Agent and Operators started being phased out of railway operations in the 1950s. Until the mid-1970s they were quite
common along most rail lines in North America, performing very similar duties in both Canada and America. There demise
started with the advent of CTC (Centralized Traffic Control), reliable telephone communication, fax machines, early
computer models, car readers, centralization, road construction into previously inaccessible locations, and more.
The Agent or Operator, he or she, performed two entirely different duties.
Depending upon station location copying train orders would be a very important part of his/her duties. A station
could be near the midpoint of a subdivision, or just one station out from a main terminal, or perhaps at a location
where just one order a week was copied, often in emergency situations only. The operator part invariably took precedence
over other duties as it involved keeping trains running fluidly. Most Canadian Pacific Railway stations had red and
green order boards, some railways used red, yellow, and green. Most order boards were manually operated indicating
written or typed paper orders were to be delivered to passing trains.
Other duties consisted of copying lineups for local section forces, and often others who required them, from the
dispatcher, up to 5 times a day. OS'ing trains, (Reporting train arrivals and departures.) maintaining proper blocks for
trains via the train order signal, keeping a standard clock, (Time comparison occurred at 10:00 hours daily) keeping the
station's register book where required. In some instances crews had to be called to duty where crew layovers occurred.
Sometimes, it was even necessary to fire up the wood stove in a Conductor's caboose.
An Agent's duties were much more complex and varied more widely than the Operator's. Basically an Agent was the
representative of the railway in that community around the station.
His duties were, but not limited to, ordering empty cars for any industry at that location and billing them out as
loads, including custom papers, and special tariffs if applicable.
Attending incoming loads to industries and private customers. (Household goods in car loads for instance.)
Incoming loads could also include whole Express cars or LCL (Less Than Carload). For example, LCL might be half a
carload of refrigerators for one customer and half a carload of dog food for another.
Looking after Express shipments, again this could vary widely depending on the number of passenger trains calling and
stopping at that particular station. The agent made a commission of 5 percent on every incoming and outgoing item (more
if interline). Business varied widely, where one agency would receive 2 or 3 items a week, others might see hundreds of
items a day. Some locations had their own draying companies to deliver shipments to the customer's door.
Selling passenger tickets, including interline, which might consist of overseas steamship tickets, and later, even
airline tickets. Baggage also had to be included in this category.
Provide public telegram and telegraph services, both local and international, including money transfers with the
selling and cashing of money orders, press releases, and coded messages for government agencies. Commissions were paid
on these particular duties.
An agent almost needed to be a fully qualified accountant. The month-end balance sheet was a major job and could
include more than 50 supporting documents depending on the location. It took days to prepare this paperwork and it had
to be accurate to the penny.
An Agent also received and dispensed company pay cheques.
Daily car service, and weather reports when required, kept the Agent busy. "Checking the yard", a daily
early morning occurrence, so the agent (and by extension the company) knew exactly what was in the yard. Often this was
also the Agent's only indication that something had been set-out overnight (dropped off from a passing train). Cars
might not be accompanied with a proper waybill. Car service was done via telegraph as late as 1965.
The Agent kept all the tariff books up-to-date. This was a major paper chore, often passed on to the night operator
when there was one, along with other duties.
Agents had their own dwelling, namely the station. Agent positions were advertised by telegrapher's bulletins twice
a month with "HFL", which stood for House, Fuel, and Light costing about $1.50 per month from the Agent's
Basic station maintenance, both for the company part and personal living quarters, was performed by the Agent. Any
major repairs were handled by the B&B Department (Bridges & Buildings). Some agents kept marvellous yards, Elma
east of Winnipeg, and Yale on CPR come to mind. At one time CPR ran a station garden competition across it's system that
encouraged some grand displays.
Canadian Pacific Railway Set-off Siding Vancouver Island British Columbia Canada