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  1. #1

    Default railroad approved pocketwatches

    Does anyone have a list of railroad approved watches? I know not all railroad grade movements were "approved". Which ones were?

  2. #2
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    Default Re: railroad approved pocketwatches (RE: mattcampbell14)

    I can't begin to tell you how many times this question has come up just in the 45+ years that I have been collecting, studying, writing about, and answering questions about railroad watches in the NAWCC BULLETIN and now here.

    For starters, your question doesn't belong here in the repair forum. Also, these terms usually apply to American railroads, but they include both Swiss and American-made pocket watches and wrist watches, so I'm not quite sure just where this really belongs....probably not anywhere because there really isn't any truly correct answer; the whole premise of "railroad grade vs. railroad approved" is faulty from the start, in my opinion.

    To me, a railroad grade watch is simply any watch that its manufacturer built to meet the requirements in effect for use as a railroad standard watch at the time it was built, and to be marketed as such. Since those standards varied at any time and from one railroad to the next, a so-called "railroad grade" watch might, at a given time, be approved by some railroads and not by others. For example, the minimum number of jewels required for a standard watch on some railroads might have been 17 on some railroads, but at the same time might have been 19 or even 21 on other railroads. Some railroads accepted watches adjusted to three positions while others required adjustment to five positions. Some railroads continued to accept pendant-set watches and/or hunting-case watches after others didn't accept one or the other, or both. Bottom line: railroad grade watches were any watches that were acceptable on at least some railroads, and it was a term used by the watch industry. The opposite of a railroad grade watch, meaning one not intended by its maker for use as a railroad standard timepiece subject to inspection standards, was often termed a "commercial grade watch."

    Any meaningful lists of "Railroad Approved" watches would be both railroad and date-specific, and by definitioin would originate with the railroads or their inspectors, if a contracted service. Some railroads didn't even bother to have lists of approved watches because there were so many at any one time. Other railroads might have listed the latest models or grades so that employes wouldn't get stuck with obsolete grades. Still other railroads might list watches that were just examples of the minimum acceptable watch grades. Sometimes the railroads would just list the minimum requirements and then accept any watch that met or exceeded those requirements.

    Any list of approved watches would be constantly changing as new models or grades were introduced and others were discontinued. By the late 'teens it got to the point where there were so many different new watch grades available for use as standard watches that it could get confusing and the differences were often minor or just small differences in finish. Finally, around 1919 the railroad inspectors got together with the watch manufacturers, and the watch manufacturers agreed to reduce sharply the number of railroad standard grades watches in their lineups.

    As railroads revised their rules over the years, any list of approved watches would be up-dated to reflect the changes. As technical changes, such as self-compensating alloy hairsprings and monometallic balances were introduced, the standards for new watches entering service for the first time might be changed to require those features. However, it was pretty standard procedure that watches already in service could continue to be used as long as they were deemed reliable and capable of meeting minimum timekeeping standards. So it was not unusual for some pretty old watches to remain in service for many years. Stories were not unusual about some fine old railroad standard watches being passed down to the next generation of railroading families.

    One of the better-known stories emanating from the Hamilton Watch Company was about how during the 1930s an Erie Railroad watch inspector tipped them off that one of the employes was still using Hamilton Serial Number 2, a 17-jewel, 18-size watch, with a chipped fancy dial no less! Hamilton traded him a brand-new 992E for old No. 2, and made No. 2 a part of their traveling exhibit, if I recall correctly. Frankly, I think took advantage of him, and he probably should have held out for a 950!

    As you can see, the list of watches approved by any railroad at any given time would vary from railroad to railroad and be subject to change at any time....that is, if they had a list at all! How could anyone possible ever have a comprehensive list of all railroad approved watches, other than perhaps a list of watches that were listed as approved on a particular date.

    Oh yes, many railroads had some sort of "catch-all" rule that allowed for the approval of other watches that met the general requirements but which were not specifically listed. Maybe your best bet if a question arises about a watch being railroad approved would be to post all the information and some photos of the watch on the appropriate forum. Then we can spend a week or so in verbal combat, arguing over whether it is railroad approved or not, or whether it is even worth the words being expended!

    By the way, if you really want or need (LOL) an all-time, all-railroad list of approved standard watches, you'll have to compile one yourself. Keep us posted on your efforts. Maybe you'll even get an occasional expression of sympathy!

    Larry Treiman
    Last edited by Larry Treiman; 12-01-2013 at 01:34 AM.

  3. #3

    Default Re: railroad approved pocketwatches (RE: Larry Treiman)

    So, Larry, what you're saying is you don't have the list?


  4. #4
    Registered User doug sinclair's Avatar
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    Default Re: railroad approved pocketwatches (RE: shinytickythings)

    Please re-read Larry's excellent reply. If you want to ask about a specific railroad's time service rules which applied at a SPECIFIC date, get back to us with your question and we'll see if somebody has a copy of that PARTICULAR railroad's time service rules for that SPECIFIC date! Time service rules were always in a state of flux. The short answer is that there is no universally accepted list of watches that were approved for use on ALL railroads! The Canadian Pacific Railway at one time, accepted 17-jewel, 3-position, pendant set, 18-size Waltham 1883s with Roman dials, at a time when many railroads would not have accepted them.

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    Default Re: railroad approved pocketwatches (RE: doug sinclair)

    Quote Originally Posted by doug sinclair View Post
    Please re-read Larry's excellent reply...
    I think Shinytickythings was poking Larry to finish blasted list already. We've been waiting 45 years for him to get off the couch and get it done.


  6. #6

    Default Re: railroad approved pocketwatches (RE: Rob P.)

    Yes. Thanks Rob.
    And apologies to Doug, and to Larry if I struck any nerves.
    I did read the entirety of Larrys most excellent reply and was just poking a little fun at the length of his reply.
    The truth is it was a fantastic, comprehensive and informative response.

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    Default Re: railroad approved pocketwatches (RE: shinytickythings)

    Quote Originally Posted by shinytickythings View Post
    Yes. Thanks Rob.
    And apologies to Doug, and to Larry if I struck any nerves.
    I did read the entirety of Larrys most excellent reply and was just poking a little fun at the length of his reply.
    The truth is it was a fantastic, comprehensive and informative response.
    Thanks, everyone. Shinytickythings, No apology is necessary! The winking smiley face in your post made your motives perfectly clear. Besides, I am well aware of my tendency to ramble on at great length once I get started. Because I really hate typing, I've tried to shorten my responses, but haven't had much luck so far.

    Over forty years ago, when I was a a newbie, I was writing an article on railroad watches and time service for the NAWCC BULLETIN. I queried a number of railroads for information on their watch requirements, watch inspection practices, time service rules, etc.

    Responses varied widely, but in the end I was somewhat disappointed by the dearth of information that I could get. I simply can't imagine being able to get information on which watches they approved (if they ever actually maintained such lists). And some of the lists that I did get, usually for just one specific year, often made little or no sense based on the railroad watches available at the time.

    One of my "favorites" was the fact that the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway for many years listed the Waltham Premier Maximus, an extremely expensive, absolutely "top of the line" prestige presentation watch among their "aopproved" watches. Incidentally, they were pendant-set but Santa Fe time service rules required lever setting; however, Waltham could have easily converted it to lever-set if ordered that way. However I rather doubted that many working railroaders could have afforded one.

    I eventually managed to get the story from a time-service official on why it was approved. It turned out that high executive at the railway had been presented with a Premier Maximus and was ticked off that it wasn't listed among the "approved" watches by Santa Fe's Time Service department, even though in his high position he might not have been required to carry an approved watch anyway.

    So, considering that there were only about 1200 ever made and given the price (I don't recall off-hand) the Time Service officials probably figured that it was unlikely that anyone would ever want to put one in service. They took the path of least resistance, and rather than get involved in a battle with some stubborn exec, they added the Premier Maximus (not to be confused with the far less expensive Riverside Maximus, which was also approved) to the list of "approved" watches, where it remained for decades.

    By the way, Shinytickythings, it might be helpful if you had a shorter user name that would take less typing. Come to think of it, "shtick" is a word, it's shorter, and might actually be appropriate. Yup, I think I'll use that in any future communications. <];>)

    Larry Treiman

  8. #8

    Default Re: railroad approved pocketwatches (RE: Larry Treiman)

    Hi Larry,

    Great story!
    It seems that there is a great misconception, even among some watch collectors and enthusiasts, as to what the term actually means and how it was applied. The term gets bandied about without much regard to the specifics all too often. I think too, now that it is a specific and popular collectable genre that many people will go out of their way to broaden or generalize the terminology without regard for specific facts.

    There may never be a completely comprehensive list of reference with a simple chart telling which watches were approved when and for what railways, but there is certainly more than enough information for a good book on the subject. I for one would like to encourage you to get to it, no matter how much you hate typing ;-) Maybe you can dictate it and release it straight to audio book format.

    With regard to Shinytickythings, funny you should mention it. I was looking at a thread from over a year ago recently and you had asked me the same thing! Sorry I never responded on that. It is a handful to type, eh.
    You may certainly call me Steve if you like. That is my true name. You are welcome to use Shiny, STT, just S, or nothing at all if it suits you. As along as it's clear you are addressing me or my comments I will try to respond.

    All the best,
    S

  9. #9

    Default Re: railroad approved pocketwatches (RE: shinytickythings)

    Keep in mind that early "fully jeweled" watches were 15J. Most railroad approved watches in the 19th century until around 1890 were 15J and adjusted to temperature only. Micrometric regulators were not required until around 1874.

    There are many beautiful RR approved watches out there from the 19th century that still meet the + or- 30 sec/week. these are under valued and generally under priced.

    Tom

  10. #10

    Default Re: railroad approved pocketwatches (RE: Larry Treiman)

    Well that is an eye opening write up. I appreciate straight forward answers like this. Thanks.
    Matt

  11. #11
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    Default Re: railroad approved pocketwatches (RE: shinytickythings)

    Quote Originally Posted by shinytickythings View Post
    Hi Larry,

    Great story!
    It seems that there is a great misconception, even among some watch collectors and enthusiasts, as to what the term actually means and how it was applied. The term gets bandied about without much regard to the specifics all too often. I think too, now that it is a specific and popular collectable genre that many people will go out of their way to broaden or generalize the terminology without regard for specific facts.

    There may never be a completely comprehensive list of reference with a simple chart telling which watches were approved when and for what railways, but there is certainly more than enough information for a good book on the subject. I for one would like to encourage you to get to it, no matter how much you hate typing ;-) Maybe you can dictate it and release it straight to audio book format.

    With regard to Shinytickythings, funny you should mention it. I was looking at a thread from over a year ago recently and you had asked me the same thing! Sorry I never responded on that. It is a handful to type, eh.
    You may certainly call me Steve if you like. That is my true name. You are welcome to use Shiny, STT, just S, or nothing at all if it suits you. As along as it's clear you are addressing me or my comments I will try to respond.

    All the best,
    S
    Hi, Shtick.

    Well, you can't say I didn't warn you! <];>)

    I think I'll shti.....oops, I mean stick with it for a while; it's easy for me to remember because the letters appear in your looooong user name in the proper order. In case anyone isn't familiar with the word "shtick", it is widely used by those in show business but over the years has been co-opted by people in other fields. In show biz (fortunately for everyone I'm NOT in it) it means something like an act, a routine, a gimmick, a piece, a whatever used by an entertainer, a comedian, a singer or whoever, to entertain, get laughs, attract attention. It can become like a trademark for that person. Google shtick if you have a need (you really shouldn't) to know more!

    As for writing a book on railroad-approved watches, I have already alluded in earlier posts in this thread to the fact that it would be virtually impossible to get the information even if one had a lifetime to do so. I'm now in my 70s, and don't have the interest or the desire to devote any part of whatever time I have left to such a futile undertaking. There are so many ramifications to the subject that I don't even want to get involved in further discussions. It gives me a headache. I'll leave further comment to others. Make it your headache! Good luck with the book!

    Larry

  12. #12

    Default Re: railroad approved pocketwatches (RE: Larry Treiman)


  13. #13
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    Default Re: railroad approved pocketwatches (RE: Firegriff)

    Friend S,
    Did you notice at the bottom the data came from here? I had no idea myself until I read the whole list-which is about the best I've ever seen-though I don't think it's complete. I have a couple Hampdens I believe would fit in there.
    Larry said it well enough for me,and I'm just a kid at 58-haha!
    Marty101

  14. #14

    Default Re: railroad approved pocketwatches (RE: Marty101)

    Put the serial numbers of your watches into the Pocket Watch Data base it will tell you if it is a RR Watch or not.

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    Default Re: railroad approved pocketwatches (RE: Firegriff)

    Quote Originally Posted by Firegriff View Post
    Put the serial numbers of your watches into the Pocket Watch Data base it will tell you if it is a RR Watch or not.
    You might ask yourself just how does the "Pocket Watch Database" or any other p/w database "know" if a watch is a RR watch or not?!?! What was the original source of that information and how reliable was it? And does that mean "railroad-grade" or "railroad-approved" or what? What makes the database so darn omniscient?

    Note carefully the disclaimer that appears in small type near the bottom of the "Pocket Watch Database" pages:


    "The Pocket Watch Database is a continuing work in progress. The data returned could be incorrect and should be verified independently."


    That is an essential recommendation, but it is inherently troublesome. They (understandably) don't give their source for each bit of "data returned" and they rely on multiple sources for the data. Thus, a user of the data base, following their recommendation and independently attempting to verify the data, might unknowingly look for verification to the same, possibly erroneous, source that the compilers of the data base used originally. A lot of good that would do!!

    Another problem I have observed all too often with data bases is that even if the original source is basically correct, those compiling the data base often lack the specialized expertise necessary to correctly interpret and present the data, resulting in some really flagrant, gross errors.

    This will be my final contribution to this thread!

    Larry Treiman

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