Montour Railroad 

Montour Railroad









Working on the Montour

Schaeffer Stories

Sposato Stories


Railroading 101



Tim Sposato Stories
Montour RR Wayside Telephone Booths


Here is on original phone booth (Gene P. Schaeffer photo)
Montour RR Wayside Telephone Booths
Patented July 17, 1894

Any given railroad is filled with potential stories, the Montour is no exception. I like to believe that the Mighty “M” equals and exceeds other Pikes when comparing their histories and tales.

Communications were of the common railroad standard in the MRR early days. Telegraph was the system between Imperial and Montour Jct.  Imperial being the telegraph office for railroad and Western Union business.    Around the turn of the century Western Electric had perfected the use of telephones, railroads immediately realized the additional benefits to its use.  The new technology of the times allowed the railroad to replace the telegraph, though for over many years both types of communication worked side by side.

As the transition to telephones occurred, the appearance of wood telephone booths and pole mounted phone boxes became a common sight at the majority of MRR siding switches, spurs and tool houses and so forth.  The Dispatcher office was out fitted with the small type of switch board to be able to work the system.  Train operations became much safer now, since everyone involved need not be fluent in the art of telegraphy.

The telegraph poles along the right of way now carried several more lines between the MRR Jct. and Imperial. Once the extension of the railroad from North Star to Mifflin Jct. was completed in 1914, these pole lines were extended as well, minus the wires for the telegraph. This tied in a direct “Party Line “system from Jct. to Jct., as well as Clinton Block Spur, Westland, Snowden Branches after their constructions.

At first, telephone locations were pole mounted boxes, large enough to house the phone, but foul weather convinced management to construct the standard telephone booth that survived until radio’s allowed the retirement of the wayside phone system.  These booths were most appreciated by employees on cold, wet and windy days.

Our reconstruction consisted of two 7” x 9” x 8.6’ railroad ties parallel and separated about two feet apart. Nailed across the full length were 2’ x 10” x 42” wide, creosoted bridge deck planking. The booth was of oak, but pine was used as well, and secured to the planking.  It measured approximately 4’ x 4’ x 8’ tall, with a flat galvanized roof that sloped away from the 2’ x 6.5’door opening. The booth was equipped with two, 2’ x 18”, sliding, ¼” single pane glass windows on the sides of the booth.  These windows were covered with a medium gage expanded metal screen for protection,  yet still allow natural lighting. The interior back wall has a    ¾”x 16” x 42”    oak shelf about 42” above the floor that serves as a desktop.  The Model 317-BB telephone was mounted to the rear wall a few inches above the desktop.

Some booths were built on site, but at times, entire replacements were constructed at the carpenter shop at MRR Jct. and transported to its permanent location by rail or highway vehicle.  Most maintenance repairs were done on location by the Bridge & Building (B&B) Department. In coming telephone wires dropped from an adjacent pole to either a couple of insulators or might just enter the booth through a hole drilled in the rear wall.  The insulators may have been the earlier application, but were eliminated or not replaced over a period of time, thus reducing cost.   Few remaining booths still had insulators or evidence of having them.  After entering the booth, the wires past through a knife switch with two screw type fuses as surge or lightning protection. This knife switch also seemed to be optional as maintenance occurred over the years.
The wiring routed to the phone, entering through a groove in the back wall of the phone housing.

Telephones had a front door that swung open to access the magneto and other internal parts, the bottom compartment housed the dry cell batteries. Lastly each booth was grounded with copper wire and rod to protect the system from any outside electrical damage. The doors were equipped with the standard switch lock and heavy metal lock latch that was made in the blacksmiths shop.  The hinges were commercially purchased.

Any time the knife switch was closed; one could listen in to conversations that might be taking place. The hand crank was used to signal the party desired. Long and short rings would summon whoever was assigned that particular ring code, might it be the Yardmaster at Champion or Dispatcher, etc. Eventually most of the mines had access to the system too. The last remaining crank phones were used at Montour Jct. for internal Jct. use between floors, engine house and car shops, and  between the Champion yard office and Champion coal washer foreman’s office. These phones were in service until the MRR shut down.

We reconstructed our booth based on several photos, original booth remnants and memory.  The knife switch and insulators were found in the Jewell booth in the early 1970’s. The phone itself was a gift to me from ‘Big’ Jim Lane,   but the exact location that it was installed on the MRR is not known for sure…….possibly from Hills, Thompsonville or McMurray tool house. Since I had the original “Jewell” knife switch and insulators, this station name was placed on it for fun and memories sake. The ‘Brookside” sign board has also been recreated as well or we may create our own call name here at the roundhouse. 

The future goal is to connect it to an internal system that I’m working on here as well. Not on the priority list as of yet, just waiting its turn of more pressing projects.

Now if I recall……..
There was an offer of a brand new MRR Switch lock, looking for a brand new MRR phone booth……..?

Tim Sposato