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Park Transfer: 1925

Park Transfer: 1925

Washington, D.C., 1925. Something for the railfans, something for the truckfans. "O.D. Boyle" is all it says here. National Photo glass negative. View full size.


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Polin' the cars

michaeljy says the practice of poling cars was abandoned relatively early by Class I roads, but maybe not so ... in Winston Link's masterful history "The Last Steam Railroad in America," he includes two pictures (pages 100 and 101) of a brakeman poling a gondola on the Abingdon division of the Norfolk & Western some time between 1955 and 1957, when the division was dieselized completely.

Locomotives continued to be made with pole sockets right up until the end of steam.

Pole Sockets

Pole sockets were the receptacles for push poles. Sometimes it was necessary (or at least convenient) for various reasons to move a car on an adjacent track that you could not couple your engine to. To accomplish that you used a push pole held in place by a crew member. The inherent danger of such a maneuver caused the practice to be outlawed relatively early on Class I railroads, but on backwoods short lines where operations were not so constricted by rules, it continued much later. And, railroads being railroads, no one really wanted to go to the trouble of changing any blueprints, and pole sockets continued to appear on equipment long after no current employee could remember seeing them used. Here's a photo of a push pole mounted under the tender of a Mississippi Central steam engine, probably from the 1930s.

O.D. Boyle

O.D. Boyle was a yard brakeman for the B&O, working in Washington DC, in 1918. The connection to this photo is beyond me, though. See Page 22 here.

Boxcars then & now

There is a world of difference between boxcars of a century ago and those of today, although these do look more modern than the solid-tired GMC truck. These boxcars have corrugated steel endwalls, but the sides of the one to the right are all wood. So you can imagine the steel-rod-and-turnbuckle structure on the bottom, the kind hobos are seen riding in the cartoons, and which needed constant adjustment. The knuckle couplers on these boxcars do not have the horizontal slot intended to receive a link during the transition from link-and-pin couplers of two decades earlier. It remains for better railfans than myself to say how quickly these were upgraded to solid knuckles.

Modern boxcars do not have a roofwalk, and the ladders do not reach the roof. Besides the work-related injuries of having brakemen climb up on the roof, there was the ever-present liability of unauthorized persons getting up there.

Since the '60s, boxcars, and all revenue rolling stock, have been getting larger. They have steadily been lengthened, and bridges have been raised to accommodate increased height.

Finally, journal boxes have given way to Timken roller bearings. I suspect the word "journal" refers to the fact that these bearings once required daily attention. The top-hinged doors on the boxes would seem to attest to this. A major reason cabooses (or cabeese) had cupolas on top was so the crew could watch out for overheating bearings.

My dad says that solid bricks of lubricant were available to dump into a problem journal box, as a stop-gap until the train could be brought into the yard. A large portion of his career at Texaco involved the development of an ideal lubricant for roller bearings, which since the '70s have completely replaced journal boxes.

As I (also) See It

The reporting mark on that middle car (N.K.P) is more accurately defined as: NKP - NEW YORK, CHICAGO & ST. LOUIS RR (NICKEL PLATE ROAD) now, of course, the NORFOLK SOUTHERN RWY. CO.[*]. The name's origin is interesting as told here: Origin of the Name Nickel Plate Road.


That's a GMC truck, probably about 1915. First GMCs were built in 1912. Already pretty old at the time of the picture.

Timeless boxcars

Some things change, some don't. Cars and trucks have changed tremendously in 88 years but a 1925 boxcar looks very much like a 2013 boxcar.


Carmen, inspectors who walked incoming trains before they were switched out (called "Toads" in railroad slang) carried a 1" diameter stick of chalk on their walks. If they found anything that needed minor attention (such as a loose bolt or cotter pin, brake shoes needing replacement, or worn air hose) they would chalk a symbol on the corner of the car to tell other repairmen. These symbols were not universal, and varied from yard to yard.

If they found a major defect (such as a brake defect, safety violation, or worn bearings) they stapled a postcard size card onto the side of the car, reading "Bad Order" and what the defect was. When the switchman broke up the train a Bad Order tag superceded any other instructions for the cars routing and it was placed in the "Rip", or repair yard.

Chalk Mark

Lower right side of closest car, just above the "pole socket": anyone know what it means?

This is the "B" end

To report mechanical issues, or describe anything concerning a railroad car, you need to be able to differentiate one end from the other. The "B" end of any car is the end where the hand brake is located. The opposite end is the "A" end. This practice is still followed today.

Centrifugal Dirt Collector

The things you learn at Shorpy. A few Googles and I was at pp. 88-89 of the December 1909 issue of "Air Brake Magazine". The subject collector is placed in the air line upstream of the triple valve. The shape of the chamber swirls the dirt around until gravity takes it to the bottom, where it stays.

Team Track

This would be a Team Track, where rail customers without spurs to them could receive goods. A series of parallel tracks, separated by a roadway where a team of horses with a wagon, and later motor trucks, could pull up alongside the railcars and transload goods from, or destined to, local customers.

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