Yes, that’s a telegraph key on the operator’s desk at St. Williams…
Anybody who has run into Morse Code probably knows the signal for SOS, and therefore would deduce that the dashes and dots in the title of this post are the signal for “OS” – which is the railway dispatching term for logging a train as it passes a station. This information – communicated by an operator to the dispatcher – is essential for confirming the location of all trains on a line, so that trains may meet and pass each other in a timely yet safe manner.
The 17-mile Port Rowan branch was entirely within Yard Limits and therefore governed by those rules. To over-simplify the rules, this means that trains could move on the branch without special authority from the dispatcher.
Still, both stations that I’m modelling had working telegraphs and my copy of Time Table No. 3 from 1953 notes that the St. Williams call signal was “S T”, while Port Rowan was “P R”. (The dispatcher who controlled the Simcoe Sub was in Hamilton, with the call sign “N I”.)
In the comments section of my recent post on adding the telegraph wire to my pole line, a couple of interesting points were made:
First, regular contributor Steve Lucas noted that trains were required to register at Port Rowan, and that information would’ve been passed to the dispatcher.
Second, regular contributor Monte Reeves recalled that Dickie Thompson would OS the eastbound train at St. Williams – presumably to give the dispatcher a head start on figuring out where to slot CNR Mixed Train M238 into the parade of Wabash Red Ball fast freight traffic on the Cayuga Sub between Simcoe and Jarvis. (The Cayuga Sub was under the authority of the dispatcher in St. Thomas – call sign “D I”.)
Hmm. The wheels start to turn…
Back in 2007 I had the opportunity to operate on a now-dismantled On3 layout built by Andrew Dodge, which used a working telegraph system for train control. Andrew wrote about this in the June, 2001 issue of Model Railroader magazine, which is still available from the publisher. (I have a copy of the article as part of the complete MR archives on DVD.)
Andrew used a simplified system to OS trains, with shorter, two-digit codes for most communications. Cheat sheets provided guidance to operators. And he used International Morse and tones, not American (Railroad) Morse and clicks, because the International Morse alphabet is considered easier to learn and with tones, the timing of one’s keying is less of an issue than with clicks.
I exchanged emails with Andrew about his experience with his system. He offered some good advice about keeping it simple, and says many of his operators became comfortable enough with the system that after three or four sessions they no longer needed the cheat sheets. He’s also going to use telegraph again, to dispatch on his currently under-construction Proto:48 layout. (Thanks for your time, Andrew!)
Fond memories of that 2007 ops session convinced me: I’d add a working telegraph system to my layout.
Last week, I took delivery of a parcel from Marshall Emm at Morse Express. The box included three Speed X keys from NyeViking plus a Code Practice Oscillator kit (OCM-2) from AMECO. (Great, great service and after sales support – thanks Marshall!)
I built the Oscillator over the weekend, making some modifications to the kit to add external connections for power, multiple keys, and multiple speakers. It now sits on a very temporary shelf at the end of the aisle that runs behind the Port Rowan backdrop to provide access to our furnace:
I made the modifications to the OCM-2 so I can quickly unplug the dispatcher’s key and the oscillator, for times when I want to practice keying elsewhere in the house. Each connection is unique, so they can’t be interchanged. And I made sure to use a plug-socket set for the power that could only be connected one way, since polarity is important for keeping the factory smoke inside the OCM-2!
Now that I know the system works, I can build a proper shelf and install the speaker permanently.
I checked with Marshall, and he did not anticipate any problems with driving multiple speakers with the OCM-2, so I did some tests with three 8 Ohm speakers, wired in series and then in parallel. I liked the sound of the speakers in series better, so that’s how I wired them on the layout. The keys are wired in parallel, so any key can activate the OCM-2, which then transmits tones to all three speakers installed on the layout.
At St. Williams and Port Rowan, I added a speaker to the bottom of the fascia, pointing down and positioned directly in line with the telegraph key. The key is screwed to the desk next to the fast clock, and I’ll add a label with the station call sign at some point in the future. I left space for this on each desk when installing the keys.
Instead of using the binding posts I wired the station keys under their bases, so the wires are completely hidden. These pass through a hole in the desk and are fastened to the underside of the shelf in a manner similar to that used to wire the fast clocks. The image below – the underside of the layout and slide-out desk at St. Williams – shows the relationship between various bits:
Note that I’ve bundled the fast clock wires and telegraph key wires into a cable, with enough slack that the desk can slide in and out freely.
Next up: I need to make up some cheat sheets for operators and the dispatcher so we can put the system through some tests during operating sessions. Andrew’s article in MR has some good ideas about how to do this. My implementation should be fairly straightforward, since there will be rarely be a call for issuing train orders: For the most part, operators will simply OS their trains as appropriate.
But that’s for a future post. For now, as Morse Code enthusiasts would say, “73”!