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(erielack) Speaking of Radios

Speaking of radios that didn’t speak so well back on the EL, I remember 
working third HX one night with a 90 coming down the County around 4:30 am.  
I called the Croxton Yardmaster at KW and he wasn’t sure yet what to do with 
90; he would get back to me.  A few minutes later, ring ring, he wanted 90 
to come in on the westbound yard track from HX, as something was blocking 
the eastbound.  DARN!! 90 was already on the bell and lined up at BJ 
(Rutherford Jct.), where I otherwise could have conveniently swung him over 
to track 1 for a smooth move to the westbound yard track at HX.  Now I had 
to pull him over the bridge, cross him over to the westbound passenger main, 
then back him onto the bridge again to pull east onto the westbound freight 
track.  Luckily, 90 only had about 20 cars that day.  But still, everything 
would have to go right in order to avoid delaying 1600, which had to run on 
the westbound from NJ&NY Jct. (“HB” to you true EL railroaders) and was due 
there at 6:36. Due to the lack of a crossover at HB, all NJNY trains had to 
use westbound track 1 to and from HX.  Back in the 60’s there was a 
hand-throw crossover at HB, and back in the 40s and earlier, when HB Tower 
still existed, there were full crossovers for all 4 tracks, see the pic on 
p. 111 of Jones’ Pascack Valley Line; and by the late 90s, NJT put 
crossovers back in at HB.  But in 1973, sorry! No crossovers.

So, I got on the radio: HX to 90.  No response.  Try again.  No response.  
Oh darn, another road freight without a radio.  Even in 1973, that still 
happened; radios crapped out just as easily on SDP45s as on F3s.  I could 
pull him up on a yellow signal to the tower, go outside and stop him and 
have chat about what to do.  But I knew that sometimes a train radio could 
receive but not send.  So I took the lazy man’s approach.  I picked up the 
receiver: HX to 90, if you can hear me, blink your headlight.  Look out the 
window. Blink!  OK, hello 90, we have to put you down the westbound into 
Croxton, I’ll cross you to the westbound main, and then you’ll stop once 
you’ve cleared the plant and look for a signal to back up onto the bridge.  
Blink if you heard that.  Back to the window.  Blink!  OK, give him the 
signals.  Here he comes.  Over the bridge, onto the westbound, clear of the 

BUT . . . . he’s still going!  Back to the radio – HX to 90, you can stop 
now, I’ll line you westbound.  No dice, he keeps on going, and was soon on 
the bell at Bergen Junction.  Darn, why did I rely on a faulty radio?  I 
‘fessed up about what happened to the West End dispatcher, Charlie Howells.  
Charlie was a good dispatcher, but he could get a little bit dramatic when 
things weren’t going right, as I found out the first night I worked with him 
on the third trick at SF Suffern (years later, I met Charlie down in Hoboken 
and joked around about his yelling at me that night; he said, “well, you 
deserved it, didn’t you?”  I probably did, for the same reason -- not making 
sure about communications and understanding).

But on this night, Charlie was pretty mellow about things.  I guess he 
figured it was more of a yarding problem than a road problem; but it was 
still MY problem, so he suggested that I ring the maintainer’s bell at 
Bergen Junction and get 90’s crew on the land line.  Good idea!  I got the 
conductor on the phone and explained the situation.  Could he still back up 
to HX and get clear by 1600’s time?  Yea, he said he could.  So I put a 
block on the eastbound signals at HX and HB and gave him permission to back 
up.  And then crossed all my fingers.  As he was coming back “against 
traffic”, he had to at least feign a stop at the one or two automatics 
between Bergen Jct. and HX.  It was past 5:30 now.  I finally saw the 
caboose creeping up towards the bridge.  Charlie called, “hey HX, how’s that 
90 doing”?  “He’s coming on the bridge now”.  “OK, let me know when he’s out 
of the way”.  Finally, I get to throw the switch and line 90 up for the 
westbound Croxton lead.  The caboose passes the tower and Charlie asks, “is 
90 in?”  “Just about”.  Finally, with the clock hands straight up and down, 
I “OS” 90 into the yard.  And I admit to Charlie, “yea, I gotta be more 
careful about relying the radio”.

PS . . . . .  Charlie worked a bit for Conrail, then retired.  He moved to 
Florida and started a motel called “Howells' Junction”.  He passed sometime 
in the late 80s.  The other day I was perusing the “erie lackawanna” items 
on eBay, and saw an October, 1962 employees timetable for the NY Division, 
with 12 hours left to bid.  Base price was $7 plus $3 shipping.  No one had 
bid yet.  Perhaps $10 was a bit steep, especially since somebody had written 
on the face of the timetable; it wasn’t in mint condition.  I looked at the 
enlarged image, and saw the writing on it: “CHARLES HOWELLS”.    Of course, 
I had to bid.  And I won it.  Memories of Charlie live on.

Jim Gerofsky

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