Is it a Railroad Watch?


railroad watchIt is an accepted fact that American railroad pocket watches are unsurpassed in quality, reliability and accuracy. But many people ask - "Just what is a railroad watch?" What definitions and standards separates a railroad watch from any of the millions of other pocket watches common to the golden age of railroading.


Prior to 1893 there was no standards or definitions for a railroad watch, other than the general terminology of "a pocket watch used by railroad men". At that time there was over 500 American railroad companies and very few had specifications to define the quality of the pocket watches their conductors and engineers where expected to use. That all changed when the railroad industry adopted Webb C. Ball's - Guidelines for Railroad Timepieces. (see separate articles) - Get on the Ball, Railroad Watch Standards.

However, it should be noted the these were "guidelines", - not laws, rules or commandments - and as such not all railroad adopted them. Each individual railroad chose to adopt and/or modify all or parts of them at their own discretion. Many railroads wrote regulations that followed verbatim the pocket watch guidelines. Others modified them to their own ends or were very vague in their definitions. Some elected to be specific as to manufacturer and models required. And a few others did nothing at all, other than suggest certain pocket watches should be used.

The point is: there is a lot of ambiguity when it comes to railroad watches.

The definition for a "railroad watch" that seems to be most generally accepted is:

"A railroad watch is one that satisfies the general time service requirements that were in effect at the time the watch was built."

There were no nationwide standards and definitions, each railroad used their own rules and list of approved watches which changed and evolved from year to year.

For farther reading: Kent Singer has written and an excellent in depth article, which can be found here: Pockethorology.org

The National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors also provides more detailed information at this link: Railroad Watch

According to Experts, prices on Railroad Watches are expected to rise even more. Perhaps you should Invest in some yourself. You'll be glad you did!

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