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Message Received: 1943

Message Received: 1943

March 1943. "Dalies, New Mexico. Conductor C.W. Tevis picking up a message from a woman operator on the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe between Belen and Gallup." Photo by Jack Delano for the Office of War Information. View full size.


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More about "Flimsies"

In addition to what SouthBendModel34 said, the paper used was thin to make it easier for the agent or operator to write multiple copies "in Manifold".

Double sided carbon paper was used and placed behind the first page of a manifold, and behind each of the other odd numbered pages. If handwritten, a stylus was used as a writing instrument - not a pen or pencil. If typewritten, typewriters without ribbon were used. The first page and all subsequent odd pages had the message on the backside of the paper, and were read through the paper. Even numbered pages had the message on the front.

As many as 10 pages could be prepared simultaneously, whereas if single sided carbon paper was used only half that number could be prepared at once.

Another feature of the "flimsies" paper is that is was fairly waterproof, and that messages from the carbon paper did not smear.

Here's a 60 year old example of such a flimsie as might be handed up to a crew as shown in the original photo.

Why "Flimsies"

Some of the other commenters have mentioned that the old-time train orders were nicknamed "flimsies" because they were on lightweight paper.

The thin paper allows light to come THROUGH the paper. This allows the order to be read by the light of a dim kerosene lantern or even the light of an open steam locomotive firebox door.

This practice of using translucent paper continued far into the diesel locomotive era. Bright interior lighting is not wanted in any locomotive cab - it cuts the crew's night vision.


Does anyone know how fast this train would have been moving? I know nothing of railroads, but quite a bit about photography, and I'll say that even with great skill, the perfect timing of this exposure involves at least a little bit of luck for the photographer. And the faster the train was moving, the greater the luck/skill ratio required. Until a definitive answer arrives, I'll give an educated guess based on the relatively limited motion artifact that the train was not going very fast at all.

A. V. O.

The "flimsies," so called because of the lightweight paper used, contained dispatching orders for the train. For example, that they should proceed to siding xxxx, clear the main line, and wait until train number YY passed before proceeding. This was part of an elaborate system of decentralized traffic control, documented in a book called "Rights of Trains," revised by Peter Josserand, head dispatcher of the Western Pacific railroad and a friend of my father. Flimsies and other forms used by the WP typically carried the letters "A. V. O." at the top, which stood for "Avoid Verbal Orders." Misunderstandings could be fatal.

On message hoops..

There were variations - we at the CPR used a steamed wood hoop design, made in Angus shops. These worked well, unless you were the station junior clerk who had to gather them up from down the line after they were dropped by the train the pic, notice the flimsy dates from the Multimark era (the Multimark was in use from 1968 until 1987 or so)

The practice continued

This practice continued on Class ones until the advent of cab signals. Here is a Conrail train picking up orders at a temporary block station in November, 1978

Re: Cigarette Holder.

In those days, a lot of men rolled their own smokes as it was far cheaper than buying premade. Usually, this led to loose tobacco getting into your mouth, on your face or clothes (been there, done that). As a result, many chose to use a cigarette holder to crimp the smoke and keep the tobacco where it belonged. It wasn't just the fashion statement as in the case of FDR!

The message device

is called a Train Order Hoop even though it is Y-shaped. The name comes from the shape of an earlier device that was used for the same purpose, to deliver messages to non-stop trains as they passed a station.

The paper containing the message was tied to a loop of string that in turn was held by the 'hoop'. The man on the train would stick his arm through the loop and snag the string with the attached message.

This was a improvement over the older system where the entire hoop was snagged. After the message was removed the hoop was thrown from the train for the person on the ground to retrieve, sometimes quite a distance down the track.

(It wasn't a great feat to get a crisp picture of the conductor, he was traveling at the same speed as the camera.)


Extraordinary photo, certainly shoots way up immediately in my Delano favorites. Here's a man, not at all young, with strong and hardened hands, performing a physical task nimbly and efficiently -- while smoking! -- with a cigarette holder!! I look forward to the comments on the details of this message device. (The woman: a blurred statue beside the dynamic conductor, caught crisply at precisely the right moment.)

Clarence W Tevis

Found in the 1940 census with wife Ferol? in Gallup New Mexico. Both born circa 1891. Listed as Railroad Conductor. Died 4 June 1971 in San Diego CA. RIP

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