New York Central Railroad

by John Hinson

As few as 40 mechanical signalling towers existed in the USA by 1998, modernisation and rationalisation has wiped them out much faster than in the UK.

SY Interlocking, or Shelby Tower, is one of the many that have gone. It was located in Northern Ohio, where the New York Central (today part of Conrail) and Baltimore & Ohio (now part of CSX) Railways crossed on the level.

Shelby interlocking tower
Photograph 1982, by David Dupler

This view shows the scale of construction of the tower, which apart from being elevated on a steel base (a practice occasionally found in the UK) also possesses a wide floor-size by UK standards. In the background can be seen semaphore signals on both company's lines. Leaning against the pole in the foreground is a steel hoop for passing Crossing Orders to drivers, or engineers - this is called hooping-up. US trains are built to a larger loading gauge than in the UK, so the engineer is very high up in his cab and cannot reach down to somebody ground level.

Operator's desk, Shelby tower
Photograph 1982, by David Dupler

Inside the tower, in one corner, is the operator's desk - a mass of papers and communication equipment - plus the statutory "cuppa".

Track layout board, Shelby
Photograph 1982, by David Dupler

The track diagram, or signal board, shows the track layout in a style reminiscent of the LMS diagrams of the 1930's and 1950's. Although one of the lines is double track, the signals marked on it suggest that both lines can be worked in both directions.

Interlocking frame, Shelby tower
Photograph 1982, by David Dupler

The lever frame, or interlocking machine is a typical US&S frame. The lever colours are basically similar to those in the UK. Red is for home signals, yellow for distant signals, blue for point locks, black for points, and blue/black for combined point and lock. The half-white levers are presumably out of use.

Dale DeVene wrote to say that he and his wife Susan visited the tower one fine cold day in February 1983 before the tower closed, when Jimmy Case was the operator on duty. He says "Seems as how these former "Big 4" towers being on stilts and built at the turn of the century had anything but insulation on the floor. Cold air, cold floors, cold feet! In later years this was corrected, but when Susan & I were there that cold day, whatever they had done, wasn't much. My feet were cold in a hurry! The lever room was not heated and gloves a must if you were sensitive to the cold levers. Comforts of home?? Not quite." He also adds that Jimmy, a great person and full of stories, sadly passed away around 1997.

I am very grateful to David Dupler for allowing this insight into recent US mechanical signalling to appear here, and for helping me with information about the location. Larger versions of these images, and many more of other signalling towers will be found on his own web site. I am also grateful to Mike Brotzman for drawing my attention to David's site, Dale DeVene for some personal recollections and to James R Calvert for some additional information about the frame type.

Comments about this article should be addressed to John Hinson