"To Move a President"                                                                       By Allen Brougham (reprinted by permission from April 1992 Issue of "The Bullsheet")

One of JD Tower's most noteworthy achievements was one that, at the time, had to be kept secret.. Presidential moves were nothing new to the B&O. They happened frequently. But with Franklin D. Roosevelt, JD Tower at Alexandria Junction, Maryland, was most often a hotbed of activity.......

 

One of JD Tower's most noteworthy achievements was one that, at the time, had to be kept secret. In fact, the printed directive describing everyone's function explicitly stated... "These instructions must not be given to anyone except those to whom it is necessary to convey instructions as will enable them to take care of their assignment. Instructions require that no publicity whatever will be given to the details of this movement."

Presidential moves were nothing new to the B&O. They happened frequently.

But with Franklin D. Roosevelt, JD Tower at Alexandria Junction, Maryland, was most often a hotbed of activity. For within its own interlocking, the presidential train - with the President on board - would be switched.

Mr. Roosevelt would frequently make this trip to his home in Hyde Park, New York.

It typically went like this: For reasons of his disability, as well as for security, Mr. Roosevelt would board his private car at the government's Bureau of Engraving in southwest Washington. His mini-train of about three cars would then be brought over the PRR to Anacostia Junction and then up the B&O's Alexandria Branch to JD where it would be coupled to the rear of a train of about 10 other cars which had been brought over the Washington Branch from Union Station.

The head portion from Washington would arrive first, being pulled east of the Riverdale station siding switch on number 2 track, stopping with 200 feet of room east of the switch to hold the rear portion of the train. When the rear portion with the President arrived, its engine would be cut off, and a yard engine would carefully couple to the rear of the rear portion and gently make the train solid with the head portion. The move within the JD interlocking would take about 45 minutes.

Every detail was spelled out in the confidential instructions. They included a schedule right to the minute, a consist of the train, the names of the train and engine crews involved, and the names and positions of management people along with their specific assignments.

Chief train dispatchers were even instructed how to issue instructions. For example: "The instructions of train dispatchers, operators and crews must be so definite and clear that there will be no necessity to issue additional instructions except in the case of emergency."

Throughout the instructions the need for safety, security, and overall professionalism was emphasized. Special care was required of the track department to inspect the track ahead and to spike certain switches. Emergency protect engines with crews on board were stationed at strategic points along the route to use if needed.

But for all of the details the movement instructions covered, there was one thing that was always omitted. And this was intentional. It was never specifically stated in print that the move was for the President of the United States. He was always referred to simply as... the 'Special Party.'

For the moments of involvement at JD Tower on the occasions that this 'Special Party' was there, the tower could be claimed to be the most important place in the world.

And it probably was.

"Making Westbound Moves from Potomac Yard"

By Tom Swearman  (reprinted by permission from April 1992 Issue of "The Bullsheet")

I suppose the most unusual thing I remember about JD Tower was the turning of westbound freight trains out of Potomac Yard. This was before the installation of the crossovers at Melrose Avenue, which took place in 1943.

The train was made up backward at Potomac Yard, so arriving at JD the engine was where the caboose should be and the caboose was where the engine should be. Also, the engine had to be turned. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It seemed as though the trains were always too long to clear the switches in the eastbound siding. So after the caboose was cut off in the east wye, the train was pulled out onto number 2 main far enough to clear the east wye, then shoved back up far enough into the strait to clear the main and a cut was made to clear the east wye switch.

The engine then came back number 2 main and through the crossovers, picked up the caboose in the east wye, took it down to Riverdale, and put it on the east end of the train in the siding.

The engine then returned number 2 main, was crossed over, and back down the east wye. He let himself through the west wye, which then had hand-throw switches, backed up to the head end of the train in the strait, shoving it back and making solid to the remainder of the train in the siding. He then shoved the entire train through the siding east onto number 2 track, then headed west through the crossover onto number 1 track.

This was quite an operation, so not only was the operator glad to get it over with, so was the dispatcher. Two or three trains a day had to make this move.

 

A Hot Time at JD Tower

By Donald Breakiron Tower Operator                                                                                  (reprinted by permission from April 1992 Issue of "The Bullsheet")

Here is an incident that took place in the fall of 1968 while I was on second-trick at JD. This was before the days of having a dumpster, and it was my self-appointed duty to dispose of the trash each day by burning it...

Here is an incident that took place in the fall of 1968 while I was on second-trick at JD. This was before the days of having a dumpster, and it was my self-appointed duty to dispose of the trash each day by burning it.

This was usually done near the foot of the tower stairs, but on this particular day I took the trash out onto the ballast between the tracks as it had been rather dry that month and there was a lot of tall grass around the usual burning area.

I burned the trash and watched it go out. At least I thought I saw it go out...

Later that evening a train came through. A few minutes later I saw a reflection on the tower window, and I ran over to look and saw that the fire had flared up and spread to the dry grass around the front steps and nearby signal box.

I couldn't locate the fire extinguisher (which was buried under an accumulation of newspapers), so I filled a bucket with water, and along with a mop and about 12 trips back up the steps to get more water, I proceeded to get the fire under control around the critical areas.

But in the ensuing struggle, some of the grass away from the signal box continued to burn and the fire was spreading eastward toward Riverdale.

After all those trips up and down the steps, I was somewhat winded, but I did manage to collect my breath enough to call the fire department to tell them help was needed.

I was later asked why I had waited so long to call the fire department. I explained that I was too busy fighting the fire to take the time to call them. Anyway, I had saved the signal box and its cables with little time to spare, and this I felt was most critical.

I should add, I suppose, that the tower's fire extinguisher was brought out of its hiding place.

 

 
 
 
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