The “Great Kipton Train Wreck” Spurs the Creation of an Accurate Railroad Watch

Bee

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6a01157147ecba970c017d4304dcb8970c-500wi.jpg


6a01157147ecba970c017eea792d10970d-500wi.jpg


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Railroad watches made in the US

The development of the railroad network generated demand for pocket watches for ordinary people, along with arising demand for pocket watches for troops in the war.

The transcontinental railroad network expanded all over North America, including the south and west, picking up pace from the 1880s. A compact, clear, and accurate railroad pocket watch without a cover became essential for safe railroad operation. The demand increased further.

When up trains and down trains were led onto turnouts and rails were cleared to allow the passage of express trains, safety depended on punctuality and the exact synchronization of the watches carried by the engineers on the trains and railroad workers in the field.


A 4-minute error of a watch carried by an engineer on a train caused the “Great Kipton Train Wreck” [see below] a collision between two trains in Kipton, Ohio in 1891. The engineers on both trains and nine train crew were killed. https://museum.seiko.co.jp/en/knowledge/relation/relation_09/index.html

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As a result of the accident, the railway company hired Webb C. Ball, a well-known Cleveland jeweler to investigate watch use on its lines. When his investigation showed that railroad employees weren’t operating any time and watch standard, he created a new set of standards for railroad pocket watches which included being accurate to within 30 seconds per week, having 15 jewels, and having a white face and black Arabic numerals with each minute shown, although some watches had silver faces until the 1920s. The watches also had to be temperature compensated because variations in seasonal temperatures could cause a watch to speed up or slow down.

He also required that railroad engineers have their watches inspected regularly, upon which they were issued a certificate that guaranteed the watches’ reliability. If an engineer’s watch was faulty, he had to pay for the repair himself, and while it was being repaired, he borrowed a loaner watch from the jeweler. Having an accurate watch was a requirement for his job. It was vitally important for everyone’s watch to show the correct time since most railroad lines had only one track for trains traveling in both directions. The Kipton disaster proved that even if an engineer’s watch was off just a few minutes, the result could be deadly. Ball’s promptness and accuracy was the origin of today’s well-known phrase, "on the ball." http://www.bowerswatchandclockrepair.com/originofrailroadwatch.htm


The Great Kipton Train Wreck
By Nancy Pope, Historian and Curator

On April 18, 1891, near Kipton station, 40 miles west of Cleveland, Ohio, the fast mail train #14 collided with the Toledo Express. The fast mail was running at full speed, and the Toledo express was almost at a spot where it would traditionally pull over on a siding to let the fast mail pass. The massive collision killed nine men, six of them postal clerks working on the fast mail train.

A line of freight cars and the station itself may have impaired the vision of the engineer of the fast mail train. He apparently applied his breaks as soon as he saw the Toledo express on the road, but it was too little, too late. According to one newspaper report, “The engine of the Toledo express was knocked squarely across the track, and that of the fast mail reared in the air, resting on the top of the other. The fast mail consisted of three mail cars and two parlor cars, and the Toledo express of five coaches and two baggage cars. The first and second mail cars were telescoped and smashed to kindling wood, and the third crashed into the first two and rolled over on the station platform, breaking the windows of the building.”
http://postalmuseumblog.si.edu/2013/04/the-great-kipton-train-wreck.html

 
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So basically the RR developed a standard and a calibration inspection program, which is common for all manufacturing industries.
... and was rather new then

@Bee in germany they had to invent a reichseinheitliche zeit* first - of course the military was the driving force behind it (the railway-logistics in 70/71 worked quite well, but it could have been better - so let's prepare for the next round with the french)
15743610tx.jpg


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*that basicly means one time-zone for germany - we originally had more than 100
 

Jimklag

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View attachment 171429

View attachment 171430

View attachment 171431
Railroad watches made in the US

The development of the railroad network generated demand for pocket watches for ordinary people, along with arising demand for pocket watches for troops in the war.

The transcontinental railroad network expanded all over North America, including the south and west, picking up pace from the 1880s. A compact, clear, and accurate railroad pocket watch without a cover became essential for safe railroad operation. The demand increased further.

When up trains and down trains were led onto turnouts and rails were cleared to allow the passage of express trains, safety depended on punctuality and the exact synchronization of the watches carried by the engineers on the trains and railroad workers in the field.


A 4-minute error of a watch carried by an engineer on a train caused the “Great Kipton Train Wreck” [see below] a collision between two trains in Kipton, Ohio in 1891. The engineers on both trains and nine train crew were killed. https://museum.seiko.co.jp/en/knowledge/relation/relation_09/index.html

View attachment 171432


As a result of the accident, the railway company hired Webb C. Ball, a well-known Cleveland jeweler to investigate watch use on its lines. When his investigation showed that railroad employees weren’t operating any time and watch standard, he created a new set of standards for railroad pocket watches which included being accurate to within 30 seconds per week, having 15 jewels, and having a white face and black Arabic numerals with each minute shown, although some watches had silver faces until the 1920s. The watches also had to be temperature compensated because variations in seasonal temperatures could cause a watch to speed up or slow down.

He also required that railroad engineers have their watches inspected regularly, upon which they were issued a certificate that guaranteed the watches’ reliability. If an engineer’s watch was faulty, he had to pay for the repair himself, and while it was being repaired, he borrowed a loaner watch from the jeweler. Having an accurate watch was a requirement for his job. It was vitally important for everyone’s watch to show the correct time since most railroad lines had only one track for trains traveling in both directions. The Kipton disaster proved that even if an engineer’s watch was off just a few minutes, the result could be deadly. Ball’s promptness and accuracy was the origin of today’s well-known phrase, "on the ball." http://www.bowerswatchandclockrepair.com/originofrailroadwatch.htm


The Great Kipton Train Wreck
By Nancy Pope, Historian and Curator

On April 18, 1891, near Kipton station, 40 miles west of Cleveland, Ohio, the fast mail train #14 collided with the Toledo Express. The fast mail was running at full speed, and the Toledo express was almost at a spot where it would traditionally pull over on a siding to let the fast mail pass. The massive collision killed nine men, six of them postal clerks working on the fast mail train.

A line of freight cars and the station itself may have impaired the vision of the engineer of the fast mail train. He apparently applied his breaks as soon as he saw the Toledo express on the road, but it was too little, too late. According to one newspaper report, “The engine of the Toledo express was knocked squarely across the track, and that of the fast mail reared in the air, resting on the top of the other. The fast mail consisted of three mail cars and two parlor cars, and the Toledo express of five coaches and two baggage cars. The first and second mail cars were telescoped and smashed to kindling wood, and the third crashed into the first two and rolled over on the station platform, breaking the windows of the building.”
http://postalmuseumblog.si.edu/2013/04/the-great-kipton-train-wreck.html
Great thread, Bee. Thanks a lot. And, thus, the famous railroad watch was born. Very Cool.
 
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Great thread, Bee. Thanks a lot. And, thus, the famous railroad watch was born. Very Cool.
maybe famous your place - ours looked differently, it also was the famous one :wink:
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as it was a dienst-uhr it was issued to everyone concerned (which was more or less everyone working for the reichsbahn)
 
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Jimklag

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maybe famous your place - our looked differently, it also was the famous one :wink:
View attachment 171454
as it was a dienst-uhr it was issued to everyone concerned (which was more or less everyone working for the reichsbahn)
Sorry for being so parochial. Over here, the Waltham is the gold standard of railroad watches. Please forgive me, Herr Rittmeister.
 
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This is an interesting story, Bee. I'm glad you posted it. I'm not sure how all railroad men calibrated their watches. In the old observatory of a small college near me, there's a telescope that can only be adjusted for elevation. It has a vertical "gunsight" retical in the eyepiece. It was elevated to the angles of known stars during the different nighttime hours. When a star appeared to pass the retical, a precise time was recorded. That's the way it used to be done in central Missouri. Obviously, this system relied on fair, cloudless nights. I'm sure NASA or another government agency has a better system now.
 

Bee

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is is an interesting story, Bee. I'm glad you posted it.
Every few weeks, I travel long distances by train. I have become quite friendly with the crew, so that I spend at least an hour a trip chatting with the Conductor. I have so many ideas for threads that I could almost overwhelm this forum :smile:
 
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jgoodguy

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Every few weeks, I travel long distances by train. I have become quite friendly with the staff, so that I spend at least an hour a trip chatting with the Conductor. I have so many ideas for threads that I could almost overwhelm this forum :smile:
More threads! More threads! The more the merrier.
 
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Thanks, Bee, for starting this thread and calling my attention to it. Those interested in further reading about the development of US railroad timepieces and railroad time service generally, may wish to check out the National Association of Watch & Clock Collectors website, at NAWCC.org. There is a message board there where some of the most knowledgable people alive on that subject can answer your questions (I am not one of them - my own horological specialties lie elsewhere, but most of these people are old friends). The NAWCC website also has a "watch articles" section, with much useful information on this subject. The article there on the watches of E. Howard & Co., more than a few of which were used on the railroads, was written by me.

A couple of notes on the conversation so far:

- The developing US rail service was the first occasion in history wherein people routinely traveled both far enough and fast enough that disparities in the reckoning of local time had significant consequences. Different rail lines sharing some of the same stations often based their time determinations on the local times in different cities on their respective lines. Consequently, one could arrive at a station at "12:10" on one line only to discover that the "12:25" train you had intended to catch on a connecting line had already left. A system of standard time zones emerged out of this chaos, which eventually extended worldwide.

- The watches pictured in this thread so far all appear to be from the early to middle 20th century, a decade or more, if not even several, after the famous Kipton wreck. In the early 1890s, most watches used on the railroads were 18 Size. The watches pictured are all somewhat later, and smaller 16 Size watches.

- Webb C. Ball, a prominent jeweler from Cleveland, OH, became Chief Time Inspector for about five different railroads. In the same period, he cultivated close relationships with the influential railroad unions, such as the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, and the Order of Railway Conductors. Ball leveraged his influential position to market his own line of private label watches, which he procured from over a half dozen different watch manufacturers ( Hampden, Waltham, E. Howard & Co., Hamilton, Illinois, Elgin, Aurora, Seth Thomas, and various Swiss makers). These watches had unique finishing details and small design changes relative to their manufacturers' standard products, and many were adjusted and probably dialed in Ball's own shop. Some of his watches, which are very popular among collectors, are engraved and signed "B of LE" and "ORC" on movements and dials. I can show some examples of Ball watches when I get home later in the week. My good friend, who lives in Kent, OH, near Cleveland, has the finest and most extensive Ball watch collection in existence, and I have pictures of a number of his watches. I'll be seeing him next Thursday.

Another friend, from St. Petersburg, FL, purchased the Ball trademark from the Ball family quite a few years ago, and sells quality Swiss mechanical wristwatches under the "Ball Watch Company" name. I own two of them, one of which was a gift from the owner of the Ball Watch Company.
 
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- The watches pictured in this thread so far all appear to be from the early to middle 20th century, a decade or more, if not even several, after the famous Kipton wreck. In the early 1890s, most watches used on the railroads were 18 Size. The watches pictured are all somewhat later, and smaller 16 Size watches.
guilty as charged :D the flügelrad (the blue logo on mine) is a gdr symbol and the reichsbahn itself was not established before 1920 (i had to look it up, as i'm neither a watch-collector nor a railroad fanatic)

however, ther generalstab had a lot to say with the länderbahnen (e.g. royal bavarian railroad), insisted in time-unification (1893*), standard gauge and all that stuff. we also had eisenbahn-batallione. that's not simply redressing eisenbahn-employees in military uniforms but incorporating them in military staff-planing and manouvers (especially the big ones). otherwise the railroads wouldn't have played that big a role in the war of 70/71 with the french. moltke (the elder) considered railroads kriegswichtig (important for times of war) quite early on and acted accordingly and thus had the railroads under military surveillance.

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*that it took us until 1893 to get the time unified is due to our strong federalism but we had of course a militärfahrplan where one time was used for every railroad - in case of war the militärzeit would have been imposed on all railroads.

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When I get home, I will call this thread to the attention of my two most knowledgable friends concerning railroad timekeeping and I will encourage them to post. Kent Singer and Ed Ueberall for many years wrote a section in the NAWCC Bulletin entitled the"Railroaders Corner," on which I made one or two contributions. Their databases, image archives, and general knowledge on the subject are extensive. (Kent collects railroad watches only because railroad trains won't fit in his house.)
 
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