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A Biography of a Telegrapher

Discussion in 'Amateur Radio News' started by WB8SIW, Feb 3, 2019.

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  1. WB8SIW

    WB8SIW Ham Member QRZ Page

    The CBC recently interviewed Lavina Shaw, Past International President of the Morse Telegraph Club. In this biographical documentary, Lavina talks about her experiences working as a railroad and commercial telegrapher as well as her experiences as a woman working in a man's world. Like many telegraphers of her era, Lavina had a front-row seat to history.

    In addition to railroad and commercial operations (telegrams, cablegrams), the telegraph was widely used in a variety of applications such as stock brokerage operations, commodities and board of trade work, press operations, and so forth. Even the telephone company used Morse telegraphy extensively for its internal operations well into the post war era.

    Radio amateurs in general, and CW operators in particular, will undoubtedly find this video interesting, not just for the human interest content, but for its insights into the antecedents of radiotelegraphy.

    The Morse Telegraph Club is a non-profit historical and educational association dedicated to preserving the history and traditions of telegraphy and the telegraph industry. MTC members and chapters demonstrate telegraphy at historical events, design and construct historically correct museum exhibits and conduct presentations on the history of telegraphy. MTC also publishes an excellent quarterly journal entitled "Dots and Dashes, which includes articles on telegraph history and first-person accounts of telegraph industry employees.

    For more information on MTC membership, please contact James Wades (WB8SIW).


    Attached Files:

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  2. KD8TNF

    KD8TNF XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    Gud fist Lavina 73
    EA7IVP, W6DRO, K7LZR and 1 other person like this.
  3. K4KWH

    K4KWH Ham Member QRZ Page

    While I personally did not do railroad telegraphy, I knew a number of railroaders who had. I had the same job of Clerk/Telegrapher, but they now called it "Clerk Operator". We transmitted the same Form 19's, we just did it with a direct phone line to the dispatcher that was activated with a foot pedal. In some of the offices where I worked, the old telegraph key was still there, but idle; don't think it was hooked up anymore. My terminal agent, an old clerk/agent from way back, had a key on his desk that still had a sounder, but it didn't go "out" anywhere. Mr. McKenna demonstrated/used the key to show us new clerks how it was in the old days. He was pretty good, too! I'm sure if the dispatcher had come on with an order, he'd felt right at home!:)

    While, again, it was not telegraphy, I remember that the old train order offices were very busy--especially on 2nd trick (shift). That's when most of the southbound "hotshot pig" trains were built, and train orders were a-flyin' and the printers were buzzin' with waybills. Very hectic and stressful; you could not make a mistake. Orders had to be exactly accurate, no mispells, no white-outs, no strike overs! These would get you "ground time" (a week or two with no pay), and a good scolding!:oops: The stress was enormous.

    I had 3 Division dispatchers all converging on Charlotte, sometimes all 3 would be buzzing me on the wire to copy 19's. I couldn't talk to but one at a time, and the Main line had priority. One night after a particularly hectic shift, I was copying orders for the Main line, and the Asheville Sub was fairly hopping off the wall! When I finished with Charlotte, I switched over to Asheville and called, "Asheville, Charlotte". The dispatcher up there was kind of a "character" known to fly off the handle, and fly off he did!:eek: He began screaming at me about why I didn't answer him, and "the next time I call you, you better ANSWER ME--blah, blah"!!

    I said, Mr. Wolfe, I've got 3 Divisions coming in here with pig trains out my tail, an' all you got is one measly local to clear................


    Just about that time, my Terminal Agent walked by my office, and I hailed him, "Mr. McKenna, co'mere!"

    Red was still on the wire yelling. Mr. McK grabbed the headset, and hearing how Red was carrying on, he shouted back
    and it was ON!!!!!!!! I just sat back and grinned. You'd think they were coming to blows, but after a few huffs and puffs, they were talking about golf at Charlotte's Quail Hollow Golf Club!:D
    W0VTT, WK7H, N7KO and 5 others like this.
  4. KY5U

    KY5U Subscriber QRZ Page

    Very nice segment.

    Dancing Snoopy.jpg
    N7KO, K7LZR, W5BIB and 1 other person like this.
  5. WD9IDV

    WD9IDV Ham Member QRZ Page

    That was an interesting short story.
  6. W4WTS

    W4WTS Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    I love stories like these......thanks for sharing!
  7. NU4R

    NU4R XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    What is this thing you call Morses code? It is a cookie? It is delicious?
  8. K4KWH

    K4KWH Ham Member QRZ Page

    Thanks. The life of an agent/telegrapher/operator WAS a hectic one--whether one used the key or a wire line. I suppose that would apply to a Western Union operator, too. Sometimes the two offices were combined. Sometimes the railroad telegrapher handled railroad traffic only. Those offices with the "idle" telegraph keys? I believe the Southern RR abandoned the key between 1962 and '65 on a piecemeal basis. Quite a few clerk telegraphers were still working in the 70's, and I worked with some of them. One of them was Buck Cash who was a clerk at Charlotte when I was. I was on the Extra Board, and one day I was working at an outlying station alone, and I came across a complicated waybill I had never done before. The shipper was then giant Cannon Mills. This was a multi-car shipment that was split between destinations. One car went to New Orleans, another car of the same shipment went to Houston, the final car went to Los Angeles. Like WOW! Now HOW do I do THAT? No, you could not split it into 3 different shipments/waybills; I asked about that. It had to be waybilled on the SAME 'bill. I was stumped!:confused: So I called Buck down at Charlotte. If anybody knew how to do such a waybill, it would be Buck. He was a 45-year + clerk, experienced in all phases of Line of Road clerical, and that included the old telegraph key. It took about an hour on the phone, but ole Buck walked me thru it! If it had been a matter of simply writing up the waybill longhand, I could've simply written it up in triplicate and copied to each one. But we were now on computer, and it took a special way to force the system to produce the waybills in the correct way and ROUTE the cars properly. We wouldn't want the cars routed OFF the proper line or 'Road; that would cost a lot of money to get 'em back on line. Buck saved my bacon that day!:)
    KW4UP, W0VTT, K7LZR and 1 other person like this.
  9. KR4BD

    KR4BD Ham Member QRZ Page

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  10. K4KWH

    K4KWH Ham Member QRZ Page

    We had a lot of lady clerks on our road, some were telegraphers.

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