Jefferson County

STORIES OF A SMALL RAILROAD TOWN IN THE 1930'S, 40'S & 50'S George.       John R. Warren

The articles and pictures that you see within these pages about Bluford
were submitted by Janice Staples
Written permission was given by the Author the late
John R. Warren to use on this website.
Railroad Yard Management and Jobs

The top person at the Bluford Yards was the Trainmaster, after that 
was the General Yardmaster and the Roundhouse Supt. Then each of the 
3 shifts had a Yardmaster and also a Roundhouse boss. Other job categories  
had their top person too.  For example there was a Chief Clerk, a 
Section Gang Foreman, and a Rip Track boss. The Bluford Yard was part of 
the St. Louis Division of the ICRR and the division offices were in Carbondale. 
But the Bluford Yard ran pretty independently of the Division Management.

The Trainmasters were the highest ranking jobs at the Bluford ICRR.
They really didn't seem to have a lot to do with the daily operations,
but were the boss, and reported to the St. Louis Division Officers at


Yardmasters were essentially the "boss" of the operations going on in
the Bluford Yards. The day shift yardmaster was called the General
Yardmaster and next to the Trainmaster was the boss of most everything.
Each shift had a Yardmaster.

Trains didn't just "happen"; they were made up starting with the
caboose, and with switch engines putting other cars in that track until
the train was done. The Yardmasters had a lot to say about which cars
would go onto a train being made up.


The car knockers had to walk the train from caboose to engine to make
sure that all couplers were in place and that all the air hoses were
connected. They had to wait until it was all done and ready for that,
because up in the middle of the yard, you could not tell when cars in a
track might suddenly be moved because of switch engine action. The yard
was, potentially, a very dangerous place to work.
SHIFT OR TRICK DISPATCHERS: The yardmasters were in touch with the shift or trick dispatchers as they were called who were in Carbondale, the headquarters of the St. Louis Division that the Bluford Yard was part of. The Dispatchers were responsible for the train movements when they left the yards. They had to know when they were expected to leave and when they actually did leave. The crews were given "train orders" up and down the line by the operators, so they (the road crews) would know when  and where they were meeting other trains and which one would be on the "side track" etc.
SWITCHMEN: Switchmen were typically "promoted" to be an Engine Foreman and some later to be a Yardmaster. There were several Engine Foremen that might be filling in as Yardmaster on the various shifts---usually the midnite shift, on any given night. ROADMEN Roadmen were the ones that ran the trains over the tracks from Bluford to their destinations. There were 5 on a train crew. The engineer, fireman, and brakeman rode in the engine. The conductor and flagman rode in the caboose. There was hierarchy or line of promotion in those jobs, an engineer had to serve as a fireman for many years before becoming an engineer. The engineer of course drove the train. The fireman had to keep the fire in the locomotive firebox going. The road engines had stokers, which fed coal into the fire box, but the fireman still had to shovel some to keep the fire bed level. The switch engines, which always stayed in the yards at Bluford, did not have stokers, so the fireman had to shovel coal for 8 hours on their shifts. THE CONDUCTOR: The conductor was the legal boss of the train, even though he was back in the caboose and not directly running the train. The line here was from brakeman, to flagman, to conductor. The conductor carried all the "waybills" and made a list of all the cars on the train including their content and maybe some special instructions. The list started with the caboose and included the RR initial and number of each car in series up to the head car on the train. THE BRAKEMAN: The brakeman sometimes called the "Head Brakeman" because he rode in the engine at the head of the train, would get out and go ahead of the engine when the engine left the roundhouse area so he could throw the switches to get the engine to go to the north or south end of the yard and then onto the track the train was on.
Out on the road, he would again get off and throw the switches when the train was to go onto a sidetrack to await another train going the other direction. Besides throwing switches, the brakeman "cut the air" to the car brakes, pulled the pins to separate cars from the train, opened knuckles to connect cars being picked up, directed the engine, and connected it to the picked up cars and back onto the train.
In earlier days the brakeman had to set the handbrakes on the cars of the train to stop the train, hence the name. THE FLAGMAN: The flagman had the job of re-setting the switches after the train pulled back onto the main track, so the next train would stay on the main track and not be "sidetracked"---unless the brakeman on the train wanted it to be. So the train was moving and the flagman had to re-set the switch, then run catch up to the caboose and get on. Also if for any reason, a train stopped on the main track, the flagman had to go back some distance and be ready to flag any approaching train so that it wouldn't hit the stopped train in the rear. The engineer would signal with the whistle when it was going to start moving forward so the flagman could get back on the caboose. OPERATORS: They were called that because at one time they had to be telegraph operators to have the job. Telegraph lines ran alongside most RR tracks. Train orders were sent from station to station along the line by telegraph. Operators also wrote train orders on a special kind of green paper, almost a tissue like paper. These were given to the Engineer and the Conductor prior to the train leaving the yard. There were stations down the line, where other operators worked, as a train passed by, they would give them new train orders as the train rolled along, via a hoop extended which brakeman could catch with his arm. CAR INSPECTORS: (also called car-knockers and carmen) Car-knockers started out working at the rip track, where railroad cars could be repaired. After one had worked at the rip track long enough, they could advance to be a "box packer" packing waste in the journal boxes out in the yard, as necessary, and from there, on to being a car-knocker. Car knockers worked out in the yards on all shifts. When trains pulled into the yards and stopped, the engine was disconnected to go to the roundhouse. The car knockers walked the complete train and inspected every car. HOSTLERS: Hostlers were roundhouse employees who could "drive" the engines. They were responsible for all the movements of the engines while they were in the roundhouse area, until the next road crew picked them up to get them to the train they would be hauling out of the yard. The hostlers would move the engines onto the turntable and in and out of the roundhouse during the engines stays at Bluford. The engines went into the roundhouse where they were inspected, oiled, and any necessary maintenance work done. The roundhouse men also tended to the ashes and cinders from the burned coal, and kept the fire going to the engine, except when doing maintenance that required the fire to be put out. The engines were always pulled head first into the roundhouse and the smoke stack was then right under an exhaust port in the roof of the roundhouse, so the smoke would go outside. BOILERMAKERS: They worked in the boiler room and the roundhouse. CALL BOYS: A call boy's job was to go to a worker's shack or his house to notify him that his train was "listed" to move out and he was to report at such and such time. SECTION GANGS: Section Foreman's lived close to the yards in case of any track problems. SPECIAL AGENT: "Yard Bull" is what we called the Special Agent.  Basically the "Police Force" for the entire yard operation. The Yard Bull of the past were often seen as hobo chasers but as the WWII economy was kicking in there were very few jobless wanderers left. JANITOR: I think this is what the job was called, but it was really much more than that. They took care of the Yard Office building, the North and South End Checkers' Shanties and maybe more. Besides keeping all those clean, they hauled supplies to the Shanties, there was always water and ice in the water cooler jugs at the shanties as well as coal in the little bins beside the coal heating stoves in the winter.

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