• Rear-end or tail switching
• Shifting over a summit or "hump"
• Gravity switching.
The relative extent to which these methods are employed in this country in the late 1800's into the early 1900's is about in the order listed. Yes indeed, the second most popular classification system was the Poling Yard.
Since information is hard to come by, I am not comfortable saying this list is complete. Push Poling Yards operated at
• Port Jervis Yard, Erie Railroad.
• Galewood (Chicago), Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway.
• West Seneca vards of the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railway, just west of Buffalo.
• Pitcairn, Altoona, Harrisburg, Wilmington, Philadelphia and Jersey City on the Pennsylvania Railroad. April 4, 1887 First section of Conway Yard opened (720-car, 6-track poling yard and engine terminal); used by Cleveland & Pittsburgh freights only; four-track system extended westward from Dixmont to Conway.
• Buffalo and Dewitt on the New York Central Railroad.
• Hawthorn (Illinois) Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad.
• Packerton and Perth Amboy on the Lehigh Valley Railroad.
• Williamstown (Massachusetts); Boston & Maine Railroad.
• Columbus, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati Yards; Chicago & St. Louis Railroad.
• East Detroit Yard; Michigan Central Railroad
• Denver Yard; Union Pacific.
• and in a number of other large yards throughout the South and West.
Car Handling Efficiency
In a paper published in the Journal of the New York Railroad Club, December 1903, the relative capacity of the different methods of shifting as follows, based on handling a train of 60 cars of 50 cuts in each case:
By the poling or "staking" method the train is usually run out of the receiving tracks and left standing on a track which joins with the ladder of the distribution tracks. The switch engine working on an adjoining parallel track, pushes, by means of a pole, the cars from the head end of the train, one at a time, or as many at a time as are found together belonging to the same destination or lot, commonly called a "cut." Sometimes a double cut is started in one movement.
When such is done the pole is placed against a car in the first cut and the man who works the couplers rides between the last car of the first cut and the foremost car of the rear cut. As soon as the whole string of cars is got up to good speed the coupling between the two cuts is slipped and steam is crowded on to put the first cut the desired interval ahead for the two switching movements.
But if the cars are to be weighed, they are passed over the weighing scales one at a time, and on down the ladder of the distribution set until switched to the proper track. As by this method the whole train or string of unswitched cars does not have to be moved each time a car is shifted, it is widely in favor, and is employed in a large number of yards. Where the ground is level the engine must follow the car some distance and give it a flying start.
As hard-running cars are liable to stop on the ladder, it is well, where it can be done, to extend the poling track alongside the ladder. In both tail switching and poling it is an advantage to have an assisting grade entering the distribution tracks, as then the cars do not have to be shoved so hard to send them to place.
A descending grade as steep as 0.4 or 0.5 per cent is desirable, as then the cars have only to be given a start from the train, after which they will continue running.
To keep an engine busy at poling cars it is necessary to have quite a large crew of brakemen (seven to sixteen or more, according to the length of the yard) at the ladder to catch the cars and ride them to the proper stopping points.
The method could not be employed economically unless there was a large amount of traffic, involving a good many classifications. In some long yards where there were large crews of car riders working with the poling engine there is a third track running parallel with the poling track, ladder and distribution tracks, on which a pick-up engine and flat car are kept running to and fro to bring the men back to the poling engine after they have ridden their cars to the proper places.
In this way fewer brakemen are required to keep the poling engine busily at work than would otherwise be the case. Among places where this practice of operating a pick-up engine is to be found may be mentioned the Altoona yard of the Pennsylvania, and the Galewood yard in Chicago, of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway.
There was a good deal of complaint against the work of poling during dark nights, principally on account of the damage caused by hard-running cars which stop short of the intended point and are run into by the next car switched. As the cars must be given a good start before they leave the ladder, and as the same brakeman is not likely to ride a car down the same track twice in succession, a car which stops short, being in the way of the car following, is liable to do a good deal of damage.
In defense of poling it may be said, however, that the presence of a poling track is no hindrance to tail switching, which can be resorted to on dark nights.
Sources:Notes on track: Construction and Maintenance, Volume 2, By Walter Mason Camp, 1903.
Yards and Terminals and their Operation, John Albert Droege
In Part III, Enter the Poling Car!