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Signal Lamps

January 1st, 2001

The New Haven Railroad used a variety of kerosene burning signal lamps over the years. In fact, the New Haven continued to use some kerosene burning signal lamps, primarily switch lamps, right up through the Penn Central merger, effective January 1st, 1969. Legend has it that the Penn Central collected all the New Haven's remaining kerosene burning signal lamps at Belle Dock Yard in New Haven, CT, smashed them up with sledgehammers, and sold the remains for scrap. If this story is true, then obviously a few lamps got away somehow. All signal lamps from the collection of Marc Frattasio.

Peter Gray Switch LampSome of the earliest New Haven Railroad switch lamps were made by Peter Gray and Sons of Boston, MA. This example dates from the late 19th Century. Ancient square bodied switch lamps with conical skirts and cookie-cutter chimney tops continued to be used through the late 1920s. This lamp has "NYNH&HRR" stamped on the top.

The cast-iron mechanism this switch lamp is mounted on was used to provide a position indication for derails and remotely operated switches. The lamp tip on this mechanism is marked with the initials "NYNH&HRR" in raised cast letters.

Round bodied switch lamps came into use on the New Haven Railroad during the 1920s to replace the old square bodied types. The New Haven is known to have bought round bodied switch lamps from Peter Gray and Sons, Hanlan-Buck, and Dressel. It is possible that the New Haven bought a few switch lamps from Adams and Westlake but no New Haven Railroad marked "Adlake" switch lamps have surfaced to date. This switch lamp was made by the Hanlan-Buck company. Like all signal lamps made for the New Haven by Hanlan-Buck, it has a metal tag stamped with "NYNH&H" on its kerosene fount/burner access door.Hanlan-Buck Main Line Switch Lamp

Dressel Main Line Switch LampThis switch lamp was made by the Dressel company. The New Haven bought from Dressel late in the game (1950s/1960s) and most Dressel switch lamps were not custom-marked as railroad property. This rare early example has the letters "NH" cast inside its switch-stand mounting socket. Note the red and green day targets or "ears". Most New Haven switch lamps used on main line tracks (red and green) were not fitted with day targets.

Here is another Dressel switch lamp fitted with the more typical yellow and lunar white day targets for use in a yard. The lunar white lenses are blue but actually appear white when illuminated at night. This Dressel switch lamp was supplied to the New Haven at a later date than the one shown above. Since it came out of Dressel's standing inventory, it is not marked as New Haven Railroad property in any way.Dressel Yard Switch Lamp

Hanlan-Buck Yard Switch LampThe New Haven bought switch lamps exclusively from Hanlan-Buck and Dressel during its later years. Because of this, most of the New Haven switch lamps found today were made by these two companies. This is a Hanlan-Buck switch lamp configured with yellow and lunar white day targets for yard service. Like all New Haven Hanlan-Buck switch lamps, it is marked with the railroad's "NYNH&H" initials on the kerosene fount/burner access door. Hanlan-Buck is known to have supplied switch lamps with at least three different base designs. Compare this "footed" base with the Hanlan-Buck example shown above.

During the 1950s and 1960s the New Haven replaced the lenses on some kerosene-burning switch lamps with colored glass reflectors. At night, the reflectors threw back the light from a locomotive's headlight. A switch lamp configured with reflectors saved money since it no longer required regular servicing. The New Haven also bought special switch reflectors from Hanlan-Buck and Dressel which resembled kerosene switch lamps. This yard switch reflector was made by Hanlan-Buck. It is fitted with a small metal tag stamped with the initials "NYNH&H".Reflector Switch Lamp

Crossing Gate LampThe New Haven was slow to replace manned grade crossings with automatic flashers and gates. Manual crossing gates were often fitted with kerosene burning lamps supplied by Dressel. These Dressel crossing gate lamps had four lenses. When the crossing gates were down, a red light was presented towards the road and a white light was presented towards the railroad right of way. The New Haven's Dressel crossing gate lamps were marked with the "N.Y.N.H.&.H.R.R." initials stamped on a metal tag.

Semaphores, train order boards, and other right of way signals were typically illuminated through the late 1940s with Peter Gray signal lamps such as this example. All round bodied lamps supplied to the New Haven Railroad by Peter Gray and Sons were marked "NYNH&HRR" in large stamped letters on a metal tag applied to the kerosene fount/burner access door.Signal Lamp

Dwarf SemaphoreIn later years, the New Haven sometimes electrified kerosene lamps used on semaphore signals and train order boards. For some reason, dwarf semaphores were among the last signals to use kerosene lamps on the New Haven. Here we see a preserved NHRR lower quadrant dwarf semaphore signal complete with Peter Gray kerosene lamp.

Kerosene burning signal lamps had to be serviced on a regular basis. Founts had to be filled with kerosene, wicks had to be trimmed or replaced, flames had to be lit, and damage (such as broken lenses) had to be repaired. This work was performed by Signal Department employees known as "lamp men". This tin plated steel kerosene can was used by a New Haven "lamp man". It was made by Peter Gray and Sons and has "NYNH&HRR" stamped on its top.Kerosine Can


December 2000: TDI Commuter Schedules

November 2000: To Florida on the New Haven Railroad!

October 2000: Local Schedules

September 2000: Train Service Cancellation Posters

August 2000: The New Haven Railroad Rail Charge Card

July 2000: Beverage Service!

June 2000: The Boat Race Trains

May 2000: Timetable Change Posters

April 2000: New Haven Railroad Station Signs

March 2000: The Key to New England

February 2000: Route 128 Station

January 2000: New Haven Railroad Cigarette Lighters

December 1999: The Dan'l Webster

November 1999: Postwar Travel Posters

October 1999: Modern Dining Car China

September 1999: New Haven Railroad Dining Car Service Pins

August 1999: New Haven Railroad Lapel Pins

July 1999: The 1939 New York World's Fair -- 60th Anniversary

June 1999: On-Train Ashtrays

April 1999: Matchbooks

March 1999: Pilgrim Tours

February 1999: Special Trains of the 1950s and 1960s

January 1999: Ticket Envelopes

December 1998: Holiday Advertising Material

November 1998: New York City Travel Advertising Material

October 1998: Boston Travel Advertising Material

September 1998: The Hurricane of 1938 -- 60th Anniversary

July 1998: The New Haven Goes Back to Cape Cod

June 1998: The 1964/1965 New York World's Fair

May 1998: Official Gifts of the McGinnis Era

April 1998: System Timetables

March 1998: Pre-War Advertising Brochures

February 1998: New Haven Railroad Freight Service Advertising from the 1950s and 1960s

January 1998: The Snow Trains

December 1997: Hotel Montclair Advertisement ca. 1939

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