Walter Biggers Worthington
The C & O Railroads George Washington was a part of life growing up in Maysville. Maysville had a closer connection than most of us knew.
THERE may be nothing in the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway’s regulations for passenger train conductors that specifically covers human births on main line trains. But as C&O Conductor Walter Biggers Worthington puts it: “That doesn’t prevent it from happening just the same.”
In the twelve years Mr. - or rather Captain Worthington has been in charge of The George Washington’s operations between Cincinnati, Ohio, and Huntington, W. Va., he has had to assist unaided at the births of two children.
“Right in the coaches, too,” he adds, “but they were fine baby boys. I still see one of them every now and then.” The incidents of the babies stand out, of course, because their entrances into the world were radical departures from the orderly run of the captain’s duties.
It does not mean, however, that the railroading lives of Captain Worthington and his fellow passenger conductors are singularly without incident or problems other than those which come up in normal train operations. On the contrary, they will tell you, a conductor must be all things to all men. His job places him for several hours each day in intimate contact with hundreds of people. He must be a good operating man first of all then a public relations specialist, a genial salesman, a voice of authority, courteous servant, arbiter of disputes, a bookkeeper, accountant, nursemaid and in the case of Captain Worthington even a midwife. The job is immeasurably easier, says the captain, if you like people and can get along with them.
“Watt” (for Walter) Worthington’s workaday world gets off to a rolling start at 6:05 p.m. when The George Washington Train No. 2 eases out of Cincinnati Terminal and heads for the C&O bridge across the Ohio River and Covington station on the Kentucky side. He has been officially on duty for some time, completinging the operations which attend the daily birth of the George operations that begin shortly after he dons his neatly pressed uniform in the trainmen’s quarters beneath the terminal, that include picking up orders, make up of the George’s consist, loading of passengers and mail and baggage, and sundry other activities, and end when Watt throws his engineer the highball that sends No. 2 off on another trip to Washington, D. C., and Richmond, Va.
Watt carries his “office” with him in a battered gladstone bag whose age he has forgotten (“my wife got me a new one for Christmas, but it’s so pretty I can’t get around to using it.”) It contains the numerous items a conductor needs to perform the business end of his activities, pass slips, wheel reports, ticket reports, conductors’ car reports, timetables for the Huntington and Cincinnati Divisions, the Book of Rules, of course, remittance clips (cash fare receipts), seat checks, transfers to supplemental transportation, cash refund slips, various other forms, paper clips, rubber bands, and his punch, which snips out Watt’s “brand,” an urn shaped perforation.
The George is a sizeable train as it pulls into Covington engine, three baggage cars, a diner, three coaches, four Pullman cars. The crew to handle it reflects its size engineer, fireman, conductor, assistant conductor, flagman, Pullman conductor, four Pullman porters, two train porters, dining car steward, ten waiters, two baggagemen
Neither Watt nor his assistant begins lifting tickets until after the George has left Newport, next stop after Covington; with the first stops so close together the trainmen have plenty of operating work.
This is the moment when one of the most important facets of a conductors work comes into play his relations with the railway’s customers as the top representative of the Chesapeake and Ohio. The routine on the surface seems simple a polite greeting or inquiry, the smile, the quick perforation of the passenger’s ticket, the insertion of the seat check into the clip on the bag rack. But the stakes are high and the possibilities for public relations enormous. No one realizes it mote than Watt Worthington.
A young mother wants to know if her baby’s bottle can be heated. Captain Worthington says he will have someone take care of it. A Navy trainee, home on his first leave, didn’t realize No. 2 doesn’t stop at Prince, his destination. “But I’ll find our about bus transportation from Thurmond for you,” Watt reassures him.
Watt’s twelve years of caring for C&O patrons has given him an intimate knowledge of the traveler’s problems and their solutions. “I try,” says Watt, “to keep an eye out for the obvious first-time travelers or the chronic nervous traveler. There are folks, you know, who can never get used to traveling. But we take them in hand, do a few extra things for them and they calm down soon enough.
“Then we have the special type, the passenger who can never find his ticker. We tell him to take his rime and that we’ll be back. He’ll find it much faster than if we were standing over him, waiting. One rime a woman couldn’t find her ticker at all and insisted I help her. We emptied her purse on the coach seat and counted ninety-two items before we found her transportation.
“I guess it’s all part of public relations and salesmanship. By the way, I wonder if people realize that public relations benefits three ways it pleases the patron, helps the company and, believe me, it makes a conductor’s life much more pleasant.”
No. 2 reaches Augusta at 7:03 p.m., some passengers get off, some more get on. Twenty minutes later we’re at Maysville. Watt hits the cinders, stands off several feet from the train where he can observe its ntire length. It’s dark enough now for a lantern. Watt, his eyes on the train, chats at the same time:
“Maysville, garden spot of the world. My house and farm are right up on the hill behind the station. Going to seed a new bed of tobacco tomorrow. Sold 5,000 pounds of my burley last year, you know. Well . . . Bo-o-o-o-a-r-rd!” Wart flashes the highball, clambers up the coach steps and No. 2 rolls off into the night.
How does the captain of the George keep track of passengers boarding and debarking? “You don’t have any trouble,” he explains, “if you go by this seat check business strictly. And we also write the passenger’s seat number and destination on the back of every ticket we lift. That’s one way of keeping track of them. But you can use the old conductor’s trick of counting em on and counting ‘em off.
“Really, though I’ve found few people in my career who try to get away with a free ride, although if there’s anything annoys a conductor more, I’d like you to tell me. I can remember only once that I had to take any special measures. We had a fellow who’d get on down the line and just drive me crazy. He had hiding places all over the train. It got to the point where I’d grab him before he got on the train and make him produce his ticket.”
Vanceburg and South Portsmouth come and go. Watt has made three more trips through the coaches. At his desk in the first sear of the first coach, the reminiscences start flowing again. “Trouble? I don’t get much. I’ve had to settle some arguments between passengers in my time, but they were never really serious. You have to use a combination of tact and authority. A conductor has a lot of authority and passengers respect it.
“I’ve had passengers take sick and if it was serious enough we’ve had a doctor waiting for them at the next station or try to get one on the train. No, we don’t have much trouble.”
Greenup and Russell flash past and Watt gets ready for his work at Ashland where No. 2 picks up one coach and four Pullmans from the Lexington Subdivision (Louisville, Ky.) and drops off its diner. He reminds you that although he has a big chore as far as public relations and his paper work go, he’s an operating man, too.
He has to handle signals to the cab, supervise departure at stations, see that the engineer observes orders and all municipal speed laws for trains, constantly watch his equipment for signs of mechanical troubles.
Half of Watt’s working day will come to an end a few miles further on at Huntington, W. Va. On the train, he’ll complete his reports and ticker accounts, some of which he’ll leave at the station to be forwarded to various auditing offices, the rest of which he’ll leave for his relief conductor. Watt will bed down in a nearby hotel for a few hours and then take over the westbound George, No. 1, which leaves Huntington at 4:50 a.m. and arrives in Cincinnati at 8:45 a.m. Off duty, he deadheads east again on No. 6, our of Cincinnati at 9:30 a.m., and is home in Maysville two hours and ten minutes later. He’ll stay home for twenty-six hours.
Over a dish of cornflakes in the station restaurant (“a light snack is good on the stomach late at night”) Watt tells you something of his career. He was a clerk in 1905 at the Maysville station (he’d started with C&O in 1903) and one day helped the yard crew switch and make up local trains when the crew were short a man. He did it again a few days later, this time unconscious that Trainmaster John M. Fox was watching. Fox offered him a job braking at Covington and Wart has been in train service ever since.
“From then on,” Watt continues, “it was freight conductor in 1909, passenger conductor in the early 30’s Watt was on The Sportsman between Huntington and Columbus and then I went back to freight work again. I got the job on the George in 1939.” In all those years, Watt has used the same railroad watch, a handsome gold hunting-case timepiece, whose back bears the inscription “To Walter Biggers Worthington from Grandmother, 1901.”
Watt was born in Maysville, reared on a farm and still lives there. He grows lyrical at mention of the city, a habit that has earned him among his railroading brothers the unofficial title “Mayor of Maysville.” Married twice, he has one son and three stepchildren who have presented him with eleven grandchildren. He has been a member of the Order of Railway Conductors since 1916, served one term as local chairman of Lodge 107 at Cincinnati. The ORC and Masons have given him twenty-five-year membership pins and Watt adds “going to make the fifties, too.”
He lives now with Mrs. Worthington in a fourteen room house on a sixty acre farm on which he raises corn, hay, tobacco, chickens and “milks some cows.”
Watt is sixty-four years old and the left sleeve of his uniform coat gleams with one star and four bars. Yet the veteran trainman has no intention of retiring. “Why should I?” he inquires between spoonfuls of cornflakes. “I’ve got a fine job, I’m happy in it and the C&O is the finest railroad in the world to work for. Yes sir, finest road in the world!”
This article was submitted by a reader. Mr Worthington died about 3 years after this article was written
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