Agent's Office: View Toward Telegraph Desk
The Agent's Office was the heart of the depot. The Station Agent was the manager of the property, and often had one or more employees to oversee - usually a clerk and perhaps another to handle baggage and the loading and unloading of freight. In many cases, the agent was also the telegraph operator, and this task had the highest priority because it often involved the safe movement of trains. The telegraph was used to communicate with the dispatcher, who controlled train movements throughout his assigned territory.
The photo shows two sounders (receivers) and resonators [the tall items], two keys (senders), one "jack hole" box on the right, and one peg board on the wall. There were two sets of telegraph equipment on this desk until approximately April 1, 1925: one set for the Santa Fe (on the left) and the other for the San Antonio & Aransas Pass. In offices with more than one telegraph sounder, a tobacco can (Prince Albert, in this case) was often used to change the tone of the sounder(s), so that the operator could audibly differentiate between them. The tobacco can lid could be opened more or less to adjust the tone further.
Telegraph sounders, keys, patch board and jack hole box
As with many jobs of the era, the agent had a mountain of paperwork to attend to and keep current - tickets, waybills, telegraph messages, ledgers, tariffs, express forms, receipts, placards – the list was nearly endless. The multitude of cabinets and drawers held the items necessary for the business of passengers, freight, and express items. The atmosphere in the room often changed suddenly - from eerily quiet to incredibly busy and everything in between.
Station Agents at Eagle Lake Santa Fe Depot included:
1911 - 1912: C. S. Durham
1913: F. L. Bass
1915 - 1917: F. W. Stoldt
1920 - 1927: Wm. C. Arnold
1928 - 1945: H. W. Graves
1947 - 1948: T. A. Brown
1948 - 1952: C. W. Barger
1955: J. D. Adams
1956 - 1957: B. H. Tolliver
1958 - 1970: J. A. Reese
That being said, a station agent often held favored status, especially in the smaller communities where the railroad and telegraph were connections to the rest of the world. Like many positions in railroad service, the agent's job could be transitory in nature since those employees at the top of the seniority roster had the first pick of assignments and could "bump" those with less seniority out of a desired location. The effect trickled down to those of lowest seniority, who could be left without an assignment and either wind up on the "extra board" (working irregular hours at various locations as needed) or on furlough (unpaid leave). Before an employee built up enough seniority to avoid furlough, the first few years could be rough, and some left the railroad service in search of more stable employment. For those that stayed on, however, the railroad often provided a rewarding career and better than average pay.
Above: 1911 Train Order from the Santa Fe issued at Wallis, TX. Courtesy of Rosenberg Railroad Museum. Train orders were issued by the train dispatcher and sent via telegraph to the operator at the depot, who would in turn hand write (or possibly type) the order and deliver it to the train crew. The operator usually had to make 5 copies of the order - one for the conductor, engineer, fireman, head brakeman, and one to keep on file at the depot.