Uses on the Railroad

Railroads prescribed how lanterns were to be used, and for obvious reasons it was very important that all employees understood these rules.  The mechanism for doing this was the Rule Book, and it seems that just about every rule book displayed the same diagrams.  These are presented below, along with descriptions about what each

imgUsesStop.gif (6214 bytes) imgUsesProc.gif (5530 bytes) imgUsesBack.gif (3557 bytes)
Stop -- Swung across the track. Proceed - Raised and lowered vertically Back - Swung vertically in a circle at half-arm's length across the track
imgUsesPart.gif (4957 bytes) imgUsesApply.gif (3204 bytes) imgUsesRel.gif (2457 bytes)
Train has parted -- Swung vertically in a circle at arm's length across the track Apply air brakes - swung horizontally above the head. Release air brakes - held at arm's length above the head
rules1.gif (4765 bytes) rules2.gif (7968 bytes) rules3.gif (7221 bytes)
In addition to hand lantern signals, some rule books specified other uses of lanterns as well. For example the above diagrams were taken from a 1910 "Pennyslvania Lines West of Pittsburgh" Book of Rules. Above left: Freight cars being pushed by an engine at night - white light on front of leading car.  Above Center:  Passenger cars being pushed by an engine at night - - white light on front of leading car. This is according to Rule 24 which states "When cars are pushed by an engine (except when shifting or making up trains in yards) a white light must be displayed on the front of the leading car by night."  Above Right: Rule 24a states: "When an  engine is running backward by night, without cars or at the front of a train pulling cars, a  white light must be displayed by night on the rear of the tender if not equipped with a headlight.  

On Locomotives. Lanterns were carried on locomotives as standard equipment. In a Northern Pacific Railway "Inventory of Engine Tools" dated June 17, 1905, the following lanterns and associated supplies were listed:

  • 2 White Lanterns
  • 2 Red Lanterns
  • 1 White Lantern Globe (Extra)
  • 1 Red Lantern Globe (Extra)
  • 1 1-gallon Signal Oil Can

Thanks to Jim Frederickson, posted originally on the NP Telltale Digest List, 10/12/01