Monday, April 10, 2017

#CollectiveMemories Monday - Lindo Palmer, Telegrapher

When Lindo Palmer finished school, there weren’t very many job opportunities in Clarenville. A young man could go off to university, enlist in the military, head for the mainland, or get work with the railway. Lindo had no interest in going to school or the mainland, so he made arrangements to enlist.

“... I was around all that summer, and I did get a chance in the roundhouse – I wanted to be an engineer – and I did get over that summer but nothing happened that year, they weren’t hiring, so I applied to learn telegraph, to become an operator. So anyhow, the summer went on and I never heard anything, so I was going to join the military, and this was Friday evening I went to see the recruiting officer and I was going to St. John’s on a Monday. So anyhow, that Saturday, ... I got a call from my next door neighbour that “Mr. Sparks wants to see you” who was agent here in Clarenville. “Okay.” So I came down to see Mr. Sparks, see what he wanted. He said “I got a letter from the superintendent in St. John’s and if you want to come here and learn telegraph, there’s an opening for you.” So I came here in September, I spent all the winter doing the various things that operators at that time would do – ticket selling, train orders and learning telegraph was the big thing – and the following summer on July the 8th, 1954 I went to work in Millertown Junction, my first job. And I worked [with the railroad] just about thirty-five years.”

Railway tracks and station, Clarenville. Image from the Digital Archive Initiative, Memorial University.
Over the course of his career as a telegrapher, communication technology continued to evolve and change. Lindo continues:

“… Telegraph completely disappeared — I’m not sure what year, roughly two years after, somewhere around 1956 — and was replaced by telephones. It was all done by telephones. Previous to that all train orders and all business relating to railroading was all done by telegraph. So they brought in what they called the dispatchers phone, the dispatchers system, and telegraph gradually phased out, and I had about two years working with the telegraph, two to three years working with the telegraph and it just vanished, it was totally obsolete.”

As part of their training, all telegraphers were required to learn Morse Code. Lindo said that the faster you could pick it up, the more efficient you became. The key was practice, practice, practice.

“Well, I came down to the station and spent every day there, all that winter. I don’t remember ever spending a lot of time, like, any more than a couple of hours at a time. I mean, you learned the code, and you’d just spend the time at it...  Now some would learn it a lot faster than others, and if you had a telegraph key home where you practice. Now I never had a key home, but there’s some people would catch onto it a lot quicker. And it would depend mostly on amount of time you spent at it. To begin with when you went to work you were very, very green. You weren’t really that hot a telegrapher. So I used to sweat a lot at that. Like I said, it was only about a couple of years and I was just getting comfortable – you know, after the first summer you get to work and then you get comfortable – and train orders was a pretty routine thing, so I had very little trouble with that. … Some people could sit down and they could carry on a conversation and they could write everything down, and those people, a lot of them worked with the telegraph, post and telegraph, and that’s what they were doing all day long. And they could read a book and copy. But as for me, I was pretty careful. It took me some time and the old dispatchers would have lots of patience with you because if you didn’t get something you’d break them and they’d give it to you again slower. That’s the way you started off. It eventually came along, and eventually it was no problem.”

Taking down and relaying train orders was an important part of any telegrapher’s job, and had to be done correctly. Lindo continues:

“A train order was given by the dispatcher in St. John’s and you copied it and there’s always two more stations, one or two more stations, that would have the same order like a train leaving Bishop’s Falls. Number 2 leaving Bishop’s Falls meet Number 1 at Clarenville. So, I would copy the order here for Number 1, and the operator in Bishop’s Falls would copy the same order for Number 2 to meet at Gander. So then I’d have to repeat it back on telegraph, the dispatcher would check it, the operator in Bishop’s Falls would check it, and then at the complete, if the dispatcher was satisfied he would give you the “complete” – COM – complete at the time and his initials. So when you’re wondering about the train orders and very little accidents or anything, the train orders were very, very, very careful that, you know… so, when you’re green at it, you’re frightened scared like, if you copied down meet at Benton and you’re supposed to meet at Millertown Junction. [Laughs].”

When asked if he had a memory that stood out from the rest of his work on the railway, Lindo had this to say:

Not really. I mean, I remember from the first day I went to work until the last day I went to work nothing really outstand other than I enjoyed every minute I worked with the railway. Enjoyed all the people I worked with, it was a great, great bunch of people, and where I worked in the station I was involved with trainmen, enginemen all the time, hundreds and like, Baxter and the roundhouse crowd … I don’t know if you’d call it family or not but it was great. If I had my time back I would do the same thing today.”

If you want to hear Lindo's whole story, please click here and listen!

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