Thanks to a couple of Californians, the Tucumcari Train Depot has acquired a semaphore signal that will become a stop for the depot’s rail museum, according to Connie Loveland, a member of the museum committee.
Semaphore signals used to guide train engineers to stop, proceed with caution or travel as usual. They were in common use through the 1960s, according to railroad sources on the Internet.
The depot’s semaphore currently lies in front the depot, awaiting installation at the museum, but getting it to its current resting place was quite a story, according to Bob Sandusky, of Fairfax, Calif., who is on the Tucumcari Rail Museum board and got the project rolling.
“It all began innocently enough. I saw an ad on the Internet for a railroad semaphore for sale,” Sandusky wrote in an account of how Tucumcari acquired the signal. The seller was Pete Keesling of Redding, Calif.
Obtaining a semaphore, or at least its signal arm, had been a subject of discussion at rail museum committee meetings, and to Sandusky, seeing the whole apparatus being offered for sale was an opportunity to explore.
Sandusky said Keesling originally told him another museum in California had already bought it, but later contacted Sandusky to say that deal had fallen through, and the tower and semaphore were now available.
A deal was struck, and Sandusky decided, with some help, that he could retrieve the signal. He called Bob Wisner of San Anselmo, Calif., also in Sandusky’s Marin County, to help. Wisner volunteered his time and a 17-foot trailer.
Frank Turner, president of the railroad museum board of directors, called Tucumcari City Manager Doug Powers to seek city help in off-loading the apparatus when it got to Tucumcari.
On May 8, 2014, equipment and trucks modified, Sandusky and Wisner arrived at Keesling’s house with the intention of loading the semaphore.
The pair were dismayed but undaunted when they realized the apparatus stood 33 feet high. They made modifications to the trailer and managed to load the signal tower, the semaphore, a display case for the semaphore signal, and Wisner’s motorcycle onto vehicles for the trip to Tucumcari, Sandusky said. Wisner brought the two-wheeler to explore New Mexico while he was here.
They called the modified trailer the “Acme Drone Launcher,” a tribute to Wile E. Coyote, the cartoon character who used many “Acme” contraptions in his unsuccessful attempts to catch the Road Runner. The semaphore acquired the nickname, the “Pumpkin Cannon,” Sandusky said, because of its resemblance to devices that propel pumpkins toward long-distance doom.
Except for winds in California’s Tehachapi Mountains, the trip to Tucumcari was uneventful, Sandusky said. They arrived in Tucumcari on May 11. They stayed at the home of James Dow, another Tucumcari Rail Museum board member.
On May 12, when Bill Curry, vice president of the Tucumcari Railroad Museum, told Sandusky and Wisner that no one was available to help unload the semaphore, it turned out to be a practical joke. The pair later learned that big crowd of helpers was waiting at the depot.
By the end of the day, Sandusky noted, the semaphore had been unloaded and laid on its side awaiting final preparation for erecting, and city crews had prepared a hole for the concrete base.
On Tuesday, the semaphore was still lying on its side at the depot, but rail museum board members expect it to be raised to vertical within the next several weeks, Loveland said.