The found poetry, Dada-isms and glass arm of a telegraph operator.

Tapping here into a particular strain of J.G. Ballard’s beloved invisible literature. A training manual written by George M. Dodge, owner of a training center for would-be telegraph men, discovered while I was noodling around for more information on a favorite ailment; the glass arm of the telegraph man. Decades before carpal tunnel or repetitive stress, the continuous dot-dotting and dash-dashing of Morse code wrecked the connect between mind and body. There’s an 1898 booklet of remedies if you are equally blighted. The curse of the glass arm numbed the operator. Dead fingers could no longer talk.

First published in 1899, The Telegraph Instructor passed through multiple editions until 1921. There is no joy within these pages. It appears a standard text.  The life of a machine talking to a machine. Humans seem in the way. There is no hint of career obsolescence. No hint of change. This is the job you make.

Ballard wrote how drifting through similar texts “provides the most potent compost for the imagination.” And some of this material could have been grist for Kurt Schwitters sound poetry. Some of it comes at you askew. And some it makes no sense at all. Within a book about communication.

None of these sentences have been manipulated. They’ve been sat sitting inside Mr Doidge’s book.

The word “Telegraph”, strictly defined, means “To write afar off.”


Note.—Perhaps, to make this latter paragraph clearer, it might be added that on a circuit of fifty instruments, should forty-nine of these detach their sounder and local battery, the remaining one would not be aware of it.


Take an easy and graceful position.


The alphabet should be attained theoretically.

Aim, buy, care, dove, easy, farm, good, hill, ice, jot, keep, life, many, none.


Uniformity of space is highly essential for correct sending.

I have found in my experience that a great majority of beginners are inclined to put the characters in letters too closely together, thereby creating a style of “jerk sending”, which is bad in the extreme.


Erie, error, choice, & Co., piece, price, bicycle, voice.


Never Contend For the Circuit.


Whenever one is asked to “sine” he should give his office call, and if he is asked “wo” he should give his personal signal.


stop for breakfast, sfb

stop for dinner, sfd

stop for night, sfn

stop for tea, sft


Q. Wt ty doin dwn tr—What are they doing down there?

A. Gtg 2 mt gonds to set in at WS—Getting two empty gondolas to set in at Winslow.


Q. 5 P—Have you anything for Plymouth?

A. Es r hrs a roast—Yes sir, here is a roast (a great number).


Q. Hw do u count East St L—How do you count East St. Louis?

A. 1 w—One word.


Chief wants to know why it is so hard to raise you?


Bug-in-the-wire—A slang phrase frequently used when a wire is in trouble.

Getting Old—As applied to telegrams, means they are being delayed.

Local Is Bad

Wire to the Air.


As a matter of fact, suggestive thoughts will frequently present themselves, which are other than those spoken of, and these should be discussed and receive proper consideration, but one system of each branch of the work should be adhered to so far as possible.


Wild trains are inferior to all regular trains of whatever class.


“No. 71 a—on sdg clr order 127 is NG to 72?” (“a”, arrived; “on sdg clr”, on siding clear—meaning clear of main track; “NG”, no good). The Despatcher would answer “OK 31 copy one” and send the following order:—“Order No. 133 to opr V. If No. 71 is clear order No. 127 is annulled.” The Valparaiso operator upon receiving this order would repeat it to the Train Despatcher in the regular way, signing his own name, whereupon the Despatcher would “complete” the latter order “No. 133”. The Valparaiso operator would then write across the face of order No. 127, “annulled by order No. 133”, and file together orders numbers 127 and 133, and allow No. 72 to proceed without the order. Operators are not permitted to bust or file orders without first receiving a “31” order to do so as shown in order No. 133 herewith.


Obedience to the rules is essential to safety.

Dwarf Signal.—A low home signal.


Q.  Should torpedoes be placed near stations, road crossings, or in yards where persons are liable to be injured by them?  A.  No.

Q.  When does a train lose its right? 

Q.  What is the “X” response?


“Art”, “OK” and “I” are used for acknowledging verbal instructions, meaning the same as “yes sir” in the English language.

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