Case Size: Size 16, original
Case Material: 10k gold filled
Country Manufacture: USA
Type of Pocket Watch: Railroad Pocket Watch
Dial: Porcelain dial
Burlington Special antique pocket watch, circa 1911. Runs very well, has been monitored for long-term accuracy. Dial exhibits chipping and hairline cracking. Crystal, glass in fine condition. Minor, less than expected wear to case with heraldic shield engraved on back of gold filled case. Very good condition.
Railroad chronometers, or Railroad Standard Watches, are specialized timepieces that once were crucial for safe and correct operation of trains in many countries. A system called Timetable and Train Order, which relied on highly accurate timekeeping, was used to ensure that two trains could not be on the same stretch of track at the same time.
Regulations of the watches used by critical personnel on the railroads (engineer, conductor, switch yard controllers, etc.) were specified almost from the beginning of widespread railroad use in the 1850s and 1860s.
These regulations became more widespread and more specific as time went on, with some watches that were "railroad standard" in one time period falling away to no longer being qualified in others. There was no absolute, universal definition used across different railroad lines; each company appointed one or more "time inspectors" (typically a watchmaker) who decided which watches they would work on and accepted as usable. In the United States, the American Railway Association held a meeting in 1887, which resulted a fairly standardized set of requirements, but not all railroads adopted them.
One notable watch inspector was Webb C. Ball. His first job as a time inspector was when he was brought in by the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railways in 1891 after a crash and was tasked with bringing their time inspection standards up to industry norms. Ball's career eventually led to him being the time inspector on more than half the United States' railways, leading to a far more uniform set of standards in the U.S.
A typical railroad's requirements for a watch in the early 1900s might include:
• only American-made watches may be used (depending on availability of spare parts)
• only open-faced dials, with the stem at 12 o'clock
• minimum of 17 functional jewels in the movement
• 16 or 18-size only
• maximum variation of 30 seconds (approximately 4 seconds daily) per weekly check
• watch adjusted to at least five positions: Face up and face down (the positions a watch might commonly take when laid on a flat surface); then crown up, crown pointing left, and crown pointing right (the positions a watch might commonly take in a pocket). Occasionally a sixth position, crown pointing down, would be included.
• adjusted for severe temperature variance and isochronism (variance in spring tension)
• indication of time with bold legible Arabic numerals, outer minute division, second dial, heavy hands,
• lever used to set the time (no risk of having the stem left out, thus inadvertently setting the watch to an erroneous time)
• Breguet balance spring
• micrometer adjustment regulator
• double roller
• steel escape wheel
• anti-magnetic protection (after the advent of diesel locomotives)
The Waltham Watch Company and the Elgin Watch Company were both used as early as the 1860s and 1870s as railroad standard watches. Later, Hamilton Watch Company, Illinois Watch Company and many of the other American watch manufacturers all produced railroad-grade watches.
The Time Signal Service of the United States Naval Observatory was used to ensure accuracy of railroad chronometers and schedule American rail transport.
The minimum requirements were raised several times as watch-making technology progressed, and the watch companies produced newer, even more reliable models. By WWII, many railroads required watches that were of a much higher grade (as many as 23 jewels, for example) than those made to comply with the original 1891 standard.