Friday, March 22, 2013

Waterbury Station Agent - Jim Murphy

One railroad employee who played a critical role in the safe operation of the Central Vermont Railway, and all railroads, was the station agent/operator. And one of these, Jim Murphy, a native of St. Albans, Vermont, reported to work in 1955 as a telegrapher. He retired from the railroad in 1998 as chief dispatcher. Jim has also served as something of an unofficial “historian” of the railroad and has, over the years, accumulated a vast collection of photographs, records, and artifacts – many of which were relegated to the trash heap by the railroad. He has also willingly shared many of his stories of working on the Central Vermont, and has played a key role in recording the oral history of many of his fellow railroad workers.
Jim worked up and down the railroad’s Northern Division, from White River Junction to St Albans, but spent much of his early career on the extra board, filling in for operators who were on vacation. 
He’s also a skilled “lightning slinger” and can send and read RR morse code with the best of them. He used to do a presentation for school kids and railroad clubs where he plays what is best described as an absent-minded station agent – but it’s really quite informative and extremely entertaining. (You have to remember Jim talks with a true “Vermonter” accent . . .) . During this talk he does a bit where he’s reading a message, while talking on the telephone to the freight agent, and dealing with any one of several wacky townsfolk who stop by to see what’s happening in the world.  
Yes, it sounds weird, but it was very entertaining. 
Since I’ve been working on the Waterbury, Vermont scene on my layout, I asked Jim if he’d ever worked there. Turned out it was his first job on the railroad! Recently, Jim sent me a series of emails outlining some of his experiences while working at Waterbury.
And, just for fun, here’s a picture of Jim at the ops desk in Essex Junction, circa 1957 (that's Murph to the lower right):

"Our typical day at Waterbury when I started with the railroad in the 1955 was unchanged from the earliest days of railroading. Copying train orders from the dispatcher and relaying these to the train crews were the ops primary duties. Telegraphers at most small stations, in addition to their railroad duties, worked for Western Union. 
The first time I worked at Waterbury the south end waiting room had been closed off even with the ticket office south wall and I think that the door into the south rest room was changed to open towards the ticket office. The south end was used by Buster Miles and Joe Belanger, both track supervisors. In the waiting room there were benches connected to the wall from the west wall to the east wall or track side then south towards the door that opened onto the platform. Also there were two other long benches which ran east to west with seating on each side. In the ticket office the only window into the waiting room was the angular one which pointed towards the west door into the waiting room. The operator sat facing the bay window on track side with the train order signal handles to his right."
"To see trains approaching from either direction without going outside there were two mirrors outside mounted at an angle so you could look into the mirror and look north or south. Behind the operator was the agent’s desk."
"On the north wall of ticket office from the door to the ticket window was a high shelf with storage beneath. The ticket case was on the west wall to the left of the ticket window on a continuation of the shelf on the north wall. No shelf on the south wall. The tall shelf on the north wall is where the 3rd trick operator rested (slept)."
"I cannot remember much about the businesses there at the time. There was the creamery, a coal dealer, and the grain dealer across from the station. The freight house north of the grain dealer handled all of the local customers so the agent and operator didn’t get mixed up with them except for the creamery. We made up the milk car waybill since the car was not ready when the freight agent was on duty. I remember nights when the “VERMONTER” #304 picked up the milk car there."
"The operator handled train orders and Western Union telegraph which also paid a good commission for each telegram sent or received. 
Sending, receiving, and delivering telegrams was engaging work. There was always a sense of urgency about a telegram. Many contained death notices or news of serious illness. Others announced births, anniversary wishes, or congratulations on a job well done. Those brought smiles, and tips, from the recipients. The railroad didn’t allow us to accept gratuities from a passenger, but Western Union had no such rule."
"The agent took care of ticket reports and railway express agency which also paid a good commission. When I first started working Waterbury the Montrealer stopped there but the Washingtonian did not. Later they made it a flag stop to pick up coach and sleeper passengers going beyond White River Jct. over to the Washingtonian. There was a small bus type van that did pick up passengers getting off the Montrealer #21 and #303 for the ski resorts in Stowe. Otherwise you took the local taxi. 

To get into some of the stories I can think of won’t be much but will try.
"As you know, the Vermont State mental hospital was across the street from the station and we always had patients drifting into the station at all times of night. They would just walk out of the hospital and for some reason came to the station. We had a number for the local police to call (they didn’t work nights then) and they would come over and pick them up and bring them back to the hospital, never any problems.
There was one story that one day the “AMBASSADOR” arrived and a young woman who had boarded the train at Montreal was put off since she had no more money and all she could buy was a ticket to Waterbury. That night she left Waterbury to New York first class all paid for. From the time she arrived at Waterbury until she left the agent disappeared for the day with her. I wonder what she gave him for her ticket?
3rd trick seems to be where all of the stories I can remember. Since there weren’t many trains during the night 3rd was a good time to catch up on your sleep on that tall counter I mentioned before.
One operator (not I) name withheld who later became a high official on the CV did not wake up in time to e on the platform when train #430 went south about 2am. When he heard the train whistling for the crossing just north of the station, jumped off the counter, turned on the platform lights, which the switch was on the wall to the left of the operators desk, grabbed his lantern which was sitting on the desk below the light switch and ran out to give the train the required highball to say he was on duty to check train going by. He turned on the lights ok but what he grabbed was the scissors phone used to talk to the dispatcher. Completely pulled all the wires out and screws and ran out waving it like it was a lantern. Had to temp rewire to talk to dispatcher.
One night I was standing at the window in the waiting room watching a train go by, #430 again, wondering where all the flat cars were going and he said only 2 flat cars on train. All I could figure out was I was sleep walking and dreaming I was seeing flat cars.
One of the other 3rd trick men found the railway express revolver
kept in the office under the ticket case. It was loaded so he sat there for some time with his back towards the ticket case shooting rats walking along under the operator’s bench. He then started to worry he might be hitting something important in the wall and  stopped.
Waterbury was also devastated by the flood of 1927 and the water tank just south of the station is where I am told that the engine crew from the milk train that was stranded south end of yard, spent the night when the water came up. Inside the waiting room, which had high ceiling the water got to about 12 feet deep. One night when there were a lot of trains running and rest was impossible, I decided to wash the walls of the station since they were cruddy. Did a very good job and was real proud of my work. When the agent came in the morning he got all upset. Seems that with all my good work I also washed away the high water mark left there thru the years. OOPS."

Cant think of much else. So good luck with your models of Waterbury - can't wait to see them! - Jim