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SCL's Red-Dot Couplers

A passenger engineer recalls some embarrassing incidents with an office car
It goes without saying that the smooth handling of Seaboard Coast Line's Florida streamliners was a matter of personal pride for the line's customarily well-tenured passenger engineers, and never more so than when an office car containing the railroad's top brass was added to the consist. Even so, a road foreman of engines always rode the lead unit to make sure nothing went wrong.

You can imagine the untold embarrassment and humiliation that occurred in the early 1980's when SCL business car Baltimore uncoupled at speed from Amtrak's Silver Meteor near Petersburg, Va. The parting of air-brake hoses automatically causes an emergency brake application through the train. The Meteor -- thanks to the multiplied braking power of its 18 cars -- halted much more quickly then the single lightweight business car, which caught up with, and rammed into, the rear of the standing train. Luckily, no serious injuries were suffered by its occupants, which included then-Seaboard System President Richard Sanborn.

Improper coupling was blamed, and instructions in the form of a system-wide bulletin were issued requiring that every SCL office car be immediately modified with a red reflector, about the size of a quarter, fitted into the drop-link eyelet of the Type H Tightlock couplers. The reflector was visible only when the knuckle was indeed closed and the locking pin securely seated.

The cure? Hardly. A couple of weeks later, and at about the same location, the Baltimore again came loose while bringing up the markers on the Meteor. Again, there were no injuries.

A few days after that incident, Mr. Sanborn climbed aboard my engine as I prepared to depart Richmond with the daylight Palmetto. (He liked to ride in the cab and ran an exceptionally good train when he chose to take the controls.) I welcomed him aboard, but couldn't resist ridding him. "Given your luck with that office car, I can see why you'd want to ride this dirty and hot engine." Sanborn chomped on his cigar, shook his head, then roared with laughter.


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Three stories written and photographed by Jim Shaughnessy.


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