Monthly Archives: July 2014

The Shohola Train Wreck of 1864: A Telegrapher’s Negligence

Shohola Tran Wreck of 1864

Shohola Tran Wreck of 1864

A hundred fifty years ago, the technology of the telegraph had been adopted by the railroads, and great reliance had been placed upon the device. And the Shohola train wreck of July 15, 1864, shows the horrific consequences apparently caused by one telegrapher’s negligence. On that day, at least sixty men died because the telegrapher failed to relay a message.

On that day, an 18 car train was transporting 833 Confederate prisoners of war, many of whom had been captured at the Battle of Cold Harbor.  They were guarded by 128 members of the Union Veteran Reserve Corps.  The train was travelling from from New York, where the prisoners had arrived by steamer from Maryland, to the prison at Elimira, New York.

The train was designated as an “extra,” meaning that it was not scheduled service, but instead followed behind a scheduled train. The scheduled train displayed flags which alerted that the extra was following, and continued to have the right of way.

The train with the prisoners had been delayed while guards located missing prisoners, and while it waited for a drawbridge. It was running four hours behind schedule by the time it got to Shohola, Pennsylvania. At about 2:45 PM, the train was on the single track between Shohola and Lackawaxen junction, proceeding at about 25 miles per hour.

At Lackawaxen was stationed the telegraph operator Douglas “Duff” Kent. In the morning, he had seen the scheduled train pass with the warning flags, and it was his responsibility to hold all eastbound traffic until the extra train had passed. At about 2:30, a coal train arrived at Lackawaxen, and the conductor asked whether the track was clear to Shohola. The telegrapher, Kent, answered in the affirmative.

The trains were barely a hundred yards apart when the horrified engineers realized their predicament. There was no time for the engineers to even jump from the engine, and both were killed, along with the two firemen and one brakeman. In addition, 51 Confederate soldiers and 17 Union soldiers were killed. The Confederate dead included thirteen members of the 51st North Carolina Infantry. Two prisoners escaped and were never accounted for.

Most of the dead were buried alongside the track. The Confederate prisoners were buried in coffins hastily constructed from the lumber of the wreckage, four to a coffin. The Union soldiers were buried singly in pine coffins which had been brought to the scene. In 1911, all of the dead were exhumed and brought to Woodlawn National Cemetery in Elmira. The citizens of Shohola, Pennsylvania, and Barryville, New York, tended to the wounded “without regard to the color of their uniforms.”

Soon after the collision, Judge T.J. Ridgway arrived on the scene and impaneled a jury. An inquest was held and the burials proceeded. The verdict was that no railroad employee was to blame, and that the accident was unavoidable.

The New York Daily Tribune of July 18, 1864 noted that it was “desirable that something more than the sham investigation by the jury should take place.” The Daily Tribune reports that the telegraph operator is “said to have been intoxicated the night before, but until he can be met with, and the public will demand of the State authorities to see that he is, and can be confronted with the conductor of the coal train, it will not do to place too much reliance on the statement of the latter.

The Tribune continues, “it is the duty of each telegraph clerk to telegraph to the clerk at the next depot immediately the train has passed his station. At Lackawaxen were were unable to see the book kept by the absconding operator.”

And abscond he did. Other reports were that Kent “did not take the wreck very seriously,” and reportedly went to a dance that evening. When the public began to realize his role, he left town and was never seen again.

The Tribune’s reporter wrote:

Sadly familiar as the last three years have rendered the country and the public with tales of blood, scenes of slaughter, and the accumulated horrors of the battle-field, we are not yet so used to them as to feel unmoved when, on a smaller scale, some fearful railroad catastrophe brings them to us, face to face, amid the quiet of civil life. One of these terrible catastrophes, the most terrible that has happened in this country for some years, took place on Friday morning last, when the grave was again opened to receive a hecatomb of human life, offered at the shrine of managerial inefficiencyand subordinate recklessness.


The Great Shohola Train Wreck

Shohola Train Wreck at Wikipedia

Read More at Amazon:

Downtown St. Paul, 1851


This view shows the corner of Third and Robert streets in downtown St. Paul, in 1851.  You can find the original at Google Books in A History of the City of St. Paul and the County of Ramsey, published by the Minnesota Historical Society in 1876.

Honeyville Discount Code for Emergency Storage Food

On my website, I have a number of pages regarding emergency food storage.  Even if, like me, you don’t own a single piece of camouflage clothing and don’t think of yourself as a “survivalist,” it is prudent to keep some food on hand in case of emergency.  You can find my food storage pages at these links:

One excellent source for bulk food for emergency storage, Honeyville Grain, has a sale this week (until August 26, 2014). By using coupon code SCHOOL14, you will receive 15% off your order.

No matter what size your order is, the flat rate shipping cost is only $4.99. Therefore, it is very economical to order food in bulk. To take advantage of the discount until August 26, 2014 use coupon code SCHOOL14 when you check out.

You’ll find a full selection of their food storage products at this link.Here are some of the products that I think are most useful.

Milk Alternative

Honeyville’s “Milk Alternative” is about the best way I know to store large quantities of powdered milk. It’s not actually whole milk, but it is a dairy product, and has nutrition very similar to milk. The first ingredient is whey, and the second ingredient is nonfat milk. While it doesn’t taste exactly like real milk, it’s actually quite close, and tastes much better than products such as Carnation instant milk. It’s also quite economical. It’s also available in chocolate and strawberry.

Fruit Smoothie Mixes

The fruit smoothie mixes  are excellent. You’ll use them regularly, and they’ll ensure that you have an emergency dairy product on hand.

Hot Cocoa Mixes

The hot chocolate mixes are about the same price that you’ll find for comparable products in the supermarket. But in my opinion, they’re better quality, and come in a variety of flavors.

Powdered Drink Mixes

The powdered drink mixes are comparable to what you’ll find in the supermarket. These are economical for storage large quantities.

9-Grain Cereal

The Honeyville Nine Grain Cereal is excellent. It makes a hot cereal that tastes much better than oatmeal and is more nutritious. It’s quite economical, and you’ll use it in your normal menu, as well as for emergency storage.

Powdered Eggs

Admittedly, most people have a bad reaction to the words “powdered eggs,” usually stemming from a prior bad experience. Fortunately, the Honeyville powdered eggs do not live up to that reputation. They are excellent, and when used in scrambled eggs or baking, they are indistinguishable from the real thing. They can make an excellent source of protein in an emergency.

The only downside is that they come in a large can. They’re good when you open the can, but after about a month, they once again start to live up to the reputation. Therefore, they are hard to use in your daily cooking. But for emergency storage, I highly recommend them.

Note: All of the above links are affiliate links, and I get a small commission is you make a purchase after following these links. But in my personal experience, the Honeyville products are all excellent, and I’ll probably be placing an order myself this week.

Where To Get Crystal Set Parts

Some of my earlier articles have shown crystal radios from the early days of radio. For example, I have an article with the history of the “foxhole radio” popularized by soldiers in World War 2.  I also have a link to a 1922 newspaper article with details for building one.   I also have links to this and this radio, both from 1914.

I received an e-mail from someone who wanted to build a crystal set with his grandson, who requested construction details and parts lists. There are many sites with such information, the best of which is The Xtal Set Society.  You’ll also find some simple plans at this link. The first radio I made as a youth was basically identical to the fourth one shown on the bottom of the page. It requires only a board, a toilet paper tube, some enameled wire, a piece of metal to use as the slider, a diode, and the earphone.

It’s an interesting project, and as long as you have at least one fairly strong AM radio station nearby, almost any design you put together will work. If you have an antenna, ground, detector, and headphones, you’ll hear one or more stations as soon as you connect them together, in almost any configuration. Therefore, I can’t add much as far as construction details. Any of the sets you find on the internet should work just fine. It’s best to start with a simple set of plans and work your way up.

If you can’t find all of the parts locally, here are some tips on finding them.

The Detector

The heart of the crystal set is the detector. This is what changes the radio signals into an audio signal that you can hear. You have two options. First, you can simply buy a semiconductor diode. The most commonly used diode for a crystal set is the “1N34” or “1N34A”. You can buy it on Amazon at any of the following links. As you can see, they are quite inexpensive, and you can afford to stock up in order to make multiple sets.

The other “old style” detector is the “cat’s whisker” and crystal, from which the radio gets its name. The crystal is a piece of the mineral galena, which you can find at many hobby shops. At most science museums, you’ll find for sale samples of various minerals, and you’ll be able to find your piece of galena for a low price. To use it as the detector, you attach one wire to it firmly, perhaps with an alligator clip or by firmly clamping it down. The other connection is a thin wire which makes contact only at one point. This other wire is called the “cat’s whisker”. You’ll need to rig up some kind of spring to keep the wire in contact with the crystal, and you’ll also need some method to move the wire around to look for a “sweet spot” on the crystal.

And for the mad scientist who wants a very unusual type of detector, you can make a detector using an open flame.

The headphones or earphone

The headphones or earphone will be the most difficult part to find. Unfortunately, most modern headphones will not work. The crystal set requires a “high impedance” headphone. Most modern headphones are “low impedance” and simply won’t work, unless perhaps the station you are listening to is extremely strong. Typically, a “high impedance” earphone or headphone will have an impedance of about 2000 ohms. Modern “low impedance” headphones, such as for a stereo or computer, are generally about 8 ohms. I’ve found that headphones with an impedance of 600 ohms generally work OK. So if you can find some of that approximate value, they will work. Old “language laboratory” headphones generally are about this value.

The most commonly used is an earphone like this one, which is available on Amazon:

As you can see, this one comes with a 3.5 mm plug. Since you’ll need to wire the earphone directly into your circuit, you have two choices. First, you can simply cut off the wire, or perhaps make the attachment with
alligator clips

If you want to keep the plug intact, you can purchase the matching jack:

This jack requires soldering, but it should work adequately by simply twisting the wires firmly around the lugs. If you want to invest in a soldering iron, they’re much cheaper than you probably expected. This one, for example, comes complete with the solder, as well as some other tools that might come in handy:

Another option is to use the low-impedance headphones but with a suitable transformer, such as this one:

One side will be marked “600 ohm” and the other side will be marked “8 ohm” (or similar terminology). Ignore the center pin on either side. Hook the other two terminals of the “600 ohm” side to the radio’s output, and hook the two outer terminals of the “8 ohm” side to the headphones. This will allow the headphones (which you can get at the dollar store) to work.


The best wire for winding the coil is enameled wire of about 24 gauge.  This is also sometimes called “magnet wire”:

The enamel coating is insulation, so that the turns don’t short out. However, if you’re building a set with a slider, you’ll want to sand off the enamel at the top so that the slider can make contact with the wire.

For making connections between components, and for making the antenna, you’ll want flexible stranded wire such as this:


Some of the circuits will call for a capacitor, and some will show you how to make your own. (In older literature, the term “condenser” is used.)  The simplest circuits don’t have one, and the exact value is not critical, and for most circuits a capacitor of 0.1 uF will be about right:

Another good source for ordering parts such as resistors and capacitors is Jameco Electronics.  You can order online at .

Connectors and Hardware

Many of the early circuits will show “Fahnestock clips” for making connections. These certainly aren’t required, since you can simply twist the wires together. But if you want to give your crystal set a vintage look, they’re a nice touch. They’re also available at Amazon:

Most of the circuits you see are put together with wood screws, which you surely have lying around the house. If you don’t, you can go ahead and order an assortment such as this one:

If you need a piece of pine board to mount the whole thing, you can get that on Amazon as well:


If you want to bypass the whole procurement process and make a radio that works, but without the “retro” look, any of the following kits will fill the bill. They include everything you need along with directions:

A Parental Kidnapping Solved, 1919

BLrewardposterIt appears that the pages of Boys Life magazine were used to solve a parental kidnapping case in 1919.

This ad looks somewhat out of place in the November, 1919, issue of Boys Life magazine.  It reports that Graydon Hubbard, age 12, was an active member of his Scout Organization at Brookville, Indiana, when he and his brother Harold, age 8, were “stolen from their home early last July.”

The ad goes on to say that Graydon “will undoubtedly make an effort to get in touch with the nearest Boy Scout Unit to the point where they are located,” adding ominously, “if they are in this country.”

“If any Boy Scout–or Scout Master–learn their location–and will advise the Cincinnati Office of the William J. Burns Int. Detective Agency, Inc., of their address–upon receipt and verification of same–the above reward will be paid.”

The advertisement appears to have been successful, and it seems that some Scout in Riverside, California, must have collected the reward money. The November 30, 1919, issue of the Indianapolis Star reports that the boys’ mother, Mrs. M.P. Hubbard, was indicted in Indiana on a charge of kidnapping after the father, M.P. Hubbard, had been granted custody.

The boys were returned to Indiana from Riverside,California, by the chief of police and his wife, along with a private detective from the agency named in the advertisement. The article reports that Mrs. Hubbard had assumed a different last name and “had taught the children to go by that name.”  The article goes on to say that she had recently been named defendant in a lawsuit brought by the former husband.

More Radio Scouting, 1922



This photo, form the New York Tribune, July 9, 1922, shows William Hodson, a Boy Scout from Troop 108, Brooklyn, along with two other scouts, operating a receiver. But it’s not just any receiver. It’s a “three-coil duo lateral regenerative set with loud speaker attachment.”


The Shortwave Broadcast Bands During WW2


I’ve always been curious about what the short wave bands sounded like in the United States during World War II. Short wave was available on many, but by no means all, pre-war consumer radios. The radio shown here, Admiral model 71-M6 covers the standard broadcast band, has a phonograph, and also covers the 31 meter shortwave band, which it calls the “European” band. The ad is from the February, 1941, issue of Radio Today.

I own an Admiral console very similar in appearance to this one, but mine is a bit more upscale. Mine also includes the 25 meter band and has push button tuning for the standard broadcast band. (Most of the buttons on mine are labeled with Chicago stations, so it must have originated in the Chicago area.)  I forget the exact tube count of mine, but I believe it’s more than six. It has push-pull audio, meaning that it has two tubes in the final audio stage. Mine also has an RF preamplifier stage, which this one is probably lacking.

But the styling of mine is so close to the one shown here that it’s very likely that mine also predates the war, and the sounds of wartime shortwave broadcasts probably came out of its old speaker. Its actually a very good receiver on both the AM and shortwave bands. And since it’s set up for only the two shortwave broadcast bands, it’s quite easy to tune to a particular frequency, a feature lacking in most commercial shortwave receivers.

The ability to make sound recordings was virtually unknown in consumer equipment, so the chance of finding a recording of someone’s SWL’ing from that era is very unlikely. But the site has a treasure trove of old radio publications, and I found one that sheds some light on what the casual listener with a radio such as my Admiral would have been able to hear. The predecessor of TV Guide magazine was  Radio Guide, and during the war years, it seems to have gone by the name Movie-Radio Guide. It did include a couple of pages of short wave listings in each issue, and provides a good look at short wave during the war years. The issue for December 20-26, 1941 appears to have been mostly ready for press prior to Pearl Harbor, but it does include a notice: “War conditions permitting, complete information as to how wartime conditions will affect your radio listening will be revealed by Curtis Mitchell, U.S. Army” in the next issue.

That issue, dated December 27, 1941, announces that the Guide will have “new, enlarged short-wave information and program section” where “short-wave dialers will find a large, carefully compiled list of the world’s short-wave stations, carrying war news in English.”

The promised listing of war news shows the scheduled times and of English-language war news broadcasts:


Berlin, Rome, and Tokyo are all represented on the list.  Later issues also show a listing for the Vichy, France, station.  These stations also have programs listed in the accompanying program schedule. For example, the “Lord Haw Haw” show is shown as being broadcast at 5:30 PM U.S. Pacific Time on Saturday from DXZ (9.57 MC) and DXJ (7.24 MC) and Y (the Paris station on 9.52 MC). At 6:30 PM, Berlin carried “Greetings from British prisoners in Germany to their families in the U.S. and Canada.” The text refers to this program as a “sadistic touch.”

Most usefully, this magazine also has what appears to be a rather comprehensive list of “Transmissions Beamed on North America”. The December 27 issue covers from 17.87 MC (GSV, London) down to 5.95 MC (XGDY, Chungking).  One article notes that Radio Saigon, while Axis controlled, signed off with the Marseilles.

The January 3, 1942, issue discusses the possibility of blackouts of U.S. standard broadcast stations during air raids. It also reminds listeners that the Post Office Department suspended mail service to Germany, Italy, and other lands under their control, and that listeners shouldn’t “waste postage on reports to Axis stations.” It also notes that “with most of the interference now absent [presumably since amateurs sharing the 40 meter ham band were now silent], reception ranging from fair to excellent is being afforded by the stations broadcasting on [the 41 meter] band. DXJ (7.24), Berlin, for example, is being heard daily from 4:50 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. EST with louder signals than any of the seven other Berlin outlets for the North American service.”

This issue also presents the beginning of a list, in serial form, of all short-wave stations by frequency. This issue caries listings for the 19 meter band (15 MC). The issues for January 10, 1942 and January 17, 1942 list all of the stations transmitting on the 25 meter band (11 MC). The January 24 and January 31, 1942 issues contain the listings for the 31 meter band (9 MC). The listings for the 41 meter band (7 MC) are in the February 7, 1942, issue.

This issue also reports that Tokyo is now carrying messages from American prisoners of war, and notes that these messages are probably recorded under duress. The 49-meter band (6 MC) and a few stations below are covered in the February 14, February 21, and February 28 issues.

The February 28 issue also notes that Berlin has revamped its English service, to consist of a news broadcast followed by “a fifteen-minute talk or commentary in English by one of Goebbels’ gabblers.” This issue also notes that Moscow has expanded its shortwave service, and that “reports from all parts of the country indicate that these new transmissions are being received with very good signal strength.” These programs apparently originated from Moscow studios, but were put on the air from a transmitter at Komsomolsk, Amur.

In addition to these comprehensive listings, the magazine also contained in each issue a list of “important stations” shown here, this one from the February 28, 1942, issue:


In short, if there was any doubt, it appears that the shortwave bands were lively during the war, and that American listeners with a shortwave receiver had many opportunities to hear first hand the propaganda being broadcast by the axis powers.

Panama Canal Radio Station

CanalFinishingTouchesWhile the final seeds of war were being sown in Europe, in this hemisphere, the Panama Canal was quickly coming to completion, and opened on August 15, 1914. This feature in the Burlington (Vt.) Weekly Free Press for July 30, 1914, shows some of those finishing touches. These included the powerful radio station, which was still under construction:

Work on the three 600-foot steel towers of the proposed Darien radio station at Caimito has begun and will be completed before opening day. Each tower is built in the form of an equilateral triangle, 150 feet on the side. At each corner of the triangle will be a footing of concrete. The depth of the excavation for the footing has varied from twelve to twenty-eight feet below the surface of the ground, the greater depth being necessitated by the irregular surface elevations, The concrete base will be rectangular in plan, sixteen by twenty, and ten feet deep. The building to serve as quarters for operators has been practically completed and will be provided with furniture by the Navy. New radio stations for relatively local use as compared with long distance stations are to be erected at Colon and Balboa and will supplant the ones now in service at these points. The towers resemble the ones at Arlington, Virginia, and each station will have two three hundred feet towers six hundred feet apart. The present wooden masts at Colon, about two hundred feet high, and the antennae of the present Balboa station are suspended at an elevation of about one hundred and ten feet above the ground between the steel tower and the power plant.

When the station, whose callsign was NBA, became operational, it was able to make regular contact with the powerful navy station at Arlington, Virginia. The transmitter is shown here:

This is a 100 kilowatt Poulsen arc transmitter, manufactured by the Federal Telegraph Company. It is described as being very sturdily designed, with an “unusually rugged and elaborate water-cooling system.” The arc transmitter produced a continuous wave signal, and could even be modulated for voice transmissions (although this one was used strictly for radio telegraph work).


Another Aeronautical/Radio Wedding



In an earlier post, I reported on the April 1922 wedding of Sarah Cockefair and Albert Schlafke, who were married in the skies above New York before thousands of radio witnesses.  Perhaps inspired by the New York couple, it seems that a Minnesota couple decided to tie the know in a similar fashion just a few months later.  This wedding took place in June, 1922, during an airshow at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds.  It is reported in the article shown above, a wire story appearing in various papers including the Albuquerque Evening Herald on July 2, 1922.

According to the article, Zelma Olson of Minneapolis desired to be married in an airplane, and desired that the ceremony be officiated by one Rev. E.A. Jordan, who weighed 220 pounds.  Unfortunately, the aircraft could accommodate only an additional 75 pounds.

It’s not until the third paragraph of the story that we learn that the groom was one Edwin Moline, who was presumably going to be present in the aircraft as well.  His weight is not stated.

The site of the wedding, about five years earlier.  (Photo from Google Books)

The site of the wedding, about five years earlier. (Photo from Google Books)

The problem was solved, at Moline’s suggestion, by placing a radiotelephone set in the plane (presumably one weighing less than 75 pounds), and having Rev. Jordan officiate by wireless.

This he did, and Rev. Jordan conducted the ceremony from a pagoda overlooking the State Fair Grandstand.

There doesn’t seem to be a great deal of historical record surrounding this novel ceremony.  I was able to find this post by one Jennifer Moline, presumably a relative of the 1922 newlyweds, indicating that the wedding actually took place on June 4, 1922, a fact not reported in the wire story.

Also, the original 1922 press photo is available for purchase on eBay, and a better copy of the photo can be found at that listing.  The back of the image notes that the photo originated from the St. Paul Daily News, and that the photographer was Earl L. Vogt.  There’s a date stamp on the back of June 8, 1922, which seems consistent with a wedding date of Sunday, June 4, 1922.

If anyone has any additional details about this wedding, I would enjoy hearing from you.

More 1914 Mobile Wireless

1914mobilewirelessThis mobile wireless setup appears in the July 1914 issue of Popular Mechanics.   Used by the U.S. Army, the set was reported to have a range of 30-40 miles when used with an inverted-L antenna. It was reported to send a pure musical note of 500-750 sparks per second. It could be operated from either a storage battery or a hand-operated dynamo.