US SIGNALLING TOWERS
by Mike Brotzman
Tuckahoe tower was built by the Reading RR (RGD) in the
1920's. Tuckahoe was where the Ocean City and Cape May branches diverged. In
1934 the Reading lines in South Jersey merged with the PRR lines and formed the
Pennsylvania Reading Seashore Lines (PRSL). By the 1960's the tower controlled
a single track that split into 2, a turning wye, various sidings and local
Tuckahoe used a manual lever rack with about 25 levers. The levers
were connected to the switches via pipeline. Instead of wires long steel pipes
on rollers operate the switches. If you look in front of the 2 lower windows
you see where the levers connected with the pipes. You can also see the
staircase in back and the chimney. Note the fishscale siding on middle of the
tower. This is a common feature in South Jersey for both PRR and RDG
structures. All the windows are boarded and you can see the old relay box and
telegraph pole. This tower was painted in PRSL colors, cream white with ivy
green trim. If you note there is an old glass insulator still on the pole.
After this picture was taken I climbed up and got it; they make great gifts.
When I first visited this site I was amazed to find the tower
still standing. When I found the door unlocked and the levers still intact I
was knocked off my feet. Here you can see the lever frame. They come in 4
colors, white, blue, black and yellow. It is very hard to take pictures inside
a cramped tower so I had to use more than 1 shot to get all the levers in.
Unfortunately the track diagram (signal board) had been removed.
In the mass of papers around the operators desk I
found a booklet entitled "Conrail: Special Instructions Governing Construction
and Maintenance of Signals and Interlockings." I was going through it and I
found rule 428 regarding the colors of interlocking levers. A home signal lever
is Red, an approach signal lever is yellow, a facing point lock lever is blue
(see note 1), a switch lever is black, a traffic lever is green, a
master lever is brown and a spare lever is white. As you can see there is a lot
of spare levers in this 25 lever rack (#1 is closest to the desk). I also count
only 4 levers that operate switches. In a 1969 pic of the tower the levers
appear to be the same up to the second black lever. The tower only controlled a
single track junction with a siding and wye track. At the most it needed only 5
switches. Back in the day the tower was much busier and most of the now white
levers were all shades of yellow, blue and black.
In this picture you can see the operators desk. When I
first came here I had no flashlight and I had no clue what was in the tower.
When the pictures were developed I noticed many things for the first time. For
example there is some sort of radio on the desk. When I returned I found pay
stubs, time sheets and Conrail operating rule booklets. The desk is on the side
opposite the tracks along side the crew locker. The levers were operated from
the desk side with the board and other electronics located on the track-side
wall. Tuckahoe was responsible for routing the power plant bound coal trains,
the local Cape May freight and the RDC (DMU) passenger trains bound for Ocean
City and Cape May.
When I visited the tower the first time the bottom
room was also open. Some guy was using it to store his lawn mower and left it
open. I was able to get these two shots of the lever connections. The switch
levers connected to pipes that connected with the pipelines at the front of the
tower. The signal levers connected with relay boxes. You can also see the nice
wood trim on the walls. This is the part of towers that very few get to see.
This is not the realm of clean levers and track diagrams. It is a hopeless
tangle of pipes, steel and wires.
The view shows the other side of the tower. In 1983 NJ DoT
stopped passenger service to Ocean City and Cape May and so there was no reason
to keep the tower open. The Cape May line was abandoned and the Ocean City line
was only used down to the power plant. The tower was boarded up after over 60
years of use by 3 different lines. The shed in front of the tower is the
Tuckahoe radio repeater. This keeps the engine crew in touch with dispatchers
hundreds of miles away. Today Tuckahoe is only listed with Conrail as a block
limit station. A static sign labeled TUCK performs this duty. The track to the
right is Conrail's Beesley's Point secondary track to the power plant and is
used 6 times a week. The track to the right is owned by the Cape May Seashore
Lines. This short line owns the 9 surviving PRSL RCD's and runs them in
excursion service. They have bought and restored the Tuckahoe station and plan
the run the trains into it. There are also plans to restore the tower.
Note 1: Facing Point Lock A locking device which
automatically locks the switch points of a spring switch in normal position.
All photographs are copyright
© Mike Brotzman
Comments about this article should be addressed
to Mike Brotzman