmission by the railroads, Western Union, etc. — is clicks with the gaps between clicks making the message.
So if you are in a railroad museum and see a Prince Albert can in the telegraph sounder, thank some old-time telegrapher.
You are welcome!