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LINK="#FF3C00" VLINK="#3C3CFF" ALINK="#EE0000"> Philly Division's Last Block Operators

Philly Division's Last Block Operators

Sometimes, as railfans, we get caught up with locomotives, paint schemes, train symbols and technology. Sometimes we forget the most important component of railfanning: people. We sometimes also forget that for most of us, the railroad provides a diversion or escape. For others, it is their employment. It can be most interesting to talk with railroad employees and learn about their lives. Some employees share our hobby, others are amused by it. Others still are annoyed by it, and a small few of these display this proudly. We must remember that railroads exist for many reasons, the last of which is to provide our entertainment. Railroad companies affect their employees and their families, both positively and negatively. This is something we may want to keep in mind while out enjoying our favorite yard or junction...

In the summer of 1996, trackwork on the Philadelphia division brought block operators to the Reading and Harrisburg lines. On the Harrisburg Line, operators were stationed either at Derry (in Hershey PA) or at Sheridan (near Womelsdorf PA). On the Reading Line, an operator could have been found at the hand crossover at Lyons. Both at Derry and at Lyons, I have spoken with the last 3 block operators on the Philadelphia Division.
I first met Frank Reidlinger at Lyons, but I have not met up with him since that time. He hired on with the Pennsylvania in the 1950's. The next day I met Homer Enyon, a tall, friendly, man who is willing to share any information he has. He hired on with the Pennsy in 1956, working within the Middle Division.

Operator Frank Reidlinger hoops up orders to rail train WOR-104 at Lyons, PA on June 22, 1996.

Block Operator Jim Largent hoops up orders to ALCS-3 (left) and ALNS-3 (right) on June 3, 1996. He was stationed at Lyons for several weeks in June, hooping up Form-D's and aligning the hand crossover. He, Frank, and Homer were often found here, at Derry (Hershey) or at Sheridan. Scenes such as these are increasingly rare...

Soon I found the last of the three, Jim Largent, a native of Carlisle. He hired on with the PRR in the late 1950's. He originally worked on the Cumberland Valley line, between Harrisburg and Hagerstown. He is the youngest of the remaining operators, and sees little hope for his future. When he hired on, the block operator had a stable job either at an interlocking tower or at a temporary block station. This is no longer the case; the block operator at a temporary block station receives considerably less respect than his predecessors.

Jim worked at Lemo Tower in Lemoyne for some time; Lemo Tower is restored and located at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania in Strasburg. He also worked in various locations in and around Hagerstown, MD. Jim also worked at Banks Tower and Rockville Tower from time to time. After a few years' lay-off, Jim was called back after a senior man retired. Jim began working Temporary Block Stations on the Harrisburg Line (and also the Reading Line once the Harrisburg Division was merged into the Phila. Div. in 1996). TBS stations are in effect when trackwork or other maintainence requires trains to be detoured against the flow of traffic. Under NORAC rules, such a movement requires a clearance Form D to be issued. The TBS station generally is located at a hand-throw crossover; the operator is responsible for throwing crossover switches and issuing Form D's as necessary.

Since 1995, I've caught up with Homer and Jim at Derry, gleaning the above information. I have spent several hours with Jim Largent at Derry and at Palmyra this summer (1997), witnessing the last stand of the block operator. Merger concerns make their job future questionable, assisted by persistent rumors of the remoting of the remaining crossovers on the Harrisburg Line. Currently, TBS stations can be found during summer trackwork seasons at Derry, Palmyra, Millards, Sheridan, CG (Colebrookdale), and Tillys. If these crossovers are remoted, the necessity of block operators would be questionable.

Check out a Conrail Form D.

Temporary Block Station "Derry" was in service on October 22, 1996. Derry locates on Conrail's Harrisburg Line (milepost 99), in the middle of Hershey, PA. Operator Jim Largent hoops up a Form D to train XBM-35; an eastbound empty coal train to the Reading & Northern at Reading, PA.
Photo by Melanie L. Good
Block Operator J. D. Largent hoops up orders to ENAL-8X at TBS Palmyra, on July 17, 1997.
Jim Largent is seen hooping orders to BEPI-1 at Derry Road, Hershey; on May 11, 1997.

This page was created and maintained by J. Alex Lang, © 1996.
Last updated December 21, 1997
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