"To Move a
Brougham (reprinted by permission from April 1992 Issue of "The
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
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."
moves were nothing new to the B&O. They happened frequently.
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.
would frequently make this trip to his home in Hyde Park,
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.'
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.
"Making Westbound Moves from Potomac Yard"
By Tom Swearman
(reprinted by permission from
April 1992 Issue of "The
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
Donald Breakiron Tower Operator
(reprinted by permission from
April 1992 Issue of "The
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
add, I suppose, that the tower's fire extinguisher was
brought out of its hiding place.