By Jane Ernsberger
Times-Junction News Editor
Editor’s Note: This is the first of two stories featuring signal maintenance on the railroad and its history.
A lifelong career working on the railroad is still a part of life for John Morrow, even with retirement in 2006.
The longtime signal maintainer saw the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad become the Chessie System and finally CSX Transportation. Through it all, he worked in a number of towers including Nova, Sterling and Greenwich. He will have a display set up at Buck’s Hardware in downtown Greenwich on Friday, March 22 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for railroad fans, young and old, to see a unique part of railroad history.
“I started in January 1969 at the Willard Hump,” Morrow recalled. “On Nov. 15, 1976, I took a job at Greenwich covering an area that ran from Willard to Sullivan.
“I took care of switches, signals, road crossing flashers and the pole line by myself. Later it expanded from Lodi to Warwick (which was also known as Clinton) to the Willard Hump.”
Morrow said he was on call “24/7” and had a company truck that he took home.
“I could be called out a couple of times in the night, and my wife wouldn’t even know I was gone,” he said. “One time for one week I had more overtime than any signal maintainer on CSX, which includes the eastern part of the United States.”
Working on a railroad is a dangerous job. Morrow said he had a guardian angel who watched over him for 38 years while he did his job.
The tower was used to control train traffic, cross trains over to another track and put them in the siding, according to Morrow. Workers could also hand up messages to the train and watch to see if there were any defects in the trains.
In order to switch trains over to a different track in the Nova tower, Morrow said workers used large levers that were different colors. Those levers were connected to a steel pipe which went down the tower and along the tracks to move the switch point in the track.
“This is done,” he explained, “pushing or pulling a black painted lever. A blue lever locked the switch in place, and if the switches were all locked, you could pull a red lever to give the train a signal.”
While the name has changed several times over the years, Morrow said he, like a number of retirees, recall the Baltimore & Ohio as the best time.
“The Baltimore & Ohio is the oldest American railroad in continuous existence,” he pointed out. “It was chartered by the Maryland legislature on Feb. 28, 1827 and became the first of a vast rail system now known as CSX.”
On March 22, Morrow will be able to share his collection of memorabilia and set-ups showing much of the work done by signal maintainers. He will also be able to talk about the various towers including those in Greenwich and Nova.
Morrow has a photograph taken in 1915 at the tower in Plymouth. The photograph features Clint Fishbaugh from Greenwich with several other workers. The photograph shows the pipeline that connects to the tracks.
“It looks like they are working on the locking for the switch,” he pointed out. “I got the picture from his grandson, Jim Fishbaugh.”
The other men in the photo remain unidentified. Morrow said he is hoping someone can help him find the names of the railroad workers.
Morrow said he will be at the display on March 22 to “talk railroading” and describe the items.
The second story will tell about the railroad towers throughout the line that Morrow took care of during his career. They will be featured at the March 22 display at Buck’s Hardware in Greenwich.