The conductors job involved more than collecting tickets. He was the captain of the train. He supervised other train crew, looked out for the safety of everyone aboard, and made sure that every passenger paid the correct fare. The engineer was responsible for signals and speed restrictions en route, but the conductor determined when a train could safely depart a station and was in charge during emergencies. The conductors role as chief of the train came from maritime tradition. Many conductors on the first American railroads in the 1830s had been steamboat or coastal packet captains.
Southern Railway conductor C. Frank Marshall and engineer David L. Fant compare watches, Greenville, South Carolina, 2:48 p.m., January 4, 1929.
Pullman conductor John W. Zimmer greets a passenger, Burlington, Iowa, 1925.
Conductors watch, Hamilton Model 950, 23 jewels, 1918
It was most important that the conductor keep the train on schedule. To ensure accuracy, watches were inspected regularly by jewelers on contract to the railroad.
Railroad rule book, Southern Railway, 1930s
Railroad companies developed standard sets of rules that train crews and dispatchers were expected to follow. Collisions and derailments were widespread on the early railroads and the rules were designed to prevent accidents.
Conductors ticket and cash case, about 1860
Conductors accounted for the ticket of each passenger and, when necessary, sold tickets on board. This early caseand later, a larger grip (small suitcase)kept records in order.
Railroad conductors cap, 1920s-1940s
A conductors most recognizable badge of office was the traditional hat. Other trainmen wore these, too, so the cap badge indicated the wearers title and authority.
Convention badge, Order of Railway Conductors, 1915
Most union conductors belonged to either the Order of Railway Conductors, founded in 1868, or the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen, founded in 1883.