Side view of Griswold Rotating Banner Signal

Side view of Griswold Rotating Banner Signal

I’ve mentioned before how I now make it my daily habit to always carry a point and shoot digital camera as well as my compact and trusty Flip video camcorder. I never know what I may find when out and about and, on that rare occasion I find something that is rare or unique, I won’t have any regrets about missing the chance to document it. Well, a rare documentation opportunity happened to me on the way  back from the dentist’s office a few weeks ago.

As it happens, my dentist practices  in Northeast Minneapolis where there is a lot of train activity. I didn’t choose him because the proximity to the BNSF and CP lines, but rather he comes from a family of dentists who took care of four generations of my wife’s family. Plus he’s good, so I’ll keep driving all the way over to the Nordeast.

As I was leaving, I decided to cut over to East River Road and drive by the BNSF Railway yard. Making my way down 22nd Avenue North East my eyes got huge as I approached a crossing. There, in active use, where a pair of Griswold rotating-stop-sign signals!

Griswold Rotating Banner Crossing Signal in deactivated state

Griswold Rotating Banner Crossing Signal in deactivated state

These are unique in that as a train approached a stop sign would rotate and face motorists. The train would activate the signal causing the release of a weight inside the mechanical box below the stop sign (reportedly falling with a “thud”). This would cause the stop sign (banner) to face motorists warning them of an approaching train. After the train passed a motor would turn the stop sign away from the motorists, lift the weight, and re-engage the weight holder.

Using the weight to engage the signal and a motor to turn it back after the train passed made it fail safe. However, these mechanisms also made them expensive to maintain.

They were produced by the Griswold Signal Company of Minneapolis starting in the 1920s through about 1950 and were heavily used in Minnesota and the Mid- and Northwest by Northern Pacific and Milwaukee Road. However, because they were expensive to maintain, only a handful still see active service.

Griswold Rotating Banner Crossing Signal outside Scale Model Supplies in St. Paul, MN

Example of signal in active state with stop sign facing motorists (Display outside Scale Model Supplies in St. Paul, MN)

One of the hobby stores I frequent, Scale Model Supplies on Lexington and University Avenues in Saint Paul, have one on display outside their entrance. Since it isn’t hooked up to a track circuit the stop sign is in the (fail-safe) warning position.

Though I hung around snapping photos for about twenty minutes I saw no action. Given the location and types of industries along the track I may have a hard time actually catching them in action in the future unless I knew of any time tables or switching jobs ahead of time.

In any case, just seeing them on duty felt satisfying. Now I need to find a Wig-Wag which is reportedly less rare than the rotating stop sign signal. Hmmm, seems like birdwatching.

About Chad Leigh Kluck

Originally from Nebraska, I am a history and railroad enthusiast currently living near Saint Paul, Minnesota. I enjoy trains, photography, and nostalgic memories, as well as the history of transportation, agriculture, eateries, breweries, and railroad towns. More...

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