Articles - N.J. International Semaphore
01/02/2014
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For Christmas 2013 Santa sent me an N.J. International semaphore. This is S-scale part #4303, which is an upper-quadrant semaphore. Semaphores were used by railroads to signal whether or not the next block of track was open and accessible to the train. They were in use from as early as the mid 1800s up through the 1960s. You may still find some standing along tracks, but they are no longer being used. When electricity and improved communications became available to the railroads, semaphores were made obsolete. The link above provides all sorts of information about semaphores.

There are two types of semaphores. An older type, the "lower-quadrant" semaphore had its blade hanging down in the clear position and straight horizontal in the blocked position. The problem with this method was that if the semaphore broke, the blade would naturally fall down into the clear position (i.e. pointing down), which could be disastrous for a following train when a previous train had come to a stop in the next section of track. The upper-quadrant semaphore was therefore installed and in wide-spread use by the early 1900s. If it broke, the arm would fall from pointing straight up (i.e. clear signal) to horizontal (i.e. blocked signal), which was a much safer default state.
N.J. International Semaphore
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Inside the package is one semaphore and a plastic bag with two blades. One blade is yellow/black and has a flat end, the other is white/red and has a pointy end. I think, but I could be wrong, the pointy blade is used to indicate the situation at the next signal (i.e. it acts as a "heads-up" signal), while the flat end blade indicates the state of this block of track.
N.J. International Semaphore
Also included are general instructions. This sheet appears to be included with all their signals, so the one or two sentences devoted to the semaphore signal is extremely bare-bones.
N.J. International Semaphore
Here's a close-up of the signal box. The brass wire sticking out of the base is the means by which the signal is moved. Like the prototype, the signal head has one lamp (an LED) that shines through the colored lens of the arm. This then indicates the signal's color in addition to the arm's position (0, 45, or 90 degrees). I think the model is an accurate one. A bit of trivia: Don Thompson (of S-Helper Service) sent a request to N.J. International, providing a prototype photo of this semaphore, to have them produce it for S-scale.
N.J. International Semaphore