How were semaphore signal painted?

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Philip Millard
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How were semaphore signal painted?

Post by Philip Millard » Mon May 02, 2016 7:23 am

I am wondering what techhnique was used to paint semaphore signals, especially the arms and the post on the side opposite to the ladder. Tall signals would have been especially difficult. Was some sort of scaffolding erected - if so I have never seen any photograph showing this, and it might have impeded the driver's view of the signal.
"A man would do nothing, if he waited until he could do it so well that no one at all would find fault with what he has done." - Cardinal Newman

reginstone
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Re: How were semaphore signal painted?

Post by reginstone » Wed May 04, 2016 1:43 pm

Interesting question, Philip! My guess would be just a man with a ladder and paintpot, but it is only a guess. I vaguely recall seeing an S&T bloke doing just this to some of our (tubular steel) signals on the North Warwick probably in the 1980s, and I have no recollection of anything more elaborate.

Did they do it on a Sunday, when there were less trains about? Or did they just tell the man to move out of the way when a train approached? I suppose doing it at night would generally not have been thought of as a good idea. I think there might be some entries for "painting signals" in the Weekly /Fortnightly Engineering Notices, but I can't quote examples off the top of my head.

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Philip Millard
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Re: How were semaphore signal painted?

Post by Philip Millard » Thu May 05, 2016 7:26 am

Reg - I ask the question as my own preserved signal could do with a repaint. But "a man with a ladder and a paintpot" has serious difficulties, including the obstacles of the lamps and lamp holders. Nor does a ladder enable the arms to be painted. What about tall signals 50 feet or more high? When I originally painted the signal I did it in its dismantled state. But I am afraid that at my age I cannot contemplate removing the arms again - I recall it was pretty fraught mounting the arms in the first place.
"A man would do nothing, if he waited until he could do it so well that no one at all would find fault with what he has done." - Cardinal Newman

David Bond
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Re: How were semaphore signal painted?

Post by David Bond » Thu May 05, 2016 9:51 am

I had a quick look in the few weekly notices I have at home currently last night and the detail in these was for signal changes and alterations, there was no reference to signal painting will be carried out at X location. Would this work have been done under the local engineering districts?

Philip, dependant on the height of the signal in your garden I would suggest the best thing would be to hire an aluminium tower (Working platform) and that should give ample access for someone to get the painting done

Mike Williams
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Re: How were semaphore signal painted?

Post by Mike Williams » Thu May 05, 2016 7:46 pm

reginstone wrote:did they just tell the man to move out of the way when a train approached?
I suddenly had a vision of "The Ladykillers". Surely not?

Mike

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Philip Millard
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Re: How were semaphore signal painted?

Post by Philip Millard » Fri May 06, 2016 7:53 am

David Bond wrote: Philip, dependant on the height of the signal in your garden I would suggest the best thing would be to hire an aluminium tower (Working platform) and that should give ample access for someone to get the painting done

A good idea on the face of it David, but there are snags. The tower would need to be moved around to access the different faces of the signal, and my site would allow only two (out of four) positions. And the hire charge for a one-person tower is £60 a week + VAT - and it would be my luck that it rained a lot and the job lasted longer than planned! What is more, I am not at all sure that I now have the strength to erect such a tower, especially to get the working platform up to the top. And the height of the platform would require altering quite often as painting progressed.
"A man would do nothing, if he waited until he could do it so well that no one at all would find fault with what he has done." - Cardinal Newman

Mike Williams
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Re: How were semaphore signal painted?

Post by Mike Williams » Fri May 06, 2016 8:19 am

Thinking about this again, were the arms not stove enameled? If so I doubt they would need painting at all. My full sized arm has been repainted at some time in its life so I can't be certain, but my small ground signal semaphore arm certainly looks like stove enamel and not been repainted in, presumably, almost 100 years, though it has been kept inside for at least half that time.

Mike

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Philip Millard
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Re: How were semaphore signal painted?

Post by Philip Millard » Sat May 07, 2016 7:28 am

Mike Williams wrote:Thinking about this again, were the arms not stove enameled?
According to Richard Foster's book, the steel arms were painted at first, but in later years enamalling was used. But in any case wooden arm signals would have been found for quite a number of years thereafter. And of course signal arms on most pre-1923 railways were always wood.

The question how signals were painted seems worthy of further research. Consider the signals depicted on page 53 of Richard Foster's book. I don't think that the idea of a ladder is plausible.
"A man would do nothing, if he waited until he could do it so well that no one at all would find fault with what he has done." - Cardinal Newman

reginstone
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Re: How were semaphore signal painted?

Post by reginstone » Sat May 07, 2016 1:21 pm

Interesting discussion, chaps! I concur with most of what has been written.

The question of painting very tall signals is one that I can't answer. By the 1930s/40s there were relatively few of these, and I stringly suspect that there is no-one still around that knows.

Mike - I meant to get out of the way of the arm (obscuring the driver's view) not out of the way of the train!

Philip - I really can't say anything more that would be of any help to you, I'm afraid.

David - thanks for looking in the WENs. If I find any refs in the ones I have I'll let you know.

Cheers, Reg

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Re: How were semaphore signal painted?

Post by Harry Jack » Sat May 07, 2016 3:33 pm

Would it not have been simpler to remove the arm - I mean just the red & white plate - and replace it with a new one, ready painted, from Crewe? A matter of unscrewing a few bolts - not a job I'd fancy even at a low height, but certainly much easier than trying to paint more than 9 square feet (both sides) very carefully, in three colours. High up, on a windy day...

When yellow replaced red on distants wouldn't they have simply changed the arms, rather than repaint them in situ?

Harry.

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