logo (24K)
Tower A

History of Tower "A" At the time it opened, the Cincinnati Union Terminal was served by seven railroads: the Baltimore & Ohio, the Chesapeake & Ohio, the Louisville & Nashville, the Norfolk & Western, the New York Central, the Pennsylvania and the Southern. 216 trains entered or departed the terminal a day. The movement of these trains to and from the mainlines, through the track throats, and along the platforms was controlled from Tower “A”. Tower “A” was somewhat similar to the control tower of one of today’s airports. The track switches were actuated by electro-pneumatic machines. Each track switch was shifted between it various positions by compressed air through valves which were energized by electric signals from Tower “A”. Throwing of the track switches, to guide the trains, was accomplished by means of a large interlocking machine located on the top floor of Tower “A”. The interlocking machine, as installed, had 187 working levers, by which lever men could align the switches down below. This enabled the train director, sitting at his desk, to determine the path of travel of each train through the terminal, and at which platform it would take on and discharge it’s passengers. As built, the machine had a capacity for 231 operating levers, and additional operating levers were added over the years. The interlocking machine, at the time of it’s installation, was the largest of it's type in service. the machine was 49 feet in length. It controlled 70 regular track switches, 37 double slip switches, 4 derails, 116 dwarf signals, 22 bridge signals and 11 ground high signals. The interlocking machine has long since been dismantled and removed for use elsewhere. There were also a Tower "B" and a Tower "C". To see two photos of blueprints showing the track layout for Tower "B" and Tower "C" click here.

In conjunction with the interlocking machine, there was a track diagram board. This board still exists and is 5 feet tall and 42 feet long. As installed, the track diagram board had 682 indication lamps mounted therein. Over the years, additional indication lamps were added.

The Cincinnati Union Terminal represented the first large installation of electro-pneumatic switches. In Tower “A” alone, 297,000 feet of wire were used. This was state of the art equipment designed by the Union Switch & Signal Company and enabled the switches and signals throughout the station tracks and north and south track throats to be controlled by one interlocking machine. The train director would call for the route to be set up for a particular train, and the lever men would actuate the appropriate levers of the interlocking machine to accomplish this.

In addition to controlling the movement of trains, the train director also supervised the departure of all trains. This was done through a train starting system, also designed by the Union Switch & Signal Company. A train starting control cabinet was located on the train director’s desk. Each platform track was provided with a train starting signal which would display a green light for the engineer to start his train only after buttons had been actuated by the train conductor on the platform, by the train director in Tower “A”, and by the gateman in the concourse. All signal aspects of the train starting signals were indicated on the director's train starting control cabinet. For a more detailed explanation of the train starting system with pictures click here.

Restoration of Tower "A"

In 1989, the Museum Center approached the Cincinnati Railroad Club concerning use of Tower “A” as the club’s headquarters. The club had been meeting at C.U.T. since 1938 and was the longest and last tenant of the building. When the terminal was undergoing renovation for the new museum, asbestos removal and other considerations required the club to relocate. It was the goal of the CRRC to return to the Terminal someday, and it had long been a dream that perhaps we could some day meet in Tower “A”. Having been given the opportunity to do just that, the CRRC members agreed to do the best they could to restore the Tower.

Tower1 (15K) When restoration began, the tower was a shambles, having been deserted, and uncared for, for 17 years. Windows were broken, ceilings and walls had suffered considerable water damage, all water, bathroom and electrical facilities had been disconnected and sealed off. The floors were also in deplorable shape, with numerous dangerous holes extending through to the level below.

The CRRC and the Museum Center are justifiably proud of the results of their efforts to restore the Tower. The ceiling in the main room is original with the Celotex tiles extending three feet down the walls for sound deadening purposes. Those tiles which were damaged or missing have been matched and replaced. Again, for sound deadening purposes, the original floor was covered with cork tiles. The new floor uses vinyl tile which very closely matches the original cork tile in color. In addition, the position of the interlocking machine (now gone) has been outlined in the floor in black to give visitors an indication of the massiveness of that mechanism. The main room has been altered only to the extent that small stairways and exit doors have been added to the northeast and southeast corners. These exits lead to access stairways to the elevator machinery for both the north and south elevators of the building. This provides sufficient exits from the Tower in case of emergency.

TowerA2 (14K) In order to comply with code with respect to access to the main stairway, it was going to be necessary to cut off large portions of the track diagram board to provide either a 7 foot clearance to walk under it or to provide sufficient space between its ends and the adjacent walls to walk around it. As installed, the bottom edge of the board was only 5 feet above the floor. Regarding the track diagram board as a major feature of the room, the CRRC did not wish to alter it, and hired Fenton Rigging to raise the board to the ceiling. This was a major undertaking, as the board weighs several hundred pounds. An excellent job was performed by Fenton Rigging and the required 7 foot clearance was achieved, with 1 inch to spare.

The windows have been provided with old-fashion venetian blinds with wide slats. The CRRC specially ordered these blinds so that they would be the same in appearance as the original blinds installed in the tower in 1933.

Dispatcher's desk looking north Sep '91 Dale Brown (10K) The train director’s desk is 25 feet long and was originally topped with a black linoleum. The top was in very bad condition and was removed. It was not realized, until efforts were made by the club to replace it, that linoleum is not all that easy to find today, particularly a single color of the type used on table and desk tops. Fortunately, the club was able to locate an appropriate product manufactured in Sweden. The train director’s desk mounted a train starting cabinet. This cabinet or console has a plurality of switches and lights and is currently being restored. Original “candlestick” telephones have been found and mounted on the table exactly as they had been in 1933. All three of the telephones are genuine equipment and not replicas. One of the telephones has had modern-day mechanisms mounted in it and is fully operational.

Of the 13 original light fixtures, only a few remained and they were, for the most part, in very bad condition. Two of them, however, have been restored and are located near the stairway. New light fixtures, similar to the original fixtures, have been installed in the main room in the exact positions of the original fixtures.

Efforts to light the indicator lights of the track diagram board were successful. The board contains several hundred bulbs. Brand new transformers were custom made to fit in the board and have been installed. A number of the bulbs and colored jewels are missing and efforts are being made to find suitable replacements.

At the present time using computer software the board is being made to change as if the interlocking machine were working. When finished you will be able to see several routes both north and south bound on the track diagram board.To see how the rear of the board before we started upgrading it and the indicator lights, from the board, in an 'exploded' view click here.

Looking north at track diagram board during raising Aur '91 Dale Brown(9K) At the north and south ends of the main room, there are large illuminated clocks. Unfortunately, these were slave clocks run by signals from the master clock of the building. The master clock no longer exists. The CRRC was able to purchase a new master unit so that the original clocks could be restored.

The original mop closet has been restored and is fully operational. The original locker room is now the file and archive room. The original bathroom has been converted into separate men’s and women’s facilities with new fixtures. Finally, the signal maintainer’s room has been converted to a library. The CRRC maintains the largest railroad library in the Tri-state area.

The CRRC agreed from the outset that the Museum Center should be free to conduct tours through Tower A at any time. In addition, there is a club member present in Tower A to greet visitors during public hours.


© Copyright 2011 Cincinnati Railroad Club