PA3CLQ's Leuke Linken Nr. 371


Rotary snow plows on Donner Pass

A fascinating video of 1920s technology that still works:

Dr. Frank R. Scheer, Curator Railway Mail Service Library, Inc. SlowSpeedWireGroup
In the 1913 former N&W Railway depot along Clarke County route 723 117 East Main Street Boyce, VA 22620-9369 USA

That's an early car .... missing the safety appliances that came in about 1905.

(Note absence of steps on other end of car, grab irons missing, and few ladders.)

Of course, being an M of W car it might be OK. Or, the photo is older than it seems.
Thanks for the great pic.
73, Skip Luke


    We were losing wire to thieves long before Meth Heads were invented.

I can remember the phone and morse going dead in the sixties (or the printers all start to run open) after some garden variety scrapper would strike in the middle of the night. Boys will be boys. /// Dave
    One day, while I was working in the Comm Dept, D&RGW RR, I happened to be working in Pueblo, CO.
The Denver DS called and said he couldn't ring Walsenburg.

Morse wire was ok, but fone was out.
T&T maintainer"Woody" Woodward made some immediate tests at the switch board, and quickly determined that the DS wire pair was open about at a place named Lascar, some distance south of Pueblo/Minnequa.
I rode south with Lineman Ed Mackey in the Section line truck to investigate the outage.

Lascar is a passing track way out in the sticks away from everything, including major roads.
The line was "open" all right...
Someone had gone down there in the middle of the night with a line truck and take up reel, and at least several outlaw linemen and cut the copper pair, untied several MILES of it, threw it off the crossarms, rolled it up, and hauled it away!
There were 30 poles or so PER MILE in that section, so this was a BIG operation...But the RR Special Agents and the state cops never found out who did it, or where they fenced the stolen copper wire.
D&RGW had to send our own linegang in from another area to replace all that missing wire.
True story.Ed. FB
    Copper thieves are endemic.

Our local railroad museum has 5 ex NYC Empire State Express passenger cars (which have the dubious distinction of having first entered service on December 7th, 1941, thus the NYC didn't get the press coverage they were expecting.).

About a year ago, copper thieves hit and got off with in excess of $50K of the heavy duty power wiring on these cars.

Insurance covered it (less the annoyance) and we now have a sophisticated alarm and video (including infrared night vision) system monitoring the whole museum site which even includes contact loops through the replaced wiring on the cars (nothing like closing the gate after the horse has left :-).
The first project I did which involved radio based signaling was a computerized CTC system for Mexico (Guadalajara to Irapuato) in the early 1980's (a redundant pair of PDP 11/44's).

The reason for the need for radio communications directly to the control points is that copper thieves kept stealing the pole line.
73, Chris Hausler

    Hi Ed, Making the assumption that the Morse wire was on the same poles, I wonder why they didn't take it.

Maybe it was iron instead of copper :-)

I know Walsenburg.

On the private car train trip in 2010 that was where they took off the Amtrak engines and put on Rio Grande Scenic engines.

Although the Amtrak engines had dynamic brakes, the RGS engines had low range dynamic brakes so we could safely go over La Veta pass to Alamosa.

73, Chris Hausler

    One of the NY Central C&S Engineering guys at 466 Lexington told me that they often lost comm wires to thieves.

Occasionally they were able to locate it in a scrap yard, identified because it was No 9 copper, a size unique to the railroad.
Phone pole wires were bare copper; signal wires were insulated.
Steve Bartlett   
    Hi Ed: Great story, and surprisingly common, although not typically on that scale.

We had one guy in Detroit who was regularly stealing pole line.

He had developed a rather ingenuous system which consisted of a second hub welded to the rear wheel hub of his truck.

He would park the truck along the right-of-way, jack up the rear end, climb and cut the pole line, and start it on the hub, start the engine and put it in gear, and start "winding." With a bit of effort, he could take down thousands of feet of pole line at a time.

Of course, he was hard to catch, but finally someone ran across him in the act and he was finally caught.

This activity has been particularly problematic in recent years.

Transit systems are having a real difficult time with theft.

People will cut every ground conductor they can find at station platforms, transformer pedestals and the like.

Impedance bonds and other heavy conductors are fair game for the various locusts that choose not to make an honest living.

Some of these guys are quite well organized.

Of course, such costs are passed on to the taxpayer in the case of transit systems or the customer in the case of freight railroads.

Ultimately, we all pay for it in the cost of commodities and services.

When I supervised C & S maintenance in Downtown Detroit, we had some real "hot spots" for theft.

One of my "favorites" was the Milwaukee Junction area.

The locusts seemed to come from everywhere.

You could send a maintainer to replace stolen flashers, and within 24-hours, the new ones would be gone.

We had to weld bolts to prevent theft.

We wrapped double logging chains vertical and horizontal around equipment cabinets, we added new locking mechanisms to lock the doors because the locusts would knock the handles off the relay case doors with ten pound hammers.

I could go on.

One time, I staked out a "hot spot" and caught a couple of "scrappers."

I chased them out onto I-94 while on the phone with the Detroit Police.

The police informed me to "let them go as they had no time to deal with such things."

With law enforcement support like that, who needs enemies? LOL.

On a related note, I retain a membership in a historic church in Downtown Detroit, my grandfather having been one of the founding parish members.

We have had several occasions in which the locusts have climbed to great heights to "peel" the copper off the roof of the church.

Such things are never traced and the parish members end up paying for it out of their pockets.

I blame a lot of it on the scrap dealers.

Most of them are little better than criminals themselves.

They know they are profiting from criminal acts and they simply pretend they have no knowledge of where such things come from.

However, government is trying to take some steps.

I recently scrapped an old open-frame communications rack I had some old radio gear mounted in.

I was surprised to discover that the scrap dealer required that they photo-copy my drivers license, obtain a secondary ID for confirmation and finger print me.

I was told it is a new state law!

Perhaps cutting off the majority of these glorified fences will do something to prevent some of the problem, but theft, like death and taxes, will probably always be with us. LOL.

73, JW

    J. Chris..
Yes, the thieves didn't bother the Morse wire because it was a big No. 6 BWG galvanized iron wire on a pole pin position, top arm of the two arm lead.
All they wanted was the No. 8 hard drawn copper wire on the DS phone/carrier circuit on pins 1&2 of the top arm.

It being out on the end of the arm made it easy to untie and toss it off onto the ground.

The thrives busted the aluminum point-type transposition brackets off with hammers and rolled both conductors up together.
They must have had a large semi-trailer truck parked someplace nearby to load and haul away all the wire they stole.

There was dual-wheel line truck and pickup truck tire tracks all along the line where the theft occurred.
Buggers! Ed. FB
    My NY Central fellow worker also told me thieves used pole-top pruners to cut the wires each side of the insulators.
Steve Bartlett
    Another wire theft story.
(It seems like railroad police fall into two categories; The kind who are smart and careful and who you DONT want to mess with, and who do real police work and usually get their man; and the other kind, the Keystone Kop variety who usually furnish little to the railroad operation except comic relief).

We had one of the latter working on the west end of the NP but he is long deceased and I will omit the name.
Circa 1965 we were having considerable trouble with pole line wire theft around Tenino, WA (between Tacoma and Portland).

The wire would disappear, the linemen would replace it the next day, and that very night thieves would strike again and sometimes take the shiny new copper in service for less than 24 hours.

Finally the railroad police had enough and scraped together 2 or three rr policemen for 24-hour surveillance in consort with all the local police agencies.

While all the other RR police did surveillance properly or as best they could, one guy who had been a yard cinder dick all his life was a little bit out of place down in the wide open prairie, and didn't really know what to do - so he decided to dress like a hobo or stew bum, stake out a spot much like a duck blind, and just sit all night and watch.
At about 300am while I was working the dispatcher position, the dispatcher phone went noisy as one side of the pair was being cut.

I immediately called all the local cops on the phone (they had been alerted to expect such a call) and they went out en masse to check out the railroad in their various territories.

Two Thurston County sheriffs saw an old beater car parked along the railroad tracks and started walking.

Pretty soon they called me and said they had arrested a very suspicious character and had him in the patrol car; they said he claimed to be a railroad police officer but was dressed like a bum and could produce no ID and wanted to verify it with me.

When they described him and gave me his name I knew right away who it was but since I didn't much care for this cop, I told them the name didn't sound familiar to me.

They thanked me and hung up.
Knowing of course what I had done, I waited about five minutes and called the Sheriff back and asked, "Tell me that guy's name again."

They replied (fake name here by me) "Henry Jensen." Feigning surprise I replied, "OH, Henry. - I thought you said Harry Johnson (fake name again but you get the idea).

Sure, we know Henry, he's a RR special agent alright, sorry for the misunderstanding."
They let poor old "Henry" go but the wire thieves got away.

A couple of nights later, they got caught however. In the meantime "Henry" was the laughing stock of the division (more-so than usual) - the clumsy special agent who managed to get his own self arrested. // Dave S 
    Back in the С70s,when I worked for the Milw RR on the C&M Divn. north of Chicago, our lineman told me about an incident on the Fox Lake Sub. when he was called out for an open line and found a broken line wire.

The ends of the broken wire were bent back sharply as if they had been shot, except the break was almost two inches wide.

He repaired it, only to have a similar incident in the same area a few weeks later.

A RR cop was sent to investigate.

He asked a young man who lived next to the track whether he had seen anyone shooting in the area.

The polite teenager replied, УNo, Sir, except for DaddyТs cannon.Ф(!)

Turned out that his dad made a cannon out of an old RR axle and would shoot juice cans filled with concrete from his back yard into the field across the track when no trains were coming.

The gumshoe said the gentleman never gave a thought to the pole line and was very apologetic.

Far as I know, he was not charged and there were no further problems.


    We also had both kind of RR cops. (smart and dumb)

One of the dumb ones was nicknamed УDeputy Dog,Ф after the cartoon character.

His crowning achievement was when he found a suspicious looking box in the middle of the main track.


When they carefully opened it, it turned out to contain a dead cat!

On the other end of the scale, we had some very dedicated RR cops.

One, who was known to me only by his reputation, worked on the УTerry HutФ (Terre Haute) Divn. in IN.

He and his inseparable 12 ga. УcompanionФ won several gunfights with wire thieves.

Another one of the local officers was so dedicated that, in an effort to catch thieves who were breaking into piggyback trailers, he donned a snowmobile suit and rode under the wheels of a TOFC trailer on the open deck of a flat car from Milwaukee to Chicago (86 miles) in the dead of winter!


    And, as for getting people detained by the police for fun, we had an Asst. Supt. who was out doing fusee stop tests one evening.

A conductor saw where the Уweed weaselФ was hiding and called the cops.    

The Asst. Supt. had a few uncomfortable minutes until the police were satisfied he was really who he said he was!



That's great. Just the thing to do with a suspected bomb.

Let's not stop the trains, set up a perimeter and call the bomb squad.

"Gee! I think I'll put in my trunk and bounce it around a bit while I take it to the station." That's priceless. 😄

Of course, it's probably a good thing he didn't know what to do with the "suspected bomb." It would have been rather embarrassing when the bomb disposal techs discovered it was just a dead cat.

I suspect the agency with oversight for the bomb squad would probably have also sent a sizable bill to the railroad as well. The poor bloke would have had to explain that.

When I represented a class one on a port security committee, my fellow rep was a railroad officer.

He was a good chap, very professional and quite dedicated to doing a good job.

One of the initiatives I was proud to have accomplished was getting our RR police on the state public safety communications system.

Before that, they were pretty much isolated, with no ability to coordinate with other departments or quickly request back-up if needed.

As you know, the railroad always runs through the nicest parts of town! LOL.

I can certainly understand, however, when some officers end up unmotivated and do the minimum.

The class ones often see the police department as a necessary evil whose primary purpose is to be an initial step in processing claims.

It can be a thankless job.

73, James Wades

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