Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Semaphore Signals

As much as I like complex kits, I'm a big fan of models I can build while watching TV. Most of my Red Caboose refrigerator cars got built in front of the TV on cold winter nights in New York. Sometimes, it's just really nice when all I need to do is build, and not worry about anything time consuming - painting, waiting for glue to dry, etc.

These American Limited semaphore are shipped in kit form, with all the painting--including the signal blades--already done. All I had to do was glue the models together with plastic cement and superglue, and after about two nights of work, I had this line of signals ready for my Market Street shelf layout. They were quick, easy, and very satisfying. The kits are particularly neat because they're customizable; you can either choose to have one or two semaphore blades (or, if you want to break rules like me, you can even add a third semaphore blade to your signal.) You can choose one or two equipment cabinets at the base of the signal. (Normally, the two cabinets would be used for the upper and lower blade mechanism. I made a couple of my single blade signals with two cabinets just to keep the signals at similar heights for visibility and attractiveness.) You can even choose what sort of blades to use - the red home blades, the white blades, or yellow pointed blades for distant signals. I was happy I could customize the signals to match my particular scene. They also average around $7 a signal / $42 for 6, so although they're not operable, they're much cheaper than the movable semaphores on the big layout.

Helpful hints: colored markers (red and green sharpies, and a yellow/mustard art marker) do a great job on coloring the lenses for the semaphores, just as black sharpies are great for coloring handholds on the Red Caboose refrigerator cars. All the blades will eventually be painted red, but the kit didn't come with enough red-painted blades for my particular setting.

These signals are going at the east end of the San Jose Market Street station. This area was controlled by the 4th Street Tower, which controlled the east entrance to the station, switches directing trains to the north (via the line to Fremont and Niles), and south (down the middle of 4th Street and eventually to Los Angeles), and industry spurs for the Borcher Brothers Building Supply and Richmond Chase (later Hunts) Cannery. There's a great photo of this area in John Signor's Coast Line book circa 1906, taken from First Street looking East down the tracks. Old timetables even have the whistle sequence arriving trains were supposed to blow to get the towerman to set the switches. A switch engine blowing two short whistles, a long whistle, and a short whistle could get the towerman to set the switches for the Hunts Cannery.

The signals controlling the southernmost station tracks are single blade semaphores with red blades. Red blades indicate home signals and control the immediately following track, so each signal indicates whether a train is allowed to exit the station and proceed on the track towards LA. The northernmost station track has two red blades, one for each route (LA or Niles/Oakland.) The signal on the LA line has three red blades to indicate which route the engineer will take - which of the three tracks into Market Street station.

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