Canadian Pacific Railway Set-off Siding
Agent or Operator

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.

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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.

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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 salary.

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.

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