Railroad Watch

r_i_straw May 25, 2018

  1. r_i_straw

    r_i_straw Staff Member

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    My father-in-law gave me his dad's railroad watch from his work for the Norfolk and Western. It still runs very well but I can't figure out how to set the time. The watch stem only winds it. The front face unscrews where you can get to the hands. Do you just move the hands manually? I am afraid to do that in case it is not.
    DSC_0002 2.jpg
     
  2. Hardcoaler

    Hardcoaler TrainBoard Member

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    What a beautiful pocket watch, Montgomery dial and all. Unscrew the front face and look closely at the thread area on the case in the area around the digit '1'. You'll likely see a tiny little lever. With your fingernail, pull it out. Now you can set the time using the stem. When done, be sure to press the lever back in place and gently screw the face back in place. You watch may be a Hamilton 992L, with the L standing for Lever Set. As I understand it, the lever set feature was eventually required in all railroad pocket watches.

    Lever Set watches were engineered with this extra safety feature which assured that that the time could not be reset by mistake, such as with the watch chain wrapping itself around the stem in a pocket and with pressure on the stem, the hands being moved. It also made it unlikely that a watch-carrying employee would adjust his watch, which was against the rules. (Employees compared their watches to a standard clock each day and their watch accuracy was recorded on a card and the card was turned in every so often. With this, the Watch Inspector would take the watch and adjust it if needed.)

    Thanks for posting this!
     
    Last edited: May 25, 2018
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  3. r_i_straw

    r_i_straw Staff Member

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    Thanks. Found the lever and was able to set the time. I unscrewed the back and found the model number. 992 but no L. However it obviously has a lever for setting it so I guess that was understood.
    DSC_0002 3.jpg
     
  4. BarstowRick

    BarstowRick TrainBoard Supporter

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    One fine time piece you have there.
    A voice from the past
    I have a few railroad time pieces myself. Given to my by my uncle who said they belonged to his dad and engineer for the Santa Fe Railroad.
    Memories to cherish. Who will appreciate and know what these mean in the generations to come?
     
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  5. Hardcoaler

    Hardcoaler TrainBoard Member

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    Yes, exactly. By the way, the exquisite decorative machining as seen on your movement is called Damaskeening.

    It's getting hard to find watchmakers that have the skills to work on these watches. I had mine worked on a few years ago. It still doesn't keep perfectly consistent time, but it runs well. You can adjust the overall watch speed as you see on your movement, but these movements should be adjusted by a watchmaker to six positions (face up, face down, stem up, stem to left (@ 9), stem to right (@ 3) and stem down (@ 6), plus something called "isochronism" (to assure the watch runs at the same speed regardless of how much the watch is wound or unwound) to keep consistent time.

    Nonetheless, I enjoy wearing it and perhaps I'm expecting far too much from a 90 year old movement. This is mine, a lever-set 992B.

    2013-12-07 Hamilton 992B - for upload.jpg
     
    Last edited: May 25, 2018
  6. TwinDad

    TwinDad TrainBoard Supporter

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    Beautiful timepieces. I have one that belonged to my great-grandfather. I can't recall what brand/model, and I'm not 100% sure whether it's an actual railroad watch or just a "railroad themed" watch (though he did work for the railroad nobody is quite sure in what capacity). I've been meaning to get it to a watchmaker for a while, as it does not run. It's not nearly as "fancy" as these though.

    ETA: It's an American Waltham, but apparently not a "Railroad Grade" watch... this would imply that Great Grandpa was not employed in a role where he would be keeping time officially.
     
    Last edited: May 25, 2018
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  7. Hardcoaler

    Hardcoaler TrainBoard Member

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    Waltham made excellent and renown watches. If you get a chance, post a picture of it. It'd be fun to see.
     
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  8. TwinDad

    TwinDad TrainBoard Supporter

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    How is this... As I said, it's more of a "consumer grade" watch, apparently, and it's missing the crown, but I hope I look this good at 112 years old. Great Grandpa would have been about 50 years old when this was made (~1905), and he died about ten years later (1916).

    The face... the glass is a bit worn and needs polished:
    [​IMG]
    Great grandpa's watch
    by Mark, on Flickr

    The back... also a bit worn, but I wouldn't change that for the world...
    [​IMG]
    Great grandpa's watch
    by Mark, on Flickr

    The works...
    [​IMG]
    Great grandpa's watch
    by Mark, on Flickr
     
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  9. Hardcoaler

    Hardcoaler TrainBoard Member

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    Wow, that's really nice. It has that eyecatching turn-of-the-century authenticity that is fun to look over and your photos are excellent. Looking at Waltham S/Ns, it appears that it was made in 1905. I'm not completely certain, but I think the series of set screws around the perimeter of the ring are set by the watchmaker to provide consistent timekeeping in the watch "positions" I mentioned earlier.

    Many railroaders wore their watches in the high centered chest pocket of their overalls, keeping it easily accessible in stem up position, clean (off the deck, away from coal dust and heat) and better insulated from vibration.

    As the years passed, watch manufacturers had to account for electro magnetic fields in electric and diesel locomotives to counter magnetic effects on watch precision. Hamilton marketed the Elinvar non-magnetic hairspring and other manufacturers too offered anti-magnetic balance wheels and hair springs.

    Thanks for posting!
     
    Last edited: May 27, 2018
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  10. fordy744

    fordy744 TrainBoard Member

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    Very nice pieces, and great to have them passed down to you!

    I'd love an authentic N&W watch.
     
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  11. Carl Sowell

    Carl Sowell TrainBoard Supporter

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    My dad went to work for the T&NO 2 months before I was born in August 1940. Here is a picture of his watch. His entire career was T&NO, T&L or if you prefer the SP. I like the T&NO best because that is what I grew up with. He retired in 1982 and passed in 1984. The watch runs well but the stem does not change the hands and I am afraid to attempt to remove the back plate.

    Carl

    [​IMG]

    Ooops, I had 2 pics................
    [​IMG]
     
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  12. r_i_straw

    r_i_straw Staff Member

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    Will the front face unscrew? That is how I get to the set lever on mine. As described above you pull the lever out and then the stem is engaged to set the time.
     
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  13. Randy Stahl

    Randy Stahl TrainBoard Supporter

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    I started collecting RR watches when I was 15. I have about 60 of them..

    My favorite is the Illinois Bunn Special 23j- 21j

    I have Hamiltons, Illinois, Waltham, South Bend, Elgin (Father Time 23j).

    All are railroad grade, I do have a 21j Elgin Father time in a hunters case though.

    I was a member of the National Association of watch and Clock collectors until I met my first girl friend....
     
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  14. Hardcoaler

    Hardcoaler TrainBoard Member

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    I'm not a member of the NAWCC, but I know someone who was and I have a stack of their excellent magazines. They had (and may still have) an excellent series of articles on railroad pocket watches as written by Ed Uberall and Kent Singer. Interesting stuff!

    upload_2018-6-2_16-34-20.png
     
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  15. Mike C

    Mike C TrainBoard Member

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  16. r_i_straw

    r_i_straw Staff Member

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    I found an old ad in the April 1942 National Geographic.
    Screen Shot 2018-06-03 at 8.24.11 PM.png
     

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