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On a recent visit my brother presented me with my paternal grandfathers "Railroad Watch". My father had given it to him some years earlier and he decided I should have it given my interest in trains.

Ok, I thought, it's a pocket watch. But what makes it a "Railroad Watch". What I found out was fascinating.
 

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What is a "Railroad" Watch?

Many collectors feel that American watchmaking reached its pinnacle with the invention of the railroad watch. In an effort to meet the stringent and rigorous demands of the railroads, where the incorrect time could and did prove disastrous, American watchmakers were called upon to make a watch that was incredibly reliable and incredibly accurate -- far more so than any watch previously being manufactured. And they met the challenge! Following years of development, by the turn of the 20th century American watch factories were producing pocket watches of unsurpassed quality. Watches that would lose no more than 30 seconds per week. Watches that were specially adjusted to keep accurate time no matter what position in which they were held, and in both cold weather and hot. Watches where all the major wheels were jeweled in order to prevent wear from long hours, days, years and decades of constant use.

The main requirement for a railroad watch was, of course, that it be accurate. Throughout the twenty years from 1890 to 1910, the various railroads' watch standards evolved, demanding more stringent adherence to safety and good timekeeping principles. Although minor local differences remained, these standards eventually became well enough established and accepted so that watch companies could build, at reasonable cost, both 18 size, and later 16 size, watches that would be accepted on any railroad. The standards continued to evolve, and by the 1930's, only size 16 watches were approved, and these watches had to also have at least 19 jewels, be lever set, open face and adjusted to five positions, temperature and isochronism. Some railroads, however, continued to accept watches that were currently in use and which had previously been approved under earlier standards.

Not all watches that were built to meet the railroad standards were actually accepted for service on all railroads. Many railroads published their own lists of "approved" watches, and these lists varied from one railroad to the next. Thus, it is possible to have a railroad "grade" watch that was never actually railroad "approved." Even if a watch wasn't specifically listed as "approved" for a particular railroad, however, there were also instances where a particular watch was accepted for service by the inspector out in the field and would thus still be considered "railroad approved."

The official railroad standards were only the minimum standards that a railroad grade watch had to meet, and many pocket watches that were approved for railroad service were actually made to higher specifications than required for a "railroad grade" watch. Many companies produced extra fine railroad watches that had 21-23 jewels [sometimes more!] that were adjusted to six positions instead of just five, and even had extra "wind indicator" dials to let you know how much the watch was currently wound. These watches are especially prized by many collectors as being the absolute best of the best.

Remember, just because a watch has a picture of a locomotive on the dial or the case doesn't mean it is actually a "railroad" watch. The same is true with watches that are just marked "railroad special" or the like. A true railroad grade watch MUST meet the specifications set out for railroad watches, and a true railroad approved watch MUST have been either listed by one or more railroads as approved for railroad service or else specifically accepted by a railroad inspector. Some of the more commonly found railroad grade and approved watches include the Hamilton "992," the Illinois "Bunn Special" and the Waltham "Vanguard," although there are quite a few more out there.
The above was copied from... http://www.barrygoldberg.net/watchinfo.htm
 

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Grandpa's watch is a Hamilton 992B model 2 with Montgomery dial, Wadsworh bar-over-crown 10K gold-filled case. It was made in 1948, has 21 Jewels and is adjusted to six positions.

Hamilton outlasted both Elgin and Waltham by a number of years. In doing so, it managed to produce the last railroad standard pocket watch to be made in the U.S., the 992B. This watch was in continuous production from 1941 to 1969. At that time, all Hamilton manufacturing in the U.S. ceased. At over 500,000 made, the 992B had the second largest production quantity of U.S.-built standard pocket watches, exceeded only by the original 992.
https://ph.nawcc.org/Railroad/Railroad.htm

So, grandpa's watch isn't anything special in the world of Railroad Watch collectors, but it's still pretty cool.
 

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That's a fine watch, properly exhibited.

Back before automatic block signals, when trains ran by "timetable and train order", having "the right time" was of the utmost importance. If you were a westbound extra running against an eastbound scheduled train, you had to be "off the main" and clear the scheduled train by 5 minutes prior to its arrival time. If your "time was off" (or the other guy's), there could be bad consequences.

That's why there were watch inspectors and the rules that operating employees had to keep a certain grade watch, get it inspected, and carry the certificate of inspection with them.

Gradually, things changed, and so did the watches.
And the railroad rules regarding watches got modified, as well.

I believe one of the first big changes came with the introduction of the "Accutron" watch by Bulova in 1960, which used a tuning fork inside to maintain accuracy.

Quite a few of these were sold with "traditional" railroad faces. Some guys bought them to replace their pocket watches on the job.

Around 1969, Seiko came out with quartz-movement watches, and again these were offered with a railroad face. In time, these began to replace the Bulova watches as "standard equipment".

Then again, there were some old-timers who kept using their pocket watches, right to their retirement.

By the time I hired out (1979), the requirements of having watch inspections were over (at least on Conrail). By this time, all the territory had either an automatic or manually (dispatcher/operator) controlled block system and timetable operation "by the watch" was a thing of the past.

So... to reflect this... the rules now required just "a reliable watch".

I had a couple of Seiko wristwatches I used for a time, but I never cared for wristwatches (or anything on my wrists). So sometimes I'd use a cheap pocket watch with a quartz movement -- quite accurate. But even they proved fragile over time.

So... finally... for the last ten years or so at work (might have even been longer), I found a little "Anywhere watch" at the local Radio Shack for the grand sum of $4.99. It kept good time, and I could set it right into the air gauge on an AEM-7 and aim the overhead light at it. Controlled the light with a toggle switch under the radio. It made checking time easy. Still have it, it still works today!
Radio Shack Watch.JPG
 
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