Photographer Jack Delano documented this brakeman in the midst of a time-honored “tradition” on the railroad: making up the air. The location is on the Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad, and it’s a frosty day in January, 1943. Actually, a necessary task when making up a train, all the air hoses must be coupled together to complete the brake air line (the brake pipe) for the length of the train.
The brakeman is reaching in between the cars to couple up the air hoses. Unfortunately, he will have to reach over the couplers in order to open the air valve (the angle cock) on the car at the right. That practice is often frowned upon by railroaders. Technically, the brakeman should climb up on the car, get to the other side, then descend so as to reach that valve while facing it.
I was also noticing the coupler “cut” lever on that outside braced wooden car. While common many years ago, the bent iron bar that would be lifted was much more common by this era. You can see the end of that style cut lever on the car at right. It’s dangling just behind the brakeman’s back.