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PC: More Wilmington, DE Operations Information


I would like to preface the following remarks by explaining that they deal with late PRR operations that probably continued into the Penn Central, at least until the 1970 bankruptcy.  I am paraphrasing actual comments because of time and space constraints so quotations will not be used.  

Today, I was able to again chat with a former yardmaster at Wilmington DE (who quit because of the Penn Central merger) and asked him a question that was sent to me by a list member at the time of my last Wilmington post (several months ago).

Q. Was the Tropicana "Juice Train" the highest priority train on the NEC?

A. No, of course the wire train was THE priority train.  Aside from that the #1 train was the Ford parts train from the Cape Charles float bridges up the Delmarva line (yes, they floated most of the parts from Norfolk).  The train would arrive and the parts set out and combined with any additional parts cars arriving from Enola.  The parts were destined for the Ford plant at Chester, PA and later to the Ford plant at Metuchen, NJ.  The parts were so important that the PRR worked out a special union agreement for handling the cars.  Union rules in Wilmington prohibited outbound crews from doubling trains if the entire train would fit into one yard track (they almost always did).  This of course relieved the conductor from walking half the train to reach the cab.  However, the Ford parts had to move on the head end of the train but did not fill an entire yard track.  This required outbound crews to double the Ford parts to the balance of the train when it was ready.  The special agreement allowed this to take place.

This train was so hot that the PRR stopped almost everything else to allow it to pass.  Toward the end, just prior to the PC merger, the PRR even stopped passenger trains, but not for long.  In some instances, the Ford train would run on the passenger track, a very unusual practice at the time.

Another important train was a run from Baltimore to Camden, NJ.  This train carried tin ingots (among other things) from the Beth Steel plant at Sparrows Point to the Campbells Soup Plant in Camden, NJ.  Often the train would be delayed in Baltimore for 4-5 hours waiting for the ingots to be added to the rear.  When the train reached Wilmington, the ingots HAD to remain on the rear so they could quickly be removed and placed at the Campbells plant when the train arrived at Camden.    

The fastest freight train on the corridor was ES-116 (I think it is correct but don't quote me).  This train consisted of empty reefers gathered up in the New York City terminal area to send back to southern connections at Potomac Yard.  This train almost always ran in the dead of night at speeds of between 60 and 70 mph.  Engineers loved working this run because they earned two days pay.  Harrismus Cove to Wilmington is about 210 miles and they earned a full days pay for every 100 miles they traveled regardless of the time it took. 

Finally, two stories that will warm the heart of any union man.  Back when Wilmington was switched by small steam locos, union rules prohibited firemen on yard jobs from taking more than three steps to shovel coal from the tender to the firebox (very few if any switchers had stokers).  If for some reason the coal froze or stuck to the side of the tender the crew stopped work and called the hostler to dislodge it.  If he could not dislodge it, they refilled the tender with coal.  However, in most cases they simply switched to another engine.

Also, when a road train broke down and the dispatcher called the yardmaster to get a yard crew to rescue it the yard crew received a full days pay (as a yard crew) the moment they left the yard limits.  They then received a full days pay because they were now a road crew.  Upon returning to the yard, if they entered the yard piloting the train, they received another full days pay (as a yard crew). 

I do not mean to spark a debate about the rightness or wrongness of these union rules.  However, it is instructive that they survived so long after steam departed, well into Penn Central.

Bob Holzweiss
Robert.Holzweiss -AT- bush.nara.gov  

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