In the early 1900's the Northern Pacific began a program to install mainline automatic block signalling to
increase safety and efficiency in train operations. Upper quadrant type semaphores were installed across
the system and the entire line completed by September of 1924.
It was in the late 1970's and early 1980's when I realized these semaphores were on borrowed time and
something to be recorded on film as much as possible. Living in Western Washington the signals between
Auburn and Ravensdale, WA were the semaphores I photographed first and some of them looked pretty well worn.
In the early 1980's Stampede Pass would be shut down and these semaphores removed forcing me to search
elsewhere for active semaphores.
Washington Central took over operations from the BN into Pasco from the west after Stampede was shut down
making those semaphores hard to shoot with their nightime run from Yakima to Pasco. BN kept the semaphores
between Pasco and Spokane until the 1980's when they too were removed. This left just Idaho and Western
Montana with operating semaphores.
In late 1987 MRL would take over operations on BN's ex-NP route from Sandpoint, ID to Jones Jct just east of
Billings, MT. Replacing the many semaphores left by the BN was not a high priority with MRL. In 1995 the
BN would itself disappear after merger with the Santa Fe to become the BNSF which continued to forward
trains across the MRL as BN did. Over the years MRL slowly began the process of replacing the semaphores
with new tri-light signals.
As of this writing all of the semaphores installed by the NP are gone with the exception of five in Western
Montana on the MRL which were installed in 1918 and scheduled to come down in the summer/fall of 2005. The
fact that they lasted into the 21st Century should be a cause for celebration.
My photography of the semaphores on this website will span a period of 25 years. From my first photos east
of Auburn, WA in early 1980 to those last five between Paradise and St Regis, MT which will be gone by the
end of 2005.
Somehow, the MRL......the old Northern Pacific just won't be the same without them.