The Station Train Order Semaphore Signal on display at the Centerville Depot is an original Southern Pacific signal that has been restored to its original condition and appearance.  Southern Pacific designed this "modernized" signal in 1906 to replace the railroad's earlier, pre-1900 models that had a wooden pole and used wire ropes to operate the signal.  The 1906 model is fabricated entirely of steel and cast iron, uses mechanical rods to operate the signal, stands 32 feet, 4 inches tall, and is significantly more durable than the earlier models.  Southern Pacific used the 1906 model until the last train order signals were retired from use in the late 1980s.  The only significant improvements Southern Pacific made to the 1906 model were the replacement of the top-of-pole kerosene lanterns with electric lamps and the replacement of the original painted wooden semaphore blades with blades made of porcelain coated steel. 

The train order semaphore signal on display at the Centerville depot, often referred to as an "order board," is the same 1906 model signal that once stood at the Centerville depot when the depot was built in 1910.  Although the actual year of removal is unknown, the Centerville depot's original signal was gone by 1925 and was probably relocated to another station on the Southern Pacific to replace one of the early vintage train order semaphore signals that had a wooden pole. 

Around 1988, a railroad artifact collector salvaged this particular signal from the now-demolished Southern Pacific depot in Mendota, California.  Most of the parts for the signal were then stored outdoors for the next twelve years.  Coincidentally, the Mendota depot was built the same year as the Centerville depot and to the same standard plan for a "One Story Combination Depot No. 23."  In the summer of 2000, the Centerville Business Association acquired the salvaged signal for restoration and eventual display at the Centerville depot.  By this time, the signal had deteriorated to such an extent that portions of it were in a near unrecognizable, scrap metal condition.  The steel ladders had been severely damaged during several relocations and the pole had become slightly bowed due to improper storage on its side on the ground for so many years. 

During the fall of 2000, the Centerville Business Association donated the funds for the complete restoration and transportation of the signal and petitioned the City of Fremont to build a foundation and install the signal at the Centerville Depot.  In January of 2001, the City Council agreed and the City of Fremont acquired the fully restored signal from the Centerville Business Association and budgeted funds to install it at the Centerville depot.  On March 5, 2002, a contractor working for the City of Fremont completed the installation of the signal at the depot. 

The signal on display has been fully restored to its original condition and appearance which included sandblasting to remove rust and old paint, repainting to its original colors of black and white, fabrication of new control rods, repair of damaged or broken metal components, straightening the pole, and replacement of broken colored lenses.  The two more modern features that were preserved in the restoration are the electric lamp at the top of the signal that replaced the signal's original kerosene lantern and the metal semaphore blades that replaced the signal's original wooden blades. 

Although these signals were once common on the Southern Pacific at stations and train order offices, train order semaphore signals are now quite scare.  It is estimated that fewer than two dozen of these signals have been preserved.  Centerville's signal is the only original Southern Pacific station train order semaphore signal that stands today along an active mainline of the former Southern Pacific in its historically accurate location relative to the depot and mainline.  All other preserved Southern Pacific train order semaphore signals have been moved off of the railroad's mainline right-of-way or are on display at museums.

Photo by Robert Souter

Amtrak #741 glides past the recently erected semaphore train order board at the Centerville Depot April 7, 2002.

The May, 2002, issue of What's Happening magazine featured an article and photos about the Centerville depot's new semaphore. Click here to view the complete article.

Station Train 
Order Semaphore

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