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This article was published in the September 2005 issue of the Bull Sheet

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'Precious Moments' on the Railroad

[By Allen Brougham]

Scattered throughout previous issues are reminiscences from my 30-year career on the railroad - many of them fond, some of them not so fond - but never before have I attempted to catalog into one article those moments that stand out as being my favorites. Briefly, and in reverse sequence of when they occurred, here are the top four. Each example assimilates a contribution to history, an opportunity to represent life on the railroad to an interested public, and a personal legacy I shall most wish to be remembered:

October 6, 2000... I was on duty at HO Tower, Hancock, West Virginia... Miller Tower - my previous duty station - had closed just a week and a half before. Following a week of vacation, I assumed the second-shift position at Hancock on October 5. This, then, was my second day at my new duty station. In fact, I was still in training; George Spies was on duty with me to assist (but the following day I would work the position by myself). Something very exciting was about to happen. I knew that it would (it was prearranged). Two charter buses pulled up outside. They conveyed about 80 members of the B&O Historical Society who were on a field trip as part of their annual convention being held that year in Cumberland. They came to visit the tower. But there were time constraints; they could only stay about 45 minutes, and the tower would only hold about a dozen people at any one time. Not wishing to deny any of these fine folks the opportunity of a guided tour, I hurriedly arranged with the tour leaders an assembly-line type of dialog; they in turn grouped the participants in such a way that most in the party could inspect the linkage in operation and activities from outside the building while relays of about a dozen participants could ascend into the office for a brief visit. I began each session at the bottom of the steps with a safety blitz, and then led them into the office for a short talk followed by questions and answers. Meanwhile, George (bless his heart), agreed to work the desk so I could devote full time to the visitors. This was fortuitous, as it developed, as a train was making a setoff within the plant during most of the visit, and I could never have devoted the time needed for a guided tour had I had to work the desk by myself. Indeed, that the tower was in such a busy work mode enhanced the visit for the participants involved, and I know that it was a huge success. I recall, too, meeting a number of folks for the first time who told me that they were readers of the Bull Sheet. It was a wonderful experience for all of us. (I retired from the railroad two months later.)

September 24, 2000... I had spent eight years of duty at Miller Tower, and this was to be its final day. I had requested the honor of being the tower's last operator, and my request was granted. Twenty-five people gathered to be part of its final minutes, and I arranged a ceremony to mark the locking of the door. Active participants - in addition to myself - included Michael Koch (clergyman), Tom Kraemer (guitarist), Mario Hendricks (drummer), Paul Swain (operator), and Marvin Duvall (retired operator). The ceremony began with a song ('Bless This House,' modified to fit the occasion), a silent last visit by all in attendance to the interior accompanied by guitar selections from the Baroque era, a greeting to those assembled, a prayer, a reading of my final entry onto the train sheet, a three-minute interlude accompanied by guitar for a silent recessional of past operators who were there 'in spirit,' a 10-second drum roll, a recessional of the active participants (I stayed behind), a final sounding of the tower's horn, extinguishing the interior lights, the locking of the door, and then I descended for the last time. It was quite emotional. My sense of history told me that it should be done in no other way. The tower's closing ceremony honored its century-long legacy.

March 5, 1992... The only other time I got to close a tower was similar in spirit to the one described above. I had served at JD Tower, Hyattsville, Maryland, for six and one-half years, and on this particular date I was honored to be its last operator. Here again, I had requested that honor. The closing ceremony began at the end of the shift with about 20 people in attendance. Active participants included Mark Nieting (clergyman), Mario Hendricks (drummer), Donald Breakiron (retired operator), and Bob Uhland (former operator). My final entry into the tower's logbook - which I read aloud - concluded with: "This, then, is my last entry to the JD logbook, and all operators who have heretofore served this station and are here with us in spirit, will be invited to depart with us now as I prepare to lock the door. I value the honor of being the station's last operator. JD Tower Alexandria Junction, Maryland, rest in piece." Later, the logbook was given by the railroad back to me, and I still have it.

September 29, 1990... The three examples above surely qualify as 'Precious Moments,' but what occurred on this particular date shall forever rank as my all time favorite. HX Tower, Halethorpe, Maryland, had been my duty station for ten years when it closed in 1985. It was still standing, though, and in use by the signal department as a maintainer's office. I came up with an idea to return to the place, with all my friends, for a day of nostalgia. The division manager agreed to the plan, and on September 29, two days prior to the actual fifth-year anniversary of its closing, the tower was reopened for an event known as 'Remembrance Day.' The second-floor office portion of the building was put to use for the showing of videos, the parking spots became a picnic area, and an RDC Budd car with tables (borrowed from MARC) was spotted on the track in front of the tower for use in socializing. Approximately 90 people - including employees, retired employees, friends and railfans - came to the tower for 12 hours of pure fun. As day turned into night, an outdoor slide show emerged in a corner of the parking lot. It was an event long to be remembered. I was especially proud of it, and very grateful to the railroad for its superb cooperation by allowing it to happen.