Boston & Maine Railroad

by John Hinson

Photograph 13/7/61, by D S Robinson/Dr. J W F Scrimgeour collection

Whitefield, in New Hampshire, is an excellent example of simple signalling methods at a point where two railroads crossed. The shanty on the left was the signalman's hut, but by the time these 1966 photographs were taken, the location was no longer staffed and the signals operated by the train crew. Here, we see a freight train on the Wells River - Berlin branch of the Boston & Maine RR crossing the tracks of the Maine Central's Portland to St Johnsbury branch.

The two balls hanging gallows-like from the post at the junction were the sole signals at this location and were erected in 1875. The B&M timetable No.53 of 1951clarifies their use:
"One ball or one red light will allow trains on the Boston and Maine Railroad to pass over the Maine Central track. Two balls or two red lights will allow trains on the Maine Central Railroad to pass over the Boston and Maine track. All trains and engines will stop 500 feet from the Maine Central track".

Dangling below the balls are the lanterns which are lit by night.

Trains crossing at Whitefield
Photograph 13/7/61, by D S Robinson/Dr. J W F Scrimgeour collection

In this second view, the caboose of the B&M freight is just clear of the junction, and a Maine Central freight is about to cross. The engineer of the MC service is just boarding his unit.

The tracks in the foreground formed a junction between the two railroads, but had become disused. They had been used by MC passenger trains calling at Whitefield station (the only station here was on the B&M line) and these trains had to carry our a reversal to call here.

The signals here at Whitefield survive in 2005, and now carry a plaque stating that they they are the last surviving examples in New England, but are surely the last in the world. They are retained more as a historic feature than for operating necessity a - enter "ball signals" in an internet search engine and many references will be found on tourist and informations sites.

Additional notes by Bob England

About the photographs

Comments about this article should be addressed to John Hinson