Bulletin Board

 August 2003 Issue

Main Page


In drafting this study, the utmost appreciation is given to Michael P. Welsh who spent many hours of research a number of years ago to amass a plethora of records to document the history of interlocking towers in the region. It was his input that made possible historical studies of JD Tower (closed 1992), QN Tower (closed 1992), Miller Tower (closed 2000), West Cumbo Tower (closed 2000) and other information on towers as the need arose for historical import. It is his dedication to the cause that so much information on the legacy of interlocking towers has been preserved.

NA Tower in Martinsburg, West Virginia, opened circa-1900. One record indicated January 1900 as the construction date, while a signal pricing sheet showed installation as 1898. Whichever is correct, both records agree that the single-story frame tower had dimensions of 11 by 20 feet housing five working levers plus one spare lever controlling three signals, two switches and two locks. Cost of installation was $4,446 for the interlocking plant and $865 for the building, including appurtenances.

Records show that on January 24, 1912, a number 10 crossover was changed to a number 16 crossover at NA Tower. Then, in 1916 an updated interlocking system - perhaps superficial - was evidently installed at Martinsburg. This information was found in a newspaper item entitled "Martinsburg in the Past," published in the Martinsburg Evening Journal on March 21, 1936, from the same paper 20 years earlier. Mike could find no mention of this in the referenced issue of March 21, 1916, but noted the date as reference. A map dated June 1918 did show two crossovers in the vicinity of the tower, but no signals.

In early days, the tower was located immediately outside the northeast (rail direction east and west) corner of the Martinsburg train station, in front of the stone wall at the foot of Martin Street, next to the tracks (see photo). The tower was later moved about 300 feet east.

In June 1928, a detector locking circuit was installed in place of two detector bars of number 3 crossover; the addition of detector locking circuits, electric lock and time release; and the bottom arm of #6 eastbound home signal changed from pipe operation to electric signal. Then, in March 1939, the spare mechanical lever was put in service for an eastbound crossover from numbers 1 to 2 tracks along with three dwarf signals and the addition of 1077 feet of pipe, and the retirement of the eastbound freight track. Flashing train order lights were installed in November 1943.

A major change to the interlocking was begun in May 1948 to retire the tower's mechanical plant in favor of an all-relay type interlocking machine, and conversion of semaphore signals by replacing them with color-position light signals. A July 1947 memo from the engineering department to Colonel Roy White, company president, noted that the "present interlocker is an obsolete mechanical interlocking machine which is about worn out and because of general plans that we were considering for remote control, we did not feel we would be justified in proceeding with the renewal of the existing machine as the replacement with a mechanical machine that could be obtained would require the construction of a new tower, and while we would then have a mechanical plant that met the requirements, it would not lend itself to the ultimate protection of numerous other switches in the vicinity nor for remote control of the interlocking at Hobbs." The letter concluded: "This first step of the plan would involve an estimated cost of $35,306 and is based upon relay type of interlocking which makes use of desk type machine built in sections. This machine can be enlarged to include additional switches in the vicinity of Martinsburg and also to include remote control of the interlocking at Hobbs, if desired."

A separate engineering department memo written several days earlier reported that the railroad had been cited in 1945 by the Interstate Commerce Commission "account of excessive lost motion between the interlocking levers and the mechanical locking," a condition that had not been corrected. The memo added that the then-present interlocking machine was an obsolete type no longer in production.

Other improvements involved the installation of a dwarf signal on number 1 (westbound) track east of the crossovers at Queen Street to permit the movement of helper engines from the engine track to number 1 track to number 2 track against the current of traffic to the crossover at Burke Street without flag protection (since they had no flagman), and construction of a small rear addition to the tower. Work was completed in January 1949.

Another project (date unknown, but about the same time) involved replacement of an automatic signal with a controlled signal at Rattling Bridge, east of Martinsburg, to permit holding trains further back to avoid a dip which had caused difficulty to heavy trains in starting from the tower's home signal.

On July 24, 1950, the installation of remote control from NA Tower of the power switches at Hobbs, West Virginia, was completed and placed in service, and the tower at Hobbs was closed. The operator at NA Tower was provided with a seven-lever relay-type machine for remote control of the power switches and signals at Hobbs.

The retirement of the tower at Hobbs with control of its power switches along with those at Engle, West Virginia, remotely from NA Tower, had been considered as early as 1945. A company memo in January 1946, in response to a proposal the previous year, stated: "We do not anticipate any difficulty in handling the switches at Hobbs and Engle by remote control, but difficulties will be encountered in operating against the current of traffic under Manual Block Rules in case of a tie up on one of the regularly assigned tracks and for that reason, as well as that of increasing the capacity of tracks, we propose to signal the middle tracks for operation in either direction so that trains may be operated on those tracks by signal indication."

In fact, the middle tracks and the control point at Engle were eventually retired without installing the suggested bidirectional signaling. The matter of diverting trains against the current of traffic at Hobbs was accommodated by assigning extra operators to that location on an as needed basis to deliver train orders and provide 'OS' information until direct traffic control rules replaced manual block rules in 1987. The two remaining tracks through the area were still signaled in one direction only until July 19, 2003, and the control point at Hobbs was then retired altogether. With the latest signal project now completed, all tracks now employ bidirectional signaling.

Also, in July 1950, the convenience of plumbing was added to the tower, along with a storm vestibule at the entrance to the building and electrical improvements to the interior.

Work was begun to retire number 4 main track in August 1962, with work completed April 30, 1964. This also included the retirement of a bridge spanning Opequon Creek that had been built in 1912.

On July 30, 2003, Martinsburg Tower closed.


Switch, Signal & Control Point Changes Resulting From the Martinsburg Upgrade Project

Martinsburg Tower & the Blizzard of 1993