Signals & Interlocking Towers                                       TT00021




10/25/00 14:40

Peter Thompson

In the early part of the year I updated my ABS and CTC lists for the NP. I   have also done considerable research on any Interlocking towers in the    states   of Washington, Idaho and Montana. My next task is to go through a detailed   document of interlockings which is GN, but which has a large number of   locations which include NP trackage.      If anyone has any interest in this topic and would like some involvement I   would be happy to share the finished research material. There is no doubt    at   all the weak areas are the Dakota's and the area around the Twin Cities.    Any   help on locating the towers, with any detail would be very much    appreciated.   The best source often for the long gone towers are timetables, I have a few   but not old enough to help. I was lucky with the Milwaukee as I have    details   of their interlockings from a book they published in 1931. There were no    such   books as far as I know produced by the NP.      In the three western stated while I have the basic information on the    towers   details are less easy to come by. So if anyone has information on the    towers   Helena, Butte, Sappington, Garrison, Belgrade and a number of others again    I   would welcome any help.   Compiler  C Frissell

10/05/02 6:18

Peter Thompson

In the last week I have been looking at some items of interest in the     eastern    part of the NP empire. It has raised some questions |I am hoping the list    might answer for me if they can.        1) The first question relates to Tenstrike station on the line between    Bemidji and International Falls. Their is a signal mounted on the depot     roof    which appears to be a train order signal. This one though is not the two     arm    ones I am familiar with (eg Lester, WA ) This looks like when the operator    wants a train to stop for orders it is moved from its normal position face    showing to the track to the signal being rotated through 90 degrees thus    facing the oncoming train. Any clarification on this would be helpful.        2) The second question relates to St Anthony Park Jct which was on an NP     line    between St paul and Minneapolis. This controlled the junction between the     NP    line and the Minnesota Transfer RR (I think) Was this the second tower at    this location? When did the first tower built and when did it have the     fire?    Was the second tower built in the war years and has anyone dates for     opening    and closing? last question has anyone any idea what type of plant was used?        3) The last question relates to the signal arrangements at the Manitoba Jct    (between Detroit Lakes & Fargo). The lever frame which looks like a US & S    type was located in the depot building. There are some strange metal boxes    linked to certain levers on the frame. I can only think they may be some     sort    of electrical link for the semaphore signals located some distance from the    lever frame. I am very likely way of in this. Any details on this location    and the mystery metal boxes would again be much appreciated.   St Anthony Park Jct, Manitoba Jct, Detroit Lakes, Fargo, Minnesota Transfer RR, Bemidji, International Falls, Tenstrike, Lester  Compiler  C Frissell

10/05/02 19:49

Bob Montbriand

Re: interlocking plants - can't give you much detail, but NP had an   interlocking plant at White Bear Lake, MN where SOO line crossed, and one at   Bemidji, Mn where NP crossed the GN and SOO.  Most of the stations between Brainerd and Intl Falls (old M&I line) were  equipped with the train order boards - I believe we referred to them as  a" two position Swift semaphore" when I worked at Tenstrike and other  stations on that line in 1949 and later. Even though when displayed it  showed a RED BOARD it was commonly interpreted as a "19" signal. While  working at Littlefork in the early 50s I expressed to the RM/TM my concern  that there was a potential hazard in such an interpretation when an order  was issued which restricted the authority of the train at that station (31  order), and suggested that we commence to display the proper signal for a  "19" order, which in my view was a yellow flag hung below the red board.  The following week the RM/TM made a special run from Brainerd to Intl Falls  with a station wagon full of yellow flags equipped with wires with which to  hang them to the red boards.    White Bear Lake, Minnesota, Soo Line, Junction, Bemidji, GN. Great Northern  Brainerd, International Falls,  M&I, Tenstrike, 1949, Littlefork Compiler  C Frissell

05/12/03 14:29

Bill Kuebler

> What  > I want to know is if the light box on semaphores the  > engineer  > would be looking at would be turned on only for the  > first  > semaphore he would see or would two semaphores in the  > distance turn on? If we could time travel and ride in the  > dome  > car night on tangent track and be looking at the signals  > ahead  > the answer to this would be known instantly. So without  > that  > technology maybe someone can remember or knows.    Not a NP signal engineer, but I did have the privilege of making a few block signal tests with Glenn Staeheli right after he came to my area, and some of those tests involved semaphores.    For those unfamiliar...Glenn was not a signal man, either.  His block "tests" were tests not of the signal system, but of locomotive engineers. As a Road Foreman of Engines, he was supposed to test every road engineer whom he supervised every so many days. Although some RFEs would either not bother with these, or if they did them at all, they'd make their tests at known spots so that the crews got used to it and were ready for them (and hence they were not really tests), Glenn played it all by the book. He played hardball all the way and, in fact, made a game of it. His tests were seldom repeated on the same man at the same place. He would intentionally try to target an engineer in a way and at a location where the engineman would least suspect it. In one case, he actually tested train 25 twice the same night, within a distance of 10 or 15 miles. He figured the engineer might have expected the first test, but definitely not the second. We first set shunts at the second spot, then at the first spot, and as soon as we saw that the engineer made the stop okay at the first spot, we raced off to the next spot and got there just in time to observe that one, too. After it was all over, we had to go back and get those shunts. I know that engineer real well, and he got very irate about the two-test deal, and got so mad at Glenn later that night at Jamestown (the two men met some time after the end of the engineer's run) that I was shocked. I had never known that engineer to get mad at anybody. He was way out of character that night. Glenn...he just stood there and smiled. He finally shrugged his shoulders and walked off. He was still playing his "game" and having fun. Incidentally, the engineer in question passed both tests just fine. He had an excellent reputation.    Anyway...during some of these tests, I asked Glenn a bunch of questions regarding block signal circuits, including the approach lighting feature of the semaphores. Good ol' Glenn was always glad to give Kuebler a lesson in Railroading 101, time we set his shunts in the track at a certain spot, then drove to the next two sets of signals.  Observation: only the signal at the departure end of the  "occupied" block was lighted (at both departure ends, too, in single track territory). The next one after that was dark. We did this in a couple of other locations and observed the same result.    There may have been exceptions, as there so often are, but as a general rule it appears as if the approach lighting feature included only one signal at a time in a given direction.    As for seeing semaphore lights from a distance, that's another story. In the NP days (not like today on MRL), those lights were very dim as compared with the searchlights. In all the cab trips I made across the Fargo Division at night--on the longest, most level, straightest track on NP's system--I can tell you with certainty that I was never able to see a semaphore's light more than about a mile away, if that, even on clear, moonless nights. Usually the distance at which I could first see the light was just a little less the length of the block, because I don't ever remember actually seeing the light "come on". We would approach the signal and at some point it would first be seen and already was lit. This was something I had been curious about anyway, so I looked for this nuance countless times...and always got about the same result. I was also curious as to how useful the position of the arm would be at night. It was very visible and prominent under the glare of the locomotive headlight. With an F-unit's main (lower) headlight on, the semaphore arm would seem to be just about at the outer edge of the round light beam...just inside that beam, and the arm  would "go dark" (outside the beam) when we were about three  car lengths from the signal. In fact, there were several instances, mostly involving curves or places where I wasn't really looking hard for the signal light, where by the time  I noticed the signal light, the headlight was close enough  to light up the arm anyway, and so I saw the arm and light  at practically the same time. An example of this was coming westbound into Sanborn. The east switch of the eastward siding there was at the end of a left-hand curve (going west), and by the time I saw the signal light, I could see the entire mast and arm too. (This one was a square arm, account a spring switch there.) Crews who knew where all the signals where (and eventually I did, too) knew where to look, sometimes across curves like at Sanborn, and typically would be able to make out the light before the arm could be seen by headlight. Semaphore arms and lights were generally not "turned" to face a train across a curve, but searchlights were turned. They were "focused" or aimed at some point across a curve, depending on conditions and track speed on that curve. Sometimes it could be quite an angle.    The nighttime sighting distance of the light on searchlights was a different story. On the long tangent west of Fargo at night, several searchlights could been seen at once, even though some of the block lengths had been increased since the semaphore days. The searchlights were not approach lit, either. They were always lit. Coming west out of Fargo I think we could see at least three or four blocks on a clear night. Beyond that distance, it was likely that, if you could see that far, the line of sight of two consecutive distant signals were be nearly coincident, so as to make two signals look like one.    The Great Northern line between Breckenridge and Moorhead, and between Fargo and New Rockford was yet another story.  Rode both lines in cabs and those color lights were almost as bright as the search lights, but they were approach lit.  Again, only one block in advance--and that *was* consistent, too. I cannot recall any more than only one block signal ahead with its light on at our approach, even in flat, tangent territory. And in the case of the GN color lights on straight track, I could actually see them light up. Quite obvious.    Back to Glenn...    I was with him one time on a signal test in 1970, right after merger. Broad daylight, nice day. He tested a local coming off a branch onto GN's Surrey Line through New Rockford. It was a GN crew. As they approached the junction, we and our car were hidden behind some bushes about a  quarter mile away, so they didn't know it was a test--and  given the "good ol' boy club" atmosphere that had been  prevailing on that GN territory in the years before merger,  the very last thing they expected was any kind of signal  test. (Glenn said he nearly quit his job over the looseness and unprofessionalism that had thoroughly invaded those enginemen, thanks, he said, to some terrible supervision by RFEs. He told me stories that made my hair stand on end, and, in one case, with Glenn in the cab (!!), the engineer of the Empire Builder nearly ran them head-on into a coal train--while wide awake and sober--by RELEASING the brakes as the train rolled at 20 mph toward the foul point at the  end of a siding just as the head end of the coal train  approached the switch. The engineer acted as if he wasn't even aware they were about to die. Glenn had to jump over the control stand to big hole it for the man. Unbelievable.)    Anyway, the head brakeman on the local approaching the junction was relatively new to the job. As they came around the left-hand curve toward the junction with an ex-GN Geep  (long end running forward, so the engineer couldn't see diddly squat around the curve, and thus couldn't see the  signals) the old-head engineer asked the brakeman, "How's it  look?" --meaning, how's the absolute signal governing our  entrance to the main track at the junction? The brakeman thought he had been asked, "Do you see any opposing trains coming at us on the main line?" Since he saw no trains, he  answered, "Clear!" but not at all in reference to the  absolute signal.    Ooops.    Glenn had set his shunt and they were approaching a double red absolute.    But.... the "old head" engineer didn't get to be an old head for nothing. He had lots of experience, and he was smart enough to know that the brakey's answer was as ambiguous as his question to him had been. Plus, there was something in the brakeman's tone of voice that indicated a miscommunication just might have occurred. So, the engineer got up, casually walked over to the left side of the cab, and peered out at a double red getting bigger fast. He instantly came to life! He leaped back across the cab and, according to the brakeman who told us this a few minutes later, in one flying leap of a move big-holed it. The Geep and ten or so cars came to a screeching halt--literally one  foot from the signal's insulated joints. Though the front coupler of the engine was past the signal mast, technically, they had not run the signal.    The engineer saw Glenn and me drive up in his company car, and he crawled off that engine visibly shaken. The brakeman was still too ignorant to be shaken. The engineer thought he had run the signal, it was that close. There was Glenn...down on all fours by the engine's lead axle, pointing out that they had stopped with one foot to spare.  After we got the story from them as to what exactly had happened in the cab, Glenn said something like, "Today's your lucky day. Go have a good trip home fellas..." No lecture about calling signals or the like. Glenn figured they had learned their lesson from what had happened, and there was nothing more he could add. But all the way home, all he could talk about was the fact that that was "the closest" he had ever seen an engineer come to running a signal without actually running it.    I will never forget the look on that engineer's face when he crawled out of that cab.  signal practices, traffic control, approach lighting, Glenn Staeheli, block tests  Compiler  C Frissell

05/13/03 16:51

Bill Kuebler

As far as I know, all the semaphores that were absolute signals were also approach lit. In fact, I observed this myself at Bismarck's NP-Soo interlocking. They all had the same essential components and design as ABS semaphores.    The lamps on NP's semaphores were not exactly the same as the ones on NP's searchlights. I don't recall if the bulb was the same wattage or not, but there's more to it than just bulb power. The type of reflector and lens has a lot to do with it too. MRL's current semaphores are not the like the NP ones were. MRL's have much stronger bulbs, or at least they appear much brighter. I was very surprised at how bright they are when I first saw one.    As for block tests of engine crews, I don't know how far back the practice went on the NP, but I'm almost positive it preceded the beginning of the diesel era by a long time, based on comments I heard from a number of different RFEs down through the years. Glenn's approach to the whole thing was "by the book." I.e., he did it the way it was intended to be done all along. It was those RFEs that didn't do it the way Glenn (and some others too) did it who deviated from the higher level officials' expectations and accepted  practices. Glenn was by no means the only one who did it that way. He was just one who did. It is possible that most did not, however, or did it in a more "lazy" fashion.  Glenn's way took a lot of time and effort on his part.  Remember, too, that Glenn likely spent a good amount more of time on his job in general than did others. I knew him to put in 75-hour weeks in his Fargo days, which was probably about the same as in his previous RFE days. He really took railroading seriously, and he also loved it at the hobby level, too.  signal practices, traffic control, approach lighting, MRL, Soo Line, Glenn Staeheli Compiler  C Frissell

05/16/03 19:20

Bill Kuebler

>I guess these shunts were piece of cable connecting  > both rails or  > contacts at the signal box?    The shunts that Glenn used were home made. He had taken two  C-clamps and connected them with a fairly strong cable that  was about five or six feet long. To set the shunts, he  simply clamped one of the C-clamps to one rail and the other  C-clamp to the other rail. Then, he checked the light of the  nearest signal to make sure that it was on, indicating a  solid shunt had been created. Then, he would go and hide  nearby and watch the show.      > At least they served to simulate a train  > sitting on the track. From the way you tell this story the  > shunts  > stayed in place even after the approaching train made its  > stop and  > proceded. Question for me is how could theengineer proceed  > by a red  > signal.    Yes, the shunts remained in place. The signal in question  was an automatic block signal displaying red. The signal  mast had a number plate, so the signal was not an absolute  signal. Therefore, the indication associated with the aspect  of the signal was "stop and proceed." The applicable rule  for "stop and proceed" indications stated that the train (or  engine) was to stop "before any part of the train or engine  passed the signal" and then proceed through the next block  (the block immediately beyond, and protected by, the red  signal) at "restricted speed", which had a lengthy  definition, the gist of which was to be prepared to stop  short of any abnormality or condition requiring the train to  stop, and in any case not to exceed 15 MPH.      > The shunts were still there so no "all clear" could be  > obtained by the signal aspect. What exactly were the rules  > how he  > could pass that signal to get to the next one without  > removing the  > shunts?  > ....  > > But.... the "old head" engineer didn't get to be an old  > head  > > for nothing. He had lots of experience, and he was smart  >  > > enough to know that the brakey's answer was as ambiguous  > as  > > his question to him had been. Plus, there was something  > in  > > the brakeman's tone of voice that indicated a  > > miscommunication just might have occurred. So, the  > engineer  > > got up, casually walked over to the left side of the  > cab,  > > and peered out at a double red getting bigger fast.  >  > You say this brakeman was newbie. So he might not have  > followed the  > rules properly. I think I remember a rule saying that  > signal aspects  > had to be called out by everyone (?) in the cab. Is that  > true? If he  > had done that this incident would not have gone this way.  > The  > question is probably also the answer here.    Yes, if he had followed the rules to the letter, and the  engineer had done the same, the incident might have been  different. The NP and other roads had a rule that required  the crewmembers in the cab to call signals to each other.  Glenn was a stickler for that rule, and whenever he was in  the cab, he expected the crews to follow it perfectly. Other  RFEs were probably similar, although some were more lenient.          >  > ....  > > He  > > instantly came to life! He leaped back across the cab  > and,  > > according to the brakeman who told us this a few minutes  >  > > later, in one flying leap of a move big-holed it. The  > Geep  > > and ten or so cars came to a screeching halt--literally  > one  > > foot from the signal's insulated joints. Though the  > front  > > coupler of the engine was past the signal mast,  > technically,  > > they had not run the signal.  > ....  > I wonder what had happened if the front axle had passed  > the signal or  > whatever the mark was. Technically, by the rules, they  > would have  > overrun the signal but practically they had made a stop  > being still  > at a safe distance.    The rule did not state that they had to stop "at a safe  distance." The rule stated that they had to stop before "any  part of the engine or train passed the signal." In some  cases, one could go well beyond the signal and still be "at  a safe distance." But that is not what the rule said. The  understood definition of "pass the signal" in their case was  to not go beyond the signal, a point which pretty much  coincided with the wheels on the insulated joints. As long  as a signal circuit was not occupied by any part of their  train (i.e., wheels) when they stopped, they were deemed to  have stopped before passing the signal. At least, that's the  way Glenn handled it. In actual practice, rare was the  occasion of it coming down to inches like that. I suppose a  real jerk of an officer could have faulted them because the  front drawbar was past the signal mast and that, therefore,  "a part of their engine" had indeed passed the signal, but  Glenn, as strict as he was, wasn't about to make such a  claim.  There are some supervisor's, however, who would try  something like that. In my line of work, they are few and  far between, but almost every one of them is like that  because he's a lousy pilot and insecure with himself, so he  tries to make up for it by pushing others around with some  rule. Glenn might have been a lot of things, but insecure  wasn't one of them.   signal practices, traffic control, approach lighting, Glenn Staeheli, block tests  Compiler  C Frissell

05/16/03 19:26

Bill Kuebler

> The shunts that Glenn used were home made. He had taken  > two  > C-clamps and connected them with a fairly strong cable  > that  > was about five or six feet long. To set the shunts, he  > simply clamped one of the C-clamps to one rail and the  > other  > C-clamp to the other rail.    I meant to say that he clamped them to the base of the rail.  They did not interfere with the passage of the train's wheels, and the crews would rarely see the clamps or cable in the track. Glenn had a dark brown rubber insulation around the cable for its entire length, so it would be harder to see. The clamps were not shiny.    signal practices, traffic control, approach lighting, Glenn Staeheli, block tests  Compiler  C Frissell

05/20/03 23:50

Bill Kuebler

The recent thread about block signal testing brought a very  strange incident to mind. As one might expect, engine crews  passed the vast majority of block tests that were thrown at  them, so tests that were "flunked" stand out in the memories  of the RFEs that had to deal with them. One such flunk  occurred with a certain engineer that Glenn Staeheli  nicknamed (for purposes of telling this story) "John  Barleycorn." Although I knew him quite well, his real name  can remain undisclosed. The nickname, as it suggests, had to  do with his bad alcohol habit that, in the later years of  his career, affected his work. This was the guy who, with  his fireman, "stole" a GP-9 and ran it down the NP's  Southwestern Branch from Fargo to some town several miles  down the branch. They had no clearance or running order,  they ran with no headlight, bell, or any such thing, and  they exceeded speed limits. In short, they went on a big joy  ride. Apparently, this took place after a little  "celebration" at the end of their run on the Southwestern.  Instead of entering the main line at Fargo and heading for  Dilworth, they uncoupled from their train, left it standing  in the yard where the branch enters the main, and took off  with the engine back down the branch. It all ended well  enough, but it was rather hair-raising for a while. At one  point a division trainmaster set out to derail them at a  certain spot if they hadn't stopped by the time they reached  that spot. They did stop, however.    Anyway...several years after that incident, John Barleycorn  was in chain gang service, and Glenn went out one evening to  block test him. Glenn set his shunts, then went and hid in  his car as usual. Along came Barleycorn with a tonnage  train. The track was straight and slightly ascending grade  (almost level). As Barleycorn approached the red block  signal, it appeared as if he had his train under control  and, as expected, he continued to slow as he got closer to  the signal. This was obviously going to be a normal stop in  plenty of time. Glenn sat in his car half-bored. But  then...just as the train got to within ten car lengths or so  of the signal--and the train was by then down to a  crawl--the brakes released! Worse, even though he still  could have stopped in time, Barleycorn made no attempt to do  so. The train just crawled past the signal at about four  miles per hour. When it was several car lengths past the  signal, it finally stopped. Test flunked.    At first, Glenn just sat and gawked at this scene,  unbelieving. (Truth be told, he practically bit off the end  of his pipe.) He went from boredom to shock in mere seconds.  So...after recovering some of his composure, Glenn drove  over to the engine immediately. The train was still standing  there when he arrived at the lead unit. He climbed into the  cab and went through his ritual of identifying himself and  then the crew, then asking what they saw, what they did, if  they called the signals to each other, etc. etc. He also  checked John Barleycorn for the smell of alcohol. Amazingly,  engineer B was entirely sober! He hadn't had a drop for a  couple of days. The head brakeman was sober, too. This  breach of the rules had nothing to do with Rule G. Glenn  asked them why they ran the signal, but apparently the two  were without any sensible answer. They just shrugged their  shoulders and mumbled incoherently, leaving Glenn utterly  bewildered. Both men claimed that they were wide awake.  Besides, the hour was early enough in the evening, and the  men's history of recent service was such that they were not  likely to be prone to fatigue at the time of the test. The  whole thing was a mystery, and it remained a complete  mystery. When I talked to Glenn about it once again a few  months before he died in 1995, he was still wondering why  they did that.    Barleycorn and his brakeman were given discipline (I think  it was 30 days). Very shortly thereafter, John B retired,  albeit early, and a few years later he died of liver  problems.    The strangest things can happen at the least expected times.  That is something that anybody involved in rail (or air)  transportation learns very early in one's career.   signal practices, traffic control, approach lighting, Glenn Staeheli, block tests, discipline, crews  Compiler  C Frissell