Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway

Railroadin' by Radio

Santa Fe Conducts First Test of End-to-end Communication
by Radio Telephone System in Transcontincental Rail Service

by Gordon Strachan

no copyright found on publication
reprinted from Santa Fe Magazine July 1944

All 16 pages 150dpi DjVu photo format (100-300K each page)

Already possessor of the largest and most efficiently operated railroad communications system in the world, the Santa Fe Railway has increased its lead over others in this field with completion of the first transcontinental test for the latest development in railroading--the radio telephone.

Equipped with an experimental installation of ultra-high frequency, two-way radio telephone for use by train and engine crews a seventy-car "Spud Special" three-quarters of a mile long pulled out of Bakersfield, Cal., on the morning of June 14.

Holding to a regular freight schedule, the 3,500-ton potato train crossed nine states and traveled 2,200 miles through varying weather and all types of terrain, using radio telephone communication between caboose and engine every minute of the journey, and arrived in Chicago on the afternoon of June 19.

Besides being the longest test of its kind, this experiment marked the first time radio had been used by a railroad yardmaster directing switch engine crews in making up a train in the originating yard with radio also being used for breaking up the train, spotting cars on industry tracks and delivering them to connecting lines at the destination point.

Results of the exhaustive test indicate that radio telephone has a rosy future in
rail transportation.

Tests Started Years Ago

Santa Fe's Spud Special has made history, but what few people remember now is that history in this particular case began approximately fifteen years ago when the Santa Fe made its first tests of radio for railroad use.

At that time the company was searching for a means of communication between the yardmaster and switching crews in the far-flung yards at Los Angeles.

Radio was mentioned, and a test was arranged. It failed because equipment and frequencies used were found to be impractical.

Realizing that radio still was a young industry with unlimited opportunities for advancement, the Santa Fe kept in touch with the situation and was ever on the alert for the day when radio would have something to offer.

It took another world war to speed the day, but eventually it arrived.

Necessity being the mother of invention, needs of the military services the world over expedited in a comparatively short time development of a type of ultra-high frequency radio equipment which it was
thought would fill the bill for the railroads.

The ultra-high frequency spectrum had been enlarged, aided in part by a stable, amplitude modulated set developed by R.
B. Moon, west coast manager of the Bendix Radio Division, Bendix Aviation Corporation, whose headquarters are in Los
Angeles.

Approximately three months ago the Santa Fe opened negotiations with Bendix in an effort to work out a reliable system of radio communication for trains.

An experimental license was obtained from the Federal Communications Commission, and preparations were made to get together the necessary ultra-high frequency equipment to conduct tests.

Manufactured and supplied by Bendix, the equipment when assembled consisted of a telephone hand set, loudspeaker, low
powered transmitter, super-heterodyne receiver and power supply at each end. Also at each end was a control box containing
automatic volume control, a "butterfly switch" to turn the transmitter on and off, terminal strips for termination of interconnecting wiring, and a "call light" which glows red to indicate when equipment is transmitting or receiving a signal.

The automatic volume control in the control box takes care of variations in signal strength.

This transmitting equipment is of the same type as the conventional broadcast station transmitters (amplitude modulated, usually abbreviated AM).

Easily installed, all parts are portable and simple to use. For instance, in a call from the engineer to the conductor of a train, the engineer picks up the telephone hand set installed within reach in the cab. He presses with his thumb the "butterfly switch" on the receiver which lights the red call indicator button on the set in the caboose. After placing his call, the engineer releases the switch, thereby changing his set from "transmit" to "receive" ,and enabling the train £rew in the caboose to answer.

After necessary equipment was assembled, including accessories designed by Bendix for rnaking installations, it was decided to arrange a test in the yards at Los Angeles, the same location in which the first tests vere made some fifteen
years before.

And representing the Santa Fe at this test was the man who as assistant superintendent of telegraph at Los Angeles conducted the earlier experiment, T. P. Brewster of Chicago, now superintendent of telegraph for the entire system.

Although ultra-high frequencies are not materially affected by atmospheric electrical disturbances (such as lightning) or by man-made static, the experimenters had a problem bigger than the weather to overcome.

This was the tendency of ultra-high frequencies toward "line of sight" transmission, the effect of which is that signals are not efficiently received except from an antenna high enough to be seen from the point of reception. (Or such was the theory then.)

Since distance of ultra-high frequency transmission is governed mainly by the height of the antenna, this difficulty was by-passed in the switching tests at the Los Angeles yards by installing an antenna fifty-five feet high, with which signalswre transmitted eight miles without reaching the limit of the set.

For the yard tests, sets were installed in switch engines and in the yardmaster's office. With the radio telephone the yardmaster was in continuous communication with the switch engines directing the makeup of trains, the spotting of cars at industries, delivery of cars to connecting lines adn other movements that occur daily in handling of trains there. Several times, switch engines receiving directions from the yardmaster;s office were miles away and out of sight at that point.

Railroad men found that the new telephones, capable of establishing communication at reasonable distances with a minimum of power, could be used while a train was moving, standing still, coupled or uncoupled, and that only a normal telephone voice was needed.

Encouraged by performance of the new equipment, officials of the Santa Fe decided to sponsor the most complete workout they could devise, intending to prove conclusively whether radio telephone would be practical in railroad operation.

Plan is Broadened

It was planned to choose a typical freight train, installing telephone sets, and running it from the West Coast to Chicago, easternmost point on the system, with make-up of the train at origination and break-up at destination all handled by radio.

Because of heavy freight movement out of the San Joaquin Valley, center of California;s gigantic potato industry, Bakersfield was chosen as origination point for the transcontinental trip.

Mr. Brewster supervised arrangemetns, choosing the seventy-car Spud Special as the test train, and headed a party of communications experts who accompanied the train. Included in the group were Mr. Moon, L. R. Thomas of Chicago, Santa Fe elecronics engineer; and C. D. Carter and H. A. Varley, both of Los Angeles, installation engineers for Bendix.

Before they could start on the long trip ahead with any hope of satisfactory results, the group had to wrangle once again with the "line of sight" problem.

Along the 2,200-mile stretch of railroad before them lay mountains, tunnels, curves and deep cuts, where the engine and caboose often might be out of sight of each other. If fifty-five foot antenna such as that used in Los Angeles could be carried along, the radio engineers would not have worried.

This could not be arranged, however for the height of bridges, tunnels and other structures along the railroad would severely limit the elevation of antenna (about thirty inches above the roof of the caboose being the practical limit, or sixteen feet above the rails).

Modified the Antenna

Staying within these specifications, the engineers after a good deal of honest sweat evolved a modified turnstile type antenna, twenty-four inches high including its base. The two antennae (one mounted on the engine and the other on the caboose) would clear any obstructions of the type mentioned previously and, it was hoped, might aid in clearing up the "line of sight" problem.

On the morning of June 14 at 10:40 o'clock, with Engineer T. E. Pardoe at the throttle of Diesel engine 137 and conductor A. D. Winters in the cupola of the caboose, the Spud Special departed from Bakersfield on the opening phase (and probably the hardest part) of its historic trip.

Before the day was out, the Spud Special was to climb from an altitude of 400 feet at Bakersfield to a height of approximately 4,025 feet at Summit Switch in the Tehachapi Mountains. Steep grades, curves, deep cuts and fifteen tunnels provided a rigorous course for the test train.

On the first leg of the trip, Bakersfield to Barstow, it was found that the specially-devised antenna worked perfectly, and that the antenna design plus the ultra-high frequencies combined to allow transmission without "line of sight" limitation.

Except for one period of few seconds where the engine was in one tunnel, the caboose was in another and there was a third tunnel in between, the radio telephone communication on the train functioned without a break all the way, even through many times the engine and caboose were out of sight of each other in the tunnels and on curves around the mountainsides.

Originally amazed and somewhat skeptical at the prospect of being able to talk to each other from end-to-end of the three-quarter mile long train, crewmen handling the speeding freight adapted themselves readily to the new facilities.

Veteran railroaders who thought they knew all there was to know about railroading abandoned their arm-waving wigwags for signallying the engineer and passed all their signals to the head end vocally.

Veterans Take to New Era

En route all phases of operation were developed speedily and efficiently through telephone conversations between caboose and engine cab.

Besides proving faster and more dependable than the existing hand signals in communicating between members of the train crew, the radio phone on the first day also was credited with an outstanding advance in the study of air breaks.

A. E. Harris, assistant supervisor of air brakes for the Santa Fe at Winslow, rode in the cab of Diesel 137 as far as Barstow to conduct air brake experiments in mountainous territory, aided by radio.

"By virtue of this radio communication we are testing," Mr. Harris said, "we have been able to learn how the brakes are taking hold, how long it is taking for the air to reach the rear end during the time of release, and how long it takes the brakes to commence to set after application has started on the head end of the train."

Mr. Harris said the information which radio telephone enabled him to secure during tests of the Diesel's dynamic brake facilities would prove an important step toward elimination of "slack action," especially in territory where grades are steep.

Another guest observer on the train the first day was C. R. Tucker, assistant general manager, Los Angeles, who stated: "Radio telephone is another step toward increasing the efficiency in train operation and will serve to eliminate innumerable delays, particularly in freight train operation.

"It affords the conductor and engineer an opportunity to keep in close contact with each other and brings about a closer relationship between all members of the crew," he continued. "This will eliminate the necessity of a conductor of the crew on the rear end of a train using the emergency air which not only means saving of time when trouble develops but will in many cases prevent breaks-in-two. At the present time cars are damaged in trians sometimes, such as by pulling out of coupling devices, which necessitates setting out such car or cars short of terminal or destination.

"The new telephones further give the conductor the opportunity to discuss meeting and passing points with the engineman, also points where it is advantageous to take water, and other supplies," Mr. Tucker averred.

"I am convinced the radio telephone would prove of value, particularly in a widely spread yard such as we have in Los Angeles," he concluded. "It would serve in reducing delays to switch engines at outlying points which are far removed from the main yard by permitting the yardmaster to communicate directly with the engine forman."

Improved Train Operation

Through the Mojave desert and into Barstow, across the Colorado River and into Arizona the Spud Special rambled while train and engine men discussed examples of situations where radio telephone would prove a decided improvement in train operation.

For instance: Engineer and conductor are supposed to pick up their orders as they go by a certain station. The engineer grabs his orders off the hoop the agent hands up as the train speeds by, but the conductor misses. If this situation occurs on a train without radio, and the conductor cannot get a stop signal to the engineer for some reason, he must pull the emergency air brake, thus risking a break-in-two of the train. With radio, all he has to do is inform the engineer he missed orders. The engineman will then bring the train to a stop and if it so happens that way car has reached a distance that renders it impracticable to back train to station, conductor can go forward and read engineman's orders.

Other advantages cited by trainmen in behalf of radio include the fact that with radio the conductor can tell the engineer when the caboose had cleared a section of track covered by a "slow" order (where the train must be operated at restricted speed until across), thereby allowing the train to pick up speed more quickly without losing time trying to signal the engineman by hand. Also, radio would allow the train crew to inform the engineer quickly when the rear of the train has cleared the main line at a siding, where another train is to be met, or to allow another train to pass.

Another important feature is that flagmen are better protected from being left by the train. The conductor can let the engineer know immediately whether the flagman is on.

And if a hotbox (journal trouble) develops, instead of having to pull the air the conductor telephones the engineer, tells him about it, and he brings the train to a uniform stop. If the hotbox is near the front of long train, the conductor can tell the head brakeman to check it. After checking, the brakeman can return to the engine, reporting by radio the condition of the journal and what he thinks will be needed to fix it.

Steam Power Employed

Upon arrival in Winslow, Diesel engine 137 was taken off the train and replaced by steam engine 5002 in order to subject the radio equipment to every rigorous test that it would face in actual operation. The change of motive power had no effect on the transmission.

The Spud Special roared on its way, across the Continental Divide, and into Belen in the heart of New Mexico, reaching there on the morning of June 16 with Mr. Brewster, the Bendix men and Mr. Thomas still keeping a twenty-four-hour vigil, averaging about four hours of sleep a night.

Radio came to the rescue again at Vaughn, N.M. While the train was leaving that station, an operator on the platform noticed a .boxcar door vpen thirty-two cars from the front of the train: He signaled the conductor as the caboose went past. The conductor radioed the engineer telling him to stop the train and instructing the head brakeman to drop off and close the door. A few minutes later the .brakeman radioed back that the door was closed, and that there was no damage to the load.

Passing across the Texas Panhandle, the Spud Special on June 17 picked up several additional observers from Amarillo including G. C. Jefferis, general manager; E. P. Dudley, assistant general manager; J. B. Briscoe, superintendent; W. C. Hankison, telegraph manager; and R. D. Shelton and F. A. Donnell, trainmasters.

The lengthy freight, which at one time had ninety-one cars in its string, moved across northern Oklahoma, over the dusty bed of the Cimarron River and into Waynoka, where R. W. Prentice, superintendent; P. T. Collins and R. C. Matthews, trainmasters, and Warner K. Ludden, road foreman of engines, all of the Panhandle Division, boarded the train.

Because the weather had remained favorable all the way, the Bendix men did not get an opportunity to test their equipment under severe atmospheric conditions until the night of June 17 when an electrical storm played around the horizon, with no effect on the radio.

Next night, at Argentine, Kan., a more violent electri'cal disturbance struck, with heavy rain and strong winds. The radio telephones again worked without static.

It was here that the Spud Special changed from engine 2911 to engine 3420 for the final lap of its run.

At Streator, Ill., Fred G. Gurley, vice-president, and a group of journalists representing Chicago newspapers, national news services and magazines, met the train and rode it back to Chicago.

"The purpose of this test was to determine the adaptability of this type of equipment to train communication service, and the operating benefits of this means of communlication," Mr. Brewster said upon completion of 'the trip. "It holds forth much promise for a bright future."

"The results have been quite satisfactory," he continued, "and the experience gained will be very advantageous in permanent installations, particularly because it has aided in determining the type and design of equipment especially suited to railway requirements."

As well as for end-to-end communication and for use in terminals and yards, according to Mr. Brewster, America's railroads are investigating the possibilities of using radio telephone between dispatcher and trains en route, on work equipment, as an emergency service in bridging gaps in wire lines interrupted by disaster, for supervision and control of train operation from a fixed point, for control of switches from engine, for supervision and control of power distribution devices.

Concerning the test run just completed, Mr. Gurley said: "This run is only experimental, and there are many details to be worked out, but the use of radio has many possibilities in increasing the efficiency of both train and yard operations and also in easing the work of trainmen."

The sun faded away in the Corwith yards and the last chapter of the saga of the Spud Special was written as a radio-equipped switch engine, directed by radio from yards Nos. 1, 2 and 6, took the train apart.

Reprinted from THE SANTA FE MAGAZINE for July, 1944

About this website - License/Copyright - DjVu - Digitization - What's New - Search