Snatching the Orders

In the days of written train orders, a passing train could, under certain conditions, be passed orders as it rolled by a station. The operator would write out a couple sets of orders, then attach them to a wye shaped affair on the end of a handle, or to a wooden hoop as shown in the photos below. These order hoops could either be held up to the crew to snatch as the train rolled by, or could be attached to a train order post. In either case, the operator would alert the crew that they had train orders to receive by the use of a train order signal, or “board”.

Jack Delano was visiting the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway back in March of 1943, and he recorded the ritual of the passing of orders to a freight train in Isleta, New Mexico as it was rumbling by. The first photo shows the train orders attached to their hoops, and ready for the approaching train . . . the actual orders can be seen tied to the end of the hoop where it joins the shaft.

ATSF Train Orders - Iseta, New Mexico

Here we see the fireman of the steamer leaning out of his window, and he is capturing the order hoop with his arm. He’ll immediately give a copy of the orders to the engineer.

Fireman Catching the Hoop

And now the conductor snatches up the remaining lower hoop with it’s orders. He and the brakeman will each have their copy.

Conductor Catching the Hoop

Nowadays train crews can receive their orders directly from the dispatcher via radio, and this time-honored way of doing things is virtually extinct.