Friday, May 27, 2016

Lesson 5: The Missing Link

***The Missing Link

The loss of lives and goods was disastrous – yet tragically this man-made disaster was completely avoidable. On April 19 1891, a fast mail train known as the No4 and a passenger train were sharing the same track. The engineer and conductor of the passenger train were given written orders to let the fast train pass at Kipton, a small station near Cleveland, Ohio.

As the train was leaving the station, the telegraph operator ran to the platform and verbally cautioned the engineer and conductor: "Be careful, the fast No 4 is running on time!"
The conductor replied: "Go to hell, I know my business".

What he didn't know was that engineers watch – the official timekeeper – had stopped the previous night for 4 minutes, then started ticking again. Shortly afterwards the two trains meet their destiny; the passenger train somehow managed to stop, but the fast mail train didn't even make an attempt to brake.

Following this disaster, the US Rail authorities found that many conductors on freight trains used cheap alarm clocks as master timekeepers. While the railroad service was expanding at a fast pace, the accuracy of railroad timepieces was completely inadequate.

From the ashes of the Ohio train disaster the phoenix rose in the form of the greatest American timekeeper: the great American railroad pocket watch; a watch unrivalled in quality and reliability. 

By 1893 the General Railroad Standard for pocket watches were adopted:
"Be open face, size 16 or 18, have a minimum of 17 jewellers, adjusted to at least 5 positions, keep time accurately to within a gain or loss of only 30 seconds a week, adjusted to temperature of 34 to 100 Fahrenheit, have a double roller, steel escape wheel, lever set, micrometric regulator, winding stem at 12 o'clock, grade on back plate, use plain Arabic numbers printed bold and black on a white dial, and have a bold black hands".

The railman was required to buy a pocket watch more accurate than many scientific precision instruments used in laboratories, and the American pocket watch industry was compelled to produce such instrument. And to its credit, amazingly, it did.

For the next 50 years American railroad watches were amongst the finest, most accurate timepieces one could acquire. Produced to the highest standard, finely manufactured, perfectly adjusted, outshining and outperforming any Swiss mass-produced competitors.

Even today, a hundred years later, most Swiss wrist watches are just a pale shade of the American railroad pocket watches.

For many years, fine pocket watches were the mainstream of horological collections.

In comparison to pocket watches, most wrist watches produced between 1930s and 1960s were pathetically inferior, and as such, completely rejected by serious watch collectors.

Sadly, this trend has been reversed and the reviewal of pocket watches is highly unlikely. Modern Swiss manufacturing primarily focuses on mass-produced, average-quality, over-hyped and overpriced timepieces.

However even a novice watch enthusiast should at least have one pocket watch in his collection.
The pocket watch - the 'missing link' between the marine chronometer and your wrist watch - is out there, waiting to be 'discovered'.

In the early 1960s a Swiss watch movement manufacturer called Unitas developed a pocket watch mechanism which was regarded as robust and reliable, yet affordable enough to be fitted into pocket watches sold to the mass market.

Unfortunately, like a few similar pocket watch movements, this mechanism arrived on the horological scene too late. By the 1960s pocket watches were already out of fashion and further development on a mass scale made no financial sense. The movement was largely dormant, but thanks to its size, it was widely used as a learning tool for novice watchmakers. When large wrists watches became fashionable in the late 1990s, this very mechanism was 'discovered and resurrected' by Panerai and a couple of other small boutique brands who successfully reintroduced it to watch enthusiasts.

And this is the very same Unitas movement that ticks in your rebelde.

Complete the blanks:

Railroad _______________ are high quality precision timepieces, built to last for many generations.

Happy collecting,

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