My Present Past
A genealogical experience
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Time Service Rules
Railroad time service had little or nothing to do with getting passengers to their destinations on time, it was all
about safety. With train movements defined by scheduled time, and with employe (correct spelling, used in
many older railroad documents) actions linked, by operating rules, to the scheduled time and the amount of
deviation from scheduled time, its obvious that all employes involved with the movements of trains must know
the correct (standard) time. The emphasis on safety had been long advertised by the watch companies and the
view of the railroad watch (standard watch) as a safety appliance is perhaps best exemplified by those
advertisements. The means to accomplish that end was a time service system that ensured the distribution of
standard time and ensured that the Employes' Watches would be able to keep it.
There have never been a uniform set of time service rules that were followed
by all of the railroads. Each railroad set it's own rules to meet its own needs.
Since the same principles were involved, the rules were similar from railroad to
railroad, but there were some important differences. One glaring example is
that it is widely believed that, in the post 1906-1908 era, watches had to have
been adjusted to 5 positions in order to have been accepted into service.
However, in 1921, the Santa Fe Railway was only requiring that watches be
adjusted to three positions.
Time service rules started appearing almost as soon as trains began running to a
time schedule. In May 1834 the chief engineer of the South Carolina Canal and
Rail Road Company reported difficulty in attaining regularity in the arrival and
departure times of passenger trains running between Charleston and Hamburg,
136 miles away. The problem on this, the longest railway in the world (at that
time), was caused by "... the want of a uniform standard of time at the different
station points." It was resolved "... by placing clocks (at the six stations) ... which
being well-regulated and readily accessible to the Engineer and Agent, will
enable them to regulate their movements on the road with great accuracy."
Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe
Time Service Rules
In 1849 the Pennsylvania Railroad enacted a rule that put
standard watches into the hands of the railroaders who
needed them. It was published at a time before the
American watch industry existed. Watches had to be
imported from Europe and were very expensive.
In 1853 the Boston & Providence Railroad enacted
two rules to ensure that their conductors had watches
that met the railroad's requirements for accuracy and
reliability, and provided for certified loaner watches to
be used by the conductors while their watches were being
repaired. Almost all watches were still being imported. It
is very possible that watches discussed in these rules
were issued to the conductors by the railroad.
By 1857 the Michigan Southern & Northern Indiana
Railroad addressed the source and distribution of
standard time.

Standard Time - 1. The Standard time of the Road is the
clock in the Ticket Office at Adrian. Conductors and
Engineers must carry a watch, which must be compared
and regulated daily by the standard. Engineers and
Conductors West of White Pigeon will compare their time
daily with those running East of White Pigeon. Station
Agents, Track Master, etc., will compare and receive the
time from Conductors.
Each railroad designated a source of time as Standard
Time. Originally, the source was a high precision clock,
(referred to as the Master Clock as illustrated in the
above image) against which other clocks and certain
employes' standard watches were compared for accuracy.
A time authority, frequently using a time signal from an
observatory, would provide a means for ensuring that the
Master Clock was accurate. After a while, the
observatory time signals were sent out to the railroad's
locations over telegraph wires. The act of getting this
time to all of the locations and employes' who needed it is
called the distribution of standard time.
1929 A. T. & S. F. Time Service Rules Page 02-03
1929 A. T. & S. F. Time Service Rules Page 04-05
1929 A. T. & S. F. Time Service Rules Page 01
At first, the time was distributed by the conductors but
by the 1880s, the time was distributed via telegraph wire.
(See page #02) Each important location on the railroad,
stations, depots, etc., would have a clock designated as
being a standard clock. Each standard clock had an employe
responsible for comparing the time shown on that clock to
standard time and posting a notice of its deviation from
standard time. The notice of deviation would often be a
placard displaying the number of seconds deviation and
indication of slow or fast. Railroaders had to have a special
watch, referred to by those in the watch and jewelry
trade as a railroad watch but referred to by the railroads
and railroaders as a standard watch. (See page #03)
The watches were only a part of a system of ensuring that the operating personnel had access to, and operated
using, the correct time (Standard Time). Although the person who originally owned a watch may have worked for
a railroad, that watch is not necessarily what could properly be called a railroad watch, actually a standard
watch. The use of a standard watch was only required of a portion of the railroad employes. The list for the
Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe in 1929 lists engineers, conductors, yardmen, brakemen, firemen and train
porters. However, it doesn't do any good to ensure that the railroaders have very accurate and repeatable
watches, set to standard time, if they can re-set their watches anytime they felt like doing it. Thus,
railroaders were prohibited from setting their watches unless it was a matter of an emergency. If said watch
was set by employee due to an emergency it must be re-set by an approved inspector as quickly as possible.
See page #07
1929 A. T. & S. F. Time Service Rules Page 06-07
Periodically, railroaders who came under time service
rules had to have their standard watches inspected and
certified by the railroad's designated watch inspector.
This was typically twice a year but some railroads
required it quarterly. The inspector would check to see
that the watch was one which was allowed by that
particular railroad's rules and that it was in good running
order, capable of meeting the timekeeping requirement,
typically +/- 30 seconds per week. Finding everything
satisfactory, the inspector would certify the watch. This
was done using the appropriate forms.  The employe would
be given a Watch Card (certificate) to carry to prove that
their watch passed inspection.
1929 A. T. & S. F. Time Service Rules Page 08-09
There were two basic methods with which railroads could
have time service departments carrying out watch
inspections. First, the railroads could have their own time
service departments. The second way was to contract the
service out. One interesting aspect of being the General
Watch Inspector, Chief Inspector of Watches,
Superintendent of Time Service, General Time
Inspector, or some similarly titled official, if the time
service department was contracted out, was the
opportunity make profits as a supplier of watches to the
jewelers who served as local watch inspectors. Whether
the program was in-house or contracted out, the actual
watch inspectors were watchmakers at various locations
along the railroad's right-of-way. These were mostly local
jewelers, appointed by the railway's time service
authority (be it in-house or contracted).
1929 A. T. & S. F. Time Service Rules Page 10-11
Text information used with permission of NAWCC