This article was published in the April 1995 issue of the Bull Sheet
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Carroll Tower Memories
[By William E. Loechel]
The writer's father, the late William Loechel, also known as the "Dutchman," was a B&O telegrapher serving most of his career at Carroll Tower in Baltimore.
The magnificent and awesome grip of memory so often takes me back to the many days and nights I spent "helping" my father in Carroll Tower. I was perhaps 12 years old when my visits started. My usual position was to sit in the creaky swivel chair that sat between the chimney and the long desk - just under the octagonal clock. I'd draw pictures or read until there was a chance to "help" by throwing levers. I recall that #20 and #16 took every bit of thrust or pull I could muster - often being in a horizontal position at the completion of the pull. Number 28 was easy, as were many of the others. The telegraphic messages were always a mystery to me, even though I had learned the Morse code. I was told that a telegrapher's message was almost like individual handwriting.
Anyway, I'd fill kerosene lanterns, or go downstairs to wait for a switcher engine where a man would hand down a five gallon jug of water which I would then carry up to the office and invert on the water cooler. The biggest thrill I suppose came when a light could be seen a mile away on an eastbound track...then closer...often rumbling past the tower just five feet away so that the vintage building shook. The frightening noise was then followed by the rhythmic pulses of the clickity-clack of a long line of freight cars...then to fade into the distance heading east.
I often had the scary privilege of holding a looped bamboo stick with a message clasped to it for a fireman to hook his arm through as the train went by. This meant standing just a bit away from the ends of the crosstie and hoping the catcher's arm was aimed at the loop.
For a while there was a cat who'd wait for my father on night duty, cross the tracks with him, then curl up in the sumptuous warmth of the tower and sleep. But this cat was fascinated by the telegraph key. Had he learned how to open it, he could have baffled someone with the "message" he often tried to send.
On a bright summer day, I'd fly my model airplanes from the 20-foot height of the porch.
From that tower I was given a ride on a switcher engine to Bailey's Roundhouse where I met Mr. Wilbur Galloway, who let me climb on the old engines I had seen at the 1927 Fair of the Iron Horse, and to roam the roundhouse long before it became a museum.
On another occasion I was given a ride on a steam engine from the tower to Clifton Park, where I then walked home. Not many youngsters can recall such a thrill.
Years later some very special gifts from the tower came to me by the following happy accident: Married and living in Bethesda, Maryland, my family visited Baltimore several times a year. Although I'd often suggest we stop and visit the tower on the way home, none of the family shared the enthusiasm. But one day I stood my ground and stopped, climbed the stairs and went in. There was Charlie Fair, looking just as I had remembered him, and he remembered me. And he had a present for me...knowing I'd be back for a visit some day. (Had I visited one day earlier he would not have been there, and had I come one day later he would have begun his vacation.) The gifts were the key and sounder my father had used during his many years there. What a treasure!
It is said that when one is young, thoughts are on romance. At 72, I must still be young, as my "love affair" with Carroll Tower still goes on.
Sketch of Carroll Tower drawn by the writer as a Christmas gift for his father a number of years ago
- Names from the Past:
- [Recalled by the writer from his visits to Carroll Tower as a boy]
- John (Smitty) Smith - maintenance crew chief
- Algernon Coman - telegrapher
- Charlie Fair - telegrapher
- Dave Reese - telegrapher
- Bill Founds - maintenance crew
- Young Smitty - son of John
- Wilbur Galloway - custodian, Baileys
- Hudson - trackman
- Hoke (?) Jacobs - telegrapher
- Dyson - railroad detective