JeffPo's Tri-Color (Track Walker) Lamp Page

Created:  11/09/17

Last update:  11/29/17


This is a tri-color lamp used by track walkers.  While most people refer to these as "track walker" lamps, they were generally advertised by the "tri-color" name.  The cylindrical body is about 4.5 inches inches in diameter.  The lamp is about 11 inches tall, including the handle.  As the name implies, tri-color lamps were quite unique because they were like having three lamps in one. 

By turning the handle you could display clear, red, or green signals.  The clear light was probably most used for illumination and inspection, though it could be used to signal too.  I've got images of the lamp lit in the Track Walkers and Lamp Usage section down below.

Here you see the revolving cylindrical sleeve from inside of the lamp.  It was comprised of three windows.  One was left blank, for the clear light.  One had a red glass pane, for the red signal.  And one had a green glass pane, for the green signal.  The track walker simply rotated the top handle to place the desired color in front of the flame.

Here you see the fuel fount and burner.  Stamped on top is the word KEROSENE.  Stamped on the side is LNE-C (more on this below).  There is a reflector attached in the back, to concentrate the light forward.  The fuel fount is actually kind of small compared to most founts on hand lanterns.  It doesn't hold much fuel.  But I guess it held enough for the night's work.

To light the lamp, you would slide the locking pin to the open position on the front door, and simply swing the front door open.  The front door also houses the front lens, which is actually a clear round glass pane with beveled edges, about 4 inches wide.  It's not a lens in the typical Fresnel design, which would magnify the light in some fashion.  It's just basically a round window.  The wick adjuster for the burner is also fully contained within the lamp so you would have to open the front door to adjust the flame height.

Stamped on the side is the name:  STAINFORTH.  This refers to Stainforth, South Yorkshire, in England.  Yes, this is a British lamp.  While I prefer American lamps from American railroads, the British version of the tri-color lamp is almost identical to the American version.  Plus I haven't come across an American version yet.  I know very little about the railroads in England.  There was a Stainforth railway station in this region.

Stamped on the side of the lamp are the initials LNE-C.  Recall that these initials are also stamped on the fuel fount.  LNE stands for London and North Eastern Railway (LNER).  I have confirmed that the London and North Eastern Railway did run through the town of Stainforth.  I'm not entirely sure what the C stands for.  A principal constituent of the London and North Eastern Railway was the Great Central Railway (formed in 1897), so maybe that's what the C represents.  I put in an inquiry to The LNER Society ( and their consensus was the C represents the Great Central Railway.  The London and North Eastern Railway was the second largest railroad in England, and operated from 1923 until 1948.

While the London and North Eastern Railway did gain a lot of its income from the coal fields of North East England, it was famous for its prestigious high speed trains.  The most famous was the Flying Scotsman, a Class A3 Pacific steam locomotive built in 1923.  The locomotive set world records for steam traction, and even went on tours after retiring from service in 1963. It toured the United States and Canada from 1969 until 1973, and Australia in 1988 and 1989.

2003 photo of the Flying Scotsman at the Doncaster Works (where it was built).


Track Walkers and Lamp Usage

Track Walker statue by Shiela Cavalluzzi in Burbank, CA (circa 2011)

Track walkers did exactly what the name implies.  They walked the tracks each and every day, making sure they were safe for train travel.  In England they were called a lengthsmen, as in they tended to a length of track.  It was something mandated by most major railroads. For example, here's a portion of rule #308 from the operations manual of the Southern Pacific Railroad from 1892:

308. Each foreman (or his track walker) must pass over the section or sections under his charge every day, taking with him a track-wrench, two red flags and four torpedoes, and carefully examine the track to see if it is safe for the passage of trains...

While it was a lowly job, it was a very important job.  In the 1880s, track walkers were often Irish immigrants. The same ones who had helped build the Transcontinental Railroads. A manual at that time said the position required an experienced and reliable man.  They would inspect miles of track.  They would make simple repairs if they could, but would place warning signals if they couldn't.  As you can see by rule #308 above, they carried an assortment of tools.  By the way, those "torpedoes" are little warning devices placed on the track.  As the train ran over them, they would make popping noises to signal the engineer to stop the train.

2013 46 Railroad Track Walker stamp, from the Made in America: Building a Nation series.

While there were some trackwalkers that had day shifts as shown in the above stamp, it was mostly a night shift job to take advantage of a time frame with less rail traffic.  Nighttime operations require lanterns, and for a track walker to do his job he would have had to have three lanterns to do his inspecting and signaling.  That's where the tri-color lamp comes in, doing the work of three lanterns in one package.

When the insert was rotated to the clear location, the lamp's function was for illumination.  Track walkers needed white light to see where they were going, to inspect the track, and even signal (by moving the lamp in various directions) if needed.

If the track walker found something wrong, that he couldn't fix with the tools he had on hand, he had to signal that the tracks were unsafe.  So, he would rotate the insert to the red glass pane and display the red signal.

When the tracks were clear and safe, the track walker could rotate the insert to the green glass pane and display the green signal.  They might be required to give the green signal at certain intervals along their path.  Or if they found a problem they could fix themselves, they would display the red signal while they worked on the problem, then switch it to the green signal once the problem was fixed and the tracks were safe again.

1928 Saturday Evening Post ad for the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR).

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