Before texting, there was…

… Morse Code!

There’s a segment from The Tonight Show that’s made the rounds online, featuring a showdown between text messaging and Morse Code. If you haven’t seen the video, Google is your friend…

Morse vs Text on The Tonight Show

Of course, Morse Code was also used to control train movements, and on less trafficked lines it lasted well beyond the introduction of telephones and radio dispatching.

But it’s rarely used on model railways. The notable exception – notable because I can think of it – is the lovely On3 Denver, South Park and Pacific layout built by Andrew Dodge. Andrew lives in the Washington DC area and I had a chance to operate on his beautiful layout a few years ago. He uses a simplified version of Morse and provided lots of cheat sheets, and even those new to the system (like me) picked it up fairly quickly. I expect one’s “fist” would improve with practice. Ever since operating on Andrew’s layout, I’ve wanted to incorporate the use of telegraphy into my own operating sessions.

(Andrew has since decided to switch to Proto:48 – standard gauge – to build a finescale layout based on the Colorado Midland, so this On3 layout must go into the “fallen flag” category. I expect – actually, I hope – the new layout will also use Morse as part of the dispatching scheme.)

I was going to do this on my Maine two-foot layout but that railroad is now gone. Can I do it on Port Rowan? I’m not sure I even need to – the traffic was really light. But that may also make it an ideal place to play with building a working telegraphy system.

Regardless, learning a new skill like telegraphy is always a fun challenge, and having an easy way to practice would help me decide whether I’d like to actually explore this further. So when I visited George’s Trains this week and found a vintage practice set in the display cabinet, I snapped it up:

Telegraph practice set.

From left to right, the board holds a sounder (by JH Bunnell and Co), a box with a 9v battery to power everything, and a key (marked simply “Speed-X”).

Nothing fancy, but it works!

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