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Backtrack: 1943

Backtrack: 1943

March 1943. "Willard, New Mexico. Santa Fe flagman walks back to signal any oncoming trains during a stop for water between Vaughn and Belen." Photo by Jack Delano for the Office of War Information. View full size.


The signal for this block IS red

Look way down the track, toward the hills rising behind, and on the left side of the track you will indeed see a semaphore signal with its arm horizontal (red).

I am confused

The signal is facing the back of the train, which suggests to me that the the train has just exited the block the signal protects. Am I confused?

Keep your eyes out for Walt, Jesse and Mike

They want your methylamine.

Lady in Green

The signal is for trains in the opposite direction.


The semaphore signal in view is for traffic in the opposite direction. The caboose has just cleared, by mere feet, that block and therefore the signal has gone to clear. The unseen signal for the direction of traffic that "our" train is taking would definitely be red with the blade of the semaphore horizontal.

Waiting, Watering, and Westbound In Willard

Based on a Santa Fe Railroad Mile Post (MP) track chart, the water tank/tower was at Willard at MP 839.9, west of Vaughn at MP 788.5 and east of Belen at MP 896.9. The signal in the photograph is at MP 840.2 (about 1,400 feet east of the water stop) and has color lenses that appear to be visible only to eastbound trains. There is, very likely, a signal for westbound trains located on the opposite side of the track, to the left, out of the photograph. Since the caboose is just west of the signal, the train is not occupying the track block that the signal is protecting for eastbound traffic. And since the signal is clear/green for eastbound traffic, most likely there is no other (westbound) train in the track block to the east and, perhaps, that is why the conductor or brakeman does not need to walk too far behind the stopped train in this particular situation.

Lady in Red!

Why wouldn't the signal be dropped to red/stop while the train is occupying that section of track to take on water? A highball signal and drawbar flagging seems a dangerous combination.


That's what you call drawbar flagging. He's supposed to go back a sufficient distance to stop following trains before they rear end his train. It looks like he's already stopped walking and at that distance, an oncoming train will see his caboose before they see him.

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