It's   In   The   Box,   Too


It's In The Box, Too

by Ken Hojnacki

[GALLERY at end of article]

     In his last Collector's Corner, George Shammas wasn't just thinking outside the box, he thought about the box itself. That got me thinking about how things that seemed insignificant in the daily operations of the O&W mean so much to us now. I started looking around at my own collection and thought I would share some more boxes with you.

     Signals and communications were two important parts of everyday railroad operations but few think about the myriad of details required for the operation and support of these systems. For many decades, semaphores and order boards were illuminated by signal oil lamps. While not highly volatile itself, once poured onto an otherwise flammable surface, signal oil was still dangerous to ship and store. The O&W built these sturdy boxes especially for shipping and storing signal oil. The box measures 17 ½" x17 ½" x17" high and is lined inside with tin to prevent any leakage from the cans from soaking into the wood. And because home illumination was also by lamplight, a hasp was affixed to the lid so the company stores could be protected against pilferage. This box came from Wawarsing and is one of only two I am aware of that still has its original paint, probably freight car brown.

     A different type of box related to signals was a wooden affair that held signal flags and torpedoes [See photo "box_flag" in gallery]. One of the flags would undoubtedly have been a red one for stop signals. The others might have been a green and a white flag for flag stops for passenger trains or a yellow flag for a daylight indication that train orders were to be picked up. The small bottom compartment was full of torpedoes when this box was found. (Torpedoes are an explosive charge in a metal packet [modern day torpedoes look like a small, square ravioli; older ones were lead sheet rolled like an oversized cigarette] that have lead straps on the ends that hold the torpedo to the railhead. Two torpedoes placed 150' apart are a signal of danger ahead.) The S is the telegraph code for Solsville, where this box was located in the operator's office.

     When telephone communication became more common and open stations became rarer, train crews were able to communicate directly with the dispatcher on telephones located in large boxes attached to depot walls or telegraph poles [See photo "box_phone" in gallery]. A switch lock would keep out the public while allowing employees easy access. This box is 19 ½" deep, 19" wide and 33 7/8" high at the back sloping to 27" high at the front. This box came from Oriskany Falls, unfortunately without the telephone.

     Over the years, we have all heard stories of railroads' resourcefulness in making the most use of anything the railroad purchased. Such is the case with the box that was used to hold the batteries that powered the telegraph equipment in the Oriskany Falls station [See photo "box_batteryboth" in gallery]. When the maintenance-of-way or shop forces were done unloading their shiny, new Keystone Railroad Tool Grinder, someone in the signal department or carpenter shop just couldn't let that good crate wood go to waste. This crate probably made many boxes for all sorts of uses and the wood was free. It measures 12 7/8" wide, 4 1/8" deep and 8 ½" high at the back. On the front is a pad of Conductors Car Mileage and Tonnage Report forms, mounted backwards so notations on battery service could be kept handy.

In the mid-1960s when my O&W collecting was just beginning, Woodpecker Jct. was a railroad antique shop set up in an old DL&W caboose near Sherburne. The old timer who ran it had this box and it intrigued me. The box measures 23" long, 10" deep and 8 ¼" high, has a padded leather handle, a lock hasp and one of the NYO&W telegraph pole badges attached to it. George would call it shop made, I guess. What was really intriguing was not the seller's story that this was the paymaster's box [See photo "box_dieselboth" in gallery] but that it was undoubtedly painted diesel gray on the outside and diesel orange on the inside. It does not appear it was ever painted any differently (although you can see orange paint showing through the outside of the lid) and the orange paint on the inside is not dirty or scuffed, so it is doubtful tools were carried in it. But by the diesel days, I would imagine wages were paid by check rather than cash anyway. It came with a brass signal lock so maybe someone in the signal department used it. Who knows? Any thoughts?

     Cardstock and cardboard boxes [See photo "box_hat" in gallery] are hardly the stuff of railroadiana collectors' dreams but sometimes there is an amazing story that goes along with them that make them just as desirable. At first gaze, this cardstock box looks simple enough until you note the express sticker on the top and the date stamp March 11, 1926. In pencil on the lid, the box is address to Mr. M.P. Palmer, Agt., Accord (on the Kingston Branch) from J.H. Nuelle, VP & GM, Mtown. The real prize is what the box held--Accord agent Michael P. Palmer's dress Agent's cap, looking just as new as the day Mike took it off the baggage cart and logged the shipment into his record book. As Mike told it, he had an everyday hat and a shiny, new one only used when officials would be making an inspection visit, hence the great condition of this cap.

     I hope you don't feel boxed in now. I'm sure if you have an interesting O&W box, George would be glad to feature it here.

Click any image to start the gallery/slideshow, or right-click and open any image in a new tab or window for a full-size view. Refer to to the text above for descriptions. 

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