An Odd Maine Central Semaphore

During the semaphore signal era the Maine Central Railroad had an odd Style B lower quadrant semaphore signal on its Lower Road line just West of Waterville, ME. The signal had two yellow and black fishtail arms, and served as an approach signal for the three-arm lower quadrant home signal R42/R44 at Waterville. It is shown in the accompanying photograph taken in June 1952.

The exact indication of the signal appeared to be lost by both the Signal and Operating Departments. Engineers questioned about its meaning confused the Y/Y night aspect with that of a Searchlight or color light signal; and replied, "Approach Slow." Employee Time Table 19, effective April 28, 1940, made no mention of its non-standard aspects. Signal officials demurred on its exact interpretation, as if the Bulletin Order placing it in service years before had been forgotten.

The late Theodore W. Wells, a polymath with a passionate interest in signal rules and sequences; obtained track and signal plans from the Boston and Maine RR Signal Department, which at the time handled signal design for the Maine Central. He concluded that the signal, known in the employee timetable as an unnumbered approach, served as an additional approach signal for the first eastward semi-automatic three-arm home signal at Lower College Avenue.

The signals on the Lower Road below Waterville had the configuration shown in the figure:

The eastward signals had these aspect sequences:

801

807

42D/44D

R42/R44

R

G

G

G

G

RY

GY

GY

GY

GY

YY

YY

YY

GY

YG

RRR

RRR (train 250’ beyond R42/R44)

RRY

GRR

RGR (25 mph originally; later 20 mph)

Insulated joints at the approach signal suggest that it fouled to YY when a train occupied its circuit. Nevertheless, as T. W. Wells pointed out, an engineer accepting the signal as "Approach Slow" could well find caboose markers around the next curve before Waterville. Essentially, the signal served to differentiate between "Clear" (G/R/R) and "Medium Clear" (R/G/R) indications on the R42 and R44 arms of the home signal.

I am indebted to Kenneth Jackman, T. W. Wells's nephew, for crucial help in interpreting the meaning of 42D/44D, and to Vincent Bernard for a Waterville track plan.

Donald F. Morrison

Wallingford, PA 19086

donaldm@wharton.upenn.edu



Semaphores.com is greatly indebted to both Donald Morrison and Kenneth Jackman for sharing these materials on a very rarely documented type of signal installation. Apparently other RRs also occasionally used such signals. In the "Online Historical Reference of Railroad Signal Systems: aspects and indications"" by C.J. Barneyback, Michigan Central Railroad Signal Rules (October 1, 1920) also show double fishtail semaphores in service.