Tag Archives: William Choate

Music, Language, and the Inventive Streak

Betty, Taylor, Virginia, Wally, Harley perhaps, 06.12.1965, courtesy of Colin DuncanThe music that we see in Jules or in T.J., the music comes through Dad, I think. My mother really wasn’t musical at all.

[Marcia]: But she, the inventive streak that so many of you have must have come through her side of the family because wasn’t it her, one of her relatives that invented the coupler for the train cars?

Yes. I think it was Choate.

[Marcia]: Choate.

It was a Choate who invented the. . . . I think it was Choate. He never was able to patent it, but he saw that the trains were held together by chains when he was a young kid. And he would sit by the trains as they were going by and often they would break. He invented that and never got it patented.

There’s Virginia Lee [showing picture].

We were told by my mother and she had gotten it by. . . .

[Heidi]: I’m going to tell my kids I invented Post-It Notes. [Laughter] It got stolen from me.

[T.J.]: People with magical minds, much like Grandpa had, your father, many of them are also musically inclined.


[Heidi]: And linguistically inclined.

If we get a chance tomorrow and we go by a piano, we can maybe get him to sit down and just play a little bit of Beethoven. The last time. . . .

[Kathy]: I wish we still had a piano here.

[Eric]: The Townsend Building has one.

There’s a piano and we can just sit down and let him. He hasn’t done it in a year, but he is . . . I’m very proud to be related to this guy. And he’s very skilled in the piano.

story told by Steve to the family reunion gathering on January 10, 2014; recorded and transcribed by Dawn [Steve’s daughter]; see also William Choate Gets No Credit for His Coupler Design

Can you add to the story? Please do. Write in the box below. (You may need to click “Leave a Reply” above to make the box, name, and address fields appear.)

  • What do you remember of Mother/Grandma/Virginia’s musical ability?
  • Steve/Dad, can you tell the story of Grandma taking apart the piano because it was out of tune?
  • Did Grandpa Taylor play an instrument? Did he sing in the choir? At home?

William Choate Gets No Credit for His Coupler Design

knuckle coupler, Pullen Park, Raleigh, NCFrom what I can remember of the story passed down my mother’s [Virginia’s] grandfather (I believe whose name was William Choate) as a child saw trains in the train yard. They were being pulled utilizing chains between the cargo-cars and even passenger carriages on the railroad. There were frequent enough breaks in the chains and a clanging when units hit each other as they slowed down that he thought up the idea of this type of gripping train-hitch, which obviated the major problems the usual intra-car chains produced.

anicoupler-1, courtesy of Railway TechnicalHow, when or if he tried to register the invention I don’t know. Or did he just share the idea with a train-yard engineer?  I have no idea but what was passed down to me is that the innovation was “stolen” from great-grandpa and he never received payment or recognition of its originality. That’s why many of the Duncans picked up the “inventive” character/genes, even to using them in the operating room.  After all, isn’t this a type of orthopedic “articulation”?

NB: According to Wikipedia and Railway Technical, link and pin couplers were used at the end of the 19th century, but required a railway worker to stand between the cars while coupling or uncoupling them. This resulted in frequent injuries. Instead, knuckle couplers facilitated a hitch without endangering workers. A Confederate officer from Alexandria, Virginia named Eli Janney patented his version in 1873 or 1879. Other knuckle couplers included the Tower, Sharon, Climax, Gould, Burns, Miller and perhaps one hundred more. The knuckle coupler is sometimes called a buckeye coupler for the buckeye state Ohio and its Ohio Brass Company, which first marketed the hitch. It’s also referred to as an MCB coupler for the Master Car Builders Association, the forerunner of the Association of American Railroads (1910). Congress passed the Safety Appliance Act in 1893 and chose the Janney coupler design from 8,000 patented versions to become the American standard. The Janney reduced coupling accidents from 11,000 in 1892 to 2,000 in 1902.

Steve’s memory of a story passed down to him as conveyed to Dawn Harrell (his daughter) on June 9, 2014

Can you add to the story? Please do. Write in the box below. (You may need to click “Leave a Reply” above to make the box, name, and address fields appear.)

  • Do you remember this story? Can you add to it?
  • Grandma Virginia Duncan was born in New York in the Bronx in 1899 to Ella Choate and Eugene Amos White. Ella’s father is William Choate. Can you share William’s dates?
  • Do you remember the actual name of Grandpa Choate’s version of this train hitch?