|THAT GREAT AMERICAN RAILROAD POCKET
It was the late nineteenth century in America. The automobile had not yet
been discovered. The personal Kodak camera was still not on the market.
Women wore long dresses, and the rub board was still the most common way
to wash clothes. Few homes had electricity, and certainly the radio had
not yet invaded their lives. Benjamin Harrison was president. To be sure,
those days of yesteryear were not quite as nostaligically simple as most
reminiscing would have them be. They were slower, yes, because it took
longer to get things done and longer to get from one place to another. The
U.S. mail was the chief form of communication linking this country
together, as America was inching toward the Twentieth Century.
Truly the train station held memories for most everyone and had a
link with every family.
Taking effect June 15, 1892, the Illinois Central Railroad inaugurated a
watch inspection. Employees are now required to summit their watches for a
quarterly examination and weekly comparison with standard time to the
various local inspectors who have been appointed for the purpose. The
minimum standard of watches is of a grade equal to what is known among
American movements as 15 jewels, patent regulator, adjusted to
temperature, the variation of which must not exceed e30 seconds per week.
The Great American Railroad Pocket Watch, unrivaled in quality and
reliability. "What is a railroad watch"? There is not an
easy answer to this question. With 500 to 1,000 American Railroads and
each one used many different rules and specifications. Some railroads used
requirements only and some listed only watch company grades that were
acceptable Also Railroad rules and watches evolved and changed from
year to year. In the late 1860s a movement was commissioned by
Pennsylvania Railroad Co. and had "Pennsylvania Railroad Co." on the dial
and "B.W. Raymond" on the movement. The movement made by Elgin was a 18
size, 15 jewels, key wind and set. In 1887 the American Railroad Companies
had a meeting to interpret and specify requirements of standard time and
watch inspection. In the spring of 1894, a American Waltham Watch
Co. ad states "Systematic railroad watch inspection was first
adopted during recent years" The ad also says "Waltham
watch movements expressly designed for railroad use". The ad shows a 1892
model Vanguard grade with 17 jewels and a double roller. In Feb. 02
1894, The United States Watch Co. of Waltham introduced a first
quality nickel, 18 size, full plate, stem winding and lever setting,
double roller escapement and adjusted to heat cold, isochronism and all
positions. The Company guarantees the movement will vary less than six
seconds in a calendar month"
Note: A railroad watch is a watch that satisfies the
requirements in effect at the time the watch was made. (railroad rules
evolved and changed from year to year.)
Prior to 1893, the definition of a railroad watch was optional with
individual railroads. About 1893 the General Railroad Timepiece Standards
Commission presented these new guidelines (below). After
1893, American watch manufacturers set out to meet these guidelines, later
railroad lines used these standards as a guideline for NEW
railway watches, but not ALL. Some Railroad Companies were vague
about their regulations and some had none at all. Note: With over 500
American Railroad Companies and each one (no nation-wide rules)
used similar but different rules and specifications. NOTE: 15 jewel
watches were accepted by some Railroad Watch Inspectors as late as early
Be open faced, size 18 or 16, have a minimum of 17 jewels, adjusted to
at least five positions, keep time accurately to within a grain or loss of
only 30 seconds a week, adjusted to temperatures of 34 to 100
degrees Fahrenheit, have a double roller, steel escape wheel, lever set,
micrometric regulator, winding stem at 12 o'clock, grade on back plate,
use plain Arabic numbers printed bold and black on a white dial, and have
bold black hands.
NOTE: By about 1900 the above guidelines
were used by many Railroad Companies Inspectors.
The American Watch industry was compelled to produce just such an
instrument which it did. The railroad watch was a phenomenal timekeeper
and durable in long life and service. It had the most minute adjustments,
no small feat because watch making was rendered far more difficult than
clock making, due to the fact that a clock is always in one position and
powered by a constant force-it's weights while watches must be accurate in
several positions with a variable power source. After 1875-80 a railroad
employee had to buy his own watch.
After 1893 railroad pocket watch standards guidelines were adopted by some
railroad lines for new watches. While each company had its
individual standards guideline, many included the basic
recommendations of the commission.
One of the figures in developing the railroad watch standards was Webb C.
Ball of Cleveland, Ohio, the general time inspector for over 125,000 miles
of railroad in the U.S., Mexico, and Canada. Ball was authorized by
railroad officials to help establish the timepiece inspection system.
After Ball presented his guidelines, most American manufacturers se tout
to meet those standards and a list of the different manufacturers
producing watches of the grade that would pass inspection, was soon
available. These standards changed from year to year.
According to the regulations, if a watch fell behind or gained 30
seconds in 7 to 14 days, it must be sent in for adjustment or repair.
Small cards were given to the engineers and conductors the railroad
timekeepers and a complete record of the watch's performance was written
in ink. All repairs and adjustments were conducted by experienced and
approved watchmakers; inspections were conducted by authorized
Because this system was adopted the American watch manufacturers produced
a superior railroad watch, the traveling public was assured of increased
safety and indeed the number of railroad accidents occurring as a result
of faulty timepieces was minimized.
Prior to the 1890s, some railroad companies had already initiated
standards and were issuing lists of those watches approved for railroad
use. Included were the Waltham 18s, 1883 model, Crescent Street Grade, and
the B. W. Raymond, 18s, both in open and hunter cases with lever or
By the mid 1890s hunter cases were being turned down as well as pendant
set. Watches meeting approval then included Waltham, 18s, 1892 model;
Elgin 7th model; and Hamilton, 17 jewel, open face, lever set.
By 1900 the double roller, sapphire pallets and steel escape wheels with a
minimum of five positions were required.
The early Ball Watch Co. movements, made by Howard, used initials of
railroad labor organizations such as "B. of L.E. Standard" and "B. of L.F.
Standard". Ball also used the trademark "999" and "Official Railroad
Standard". Some watches may turn up that are marked as "loaners". These
were issued by the railroad inspectors when a watch had to be kept for
By 1920 the 18 size watch had lost popularity with the railroad men and by
1950 most railroad companies were turning them down all together. In 1936
duty on Swiss watches were lowered by 50 percent, and by 1950 the Swiss
imports had reached a level of five million a year. In 1969 the last
American railroad pocket watch was sold by Hamilton Watch Co. a Grade
NOTE: Railroad Standards, Railroad Approved and Railroad
Grade terminology, as defined and used by Ashland.
RAILROAD STANDARDS=A commission or board appointed by the railroad
companies outlined a set of requirements to be accepted or approved by
each railroad line.
RAILROAD APPROVED=After 1875-80 a RR employee had to buy his own
watch. A LIST of watches each railroad line would approve if
purchased by their employee's. (this list changed through the years).
RAILROAD GRADE=A watch made by manufactures to meet or exceed the
railroad standards. Grades such as 992, Vanguard and B. W. Raymond,
*NOTE: Some GRADES exceeded the R.R. standards or
requirements, such as watches with 23 jewels, diamond end stone, gold
train, raised gold jewel settings, double sunk dial and the list goes on.
Examples: Such as Veritas, Sangamo, 950 and Riverside Maximus and many
NOTE: A railroad watch is a watch that satisfies
the requirements in effect at the time the watch was made. There were no
rules or guidelines used NATION-WIDE, watch railroad used their own rules
and list of approved watches.
RAILROAD GRADE WATCH ADJUSTMENTS
The railroad watch, as well as other fine timepieces, had to compensate
for several factors in order to be reliable and accurate at all times.
These compensations, called adjustments, were for heat and cold,
isochronism, and five to six different positions. These adjustments were
perfected only after experimentation and a great deal of careful hand
labor on each individual movement.
All railroad grade watches were adjusted to a closer rate to compensate
for heat and cold The compensation balance has screws in the rim of the
balance wheel which can be regulated by the watchmaker. The movement was
tested in an ice box and in an oven, and if it did not keep the same time
in both temperature extremes, as well as under average conditions, the
screws in the balance wheel was shifted or adjusted until accuracy was
The isochronism adjustment mainted accuracy of the watch both when the
mainspring was fully wound up and when it was nearly run down. This was
achieved by selecting a hairspring or exact proportions to cause the
blance wheel to give the same length of arc of rotation regardless of the
amount of the mainspring that had been spent.
Railroad watches were adjusted to be accurate whether they were laying on
their face or back, or being carried on their edges with pendants up or
down, or with the three up or the nine up These adjustments were
accomplished by having the jewels, in which the balance pivots rest, of
proper thickness in proportion to the diameter of the pivot and, at the
same time, equal to the surface on the end of the pivot which rests on the
cap jewel. To be fully adjusted for positions, the balance wheel and the
pallet and escape wheel must be perfectly poised. Perfect poise is
achieved when the pivots can be supported on two knife-edge surfaces,
perfectly smooth and polished and when the wheel is placed in any edge, it
will remain exactly as it is placed. If it is not perfectly poised, the
heaviest part of the wheel will always turn to the point immediately under
the line of support.
NOTE: Railroad grade watches had a compensation balance
made of brass and steel. Brass was used on the outside rim and steel on
the inside. Brass is twice as sensitive to temperature changes and twice
as thick as the steel balance (one-piece is welded to the steel balance
wheel) and after finishing, the rim is cut at one end near the arm of the
balance and at the same spot 180 across. In higher temperature, the
dominant brass would "grow" longer but welded to the steel rim, it would
curve inward, thus, in effect, placing the mass of the balance closer to
the center of the balance wheel. This would cause the balance to go
faster. However, the steel hairspring in rising temperature would also
grow longer but more important would also lose some of its resilience.
This would cause the watch to loose time. The balance, remember under the
same condition, in effect became smaller and this action by the balance
compensated for the loss of the hairsprings elasticity and lengthening. In
cold temperatures, the opposite effect took place. This is why the balance
is called a "compensation" balance. (It compensate for the temperature
errors in the hairspring).
NOTE: Movements marked
Adjusted have a diversity or combination, of features. The best
way to know for sure is to check the factory grade lists for specific
adjustments. After about 1905 the movements were marked with the number of
The micrometric regulator or the patent regulator is a device used on all
railroad grade and higher grade watches for the purpose of assisting in
the finer manipulation of the regulator. It is arranged so that the
regulator can be moved the shortest possible distance without fear of
moving it too far. These is always a fine graduated index attached which
makes it possible to determine just how much the regulator has been moved.
The hairspring used on the so-called ordinary and medium-grade watches is
known as the flat hairspring. The Breguet hairspring was an improvement
over the flat hairspring and was used on railroad and high-grade watches.
The inside coil of any hairspring is attached to a collet on the balance
staff and the end of the outside coil of the hairspring is attached to a
stud which is held firmly by a screw in the balance wheel bridge. Two
small regulator pins are fastened to the regulator. These pins clasp the
outer side of the hairspring a short distance from the hairspring stud. If
the regulator index is moved toward the "S", the regulator pins will move
allowing the hairspring to lengthen and the balance wheel to make a longer
arc of rotation. This causes the watch to run slower because it requires a
longer time for the wheel to perform the longer arc.
When the regulator is moved toward the "F" these regulator pins are moved
from the stud which shortens the hairspring and makes shorter arcs of the
balance wheel, thus causing the movement run faster. Sometimes, after a
heavy jolt, the coil next to the outside one will catch between these
regulator pins and this will shorten the length of the hairspring just one
round, causing a gaining rate of one hour per day. When this occurs, the
hairspring can be easily released and will resume its former rate.
The Brequet overcoil hairspring, which is used on railroad grade
movements, prevented the hairspring from catching on the regulator pins
and protected against any lateral or side motion of the balance wheel
ensuring equal expansion of the outside coil.
Railroad grade watches also used the paten or safety pinion which was
developed to protect the train of hears from damage in the event of
breakage of the mainspring. These pinions unscrewed in event of mainspring
breakage, allowing the force to be harmlessly spent by the spinning
Some earlier railroad grade watches had non-magnetic movements. This was
achieved by the use of non-magnetic metals for the balance wheel
hairspring, roller table and pallet. Two of the metals used were iridium
and palladium, both very expensive.
The Great Kipton Train Wreck
Oberlin Weekly News, April 23, 1891
According to the report in this newspaper, two trains came together fifty
feet east of the Kipton depot. "A large piece of steam chest was thrown on
the depot roof and rolled off". The article goes on to say that the
concussion of the impact on the roof broke most of the depot windows.
The depot can be seen in both train wreck pictures.
The local passenger train from the east was behind schedule and instead of
waiting at Oberlin for the fast mail train to pass by from the west, went
on to Kipton A freight train was sitting on the siding that the engineer
had planned to use and going eight miles an hour by this time sought a
second siding. The mail train came around the curve from the west going
forty-five miles an hour. The engineer's view being blocked by the freight
on the siding, he did not see the passenger train in time to slow down.
Both engineers and a fireman were among those killed. Three postal clerks
sorting mail also died.
The accident occurred on April 18th and eight people died in the crash.
The Kipton Disaster and Webb C. Ball
Most of the accounts of Webb C. Ball usually begin with the story about
the collision of two trains in Kipton, Ohio. The story usually states that
the engineer's watch was four minutes slow and not knowing this, it didn't
leave enough time to get on to the siding. Some still argue about the
watch being slow, but due to this wreck on the Lake Shore and Michigan
Southern Railroad in Kipton, the General Superintendent of the Lake Shore
Line appointed W.C.Ball as Chief Inspector to investigate time keeping.
W.C.Ball was a Cleveland jeweler and as a direct
result of the collision he investigated railroad timekeeping,and finding
practices woefully deficient, instituted watch performance and inspection
standards in 1893. Subsequently he became Chief Time Inspector for many
railroads and had many American manufacturers produce a quality railroad
timekeeper: the Ball Railroad Watch.
You have probably heard or even used the old saying, "Get on the Ball".
Kipton is where it started.
Standard Requirements (General)
- American Made 18 or 16 size
- Fitted with 17 or more jewels
- Temperature compensated
- Adjusted to 5 positions
- Lever Set
- Timed to +/- 30 sec/week
- Fitted with a:
- Double roller
- Patented regulator
- Steel escape wheel
- Plain White dial
- Black Arabic Numerals
- Each minute delineated
- Open Face
- Configured with the winding stem at 12 O'clock
RAILROAD WATCH DIALS
Railroad watch dials are distinguished by their simplicity. A true
railroad watch dial contained no fancy lettering or beautiful backgrounds.
The watches were designed to be functional and in order to achieve that,
the dials contained bold black Arabic numbers against a white background.
This facilitated ease of reading the time under even the most adverse
True railroad watches had the winding stem at the 12 o'clock position. The
so-called side winder that winds at the 3 o'clock position, was not
approved for railroad use. (The side winder is a watch movement designed
for a hunter case but one that has been placed in an open-faced case).
One railroad watch dial design was patented by a Mr. Ferguson. on this
dial the five minute numbers were much larger than the hour numbers which
were on the inside. This dial never became very popular.
About 1904 the Montgomery dials began to appear on some RR watches. The
distinguishing feature of the Mongomery dial is that each minute is
numbered around the hour chapter. The five-minute divisions are in red,
and the true Montgomery dial has the number "6" inside the minute
register. These dials are favored by the railroad men.
The so-called Canadian dial had a 24-hour division inside the hour
The double time hands are also found on some railroad grade watches. One
hour hand was in blue or black and the other was in red or gold, one hour
apart, to compensate for passing from one time zone to another. About 1900
"Double Time hands" began to appear on 18 and 16 size watches.
RAILROAD WATCH CASES
Open face cases were the only ones approved from railroad use. Railroad
men sought a case that the tough and durable; one that would provide a
dust-free environment for the movement.
The swing-out case offered the best protection against dust, but the
screw-on back and bezel were the most popular open-face cases.
The lever-set was a must for railroad-approved watches and some of the
cases manufacturers patented their own styles of cases, most with a heavy
bow. One example is the Stirrup Bow by the Ball Watch Co. Hamilton used a
bar above the crown to prevent the stem from being pulled out. Glass was
most commonly used for the crystals because it was not as likely to
RAILROAD GRADE OR RAILROAD SERVICE
NOTE: Not all railroad GRADE watches were railroad
APPROVED, to be approved watch railroad line or company made a list of
watch grades that they would approve for example, Southern Railway, Lake
Shore Railroad & Santa Fe Railway System etc. Not all watches listed here
are railroad approved,, even though all are railroad grade. Below are some
watches that were railroad grade but may not have been railroad APPROVED.
(below not a complete list)
BALL All official R.R. standard with 19, 21 & 23J, Adj.5P, 18 &
16S, open face.
COLUMBUS WATCH CO. Columbus King, 21, 23, 25J; Railway King,
17-25J, Time King, 21-25J, 18S; Ruby Model, 16S.
- "Pennsylvania Railroad Co." on dial, 18S, 15J &
17J, KW-KS, first model "B. W. Raymond".
- "No. 349", 18S, seventh model, 17-21J.
- Veritas, B. W. Raymond, or Father Time, 18S,
- Grades 162, 270, 280, or 342 marked on back
plate, 16S, 17-21J
- Veritas, Father Time, or Paillard Non-Magnetic,
- 571, 21J or 572, 16S, 19J, also All wind
- 18S=Grade 946=23J & 940, 942=21J, & 944=19J, &
924, 926, 934, 936, 938, 948=17J.
- 16S=Grade 950, 950B, 950E=23J, & 992, 992B, 992E,
954, 960, 970, 994, 990=21J.
- 16S=Grade 996-19J & 972, 968, 964=17J.
- Special Railway, 17J, 21J, 23J; New Railway, 23J
& 17J; North Am. Railroad, 21J; Wm. McKinley, 21J; John Hancok, 21J &
23J; John C. Duber, 21J, 18S.
- 105, 21J; 104, 23J; John C. Duber, 21J; Wm.
McKinley, 17, 21; New Railway, 21J; Railway, 19J; Special Railway, 23J,
E. HOWARD & CO.
1.All Howard Models marked "Adjusted" or deer symbol
2.Split Plate Models, 18S or N size; 16S or L size.
HOWARD WATCH CO.
All 16S with 19, 21, & 23J.
- Bunn 15J "adjusted", & Stuart, 15J "Adjusted",
18S; Burlington, 19J Dr. Adj. 16S;
- Benjamin Franklin, 17-26J; Bunn 17-24J; Bunn
Special, 21-26J; Chesapeake & Ohio Sp., 21-24J; Interstate Chronometer,
23J; Lafayette, 24J; A. Lincoln, 21J; Paillard W. Co, 17-24J; Trainsmen,
23J; Pennsylvania Special 17-26J; The Railroader & Railroad King, 18S.
- Benjamin Franklin, 17-25J; Lafayette, 23J; A.
Lincoln, 21J; Paillard Non-Magnetic W. Co., 17-21J; Pennsylvania
Special, 17, 21 & 23J; Santa Fe Special, 21J; Sangamo, 21-26J; Sangamo
Special, 19-23J; grades 161, 161A=21J; 163, 163A-23J & 187, and 189,
PEORIA WATCH CO.
15 & 17J with a patented regulator, 18s.
- All 21 or more jewels, 16-18S, All and wind
- Grades 900, 905, 910, 912, 918, 945, 200, 205,
- Winnebago, 17-21J, 505, 515, 525, 535, 545, 555,
Maiden Lane, 21-28J; Henry Molineux, 20J; G#260,18S.
- The Studebaker 329, 323, Grade Nos. 327, 21J,
- The Studebaker 229, 223, G#227, 293, 295, 21J,
also Polaris, 21J; 16 size
UNITED STATES WATCH CO., MARION
United States, 18 size, 17-19J, gold train.
U.S. WATCH CO., WALTHAM
The President, 17-21J, 18 size, double roller.
- 1857 KW with Pennsylvania R.R. on dial, Appleton
Tracy & Co. on movement
- Crescent Street, 17-23J; 1883 & 1892 Models;
Appleton Tracy & Co., 1892 Model; Railroader1892 Model; Pennsylvania
Railroad; Special RR, Special RR King, Vanguard, 17-23J, 1892 Model;
Grade 845, All wind indicators 18S.
- American Watch Co, 17-21J, 1872 Models; American
Watch Co., All wind indicators, ALL 17-23J Bridge Models; Crescent
Street, 17-21J; Vanguard, 19-23J; 645 16S.
Note: A railroad watch is a watch that
satisfies the requirements in effect at the time the watch was made. There
were no rules or guidelines used NATION-WIDE, each railroad used their own
rules and list of approved watches.