The 1996 Morse Day Meeting of the Tampa Chapter of the Morse Telegraph Club

Note this is a draft article and will most likely be revised.

From Section 18 of the Articles of Incorporation and By-laws of the Morse Telegraph Club , Inc.

Professor Morse's Birthday

On the last Saturday in April of each year the Grand Chapter will, and each Local Chapter is expected to, hold a meeting, luncheon or banquet to celebrate the anniversary of the birth of the inventor of Morse Telegraphy, namely, Professor Samuel F.B. Morse, who was born April 27, 1791, and died April 2, 1872.

The Tampa Chapter of the Morse Telegraph Club Converges on Brooksville

See some photos !

by Greg Raven

On Saturday April 27, 1996, the Tampa Chapter of the Morse Telegraph Club gathered in Brooksville Florida, to celebrate the 205th birthday of Samuel F.B. Morse. The traditional meeting place, the old Atlantic Coast Line Depot, is a most appropriate place for this gathering. The discussions of the early history of the station and the Brooksville area were fascinating. Some of the storytellers were participants ! Some of the members told stories of working in this depot, some of them fondly, some of them with horror.

When one hears the word "frontier" the mind is suddenly filled with images of the American West. Images of cowboys and Indians, grizzled miners, and untamed land filled with bears and mountain lions. Most believe this was gone by the turn of the century, except on some cheesy Hollywood movie set.

It is not widely known that the railroader and the telegrapher were more responsible for the "taming"(opening up) of the American west than any other single factor. Surely by the beginning of the 20th century, there were no more frontiers left to be conquered in North America. Well, that ain't true ! Members of the TP chapter of the MTC were participants in the opening of the last frontier in North America-- Florida !

Even though the Spanish had settled Florida in the early 1500s, the only population of significance was in northern Florida, in the "panhandle". The interior of Central and South Florida was essentially uninhabited well into the 20th century. In fact, the Miccosukee Indian tribe of the Florida Everglades was the last undisturbed group of Native Americans in the United States, having remained essentially isolated from the world until the 1930s !

Railroads penetrated Central Florida in the 1880s, and the state encouraged this with large land grants given to the new lines based on their trackage. Most of these lines were built to the narrow guage width of 3 foot between the rails. Keep in mind that most of the Rocky Mountains had been opened up with narrow guage rails several years in prior to this Florida "rail boom". The Florida Southern railroad grew to become one of the largest narrow guage systems in North America. Eventually this system was absorbed into the Atlantic Coast Line, the primary employer of our TP Chapter telegraphers ! (the system had been converted to the standard guage of 4'8 and one-half inches by 1902)

According to ACL telegrapher Jack Griffin, the Morse Telegraph was the primary means of communications on the ACL well into the 50s. The Brooksville depot had 3 wires-- a train order wire, a general railroad business wire, and a Western Union wire.

Member L.A. Bailey related the insanity of the depot during the heyday of the ACL in Brooksville. This was one very busy place ! There were very significant shipments of commodities from this area. One does not think of Florida as being an active mining region, but there are many very active phosphate mining operations in the area. Most of these operations shipped by rail. Other important commodities included lumber and agricultural products. LA even got drafted to help straighten out the yearly watermelon shipping disaster !

Out of the insanity of the Brooksville depot comes at least one fond memory for LA. He met his wife on the front steps of the building ! It is no coincidence that his father-in-law was also a telegrapher who worked in the Brooksville depot.

Paul English told a story illustrating the primitive frontier nature that Florida held even in the thirties. He remembers dispatching trains with NO AIR BRAKES. These trains had to be seperated from normal freight and passenger trains by at least 30 minutes for safety reasons.

Being involved with a railroad was not necessarily a safe job, even for a telegrapher. Gruesome stories of wrecks caused by careless dispatching and dismemberments of fellow railroaders were recalled to make it clear that this was no glamourous undertaking. Both Jack Griffin and Paul English recalled near death experiences as they handed train orders up to moving locomotives. Jack came within a few inches of a head smashing by the flapping door of a refrigerator car coupled to the tender of a fast-moving train. Paul was nearly swept away by the protruding appliances of a new class of large steam locomotive.

These stories are fascinating and were certainly appropriate for the setting. It is unfortunate, however, that telegraphers from other disciplines of the art could not be present for the meeting. It would be wonderful to hear tales of Western Union, the press wires, and other users of Morse. Did you realize that the phone company was a major user of Morse ? Surely other member's stories should be told and remembered.

Forward to 1996-- ACL Telegraphers at it again in the Brooksville Depot !

Someone told me one time that if you have truly learned some skill, you will never forget it. This was verified for the case of Morse telegraphy, as our brethren proceeded to demonstrate. The dial-up Morse set was installed, and Paul English proceeded to sling some beautiful Morse. Paul acted as our chapter spokesman on the wire, welcoming the new club president and thanking him for allowing the club to continue. Jack and LA took turns at the wire, contacting friends over a nation wide Morse wire, the scope of which may have rivaled the best of the Western Union Morse days thanks to the interconnection of a new Canadian hub with the official Morse Telegraph hub KB in Pennsylvania.

Paul English provided some excellent modem-tapes, which were used to fill the gaps between several dial-up sessions. This worked excellently. Other chapters please note-- having modem-tapes on hand is a good back-up in case of phone line failures.

Equipment Displays

Several members brought telegraph equipment for display which added to the ambiance of the meeting. LA brought some excellent Vibroplexes. Don Bice brought a nicely displayed and genuine piece of the original Atlantic cable ! Jack Griffin brought a working portable Western Union set. Greg Raven brought his telegraph table, as well as providing the dial-up equipment complete with candlestick style resonator. Chapter Historian John Wonat showed the Model-X Vibroplex which was recently donated to the depot display.

Transfer of Secretary-Treasurer

Don Bice has served the TP chapter as secretary-treasurer for 5 years. Don had decided it was time for "new blood". Member Greg Raven was "volunteered" and accepted the position. All necessary files and accounts were transferred to Greg during the meeting. Dick Metzger continues as TP chapter President.


The 1996 Morse Day meeting of the TP chapter of the Morse Telegraph Club was a lot of fun. I hope to see everyone back next year, and I encourage all members who have not attended a meeting to drop by if only to say hello. We would really love to see you ! 30

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