Railroad Telegraphy: Connecting Waterville With the Outside World
The lost art of railroad telegraphy was brought to life November 19 when Barney Stickles displayed his collection of telegraphic and train station equipment at Wakeman Hall and demonstrated how he used them.
Stickles 83, was employed by both the Nickel Plate Railroad and Wabash Railroad as a telegrapher, dispatcher, general agent and eventually manager of the Toledo Terminal.
"The invention of the telegraph led to the rapid expansion of the nation's economy," he said. Industrial development centered around the railroads and the telegraph.
Tapping out "What Hath God Wrought!" Stickles repeated the first words sent by Samuel F. B. Morse to Alfred P. Vail, the inventors of the telegraph in 1844. Many thousands of miles of telegraph wires were erected along railroad right-of-way and connected Waterville as well as countless other towns to the outside world.
The Toledo, St. Louis and Western Railroad, commonly known as the "Cloverleaf" was also called "The Commercial Traveler." Stickles explained that salesmen from distant places would take the train to all the towns along the route. Stopping in Waterville they would stay at the Columbian House, lay out a display of their wares and later return to the station to place their orders and move on.
Telegraphers had to be highly skilled Stickles said, or trains could crash head on. He blamed the telegrapher who did not get the SOS signal out in time to prevent the sinking of the Titanic. Stickles was obviously highly trained as he rapidly sent messages in both Morse and International Code to the enjoyment of the 44 people in attendance.