Sometimes, as railfans, we get caught up with locomotives, paint schemes,
train symbols and technology. Sometimes we forget the most important
component of railfanning: people.
We sometimes also forget that for most of us, the railroad provides a
diversion or escape. For others,
it is their employment. It can be most interesting to talk with
employees and learn about their lives. Some employees share our hobby, others
are amused by it. Others still are annoyed by it, and a small few of
these display this proudly. We must remember that railroads exist
for many reasons,
the last of which is to provide our entertainment. Railroad companies
affect their employees and their families, both positively and negatively.
This is something we may want to keep in mind while out enjoying our
favorite yard or junction...
In the summer of 1996, trackwork on the Philadelphia division brought
block operators to the Reading and Harrisburg lines. On the Harrisburg Line,
operators were stationed either at Derry (in Hershey PA) or at Sheridan (near
Womelsdorf PA). On the Reading Line, an operator could have been found at
the hand crossover at Lyons. Both at Derry and at Lyons, I have spoken
with the last 3 block operators on the Philadelphia Division.
I first met Frank Reidlinger at Lyons, but I have not met up with him since
that time. He hired on with the Pennsylvania in the 1950's. The next day
I met Homer Enyon, a tall, friendly, man who is willing to share any
information he has. He hired on with the Pennsy in 1956, working within the
Operator Frank Reidlinger hoops up orders to rail train WOR-104 at
Lyons, PA on June 22, 1996.
Block Operator Jim Largent hoops up orders to ALCS-3 (left) and ALNS-3
(right) on June 3, 1996. He was stationed at Lyons for several weeks
in June, hooping up Form-D's
and aligning the hand crossover. He, Frank,
and Homer were often found here, at Derry (Hershey) or at Sheridan.
Scenes such as these are increasingly rare...
Soon I found the last of the three, Jim Largent, a native of Carlisle. He
hired on with the PRR in the late 1950's. He originally worked on the
Cumberland Valley line, between Harrisburg and Hagerstown. He is the
youngest of the remaining
operators, and sees little hope for his future. When he hired
on, the block operator had a stable job either at an interlocking tower or
at a temporary block station. This is no longer the case; the block
operator at a temporary block station receives considerably less
respect than his predecessors.
Jim worked at Lemo Tower in Lemoyne for some time; Lemo Tower is restored
and located at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania in Strasburg. He also
worked in various locations in and around Hagerstown, MD. Jim also
worked at Banks Tower and Rockville Tower from time to time. After a few
years' lay-off, Jim was called back after a senior man retired. Jim
began working Temporary Block Stations on the Harrisburg Line (and also
the Reading Line once the Harrisburg Division was merged into the Phila.
Div. in 1996). TBS stations are in effect when trackwork or other
maintainence requires trains to be detoured against the flow of traffic.
Under NORAC rules, such a movement requires a clearance Form D to be
issued. The TBS station generally is located at a hand-throw crossover;
the operator is responsible for throwing crossover switches and issuing
Form D's as necessary.
Since 1995, I've caught up with Homer and Jim at Derry,
gleaning the above information. I have spent several hours with Jim
Largent at Derry and at Palmyra this summer (1997), witnessing the last
stand of the block operator. Merger concerns make their job future
questionable, assisted by persistent rumors of the remoting of the
remaining crossovers on the Harrisburg Line. Currently, TBS stations
can be found during summer trackwork seasons at Derry, Palmyra, Millards,
Sheridan, CG (Colebrookdale), and Tillys. If these crossovers are
remoted, the necessity of block operators would be questionable.
Temporary Block Station "Derry" was in service on October 22,
1996. Derry locates on Conrail's Harrisburg Line (milepost 99), in the
middle of Hershey, PA. Operator Jim Largent hoops up a Form D to train
XBM-35; an eastbound empty coal train to the Reading & Northern at
Photo by Melanie L. Good
Block Operator J. D. Largent hoops up orders to ENAL-8X at TBS Palmyra,
on July 17, 1997.
Jim Largent is seen hooping orders to BEPI-1 at Derry Road, Hershey; on
May 11, 1997.