The Order Board
Red Board - There are orders for your train.
station displays two Order Boards. One indicates there are orders to be picked up for a particular direction
while the opposite indicates "Clear to Proceed" - 1975 Nanaimo.
Green Board - Clear to proceed, there are no orders for your train.
Many years ago Canadian Pacific Railway stations housed an Operator or Agent. From what I've learned the Agent was a better paying job
but carried more duties than an Operator. The operator had a desk or counter top on which to work, usually located in
the bay window of a station. Here he was in communication with the Dispatcher by telegraph. Over the passing years
telephone and radio communications were established. Today, Agents and Operators are long gone but some stations
are now connected to the company's computer network.
Trains were operated following a timetable which gave great importance to time and adherence to schedule. Each day
a precise time signal was broadcast by telegraph from headquarters in Montreal to each station on the system. Station
Operators would ensure their station clocks were set as close as possible to this published time signal. CPR
typically used pendulum clocks manufactured by the World Clock Company. These could be set within half a second of
the published time signal by adjusting the pendulum. The number of seconds each clock varied from published time was
placarded on the wall beside the clock, so many seconds, plus or minus the published time.
Running Trades (Conductor, Engineer, Fireman, Trainmen, etc.) were required to carry a pocket watch approved by the
company and inspected by CPR certified jewelers on a periodic basis. At specified stations train crews were required
to compare their personal watches with the time on the station clock and with each other. All this, just to
determine their train's location according to a timetable schedule. Time was all-important in keeping
trains separated to avoid collision.
There are inherent problems with time operation. What happens if a train is delayed, stalled, or somehow breaks down
on the road? This is where the telegraph provided safety with a method of controlling trains by Train Orders. A
Dispatcher could sit at some central location and "dispatch" trains by issuing instructions via the
telegraph. Todays Dispatchers, known as RTCs, (RTC - Rail Traffic Controller) authorize train movements with much
more positive control through the use of CTC (Centralized Traffic Control), but that is another story. Train Orders
evolved into regular forms that were given numbers to identify typical content. Train Orders include such things as
fixing meeting points for opposing trains, directing a train to pass or run ahead of another train, granting rights
over an opposing train, time orders, extra train orders (An extra train is one not listed in the timetable.),
holding orders, speed restrictions, and annulling a previously issued order.
So, the Dispatcher was located in his fixed position, transmitting these orders via telegraph to Operators along
the line of railway. Upon receipt of an order how did the Operator pass it along to a train?
This is where the Order Board came into play. The typical CPR Order Board was a semaphore signal mounted on a mast
by the station or on a wooden support structure on the station's roof. Cables ran from the semaphore blade mechanism
via pulleys into the Operators bay. In the simplest method there was a hook mounted on the wall and the Operator
simply pulled a handle and placed it on the hook. Removing the handle from a hook would permit the blade to fall
into the horizontal position. A more sophisticated version utilized a handle, gears, rods, and bell crank arrangement
as shown in the photo above.
Note: The CPR Order Board is an upper quadrant semaphore. That is, it swings between zero and 90 degrees when
facing the coloured portion of the blade, the reverse side is black and has no meaning. Each station required two
semaphores, one for each direction. Initially semaphore signals utilized the lower quadrant range (90 to 180 degrees)
with a horizontal blade indicating "clear to proceed". A stop signal would have the blade positioned at
135 degrees. This arrangement was not "fail safe". Picture what would happen if a cable broke! The
horizontal blade would drop to the "Clear to Proceed" position. If a cable were to break in an upper
quadrant signal the blade would fall to the safer restrictive position rather than giving a "Clear to
When the Operator received an order for a train from the Dispatcher he would transcribe the order to the appropriate
paper form. He then set the Order Board to the horizontal position indicating to the train's head-end
crew there was an order to be picked up. The train did not have to stop to receive the order but needed only to slow
for it to be passed (hooped up) to the Engineer and Conductor. The Operator attached the paper order to a hoop made
of wood bent into a "P" shape. The Operator would prepare two hoops then stand on the station platform
during a train's approach. Holding the bottom part of the hoop the Operator would extend the loop portion high enough
for the Engineer or Fireman to insert his arm into the loop taking it as the train passed. The Engineer or Fireman
would remove the paper order and drop the hoop back on the ground. This was repeated for the Conductor riding the
caboose. (One wonders how the Operator enjoyed retrieving hoops from some prairie platform during winter temperatures
of -30 degrees as a train whistled past. Was he a little stiff on the telegraph key after
orders to a train at Dorval, Quebec - March 1967 Kevin Day.