Harry Adlington, railroad agent
In 1910 the station agent, or manager, at Cummings Station in South Berwick, Maine, was Harry Ernest Adlington. He began his work life with trains in 1892, on his 16th birthday. He was a switchman, pulling levers to shift tracks in order to steer a train in a new direction. The switchman also coupled train cars together. Before the 1890s this was a dangerous job, because train cars were connected by an iron link held by a pin, and the switchman standing between cars to join them could be crushed if the cars moved. Automatic couplers were invented in the 1870s, and by the time Harry started work, they were required on all trains. Later he worked as a telegraph operator, sending coded messages by wire. An operator tapped a telegraph key to produce an audible signal at the next station—a series of clicks that a skilled operator could translate into words. The electric telegraph was the earliest form of telecommunication, which we know today in the form of cell phones and wireless computers.
The family moved to South Berwick from Kittery in 1901, the year Harry was married, and they lived in a house behind the train station. As station agent, Harry was in charge of operations at the Cummings Station. He sold tickets to passengers from the window of the ticket booth in the center of the station. He posted train time tables and answered questions about the schedule. He handled baggage, received freight, and arranged for delivery. He maintained the station house, clearing snow from the platform and stoking the woodstove in winter. And he operated the telegraph to communicate with the train dispatcher and other stations. Harry worked at Cummings Station for 20 years until he moved to a larger station in Dover in the late 1920s to be a towerman, signaling multiple train lines. At the end of his career he was a conductor on passenger trains. Like many Boston and Maine Railroad employees, Harry spent his whole career with one company, retiring after 50 years of service.
(Written by Nina Maurer for the Hike through History.)