Railroad Grade Howard Series 11

Thread: Railroad Grade Howard Series 11

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  1. #1
    Member Eeeb's Avatar
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    Railroad Grade Howard Series 11

    It was pocket watches, specifically a Columbus Watch Company pocket watch, that got me interested in watch collecting. The watch was made 130 years ago within walking distance of my home. I never realized Columbus had a watch company and started researching it.

    But it was Ray MacDonald that got me interested in this Howard watch. He called it the Patek Phillippe of American pocket watches. I was amazed. It does show incredible workmanship. And, though I could never afford a Patek, I could afford this Howard!








    (Seller's pics... more later!)


    The driving force behind this watch was the railroad industry. After the Civil War, American railroads exploded. They replaced rivers as the main mode of transportation and became an everyday part of life. They forced the 1883 standardization of time zones (in the US) to simplify scheduling.

    Most rail lines were single track. Two way operations were done by scheduling one train to switch off the mainline onto a siding while another train passed. This required accurate timekeeping. But in 1891 a four minute error in an Engineer’s watch caused a wreck that resulted in the death of nine people in Ohio.

    To address the problem the railroad hired W.C. Ball, a Cleveland jeweler. On his recommendation they adopted a minimum standard that all watches used by Engineers, Conductors, and other trainmen needed to meet. Ball went on to codify the 1893 General Railroad Timepiece Standards and the Railroad Watch came into being.

    A Railroad Standard Watch has two basic objectives: Accuracy and Usability. In general most standards encompassed the following:


    • 18 or 16 size
    • Fitted with 17 or more jewels
    • Temperature compensated
    • Adjusted to 5 positions
    • Lever Set
    • Timed to +/- 30 sec/week
    • Fitted with a: Double roller, Patented regulator, Steel escape wheel
    • Have plain white dial with: Black Arabic numerals, Each minute delineated
    • Open face
    • Configured with the winding stem at 12 O’Clock


    A further refinement was the Montgomery Dial developed by Henry S. Montgomery for the Santa Fe Railway System. It requires each minute be numbered, every 5 minutes to be in red, and the 6 hour to be marked even if it is in the seconds subdial.

    The resultant Railroad Grade watch is an accurate, very readable and very usable time keeper which the employee was expected to buy with their own money. (The railroads conducted regular inspections to assure all watches being used met Railroad Standards.)

    The specific example I have is a Howard Series 11, a 21 jeweled watch built in Boston MA specifically as a Railroad Standard watch. Indeed the movement is labeled as a Railroad Chronometer. It has a simple Keystone case which lacks any ornamentation and is only 10KT RGP. It is a working man’s watch which an Engineer or Conductor had to pay $100 to buy in 1913, the approximate manufacture date. In 1913 that was more than a month’s wages for its buyer. (The low cost case in this example kept the price down but this was still one of Howards’ more expensive watches. A 14KT solid gold case on this movement only doubled the price. The base movement was expensive.) The watches were often bought on credit. So nothing fancy, just the basics – except for the movement.

    The movement is a thing of beauty and a joy forever… Built to last… Built to be accurate. This Howard times today as follows:

    ===========Rate===== Amplitude====Beat Error
    Crown Up:==== +7======= 187========= 0.0
    Crown Right:== -23======= 161========= 0.2
    Crown Left:=== +20======= 187=========0.0
    Dial Up:====== +6======= 150========= 0.2
    Dial Down:==== +7======= 140========= 0.1

    After 95 years it is still pretty healthy but it is not meeting Railroad Specifications and needs adjusting… I’ll see if my watchmaker wants to take on that task. He might just for the fun of working on a Howard. Then again, I might not be able to afford it (see the thread on adjusting!).

    Of all my watches, this is the easiest to read. It feels good. The only finishing is the knurling around the edge of the face and back… and that too is functional, allowing one to unscrew those faces.



    As a regular and moderator in HEQ I find it interesting I now have a watch which not only won’t hack but which also must be partially disassembled to set the time. For sure, no Conductor was going to accidently change the time of a Railroad Grade watch. It requires a deliberate act.

    But they did not have to set the time very often. The specification of +/- 30 seconds per week means at most once a week. Usually they would sync to a Station Clock which was kept in sync with a master clock via telegraph.

    An interesting aside, the only Swiss manufacturers who were able to build watches high grade enough to make Railroad Grade were Audemars Piguet and Vacheron Constantin. But most of the high end American makers made a line of Railroad Grade watches… even the Columbus Watch Company. The Howard Series 11 is certainly one of the best. And this one is a good example of one actually used for its intended purpose – keeping Railroad Time!
    Last edited by Eeeb; August 15th, 2008 at 17:15. Reason: typo add pic
    "Forever is composed of nows." - Emily Dickinson

    "The watch has to be surrounded by a history.
    You need more than just a great design. You need to create an atmosphere around the product.
    Who is the company behind it? Why are they using this material?
    People need to be able to identify the watch with themselves. It's based on emotion." - Ralph Furter

    ...that's just my opinion and I've been wrong before and will be again and might be now!

  2. #2
    Member Ray MacDonald's Avatar
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    Re: Railroad Grade Howard Series 11

    What more can I say...the creme de la creme, the bees knees, the cat's PJs, THE railroad watch for the ages...Howard. The name says it all.
    This was the one you got when you climbed into the cab of the high stepping Pacific to run the mainline express...or that big new Mikado with a fast freight in tow. Or maybe you were the senior conductor on the City of New Orleans. Check the Howard...wait for the highball signal...put the J-bar in the corner...open the throttle. Watch the drivers roll.
    Howard didn't make that many compared to some of the major makers...but if you want a railroad watch, you want a Howard.
    This one probably did its share of workin' on the railroad..but it's still something to make me drool.
    A beautiful piece and Eeeb should be justifiably proud to put such a thoroughbred in his stable. They ain't making 'em like this any more.
    Last edited by Ray MacDonald; August 14th, 2008 at 18:05.

    There are fathers who do not love their children; there is no grandfather who does not adore his grandson. ~ Victor Hugo

  3. #3
    Member Eeeb's Avatar
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    Re: Railroad Grade Howard Series 11

    I took a bunch of pics but can't get them off the storage card, yet. The Howard went off to the watchmaker to see why it has timing problems crown right and crown left. He agreed to look into the problem but promised nothing. The only good news is he says he has two sources for Howard parts...

    Other than the crown right/left problem, the watch is keeping impressive time. I love having a timing machine
    Last edited by Ray MacDonald; August 15th, 2008 at 02:17.
    "Forever is composed of nows." - Emily Dickinson

    "The watch has to be surrounded by a history.
    You need more than just a great design. You need to create an atmosphere around the product.
    Who is the company behind it? Why are they using this material?
    People need to be able to identify the watch with themselves. It's based on emotion." - Ralph Furter

    ...that's just my opinion and I've been wrong before and will be again and might be now!

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  5. #4
    Member Shangas's Avatar
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    Re: Railroad Grade Howard Series 11

    It looks like a very nice watch, although the dial looks like it's been cracked.

    I see that my innocent little question about watch-adjustments has had an impact here!
    "Pipes are occasionally of extraordinary interest...nothing has more individuality save, perhaps, watches and bootlaces."

    - Sherlock Holmes.

    'The Yellow Face'.

  6. #5
    Member Ray MacDonald's Avatar
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    Re: Railroad Grade Howard Series 11

    Hairline cracks are quite common in porcelain dials and are another indication that the Howard was probably a working railroad watch. Very often these can be soaked out in cleaning solution during a service. It's just a bit of dirt in a tiny crack usually...nothing to worry about.

    There are fathers who do not love their children; there is no grandfather who does not adore his grandson. ~ Victor Hugo

  7. #6
    Member Ray MacDonald's Avatar
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    Re: Railroad Grade Howard Series 11

    It'll be quite something if he can get a 95 year old Howard back to railroad form. Most collectors are happy to just drool over the movement.

    There are fathers who do not love their children; there is no grandfather who does not adore his grandson. ~ Victor Hugo

  8. #7
    Member Shangas's Avatar
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    Re: Railroad Grade Howard Series 11

    Does a hairline-cracked dial necessarily mean that the dial's been broken right through? As in, if you were to remove it from the watch, it'd split into two (or more) pieces?

    Or is it just something akin to a scratch on a watch-crystal, which could be polished away?
    "Pipes are occasionally of extraordinary interest...nothing has more individuality save, perhaps, watches and bootlaces."

    - Sherlock Holmes.

    'The Yellow Face'.

  9. #8
    Member Boge Quinn's Avatar
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    Re: Railroad Grade Howard Series 11

    That is gorgeous, the movement is absolutely beautiful. I want one!

  10. #9
    Member Ray MacDonald's Avatar
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    Re: Railroad Grade Howard Series 11

    No it's just a tiny crack in the enamel. The dial is a tough piece of copper. Most of the time you can't see the cracks unless you magnify the photo many times.

    There are fathers who do not love their children; there is no grandfather who does not adore his grandson. ~ Victor Hugo

  11. #10
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    Re: Railroad Grade Howard Series 11

    Nice watch, made when Howard was owned by the Keystone Watch Case Co. However as nice as the Howard is, to call it the PP of American watches is wrong as everyone knows that Hamilton 950s were. In fact I'd say that the Patek was the Hamilton of Swiss watches.

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