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One Second Fast: 1943

One Second Fast: 1943

March 1943. "Seligman, Arizona. Teletype operator in the telegraph office of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad. The time here changes from Mountain to Pacific time." Medium-format safety negative by Jack Delano. View full size.


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Two times

Until 1950 Seligman was the west end of the Albuquerque Division and east end of the Arizona Division -- the former ran on Mountain Time and the latter on Pacific. When the west end of the Albuquerque Division moved west to Needles, the time change moved west too.

And not just railroad time -- until the beginning of the war, road maps showed the time change at Seligman instead of at the state line as it is now.

"1 Second Fast" means the time on the clock is one second ahead of the correct time -- nothing to do with the rate at which the clock gains time. The crews that use the clock to check their watches don't care about that; they just want to know what the correct time is at this moment.

Seth Thomas 19's Standard Clocks

Bob Wells, Watch & Clock Inspector for Santa Fe, told me back in 1970 about the two 19's in Seligman. It was a unique period for several years that you could purchase Santa Fe clocks; mainly Seth Thomas clocks such as a #19, Gallery, School House,#2 and a few E. Howards. All Santa Fe timepieces were called in and eventually displayed in a warehouse in the San Bernardino yard including the two from Seligman. What a sight that was; there were five #19's side by side for sale and most remained on the wall for a year waiting for a buyer. The #19's with the Montgomery Dials as pictured sold for $3500, a #2 for $350 a School House for $100. Some internet chatter says over 300 of 19's were purchased by Santa Fe. Bob Wells said it was around 15.

It took me a year save $3500 to buy a #19 along with the one second sign just prior to Bob's retirement in '73 along with all Santa Fe Watch and Clock Inspectors thus ending an era. It arrived in a box car from Topeka. Bob and I drove his station wagon to the box car and then we drove to my house to set it up. Such service from a very nice man. He loved those 19's but was never able to afford one after retirement. We remained good friends and shop talked clocks until he passed away in the 80ies.

Last October a Santa Fe ST 19 went up for auction and sold in the 100K range. I just hope the two in Seliman got their Finials straighten out as they are incorrectly placed. For 100K, you want it perfect.

Noisy Machines

In 1967, I was in school learning how to use these Teletype machines. Talk about noisy! I was a fairly fast typist and the Teletype machine was a slow machine to type on, which was a bit frustrating when your fingers wanted to go faster than the machine did. These are ancient machines now but looking back to'67 I didn't have one thought to how old they were, I just didn't like all the noise and slowness of them. Thank God for progress!!

There's a clock like that in Sacramento

There is a similar clock on display at the Calif. State RR Museum in Sacramento. It is a work of art. These would be worth a fortune today.

Love the coat hook

I love how there is a nail in the wall for the coat hanger under the light switch. I can see her coming in in the morning, turning on the light, removing her coat and hanging it up there under the switch. Then turning it off at night. So practical. Not like today where light switches and coat closets are miles apart!


That sure looks like a Vibroplex bug sitting on the table just over her right shoulder...a semi-automatic morse code generator.

Standard time

It's because of railroads that we have time zones. Can you imagine trying to arrange a railway schedule when every town had its own time?


The military still used these teletypes when I was in the Army in the 1970's. If I remember correctly, the "shift" keys operated differently from typewriters. Character codes were shared between letters and numbers/punctuation with preceding LTRS and FIGS codes to shift between them. That is, when the FIGS key was pressed, a FIGS codes was sent and all subsequent character codes were interpreted as numeric characters (figures) until the LTRS key was pressed. That would send a LTRS code and return the unit to alphabetic operation.

Seth Thomas.

Cuando se tomó la fotografía los relojes ya eran bastante antiguos. Conservo, en buen uso, otro Seth Thomas que compró mi bisabuelo, algo menos sofisticado, pero que tiene la misma caja y los mismos adornos. He preparado una foto pero no sé como subirla...

One Second Fast

These signs were on all of the Santa Fe official clocks, if the clock got too far off of official time, the clockman would come in and fix the clock. Nobody but the clockman was allowed to adjust the official clock.

Good thinking

Wonderful filing system! Can't think of a better place for that fire extinguisher...


How fascinating! When I was a young teenager, one of my uncles was a dispatcher for the Baltimore and Ohio. His little shack, laughingly called a "tower," was about 10 by 10, and I recall his typewriter was all-caps, on which he typed the train orders and tied them in the "hoops" as mentioned elsewhere. There were three sets, and on a couple of occasions he let me hand them up. I had to stand on tiptoe as the steam loco passed and the trainman leaned far out to snag the order. Then, about mid-train, the conductor leaned out and got his, and finally the brakeman on the caboose got his. How long ago and far away!

Railroad Accuracy

As stated by Texcritic, timekeeping was critical for train operations. For example, a train order might direct one train to "wait at" a particular station until a specific time. This train order would also be directed to an opposing train who choose their meeting location based on this information. Conductors and engineers would be directed to check their watches with a standard clock at the beginning of each duty tour and no watch could be more than 30 seconds off the standard time. The clocks in the stations were checked at least once a day by a telegraphic signal from headquarters.

Old time precision surprises

Interesting, I had not heard of the telegraph time signal. It's the telegraph equivalent of radio station WWVB used by my kitchen clock!

32 keys

There were 32 keys, 26 letters and some punctuation. A shift key was used for numbers, much like early manual typewriters.


Clock Calibration

According to a photo caption of similar clocks in the book Faces of Railroading, the clocks were calibrated by a daily telegraph signal from the U.S. Naval Observatory.

Teletype Model 15

Teletype Model 15. A closeup of the keyboard if you scroll down the page a bit.

Back in the early 70s I had one of these machines hooked to my amateur radio and could send and receive teletype messages or "super low resolution" images formed by strategic placement of characters on the printer roll to make an image. Some of them were quite lengthy (banners) and took quite a while to receive or send. (Considerably slower than the slowest dialup connection).


Timely accuracy not withstanding, those two clocks look like they belong in some fine residence or the lobby of a hotel somewhere. Not the least bit industrial in design! I shudder to think what they'd be worth today or how hard it might be to find one!


Maybe the clocks are one second fast for when the operator has to record the time. By the time she records the time of day, one second has elapsed and the other end of the telegraph line is getting a more accurate reading.

The clocks

Since the clocks appear to have mercury compensated pendulums, they are probably free running - not slaved to a line master clock. One second no doubt refers to their 24 hour rate - they gain one second in 24 hrs.


The keyboard of the Teletype seems to have a lot fewer keys that a standard typewriter (or computer). Can any former operators remember what the difference was?


It's fairly common practice with delicate equipment to label or note an error, rather than trying to eliminate the error. When you open up the case and start turning screws or wiggling wires, you risk destroying the instrument. As long as the error is linear and predictable, it's less expensive to adjust your mind than to adjust the instrument.

One Second Fast

Accurate timekeeping was extremely important to railroads back in the day. Timepieces would be tested once a year, primarily pocket watches used by conductors and station personnel. I assume that the postings on the Seligman clocks were the result of some sort of test and this was used to indicate their accuracy rather than for a 1 second adjustment on train times.

Just a second

The idea was probably to glance at the time on the clock and by the time you typed in the time (about 1 second later) you would be as accurate as possible. Disregarding the question of "faster than what."


I've been to Seligman, too. On a drive from Flagstaff to Vegas.

It is the land that time forgot. I fully expected Rod Serling to come out with some kind of announcement.

However, I did get some cool stuff in some of those shops.


I've passed through Seligman on Highway 66 several times in the last 10 years. I was sad to learn that the Harvey House next to the train tracks was recently torn down.

Staying at the Supai Motel and having a mediocre breakfast in the diner down the street is as close to time travel as I've experienced.

Seligman history:

Next to the tracks

Note the bay window so the operator could see down the tracks and hoop up orders to the train crew. That is a railroad car outside.

Quartz? I don't need no stinkin' quartz.

One second? My overpriced Seiko isn't that accurate. Why one second fast? I see her coat hanging by the clocks. So she gets to go home a little early on company time?

Their timekeeping

seems to be quite percise, but the filing system (stacked in the window) looks a lot like my office!

Compared to what?

That "One Second Fast" thing intrigues me. What would they be comparing that to? One second faster than what? Had the atomic clock been put into service by that point?

Where's Waldo

There are all sorts of hidden treasures lurking in this picture. I love the visor that is hung behind the Pacific clock. Looks like it's probably chilly outside, too, seeing this young girl's furry-collar coat hanging on the wall.


I beg to differ with the caption. I believe that the time in Seligman never changes at all.

No more than a wide spot in the road, it had to have been the model for Radiator Springs in Disney's "Cars," bypassed by the interstate and frozen in time.

It's like the flippin' Twilight Zone out there. My Rasta roommate and I endured a breakdown 50 miles from Seligman on a trip from Southern California to college in Flagstaff, AZ many years ago. It was circling buzzards (really), and inbred locals (at a remote gas pipeline station), (1) meth-addled trucker, and (2) tow-truck drivers sharing graphic blood and gore stories the whole way to town.

Needless to say, Rasta Boy was terrified, and later asked me where I'd learned to "talk Hick." (I'm still not sayin'.)

Oh....for the Internet

I actually ran a Teletype machine in the mid 1960s, pretty much the same as these. One of my first full time jobs. I worked as a timekeeper for a construction site here in Ontario and had to send daily weather reports to the head office in Winnipeg. It was weird because you were always ahead of the machine as you typed, and there was no spell checker either ... shoulders back and sit up straight.

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