NP installed semaphores from Paradise to Sandpoint, ID in 1914. The line between Missoula and Paradise via St Regis was not signaled until Dec 1918-Jan 1919. There was also an alternate route between Paradise and Missoula over Evaro Hill which may have been the reason for this delay.
My first semaphore photographs in Montana came in 1981. Semaphores were still in use on the BN route from Tuscor to Plains and from Paradise to Missoula with target signals also in place, probably replacing semaphores that had failed and not deemed economical to repair. There were quite a few changes made over the years since 1981 and my first visit.
The six semaphores between Tuscor and Childs were the NP yellow blade type with pointed ends when I first saw them in the early 1980's. Only the semaphore at Trout Creek was easily accessed. The others in this segment were at remote locations. Some of the pairs had been broken up with a semaphore replaced with a target signal such as the one at Trout Creek and MP 49.1 west of Childs some years previous. All of these semaphores had their blades changed out to the red blunt end sometime between 1987 and 1988. This was probably done right towards the beginning of the MRL era. MRL's program of signal upgrading eventually saw these semaphore signals all retired on Jan 13, 2003.
East of Childs to Belknap were six more semaphores. The pair at Belknap were easy to access, right off of Highway 200. These blades were also changed out between 1987-1988 to the red blunt end type. The MP 423 semaphore east of Childs was replaced with a 3 light signal sometime after 1989. These semaphores were replaced during Sep. 2000 with more modern signals.
The next semaphore to be found east of Belknap was at MP 296 near Thompson Falls where where MRL's Pipeline facility is located now. This semaphore/target signal pair was removed sometime after 1987.
There were five semaphores between Woodlin and Eddy. These had yellow blades when I first saw them but were replaced with red blunt ends around 1987-1988. These were replaced with new signals in 2001.
There were 9 semaphores between Eddy and Plains. All had the yellow NP blades right up to the time they were replaced with new 3 light signals around 1989. These were favored as they kept their NP blades right up to the end. The signals at MP 153/154 were favorites as they were very accessible as was the semaphore at MP 135 which was at the west switch of Weeksville. The semaphores at MP 122/123 were very isolated and rarely photographed.
The semaphores between Paradise and the Quinns area were removed in June of 1986 so I only photographed them for a short time before they were replaced. One blade at Paradise was still an NP yellow type but the rest were blunt end red. Story goes that most of the NP blades between Paradise and Spring Gulch were replaced with ex-GN semaphore blades removed from the GN's Spokane-Sandpoint line when it was downgraded and much of it abandoned after the 1970 BN merger in favor of the ex-NP routing.
There are just five semaphores left operating on the MRL in 2005 and they are located between Quinns and Toole. This will be their last year of operation. Four of these five have the red blunt end blades but the semaphore at MP 2072, the old siding of Donlan is the last remaining NP semaphore blade operating today. The blade opposite it (MP 2073) had its ex-NP blade changed out sometime between 1991 and 1993 with a red blunt end type. The pair of semaphores at MP 205 was reduced to one as the semaphore at MP 2052 was replaced with a 3 light signal after 1987.
Six semaphores were once located from both ends of Toole Siding to the switch at Tricon Timber (MP 198.5) Again, all were red except for one of the blades at the east switch of Toole which was still NP yellow. My last photographs of these semaphores were in 1990 so they were probably removed not long after that when Toole siding was extended at the east end.
And the last group of semaphores were the 11 between St Regis and Spring Gulch removed in late 2004. A few were notable in this stretch as well. The single semaphore at MP 1905 was the only one still in NP yellow. All the rest were red with the blunt end. And the pair near the west switch of St Regis were the "shorties" with shortened masts so crews on westbounds could see them as they approached the 3 bridges between them and the semaphores.
As this is being written on 11-26-05 the five semaphores between MP 210 and Toole on the St Regis cutoff are the only semaphores left operating but their time has about run out. New replacements are nearly completely installed and will no doubt be in operation by December. It is amazing the semaphores lasted as long as they did, but the MRL was always thought of as kind of a "time machine" with semaphores and SD45's still in daily mainline service into the 21st Century. 2005 will be remembered as the final year of semaphores on the MRL closing out nearly 86 years of service but knowing these same signals that gave safe passage to NP's steam powered trains of the early 1900's to todays modern day Hi-Tech diesels will be their testament in time.
And now on to the Gallery....