Questions & Answers
Buying & Selling
Lantern Stories and First Hand Accounts
There is no shortage of rule books that describe how lanterns were to be used in railroad operations. But firsthand accounts are not common, and based on what railroaders say, there was a lot of variation in the way lanterns were used on specific lines. Here are some comments. Also see a second page of first hand accounts and an article "With Tongues of Fire: Railroad Lanterns" that first appeared in a 1953 issue of "Railroad" Magazine. We welcome other comments. Email us via the Contact Us page.
"I spent a lot of time around the RR in the late days of oil
lantern use in the late 1960s. The Nickel Plate used the amber signal
for two main purposes: 1.) to mark a cut of camp cars at night (a lantern
was hung on a hook attached to a round yellow sign lettered "CAMP
CARS"); 2.) as a tower signal at night to indicate that Form 19
orders were to be handed up to conductor and engineer. The NKP also
specified an amber lantern as std equipment on locomotives. The signal
green globe color was used as a tower signal for "proceed with
caution" and also by the wreckmaster to signal the wrecker operator
and the engineer of the work train positioning the wrecker at night.
The engineer of the wreck train could only act on a green signal from
the wreckmaster. I remember a tool car in a wreck train being well
equipped with lots of unfired Adlake Keros with green and blue globes.
The red globe color was always used as a danger signal and to signal "stop",
danger ahead. Cobalt blue was always used ONLY for the purpose of marking
equipment that was being attended to by car knockers (and was referred
to as a car knocker's lantern), however, I once saw a NYC camp car
cut in Silver Creek, NY, that was marked with a blue circle sign with
hook and blue lantern attached. The NKP required tower operators
to have lanterns lit and ready for use during all hours of darkness.
Oil lanterns and lantern filling tinware were everywhere in the late
1960s. You could find them hanging in almost any shanty, all interlocking
towers, cabs of diesel locomotives, cabooses, maintenance-of-way equipment,
Fairmont motor cars, etc. NYC/PC used at least one, and many times
two clear lanterns to mark rear ends of passenger trains until Amtrak.
They even hung them on the end of express boxcars in passenger and
mail trains when an express car was the last car in the train, often
the case in later days. Many NYC and PC cabooses could be seen at night
with a red lantern hanging from the chain on the end of a bay window
caboose platform. This was very common. Some state laws required RRs
to maintain oil lanterns as alternate signal sources even when battery
powered lanterns had been in use for more than 30 years.
"When I started out we had oil burning lanterns. We had two lanterns on every engine, a red and a white. The fireman had to keep the globes clean and filled with kerosene." - Eldon Plaugher as quoted in "Working on the Western Maryland" published by the Western Maryland Historical Society.
I worked on the railroad during the 40s, 50s & 60s.
My last station was a flag stop for passenger trains. On the timetables
the station was designated as a flag stop, so the hogger was alerted.
We never used a lantern. We had a green-over-white flag with a special
station light to indicate passengers. To my knowledge green-over-clear
[globes in lanterns] were strictly a presentation thing. I can remember
some of the old conductors carrying a lantern with the green-over-clear.
By the way I am 82 years old -J.H.