Charles Minot was the Superintendent of the Eire Railroad (now part of CONRAIL) in 1851 when he was credited of the first train dispatching by telegraph. Until that time the timetable was the sole authority for moving trains on the line. The "time interval rule" was cumbersome and exhausting for the train brakemen. A train had to wait one hour for an opposing train. If the train still doesn't arrive, the brakemen on the waiting train must walk for 20 minutes ahead of his train with a red flag to stop the late train. The engineer of the waiting train would the operate to catch up to the brakeman, then the next brakeman would walk ahead.
Supt Minot was on a train that had to wait at Turners, about 47 miles from New York City for a late east bound train. He telegraphed Goshen and asked if the late train had arrive there yet. When a negative reply came over the wire, Minot sent this historic wire to Goshen:
He then wrote this order and gave it to the conductor of his train:
When the conductor showed the order to his engineer, he said "Do you take me for a damned fool? I won't run by that thing." When Minot learned of the engineer's reluctance, he personally delivered the order. The engineer still balked and Minot himself operated the train to Goshen. (The engineer had retired to the last seat of the last car - just in case!).
Upon arrival at Goshen, Minot wired Middletown and found that the train had not reach there yet. He issued the orders for Middletown to hold the train and proceeded there. He did the same thing between Middletown and Port Jervis, where they finally met the late train. Minot had saved his train more than an hour of delay.
This system of authorizing train movements by timetable and written order became standard for all lines until the later part of the 20th Century. Even with all of the technological advances, there are still branch lines which do not have signals and depend completely on TRAIN ORDERS.
"The first telegraph office in the city of Auburn was opened in the old
depot in May, 1846, and the first attempt to use it for the movement of trains
on the road resulted in a collision between two passenger trains on the curve a
short distance east of Fairmount station.
"The writer of this paper, being one of the engineers, can well describe the event. The train due from Rochester at four o'clock in the morning, had not arrived at half past five, and as the engine to leave Auburn must be in Syracuse to return with a train at seven, it was ordered to go without the Rochester train, and leave Syracuse on time coming west.
Meanwhile, the Rocheser train came in and was ordered to run to Syracuse, where the up train would be held by the telegraph until it arrived. "The telegraph operator did not appear in the Syracuse office until after your humble servant had left with the up train and a collision was the inevitable result; splinters were plenty but no one was injured."
Adapted from "A Treasury of RAILROAD FOLKLORE" - 1953
2007 by Joseph D. Korman