The Watch Inspector

A very critical aspect of railroading is time. When a railroad has multiple trains running simultaneously, it is imperative that all operating people know exactly what time it is. Most folks know that the trains may be running on a schedule. But they also must meet opposing trains at particular places and times where they can pass safely. To do this, all employees carry an approved time piece (in this era, usually a pocket watch).

At the start of a run the conductor will synchronize his watch to the “official” clock at the station where the run originates. Then all of the crew members will synchronize their watches to his. This will ensure that everyone involved knows the correct time.

As I mentioned above, all watches must be approved. A railroad will publish a list of watches that have been approved based on their accuracy and dependability. It’s the employee’s responsibility to purchase, then keep his time piece in good condition. One of the requirements is to have the watch inspected on a regular basis with an official watch inspector. These trainmen are at the watch inspector’s office in the Union Station in Chicago, Illinois doing just that. The inspector will verify the watch’s accuracy, and make adjustments to the mechanism if required.

Jack Delano photograph, January, 1943.

Watch Inspections