There have been plenty of reasons to form the belief that the 20th century was far superior in almost every way to this miserable new century that began seriously unwinding with the events of 9/11. That along with the long quarantine and my interest in radio has caused me to consciously slip back into the earliest days of the last century.

A relaxing evening at home now consists of a glass of wine while slipping into any book that details the events of 1901 to about 1946. Included in that reading were a couple of radio titles:

The Long Silence Falls - The Life and Times of the Merchant Navy Radio Officer.

Another, Portishead Radio about a UK station that provided worldwide maritime communications from 1928 until 2000.

And I haven’t missed much that was published about railroad telegraphy, an important piece of the communication story around the turn of the century. In fact it’s that rail connection that brings me to today’s post…

I’ve been spending some time with a friend who has a couple of very nice railroad pocket watches from around 1900. These having been handed down to him from his grandfather via his father they certainly mean more to him than anything that can be purchased off the shelf today.

I decided to see if I could find something similar for myself. The railroad watch isn’t just a pocket watch, there were some additional requirements that make them unique:

The watches that we have come to know as the “best” railroad watches were made after 1900. At this time both the watch companies and the railroads were hitting their stride in terms of volume and quality. An important part of standard watch regulations included service intervals and testing, but there is also a list of features that almost all railroad watches shared. 

Perhaps the most prominent feature of 1900’s railroad watches is their lever actuated setting mechanisms (referred to as “lever-set”). Most watches are put in time-setting mode by pulling the crown (winding knob) away from the watch, then pushing the crown back towards the watch to return to winding mode. This is referred to as “pendant-set.”

A lever-set mechanism requires the user to remove the bezel of the watch and engage a lever to place the watch in setting mode. This tedious process of removing the bezel of the watch had a very important purpose; it ensured that the time on the watch was never accidentally changed by catching the winding knob on a pocket or any number of other unintentional situations.

Last night I purchased a working 1911 Hampden Railroad Pocket Watch from a west coast antique dealer. Manufactured in the United States to railroad standards 110 years ago, it should arrive in a few days.

Now I’m on the lookout for a semi-local watchmaker to inspect it and make any necessary repairs and service and at some point I’ll need a fob and chain worthy of the timepiece.

I also need to look for trousers and vests with a watch pocket because I intend to regularly carry the Hampden. You might think that would be difficult to find, but as it turns out there are endless supplies of such on the Internet. How ironic that my recession back into the better days of the 20th century is being enabled by 21st century technologies?