Answer Man

No radios, no problem – these ‘switchman shanties’ kept rail crews in touch

This full-scale model shows what the telephone huts look like.
This full-scale model shows what the telephone huts look like.

Q: There are three hexagonal concrete structures next to the Madison County Transit’s (MCT) Goshen Trail just south of the bridge over Illinois 162. Do you know what they were used for?

John Zellin, of Maryville

A: Clark Kent might have had an easier life as a railroad engineer.

Instead of constantly worrying about someone seeing him change into Superman in a glassed-in Metropolis phone booth, he could have found privacy in these concrete booths that were popular decades ago. After all, that’s what they were designed for, Jerry Kane, MCT’s managing director, told me.

As you seem to know, the wonderful MCT trail system was developed along former railroad rights-of-way. But decades ago, train crews and other railroad employees didn’t have onboard radios or other fancy electronics. So railroads erected these concrete telephone huts and what often are called switchman shanties along the route to allow access to communication with dispatchers.

“The B&O used many of these concrete buildings all over the place at one time,” one blogger at wrote in describing one such box near Baltimore. “They were replaced by the small telephone box, which in turn, hasn’t seen a telephone for many a year once radios became the standard. With fiber optics being the norm now, it appears as though the old telephone line has been removed, along with the hut and old telephone box.”

If it seems odd to see three of them at one spot, it should, but there’s a good reason. Like the antique water towers that you ride past, these booths were located elsewhere but for one reason or another were moved to the Goshen Trail site for safekeeping. Kane says he hopes to return them to their original locations eventually, but has no firm plans yet.

If you’d like to see pictures, go to and scroll about halfway down, where you’ll see one example used during the very early 1900s. And model railroaders don’t have to search hard to find kits for their layouts.

The images you’ll find there show a closeup of one of the shanties, with concrete walls and roof, with windows all around the structure.

Q: Rush Limbaugh recently talked at length about Donald Trump’s approval rating being higher than Bill Clinton’s after five months in office. Considering the criticism Trump has been under, I find that hard to believe. Could this be fake news from the Republicans?

Robert Kombrink, of Troy

A: Despite the recent onslaught of investigations and negative headlines, Rush’s claims were true — at least, as far as they went.

Political junkies with good memories will recall that Bill Clinton also faced fierce headwinds during his earliest days in 1993. The economy still was struggling to gain traction, his don’t-ask-don’t-tell military gay service policy angered many on both sides and the White House travel office ethics scandal was starting to bubble.

As a result, Clinton’s approval rating after 138 days was 37.8 percent while Donald Trump on June 6 was two percentage points higher at 39.8 percent, so Rush was on the money with his conclusion.

However, I’m betting Rush did not mention that Clinton’s numbers soon began to rise. By the end of June, Gallup had him in the mid-40s, and, by the time he left office in 2001, two-thirds of the country approved of him, which indicated at least some bipartisan support. In fact, a 2014 Wall Street Journal/NBC News/Annenberg Survey found Clinton was named by 42 percent of those polled as the most admired president of the past quarter-century. At that time, Obama was second at 18 percent.

It will be interesting to see if Mr. Trump can match Bill Clinton’s later numbers — and, if not, whether Rush will make note of it.

Q: What happened to Dr. Jennifer Neville at Esse Health in Swansea? I received a letter from them stating that she is no longer there. I was just there recently, and no one said anything. Is she still going to practice in this area?

R.B., of Marissa

A: I have a healthy prognosis you should love — in just a couple of months the good doctor will be in again just a few miles up the road from where you last saw her.

Neville has decided to join Memorial Medical Group Internal Medicine and will see patients old and new starting Aug. 14, according to Anne Thomure, director of communications and marketing at Memorial Hospital in Belleville. Neville’s office temporarily will be at 310 N. Seven Hills Road in O’Fallon until she moves into the new Memorial Hospital East Medical Building, which is slated to open in mid-October.

Until then, if you or other patients have an acute problem, you’re welcome to call her Memorial Medical Group partners at 607-1260, Thomure told me.

Today’s trivia

Who was the youngest person ever inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame?

Answer to Friday’s trivia: According to the National Park Service, Yellowstone National Park is the only place in the United States where bison have lived continuously since prehistoric times. In all other places, the animal was extirpated and had to be re-introduced. The NPS says Yellowstone bison are “exceptional” because they comprise the nation’s largest bison population on public land (about 5,000 head) and are among the few bison herds that have not been hybridized through interbreeding with cattle. As a result, they exhibit wild behavior like their ancient ancestors, congregating during the breeding season to compete for mates as well as engaging in migration and exploration habits that result in the use of new habitat areas. The NPS says these behaviors have helped the bison fight back from the brink of extinction just over a century ago, when only a few hundred remained after perhaps 50 million to 60 million were slaughtered in the 1800s.

Roger Schlueter: 618-239-2465, @RogerAnswer