Since 2020 has been the year of “stuck at home, all day every day”, earlier this summer I finished restoring and installing my Union Switch & Signal H-2 searchlight in my back yard. I still didn’t have a good way to control it, however. When Iowa Scaled Engineering was sending off another set of circuit boards for fabrication, I decided to add a fun project to the order in addition to all the various new product ideas we were working on. What project? A WiFi-enabled searchlight signal controller, of course!
In February 2019, I had to head for Memphis for… eh, professional reasons? Still a project I can’t talk about. But, being me, I added a few days on both sides for general railfanning, antiquing, and getting into trouble. Everybody else was flying in Monday, meetings Tues-Thurs, and flying home on Friday. I decided to fly in on Friday, have a three day weekend, three days of meetings, and another three day weekend before flying home Sunday night.
The Friday-Saturday after the meetings was largely supposed to be rainy and miserable, so any truly railfanning was probably off the list. I decided I’d drive around, hit up some antique stores, and try to make it into Nashville by Saturday night to catch some music.
What I didn’t anticipate was finding a 70 pound relic that needed to be boxed and shipped home. But that’s just what happened. A completely impromptu stop at Mantiques in Hazel, KY found a beautiful old semaphore blade from a Union Switch & Signal type S or T-2 upper quadrant semaphore signal. (This would date to 1906 to maybe the 1930s at the latest, as by that point railroads had converted almost entirely to color light signals.)
Everybody needs an old railroad signal in the backyard, right? I’ve always loved old searchlight signals, and I’ve long wanted one in the back yard. I have to admit, when most folks think about collectables and yard ornaments, these probably aren’t the first things that come to mind, but I’m not most people.
About two years ago I finally decided it was time to do something about that, so I started planning and hunting down all the pieces I’d need. It took me almost a year to acquire all the pieces, and another nine months to find the ambition and time to get it done, but thanks to being stuck at home for months due to everyone’s favorite virus, I finally got it done. Now I can sit out on the patio, drink a beer, and enjoy a big ol’ chunk of restored 1930s-1940s vintage railroad technology watching over me. I couldn’t be happier.
If you want to see what it took to get to this point, read on…