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Preservation Article - Updated October 1998

Notes On Buying A Semaphore

by Eric Schmelz

Under unusual circumstances, some railroads will sell retired signal equipment to private individuals. If you are interested in acquiring and restoring a semaphore, please consider learning from the mistakes of others by reading the following retrospective.

Who do I contact? Start by researching the names and addresses of the local Signal Supervisors whose districts span the area of interest where semaphores are being removed. Also, determine who is the "Big Boss," for example, a System Signal Supervisor. You can increase your chance of receiving a response by writing letters to multiple parties. Remember, you stand a excellent chance of having one or more of your letters rapidly tossed into a circular filing system. By writing a few WELL CRAFTED letters to multiple people, who have the authority to act, you will increase your odds of getting a response.

Life of a Signal Supervisor: From my observations these individuals appear to be totally overworked. Even if they have the best intentions of helping people preserve RR history, they may simply not have the extra time and energy to act upon requests. They usually prefer your correspondence to be in writing, NO PHONE CALLS, thereby replying to your questions at THEIR convenience. Phone calls are imposing upon their work schedule, while a letter can be read at their lesiure and command their full attention and concern. Realize that if they are able to help this requires extra work tacked onto their already hectic job.

Who is going to do all the work? Shipping and Receiving Having made a successful connection, be prepared to do almost everything yourself. If you want the transaction to happen, it helps enormously to have the resources to pick up and transport the item from it's storage site. If you request that they ship it to you (regardless of the extra shipping costs), your name may never rise to the top of the receiving list. This entails a lot more work for them. Supervisors are often hesitant to pull their maintainers out of service for a day to divert their energies to the disassembly and packaging of an antique for someone. If you tell the signal supervisor "I can be at your storage area on any one of these three dates" chances are greatly increased that an agreement and finalized plans can be made. This shows commitment and flexibility on your part. Remember you need to work around their schedules, not vice versa.

How much can I expect to pay? Semaphores are not cheap. However the satisfaction of having legally obtained your signal directly from the parent railroad is difficult to put a price on. You may even know which location it came from and obtain steam era pictures with that very signal in service! Most railroads sell semaphores at roughly market prices. The high price is present to discourage individuals from abusing the system by making huge profits through the resale of signals to others. The range is usually between $500 to $1,500 depending on completeness, number of blades, etcetera.

Selected Contact Information

Southern Pacific U.S.&S.Co. Style B lower quadrant (double and single arm) semaphores.

Currently a few semaphores and spare parts ARE available. Request letters are being keep on record with applicants being contacted as the items of interest become available. Within the next year, more spectacles and blades will become available than whole semaphores. For complete single and double arm semaphores expect to pay $1200 and up. A single spectacle and blade will cost somewhere around $300.

Request letters should be addressed to:

Rich Gollen
Signal Supervisor
333 S.E. Mosher
P.O. Box 1083
Roseburg, OR 97470

For initial correspondance, please do not attempt to call.

G.R.S. Co. Style 2A upper quadrant (base-of-mast mechanism). Single arm semaphores only (approximate weight 1,400 lbs).

Through personal experience and confirmations from others, this is the most straight forward way to acquire a whole semaphore. Write a letter expressing your interest, arrange a pick up date, pay $1000 (as of 1996), and you have a summer project. I believe numerous signals are immediately available for sale (eight were just taken down in Idaho, March 1998).

Request letters should be addressed to:

Mr. Steve Griffin
Supervisor, Signals and Communications
1001 Defoe
Post Office Box 8779
Missoula, Montana 59807

Please forward any additional contact information which has proved useful in obtaining semaphores so that it can be posted on this site.

Also, please re-read the above information before contacting these signal supervisors. They exist as priceless connections for those interested in preserving semaphores, and we should do our best to treat them that way.

Please send any information, corrections, or clarifications to:

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