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Railroaders' Nostalgia > Turn out the light!

Date: 08/03/20 09:01
Turn out the light!
Author: eminence_grise

Back in the 1980's, I worked on a branchline which the railway shared with another railway. Both operated an overnight freight on weekdays, separated by about two hours.

We usually switched at a town halfway to our destination. As a brakeman, I was usually not on the engines as we switched at the south end of town. The engineer pointed out an event that happened as we switched back and forth. The engines were on a curve, and the headlight beam would shine into the busy parking lot of a nearby shopping mall. If they were on bright, the headlight beam would cause the lights in the parking lot equipped with light sensors to turn off. While switching, he would dim the headlights and the parking lot lights would stay on. Finally when the switching was over, we would leave town with the headlights on bright.

He noted one night that a security guard at the mall was questioning a bunch of young people and pointing at the street lights in the lot. Apparently, a well aimed flashlight would also turn out the lights which were equipped with a light sensor. He was pretty sure they were innocent and in fact the train headlights were turning off the lights. However, he never contacted the mall about it.

Typically, the freight of the other railway would be an hour or so behind us, and carry on a similar amount of switching at the same place. I remember asking the crew of that train if they noticed what was happening with the mall lights. They had, and they also noted the security man on patrol seeking the "culprits".

In time during the summer, the days grew longer and the mall lights were already out when we went by. 

Years later, I met someone who worked at the mall, and she talked of the security guard being convinced that a group of young people were continually "fooling around with flashlights" to turn off the parking lot lights and that he actually contacted a nearby high school principal about the issue. Of course, the students pleaded innocent, and had not been aware that flashlights could turn out the sensor equipped street lights. The nightly event ceased over the summer, which the security guard was convinced represented summer vacation.

Come the fall, the lights would be going on and off with the passage of the trains. In time, someone figured the puzzle out, and aimed the sensors away from the tracks.

However, sometimes the vibration of the trains was enough to set off car alarms.


Date: 08/03/20 12:19
Re: Turn out the light!
Author: cewherry

When I would 'catch' Espee's Torrance Hauler from Taylor Yard in Los Angeles I discovered one night while meandering along
Vermont Avenue in down-town Gardena that the oscillating white headlight would occasionally 'trip' a street lighting sensor
with the result of half-a-dozen of those sentry's suddenly going dark. They would begin to re-light in a few seconds by which
point the train would be moving on toward our destination. On succeeding trips I looked forward to that portion of the trip where
I found that by pausing the rotating motion of the light and 'inching' the beam just so I could play a new game, (I am easily amused),
by demonstrating my headlight prowess to the head brakie. He just looked ahead.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 08/03/20 12:34 by cewherry.

Date: 08/04/20 20:29
Re: Turn out the light!
Author: Chessie

The terminal I worked out of in years past had a couple parking garages about a mile from our crew change location.  Our typical slow speed by there due to curves and crossovers, combined with modulating the throttle between the second and third notch (worked best with EMD 645's) would set off car alarms galore.  You make your own fun on the railroad. 

Date: 08/04/20 22:23
Re: Turn out the light!
Author: roustabout

It wasn't a light turned off by our headlights, although that and setting off car alarms was par for the course. 

No, it was a trail cam someone had set up in some woods just west of Wrens on the P&W Toledo Line.  It was on my conductor's side and startled her into thinking someone had fired a shot.  Of course the flash was definintly a strobe when I finally got to see it (after she hit the cab floor) as it kept strobing at about 30 second intervals (and we were traveling at the usual sedate 10 mph).  I wonder if they enjoyed the train pics they got?  She was still convinced that it was someone shooting and had no idea what a train cam was. 

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