274 Switch Keys
by Elton M. Eversole

[Editor's note: Following is an article by a gentleman who was undoubtedly one of the original railroad switch key collectors. The article was printed in the Summer, 1985 issue of Key, Lock & Lantern but was originally published in the early 1940's. It gives both a glimpse into a long-gone era of railroading and a picture of what the collecting hobby was like in the early days. Thanks to Key Lock & Lantern for permission to reprint this -- see note below. A very interesting email that was received in October, 2002 is appended at the bottom of the page.]

Fifty-six years ago, the year I began railroading, I was presented with two brass switch keys at Dunsmuir, Calif. The man who gave them was a hoghead I worked with, named John Gardner. One, I remember, had come from the Burlington. The other could unlock switches on the Chicago & North Western.

I was proud of them. So proud that I decided to start collecting switch keys from as many different roads as possible. It did not take me long to find out that switch keys were hard to get. Officials guarded these bits of metal with care, and the boomers who carried extra keys seldom could be persuaded to part with them. They were looked upon as lucky pieces.

Beginning with the pair from Mr. Gardner in 1887, I have followed my hobby ever since, in and out of railroading, at the rate of five additional keys a year. I now have 274. This is quite a lot. I am told it represents a larger number of roads than exist in any other group of switch keys. Of course, I am unable to check on the truth of this claim. All I know is that I am familiar with several collections in various parts of the country and not one is even a third as big as mine.

Plenty of water has lapped the shores of Lake Michigan since 1887, but my interest in the subject is still keen. In fact, living now in retirement at the Home for Aged and Disabled Railroad Employees of America, Highland Park, Ill., I value these relics more than ever, because they form a link with the past. They recall the days of youth when I was swinging lanterns, pulling pins, and tying down brakes. Memories of long ago come trooping back as I finger these keys, like a monk counting his rosary. Two additional keys a year! It has taken me more than half a century to accumulate 274.

My first railroad job was watching work-train engines on construction work for the Oregon & California line at Simms, California. Our camp was located between Dunsmuir and Delta. We had about forty outfit cars and approximately 200 men. My pay was $75 a month, and I earned my board by calling the cooks in the morning. Pay day came once every two months. That was a long time to wait. Some of the boys got restless before pay day rolled around and got drunk for the next few days after it.

We were paid in gold coins. I had saved a little money before going on the job and my expenses were low, so on the very first pay day I joyfully sent my mother $150 in gold by Wells Fargo Express. The next pay day I did the same. Mom was surprised at my ability to send her all my wages for the four months. One reason why I could do this was that an Indian and I made money on the side by catching fish in the Sacramento River and selling them to hotels. We also supplied fish to cooks in the O&C camp.

Shortly before I signed up as engine watchman there had been a great railroad strike in the Midwest, and soon the strikers were drifting westward to get work wherever they could. I had been employed but a few months when one of the strikers, John Gardner from the Burlington, gave me the two switch keys. A few other keys fell into my pockets as a result of the same strike.

After I had been watching engines for six months I was promoted fireman, and was that a thrill! It was hard work, too. If you ever fired wood-burners you know what I mean. A diamond-stacked mill could burn up a tank full of cord wood in no time. But I liked California. It was God's country. Everything seemed to be new -- everything except the big woods. Dunsmuir was a frontier rail town, with a new roundhouse and machine shop. The men on the road and in the shops were a swell bunch of fellows.

A.J. Stevens, who had patented valve motion that gave his name to locomotives equipped with it, was at that time the Superintendent of Motive Power at Sacramento; and when the shops and roundhouse were to be built in Dunsmuir he sent his son, Fred, to this place as Master Mechanic, with Frank Roberts as assistant.

Where the track crossed the Sacramento River the bridges were numbered, the last crossing, the eighteenth, being just north of Dunsmuir. Those hardy souls who had built the town must have met some difficulty in finding a site. The shops and roundhouse stood on the only level ground at the river bend, while the depot and the Master Mechanic's house were across the tracks from them. In those days there was only one street, with a hotel at the north end and the rest occupied by boarding houses, gin mills, etc.

The railroad men with families bought pieces of ground and built dwellings wherever they could. I played in luck when I came to Dunsmuir in finding a place to call home. Two cousins of mine, Fred and Clyde Farmer, had an interest in a house with some other men. One of them went back to Sacramento to live, so I bought his share. At that time five of us occupied the house, my two cousins, a fireman named Archie Montgomery, John Gardner, the hoghead who gave me those first two switch keys, and myself. Fred was a fireman, while Clyde was learning the machinists' trade. Both later worked for the Westinghouse Airbrake Co. and are now retired. Gardner was the most likable fellow I have ever met. He kept an eye on us young bucks. This was not too hard, for there was not a drinking man among us.

I had been promoted to a fireman only a short time when I was called to go on an emergency construction train to a town called Cottonwood, north of Red Bluff, California. The Sacramento River had gone on a rampage, washing out several hundred yards of tracks. As I recall the trip, we had picked up all the extra gangs as we went along, and were working about fifty hours before we had a chance to go to bed.

I took a room in a small hotel at Cottonwood, but was so dead tired that I forgot to wind my watch before failing asleep. After sleeping all night and part of the next morning, I woke up, glanced at my watch, and saw it had run down. Then I heard voices below my window. I opened it and looked down. A Chinaman was peeling potatoes. I asked him what time it was. The reply was quaint, to say the least: "Ten minne too muchie for haf pas' nine." I had to think a couple of seconds before my sleep-befuddled brain gathered that he meant 9:40 a.m.

Meanwhile, romance had entered my life in the person of Geraldine. That wasn't her name, but it will do. I had been working out of Dunsmuir for two years when I met her there. The girl came west on a visit from Cheyenne, Wyoming. We got talking together and grew very much attached, I followed her back home with the idea of marriage. But Gerry's stony-hearted parents had plans of their own and whisked her away to Platte, Nebraska where they married her off to a substantial hardware merchant.

That left me in Cheyenne "waiting at the church." I was ashamed to return to Dunsmuir without a bride, after having blown off a lot of steam about the girl who was going to be Mrs. Eversole, so I hit the boomer trail. Luckily for me, the Union Pacific was short of help, especially firemen and brakemen. Because I did not like the looks of their coal-burning hogs, I told the trainmaster at Laramie, Wyoming that I'd had some experience braking on the Oregon & California Railway, and he sent me back to Cheyenne to be examined for a brakeman's job.

W.G. Baird, the General Yardmaster there, was the man who examined train and enginemen on the book of rules. I went to see him with another fellow, George Curtis, who wanted to go firing. That was on a Saturday morning. The G.Y.M. asked us a few questions. Then he gave us each a rulebook and told us to study it closely and report to him again Monday afternoon.

Well, if ever two young bucks pored over a volume for two solid days, that was Curtis and me. We lived at the same boarding house. All we did between meals was study the book and ask one another questions. We didn't waste much time sleeping. On Monday we went back to Mr. Baird's office. He led us into a rear room and put us through an exam which lasted about an hour. At the end he inquired pointedly, "Are you boys telling me the truth about the extent of your railroad experience?"

We both answered, "Yes." I had referred to my work on the Oregon & California Railway, while Curtis had put in about the same time as a section man and roundhouse helper at Sidney, Nebraska. Mr. Baird said he had examined a great many men on the book of rules, and we had passed with ease. He seemed delighted to note how thoroughly we had studied the book, and was sure we'd get along all right if we were started off with capable men to work with. He promised that we'd be put on with a good engineer and a good conductor, respectively, and we were.

After that, Mr. Baird kept stepping up the official ladder, one promotion after another. The next time I had the pleasure of meeting him, years later, he was President of the Chicago & Alton.

The day after my examination I was sent out with Ed Bond, conductor, and Jim Sherlock, rear brakeman, who put me through the paces. All the time I was braking between Cheyenne and Laramie I worked with but two crews. The other conductor was Clyde McDonald, who later was appointed Warden of the State Penitentiary at Laramie. The crews worked first in, first out. While the stock rush was on, we handled livestock trains to Wendover, out of Cheyenne, over what was then the Cheyenne & Northern (later Colorado & Southern).

That job was one to be remembered. I had been used to the Shasta and Siskiyou mountains in northern California, but the Rockies between Cheyenne and Laramie were quite different. You climbed the east side 42 miles to Sherman and down the west side 25 miles to Laramie. Sherman was the summit. Mountains in that section were anything but rocky -- just rolling, grass-covered hills suitable for cattle or sheep. Very few boulders. The men who had built that pyramid-shaped railroad monument near Sherman must have used heavy stones hauled from long distances. It was not easy to hold a train down Sherman Hill in those days. Some of the cars had only single-connected handbrakes and old wooden brakebeams. Not more than half the train was air. The engines had brakes on the drivers. We could run only from one passing track to another, five or six miles, and then stop to cool the wheels.

One day I was braking on the rear end of the train for Bond. We left Sherman eastbound, aiming to reach Cheyenne before dark. The sky was gray and the weather was chilly, but I didn't think it was cold enough for me to put my felt boots on before we started down the grade. After we had gone but four or five miles, the engineer whistled for brakes, and we went after them. When we got stopped he whistled cut a flag. I rushed to the caboose, where Conductor Bond handed me red and white lanterns and a handful of torpedoes.

Walking back, I put down one torpedo. then I hiked on what I considered a safe distance and placed two more, expecting to be called in soon. However, I was not called in soon. After I had been out in the wide open spaces for about an hour the wind blew stronger, the sky darkened, and snow began swirling down. I didn't carry a thermometer, but if I had it would have registered somewhere near zero. I looked around for brushwood to build a fire. When I had gathered what I thought was enough to keep the flames going until I was called in, I started a blaze.

My brushwood lasted only about ten minutes. I gathered another pile. That, too, was burned up in a hurry. Boy, oh boy, what wouldn't I have given for some of the fuel I had thrust into fireboxes on O&C engines! All the time it was getting colder. The gale was blowing more violently. I gave up the search for wood and hunted a place where I could run to keep my blood circulating -- a spot partly sheltered from the wind. Finally, after I had been out what seemed like weeks but was really almost four hours, a light engine came along to pull our train back to Sherman. The trouble with our teakettle was that her brakes had heated up the tire on one pair of drivers. The tire had slipped, and the driver had left the rail for some thirty yards before the train had been brought to a stop. Anyhow, when they got me to Cheyenne they found that the toes on both feet were frozen, and I was taken on to the railroad hospital in Denver.

The switch keys I had brought from California, with two from the Cheyenne job --Union Pacific and Cheyenne Northern keys -- made my collection a round dozen, half of them duplicates. The hospital had a special ward for Union Pacific men. I was put in that ward. To kill time, I told other patients about my hobby, and I picked up several more keys from men who had no further use for them.

One day I showed my collection to a nurse. She said she knew where there were a lot of the same kind and perhaps she could get them for me. The following day she came to the ward with the woman in charge of supplies. The latter said she couldn't understand why anyone in his right mind would carry around old keys. She added that she had a box of them which had been left there by some men who died and others who had failed to remove their belongings when they were removed from the hospital. Then she gave me the keys. I often wish I had kept a record of the names of the railroads represented by that batch of keys.

I had been corresponding with a cousin in Bloomington, Illinois. When I left the hospital but was not yet able to return to work, I asked the company for a pass to Bloomington so I could visit him. Well, I had a nice visit with relatives. One of them suggested, "Why don't you get a job here on the Alton or the Illinois Central?"

That seemed like a good idea. I applied at the Alton's office, but they did not need help at the time. I then tried the IC. The agent there got in touch with the Superintendent's off ice at Amboy, Illinois, and they wired me a pass to Amboy. So I went there instead of returning to Cheyenne.

Arriving in Amboy, I made a beeline for the trainmaster's office. At that time the Superintendent was A. F. Jacobs, whose son, "Dude," was trainmaster. Dude escorted me into his dad's office and announced, "Here's the man you hired from Bloomington." ' The father replied: "All right. Put him to work!"

But I didn't report for duty that day. I first looked around for a boarding house. The following morning I showed up on the job and was given a coupling knife and an old iron switch key. Much later, when I finally left Amboy, I took with me two iron keys.

In 1898, the year of the Spanish-American War, I went to Alaska. Before going, I entrusted my keys to some friends in South Chicago who were to keep my collection and other personal effects until I could call or send for them. Alas, I never saw those keys again. I regret the loss of them very much, especially because I have never been able to get another one of those antique iron screw keys. That type of key was hollow, with screw threads inside. You put the key into the lock, gave it a twist until it had taken hold of the screw in the lock; then you pulled, and if you were lucky the switch would open. I have since written many letters in an effort to locate someone who had one of those iron keys and was willing to part with it, but in vain.

Shortly after I went to work for the Illinois Central at Amboy, we were called for the local north one morning and a student brakeman was called to go out with us on the trip. His friends had told him to watch out for jokes that might be played on him such as sending him to the engineer to get a left-handed monkey wrench or giving him an oil can and sending him to get it filled with red oil for the lantern. But he was not prepared for what did happen, and the conductor had not intended to play tricks on him at the time.

We arrived in Dixon at the usual time and we all walked up to the head end of the train where the conductor and the yard master talked about the work that was to be done. Then the conductor gave orders for the way cars to be placed at the freight house platform to be unloaded and said, "You fellows attend to the switching," and that he would take the student and check the team track. He told the student to go on one side of the track and call out the numbers of the car seals, and he would be on the other [side of the track] taking the number of the cars and the seals on his side.

When they came to the end of the track they found that the rear car had a pair of wheels off the track, caused by hitting the bumping post too hard. The conductor told the student to go to the Crummie and get two frogs out of the Possum Belly and bring them back here, and we would rerail the car when the fellows finished the job of switching. The student didn't say anything but the order was too much for him to understand, and he figured the conductor was trying to play a joke on him, and his feelings were hurt. He thought it over and decided he didn't want to be a brakeman, so he went to the depot and bought a ticket back to Amboy and told the ticket agent to tell the conductor he had gone back to Amboy to get a can of red oil for the red lantern.

As oldtimers say, those were the days -- link-and-pin couplers and handbrakes. In winter time the car tops were often covered with sleet and snow, hard as glass, but when the eagle-eye whistle for brakes you had to go after them, even if you crawled on hands and knees from one brake to another.

My cousin, Clyde Farmer, whom I had left in Dunsmuir, took a course of instruction with the Westinghouse Air Brake Co. After working on the instruction car for a while as assistant he was assigned to Parson, Kansas, as airbrake inspector for the Missouri, Kansas & Texas. He wrote me a letter saying what a great road the Katy was. This impressed me so much that I took a trip to Parson with the idea of getting a job there myself.

First I tackled the Master Mechanic. No luck. They didn't need any firemen. Then I clumped upstairs to the Superintendent's office.

"Sorry," said the Super. "We have all the help we need, here at Parson." I turned to go. "Wait a minute," he added. "How would you like to go to Denison, Texas? There's a shortage of men down there, both in yard and road service. If you say the word I'll give you transportation."

I said the word, and he filled out a pass. The brass collar also gave me a letter of introduction to Tom Casey, General Yardmaster at Denison. Casey really needed men. He put me on in switching service and even helped me to find a boarding house. I had arrived in Denison at noon. That very night I was working in the "garden." This was a swell job. It would be harder to find a finer bunch of "snakes" (switchmen) than the gang I mingled with. Frank Morrell was in charge of the coach job engine, Jim Kellen the lower yard goat, and "Bones" Rowan the lead engine, while Lafe Curry and "Paw" Gates were on the hill job. I wonder how many of those boys are alive today? Those who are, I wish they would write to me.

Business was good, but the yards were small. We all worked twelve-hour shifts at the rate of 25 cents an hour for day helper, 27 for night helper, 27 for day foreman, and 29 for night foreman. You took your life in your hands when you did that kind of work. Say that you cocked the pin in the drawbar of a standing car. When a cut of cars was slammed down at you, you were supposed to make the coupling, no matter how fast the cut was coming - and there was no way to slacken their pace.

Well, I remained in Denison until the summer of 1894. I need not remind the oldtimers what happened that summer. For the benefit of youngsters I will say that the American Railway Union, under the leadership of Gene Debs, went on strike in sympathy with the underpaid Pullman shop workers -- a demonstration which was broken by the U.S. Army. Grover Cleveland was the first President of this Nation to call out the regular Army to smash a strike. Cleveland did this in direct opposition to Governor Altgeld of Illinois, who protested that he already had the situation well in hand.

The Katy men did not strike, because the company was not using Pullman cars at that time. Just the same, the road was completely tied up for lack of business. Tom Casey, the G.Y.M., advised us to find new jobs wherever we could but to keep him posted on changes of address so he could notify us when to return to Denison. Thereupon I packed up my collection of switch keys and started looking around.

After a while I landed in the powerhouse of the State Street car line in Chicago, and from there I went to work for the old Calumet & Blue Island Railroad (now Elgin, Joliet & Eastern) in a yard job at the South Chicago Steel Mills. The General Yardmaster was C.B. Swallow, with George Decker as Night Y.M. I never did go back to the Katy. It was the spring of 1895. Boats were just beginning to come down the lake, for the first time that season, loaded with ore from the iron mines in Escanaba County.

This was the busiest switching job I've ever had. Many a time we had to call for help when the rail mills would change their rolls suddenly to some other class of rails, which meant that we would have to alter the cars to handle the rails they were then rolling. They might be turning out stuff for the Northern Pacific, and we would have the setup with NP cars. Then something would happen in the mill. The only way for them not to lose time would be to switch over to making rails for some other road, and we would have to hustle to change the cars to fit the new rail shipments.

For the first two years I batted 'em out at nights on this job; then I was given a steady position as foreman of the old rail mill goat. I had two chums, Jack Boyle and Bill Noble. Jack and I were big huskies. Bill was the runt of our trio -- a scrappy bantam. Some of the Chicago old heads will remember James B. King, Charles Doorley, "Peg" Yingling and Bert Ireland, all of whom worked in the yard with me. Another man was Fred Olson, formerly of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Fred had a switch key from the old New York, Pennsylvania & Ohio, known as the "Nip and O," later taken over by the Erie. I wanted to buy this key for a dollar, but Fred wouldn't sell it to me under five. One night our crew was ready to go on duty when Fred claimed I had stolen his NYP&O switch key. Naturally I called him a liar, and the scrap was on. We had quite a set-to before the rest of the gang separated us. I was so badly banged up that I had to lay off for the night to get the sawbones to fix an eye and ear. The morning after that, Fred Olson quit and I never saw him again.

When I reported for work again Bill Noble handed me the "Nip and O" souvenir, saying,"It cost me two bucks to get Olson drunk enough for me to swipe this key. But you don't owe me a thing. I had a ringside seat at the fight, and that was a good two dollars' worth."

Well, as I said, I went to Alaska in 1898. The gold rush had started, and seven of us organized ourselves for a trek north to prospect for the yellow metal. Two of the seven came from the mill yard, Arnold Teed and myself. The others were Fred Osborn, Baltimore & Ohio lighting slinger; Frank Bell, B&O nut splitter; John Cross, Belt Railway switchman; Robert Ward, a clerk; and Dick Spaulding, a streetcar motorman. We had about a thousand dollars apiece, so we bought plenty of warm clothing and other supplies, and set out by way of Seattle, Washington.

Fred Osborn found a steamboat man who had just bought a small vessel to put in the trade between Seattle and Cook's Inlet. He told us that good reports had come out of the Yentna River Valley up near Mount Russell and said he could take us up to Idatrode, a boat landing on Cook's Inlet, about 250 miles from that part of the country. So we packed our outfit on the boat and sailed for Alaska.

The details of our trip is a long, long story. Briefly, the mining venture was not a success. Frank Bell was bitten by a spider and died while we were trying to get him to medical aid. Someone started a brush fire. Our camp with all our belongings was burned, and we barely escaped with our lives. Fred Osborn had both feet burned so badly that a fatal infection set in a week after the fire. We buried him up there in the gold country.

That was the breakup of the gang. Three of the fellows went back to Seattle, while John Cross and I landed in Circle, Alaska, and I went to work in a Chinese hashhouse. I roomed over the restaurant and had as a roommate, a deputy marshal named Chester Creighton.

The marshal's office and the courthouse were just across the street from me. There was most always something doing at the courthouse in the morning after a wild night. One evening a gambler known as Little John was killed in a gun fight. After the inquest the coroner found several switch keys in the victim's personal effects. Creighton, knowing that I collected such relics, got the keys and gave them to me. Little John must have been a railroad man in the U.S.A. He had carried those keys hundreds of miles away from a railroad up into Alaska. None of his personal property gave any idea of his name or where he had come from. I wrote several letters to officials of railroads to which the keys belonged, describing the man and asking if they could help locate his relatives, but did not receive an answer to any of them. Even today I am curious to know who the gambler was.

When I came back to the United States I landed by boat in Portland, Oregon, and looked for a railroad job. The first office I hit was that of the Oregon Railroad & Navigation Co. They needed men pretty badly at La Grande, Oregon, so they shipped me to the La Grande Division. I have liked that town ever since. If you ask me where my home town is located, I will probably say "La Grande." I am still carried on membership lists of the BRT and BPOE in the La Grande lodges of those orders.

I was conductor of a work train on the OR&N between Baker and Huntington, Oregon. One day we had a cornfield meet. Our caboose was smashed almost to kindling wood. Later, when we were pawing through the debris of the wrecked crummy for our personal belongings, I found a small box containing a shaving set and a tobacco rack with several switch keys. This box apparently had belonged to a former trainman who once worked on the caboose. But I never learned who he was, so I added those keys to the ones I had brought from Alaska.

About this time I set out to locate the people with whom I had left my stuff in South Chicago when I went to Alaska. The search was fruitless. I never was able to find out what had become of my trunk full of stuff and my key collection. I hadn't even written down the names of all my keys before going to Alaska, but I think I have since collected duplicates to replace all of those lost at that time -- all except the two old iron screw keys off the Illinois Central. I am now trying to find a man who has one of those old keys and is willing to trade it for several other switch keys.

A friend talked me into the idea that I would make more money and have an easy time writing railroad accident insurance. Lured by this siren call, I gave up the job at La Grande -- which I have been sorry for ever since -- and plunged into work with the Continental Casualty Co. of San Francisco.

Talk about a job of traveling! The wider an area you covered and the more business you turned in, the better the company liked you. My territory was so big that two men had to hustle to get over it to attend to renewals and new business. From Los Angeles it extended to El Paso, Texas and Portland, Oregon -- except San Francisco, which was taken care of by the home office. From Portland it reached out to Salt Lake and to Los Angeles over the San Pedro & Salt Lake Railroad and on to San Francisco.

The Santa Fe Coast Lines were handled by a man named Charles Rose, but in the five years I was with the company I made two or three trips with Rose over the system as far east as Albuquerque, New Mexico. We sold insurance to night gangs in the roundhouses, to night car-knockers, and to switchmen on the night crews. Considering all the men I came in contact with, I picked up relatively few switch keys for my collection.

Sometimes while I was working the Santa Fe I wouId find a man who had an old Southern Pacific key, and he would give it to me. Then when I was on the Espee I might run across a Santa Fe key. A fellow named Jim Eggleston and I were working the Western Pacific from Salt Lake to Sacramento, California on one trip. We rented an uncomfortable room in Winnemucca, Nevada, which we had to take or sleep in the sandhouse. Being weary, we soon were in slumberland. I felt well paid for my poor rest, however, when I discovered three old switch keys in a dresser drawer next morning.

At length I grew so tired of changing beds two or three times a week and wearing out suitcases at the rate of one or two a year that I took a job on the Santa Fe at Los Angeles. But I worked there only a week when I had an ankle broken while off duty and was confined in the Santa Fe Hospital at Los Angeles for seven months. I have never been able to railroad since.

However, I again found that a railroad hospital was a good place in which to hunt for switch keys. One day I was in a wheel chair when Dr. Tierce, making his rounds of the wards, saw me looking at two or three old keys. He questioned me about them and then said he thought he knew where there were several that he might get for me. Next day the doc told me that he has asked the engineer of the hospital to let me pick over a cigar box full of keys that were in the boiler room and take what I wanted for my collection. I don't remember the number, but I think there were about a dozen switch keys in that box. Most of them were duplicates of what I had.

I have many friends who are familiar with my hobby. Some of them knew of a man named John Golden who had died in the Methodist Home at Chicago, leaving a small collection of switch keys. These good people gave the Methodist Home my name and address. Later the matron wrote me that I could have the keys if I called, which I did. I found there were fourteen different keys, eleven of them similar to keys I owned.

The "Nip and O" key, over which I had the fight in South Chicago forty-five years ago, has just been replaced in my collection by a gift of several keys sent me by the secretary and president of La Grande lodge, BRT. There are now 136 different keys in my collection. I am proud of the many nice letters sent to me by railroad officials, conductors, brakemen, switchmen and many others from coast to coast and Canada to Mexico.

I am told that my collection is the largest of its kind in which all the keys are different. I am not acquainted with a single collector who has a switch key to sell. Not even one! Some have duplicates, however; and the only way to get one of these is to swap one of your own duplicates for it. The trade must add a different key to the man's collection.

When the United States got mixed up in World War One, I tried a lot of ways to get a chance to go overseas and get in the mix-up. Finally, I landed a chance to go over by getting a job with the Y.M.C.A. in the Commissary Department, handling supplies for the Huts in France.

I went to Buffalo, New York and took two weeks' instruction in their method of handling supplies. Then, with some of the officials and a crew of ten men who were to have charge of Huts in France, we went to Hoboken, New Jersey to load supplies on the ship "Lord Devonshire" which was being loaded with a cargo for Cherbourg, France.

We were ten days at Hoboken and that sure was a madhouse, because we were a green crew, and the stevedores would hinder us instead of helping us, but we finally got all our merchandise on board except a shipment of mule harnesses.

I don't remember who made the shipment or where it came from but it was consigned to the Y.M.C.A., and we had to unload it on the platform, and it was still there when we sailed for France.We had a terrible trip, poor accommodations, rough weather and everybody terribly seasick.

We landed in the offing at Cherbourgh, and the "Lord Devonshire" being of too deep a draught, we had to lighter all of the merchandise from the ship to the docks, and that was an awful job and new work to all of us. We would have played in worse luck only that I met a French railroad man who hunted up some of the officials of the Railroad company, and they got us several carloads of tier and bridge timbers which were placed on the ground to make a platform for our goods. The dock people would not let us use the docks because our stuff was not going to be shipped out right away. We finally got our load off the ship and were trying to get organized with our housekeeping in some tents with the aid of some French cooks. Stuff was coming in on other ships, and we had to take care of it and store it on our ground platform. One shipment was five thousand pounds of cheese given to the Y.M.C.A. by a chain store owner in the United States, and that caused us a lot of trouble because we had to guard it 24 hours a day and try to keep it from spoiling by wetting the canvas covering it several times a day.

I had broken my left ankle a year before this trip overseas, and one day a brass hat stopped and asked me what was the matter, and I told him I had hurt my foot, and he told me to report to the medical center and have them look it over. Well, I didn't go. Two days after that he jumped me again asked me why I hadn't done as he told me, and I said that I hadn't the time to go.

He called to his driver and told him to take me up to the medical center and have them look at my foot. My ankle was always swollen after I had had it broken, and it did not look very good, and the doctor sent a bad report back to the brass hat. He asked me a lot of questions and the next day came to me and said, "You will have to return to the United States on the next ship as we don't want any men who are not physically fit at the front camps," and he saw to it that I did take next boat back to the U.S.

I landed in Philadelphia and in few days I had a job in Hog Island Ship Yards in an electrical warehouse, handing out supplies. I wrote to my sister as soon as I came back and told her why they had shipped me back home. About three weeks after my return, my sister got a notice that I was reported missing in France. I told her not to pay any attention to the notice and let them look for the body. I added to my railroad switch key collection by picking up three French railroad switch keys while I was in Cherbourg, France.

This, then, is the story of switch key hobby and the years railroading that lay behind it. There is nothing I would like better than be able to add to this collection. When I wrote this original story, I had only 136 different railroad switch keys. Now I have a grand total of 274, the largest known collection of this kind in the country. I lost the two old Illinois Cental iron screw keys that I had years ago, but now I have another one of the old I.C. screw keys and also one from the Cumberland & Pennsylvania Railroad.

These old iron screw keys are prized very highly by collectors, and I do not know of another collection that has two of these old keys. There are several known collections that have one of them, but my collection has two, and I think the record will hold because those keys were discarded more than fifty years ago.

I have the collection in two frames, one frame with 210 all different switch keys and 21 all different caboose, coach, baggage, Pullman, and dining car keys, The other frame has the emblems of railroads made by the Lee Company of South Bend, Indiana. These emblems are fastened in the frame, but I have only 66 keys to hang under the emblems and need 14 more all different to make the frame of 80 complete." [End of Original Article]

Since this article was written fifty-some years ago, you have to wonder whatever happened to Mr. Eversole's collection? In late 2002 we received an email that sheds more light on this. It is presented below with minor editing and all names omitted. We thank the individual who sent this to us.

"This morning I found E M Eversole's online article about his switch key collecting. At the end of the article the question was asked about whatever became of Mr. Eversole's collection of switch keys. Maybe I can give you a few clues that might answer your question. Mr. Eversole's story of his switch key collecting appeared in an issue of Railroad Magazine in the early 1940's. As best as I can remember this version was much shorter than the one in the KL&L. In the 1940s I was a teenage railfan and I wrote Mr. Eversole asking him if he would sell me a few keys. He wrote back saying he would. He was living in a home for retired railroad employees somewhere around the Chicago area. To make a long story short, I bought several keys from him, as much as a teenager in the 1940s had money for, which wasn't much I might add.

In the early 1950s I needed money more than I needed switch keys. Apparently Mr. Eversole and [name omitted] of Massachusetts were corresponding, and Mr. Eversole probably said he had sold some of his keys to me. Mr. [name omitted] contacted me and I agreed to sell them to him. He came all the way from Massachusetts to Ft Smith, Arkansas to get the keys. I would strongly suspect that [name omitted] wound up with the Eversole collection of switch keys. I understand he worked for the B&M RR. I do not have his present address."

Note. From time to time we are reprinting articles originally published in Key, Lock & Lantern's magazine with permission from that organization. See organizations or the KL&L website for information on joining KL&L.