DAILY POST: Winston Hill, Montana, 1994.

Semaphores and Double Stacks.

I love technological contrasts and parallel compositions. This simple photograph works with both motifs.

What makes this photo work for me, isn’t just the technological contrasts and functional symmetry, but also the textured sky. This was difficult to exposure for properly, but serves an important visual element. If it was overexposed, it would represent a defect that would distract from the signals, while if it had been a blue dome, it would have dramatically altered the visual contrast of the image.


A westward Burlington Northern double-stack container train rolls downgrade on Montana Rail Link’s former Northern Pacific mainline over Winston Hill, east of Helena.

I used a relatively short shutter speed to allow a little bit of motion blur, while waiting for an appropriate gab between the stack wells to show both eastward- and westward-facing semaphores.

These upper quadrant blades were powered by General Railway Signal Type 2A base of mast mechanisms, a standard type of signal hardware installed by Northern Pacific in the steam era.

By the early 1990s, double stack container traffic was new and growing, while semaphore signals were relics from an earlier era and rapidly being replaced.

What will be the 2014 equivalent of this photograph? A state-of-the-art LNG-fueled locomotive passing a classic searchlight?

Interested in railway signaling? See my book Railroad Signaling available from Voyageur Press/Quayside Publishing

Also See: Erie Mainline RevisitedCuriously Seeking Erie Semaphores and Susquehanna SD45 and an Erie Semaphore, Canaseraga, New York.

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