The telegraph was vital to the safe and efficient running of railroads. Yet, for one 30 hour stretch in 1902, trains ran on the Shamokin division of the Philadelphia and Reading without the use of the telegraph to transmit messages.
The Evening Item of Sunbury for Friday, Feb. 28, said the telegraph system wasn’t available from midnight, Friday, Feb. 21, until late Sunday morning, Feb. 23. “Under the circumstances the running of the trains depended upon the block system and the care of the respective conductors,” the newspaper said.
The block system was one in which a route was broken up into a series of divisions or blocks only one train could occupy at a time. A system of signals were utilized to control flow in and out of the blocks. Initially, an employee was stationed at points to manually give the signals. Later, signal lights and other innovations performed the task.
“For some time past the men on this division have been carefully drilled in the rules of the block system. On Saturday morning all south-bound trains were given the right of way and the work of running the road without the assistance of telegraph operators and train-runners was commenced. All day Saturday and a portion of Sunday the trains were run in this manner.
“It was a very nerve trying business but the men bore up well under it. Regardless of the fact that the road was in a bad condition a great amount of traffic was moved and not a single wreck was reported.”
A trainmaster commented, “...that is because we have good men, good, careful men, who have studied the rules of the block system carefully and who can be relied upon.” He said he felt proud, “very proud,” of every one of the men.