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Geezer recalls good old days listening to UP

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CryptoBoy

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I remember having all sorts of fun back in the 1970s listening to the UP in central Nebraska. There were two channels back then, 160.74 and 160.29. I had a 4-channel crystal scanner with an outdoor antenna, and back in those days before computers, etc. that generate interference, I could hear trains from North Platte to Omaha.

This was long before the Harriman Center. We had the East North Platte Dispatcher, who was in North Platte and covered North Platte to Gibbon, the Omaha Dispatcher, who was in Omaha and covered Omaha to Gibbon, and the Marysville Dispatcher, who was in Kansas City and covered Gibbon to KC. All were on the same road channel (there was only one back then). This was really great, because you could hear everything, and the radio was always busy.

Trains had 4-channel Motorola crystal radios that looked a bit like telephones back then. They would transmit a single tone (not DTMF, no tone sequence, etc.) for as long as they held down the tone button. Then the DS would answer as "UP East North Platte Dispatcher", etc. I did lots of virtual railfanning via my scanner back then.

UP mobile telephone was fun to listen to as well. In those days, the mobile would tone up a tower just exactly the same as a train toning up the DS. They would hold down the tone button and it would make that single tone. Then an operator in Omaha would answer on a tower, usually by saying "Omaha" and then the name of the tower (like "Grand Island"). Sometimes the tone would light up multiple towers, so she would have to try more than one before she could hear the guy wanting to make the call. Then the mobile guy would tell what extension he wanted and the operator would manually make the connection. When the call was done, the operator would come back on and ask if they were through. If so, she would give the callsign for the tower and disconnect.

I used to have a gigantic state map that covered the wall of my room. I put little colored pins in it to show me which UP towers I had heard traffic on. I used to know them all, and that was back in the days when FCC info was unavailable. I do remember visiting the FCC office in Denver in the late 70s, where I got to look through their microfiche and wrote down all the UP licensed frequencies and locations for Nebraska. That took the better part of a day, and the FCC was totally less than enthusiastic about a civilian being there and doing that, even though this stuff was supposedly a matter of public record.

I really miss those days. That Fanon-Courier crystal scanner was the most sensitive radio I've ever used in my entire life. And as I said, in those days there wasn't anything out there to generate interference. I bet the noise floor was 20dB less than it is today. And with everything on just one channel, you didn't need much in the way of equipment to monitor it. I had three channels: UP road, UP PBX, and BN road. BN wasn't much fun to listen to because they really didn't have a radio network on the McCook Line or Ravenna Line until the early 80s (although they did have manual control towers and depots all over the place, unlike UP).

The other thing that was great about the good old days was nobody cared whatsoever about security. I used to go up in the control towers and BS with the operators all the time. They were usually happy to have the company. Even the local switch crews would often let me ride along as they were doing their work. It's sad to think that all this is gone forever.

Sorry about the sentimental nonsense. I just figured some of the young-uns would be interested in hearing how things used to be 40 years ago. If only I had tape recordings of that stuff...
 

Nasby

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Wow. Great story. I really enjoyed reading that. So many changes on the railroad (no more towers, multiple radio channels, etc.). Wish I had a time machine, a camera and of course a programmable scanner!!
 

phoenicks

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Enjoyed reading your sentimental journey. I got my first scanner for Christmas in 1973. It was an RCA brand 10 channel crystal scanner. I think I only needed 4 frequencies at the time. Grew up in rural Western PA. County fire was all on one freq and I think state police were on two. Was a lot more fun back then as you say, you could hear everything.
 

DPD1

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Good stuff... Yeah, things were more interesting back then I think. The fact that you DIDN'T know everything was fun. It was cool figuring something out on your own. Now it's almost too easy. Or back when I didn't even have a radio at all... That was actually the most fun. Waiting for the late night local to come by the house. We never knew if it would come or not. Then when that signal would light up, we knew it was on the way. Sometimes if the wind was blowing the right way, we would hear it off in the distance. Something about the mystique of that and not really knowing how everything worked exactly... It gave us an excuse to sit outside and mess around... We'd talk about where we thought the train might go, or what it might be carrying. It left a lot to the imagination. That's what made it fun.
 
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