Making the trains run on time

Posted by | January 14, 2009

After a serious train accident in 1891 in Ohio, caused by the malfunction of an engineer’s watch, the North American railroad industry charged their General Time Inspector Webb C. Ball to establish unified standards for all the watches used by their personnel across the various participating Railroad Companies.

23J Elgin Veritas, with Up/Dn Winding IndicatorWhen these standards were developed, most manufacturers of the time adopted them and produced watches specifically for use on the railroad. The Ball Watch company did not actually produce any pocket watches of its own.

General Railroad Timepiece Standards included specifications such as:

• only American-made watches may be used (depending on availability of spare parts)
• only open-faced dials, with the stem at 12 o’clock
• minimum of 17 functional jewels in the movement, 16 or 18-size only

23 Jewel 998 Elinvar Hamilton Railroad Pocket Watch• maximum variation of 30 seconds (approximately 4 seconds daily) per weekly check
• watch adjusted to five positions (face up, face down, crown up, crown down, or sideways)
• adjusted for severe temperature variance (34 to 100 degrees Farenheit) and isochronism (variance in spring tension)
• indication of time with bold legible Arabic numerals, outer minute division, second dial, heavy hands,
• Breguet balance spring
• micrometer adjustment regulator
• double roller
• steel escape wheel
• anti-magnetic protection (after the advent of diesel locomotives)
• jim-proof
• lever set ( therefore no risk of having the stem left out, thus inadvertently setting the watch to an erroneous time), regulator, winding stem at 12 o’clock
• Have bold black arabic numerals on a white dial, with black hands.

The Waltham Watch Company quickly complied with the requirements of Ball’s guidelines, and so did Elgin Watch Company and most of the other American watch manufacturers, applying the American System of Watch Manufacturing. Waltham became the official timekeeper of railroads in 52 different countries.

W.C. Ball’s guidlines are the basis of the officially certified Chronometers standards, as now laid out by the “Société Suisse de Chronométrie,” which was founded in 1924, and “The Swiss Official Chronometer Testing Institute” COSC (“Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres”).


appalachia appalachia+history appalachian+history railroad+pocket+watches Webb+C.+Ball

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