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Long-burning signal lamps

Signalling on heritage railways

Re: Long-burning signal lamps

Unread postby Jack30A » Fri Aug 12, 2016 3:20 am

meldrum wrote:Hi everyone,
I thought that some of you might be interested to see some different instructions regarding signal lamp maintenance on the Cheshire Lines but I assume it varied little from company to company or am I wrong?
I have copied several different CLC instructions from 1883, 1907 and 1935 and put them on Flicker.
Apparently long burning lamps appeared (on the Cheshire Lines at least) during WW1 'about 1917' according to one old lamp man. This fits in with the labour shortages at this time.
Prior to this lamps were taken into the lamp room, cleaned and returned to the signal every day as per the rules. This was strictly enforced by the inspector or station master.
When I started my railway career in the 1970's I was for a while a full time lamp man. By this time of course it was quite acceptable to clean and fill these long burning lamps at the foot of the signal.

Hope this is of interest.


As some background, I've got some film footage shot during WWII showing a woman working as a Lampman on the Southern, and she carried a contraption consisting of a long horizontal wooden pole with notches in, with a carrying handle on the top. Each of the lamps she was carrying had its handle dropped into one of the notches, so that it wouldn't slide off. She approached the signal post (a multi arm job) with a full set of replacements, already filled and burning, climbed up the ladder, swapped them for the ones filled the previous week, climbed down again and set off - presumably back to the lamp room.

An old friend of mine, an ex-BR guard, started as a porter / lamp man at Bexhill-on-Sea in about 1951, and he told me that he did just the same as the woman in the film, every Sunday morning.

Having said that, it may well have been that when the gaffers weren't about, that the woman in question did the filling, trimming and re-lighting at the foot of the post. On the other hand, my friend Harry told me that in order for the lamps to keep burning with a nice, bright flame for the full week, the wicks and the flame spreaders had to be very carefully cleaned, and the wick trimmed to a gentle curve (side to side and front to back), or else they were liable to smoke, give a poor light, or go out altogether - though he was always very conscientious about the way he did his job! But, he said, he never had a report that any of his lamps had gone dim or out while he was a lamp man.

I also remember reading the report of an official inquiry from about 1946-47, which described how signalmen were having problems keeping signal lamps burning brightly for a full week, as the lamp oil they were supplied was more like ordinary paraffin, and tended to clog the wicks with soot. As that was almost certainly the case when the SR shot the film I saw, I would think that their war-time lamp men had to even more careful about getting the wicks properly cleaned and accurately set.

From my own experience of lighting and adjusting crossing gate lamps, I've found that the instructions on my present line are right; especially if the lamp is cold, it takes about 15 minutes to check if the wick height is spot on, because as the lamp warms up, the draught improves, making the flame higher - so I always light them with a lowish flame, and check them 15 minutes later. I suppose, to a degree, I'm as careful as Harry was - but I could do far worse in the way of role models!
:)
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Re: Long-burning signal lamps

Unread postby Mike Hodgson » Fri Aug 12, 2016 7:08 am

Jack30A wrote:As some background, I've got some film footage shot during WWII showing a woman working as a Lampman on the Southern, and she carried a contraption consisting of a long horizontal wooden pole with notches in, with a carrying handle on the top. Each of the lamps she was carrying had its handle dropped into one of the notches, so that it wouldn't slide off.


This would have been called a yoke.
The idea came from traditional arrangements for pairs of oxen ploughing, or for carrying loads such as buckets of water suspended from your shoulders.
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Re: Long-burning signal lamps

Unread postby Eardington Lampman » Sat Aug 13, 2016 10:05 am

We've actually got one of those carrying bars or yokes, an original GWR one. The notches are carefully positioned so that an odd number of lamps may be carried, the bar remaining balanced by placing the lamps closer to or further away from the handle. As we only have a single Welch patent signal lamp, I have tested the yoke using four Tilley lamps and it works perfectly, although it's very heavy carrying that load!

Thanks Jack for your interesting comments. I use ordinary paraffin in our lamps. We did have some 'odourless kerosene' at one time, but it all went up in smoke I guess!
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