Latest Acquisition

Justrite Electric Lantern with Cobalt Blue Globe
Justrite Electric Lantern with Cobalt Blue Globe

I have always loved trains. I guess this dates back to my youth and my dad and I used to walk the defunct tracks and trestle on the outskirts of Groveville, NJ, and explore the abandoned station.

My dad grew up in Groveville, and played on the same tracks when the station was in operation. As I recall, this was mainly a freight depot.

He told me the stroy about one fateful Sunday when he was playing on the railroad box cars, and he managed to release the break of a lone boxcar. To his horror the boxcar began rolling dow

n the slope towards the trestle. He quickly abandoned post and watched as the car hurtled towards the trestle.

The tracks were set up with a derailer for the epxress purpose of ensuring that renegade cars did not end up on the trestle.  As the car hit the derailer, it tumbled down the embankment into the creek.  He high-tailed it out fo there.

Being a kid, he could not resist returning to the scene of the crime the following day, where he witnessed the salvage operation with a crane pulling the wreckage out of the drink.

My dad never made that mistake again!

We would walk the tracks, armed with the Sheridan Blue Streak air rifle, plinking at rusty cans, awkwardly walking the railroad ties – the ties were spaced so that it was uncomfortable to step on every tie as they were too close together, and even more uncomfortable to step on every other tie as they were too far apart.  We would pull up loose spikes as souvenirs.

The myth persists that the tie spacing was a conscious placement to dissuade people from walking the ties, for safety reasons. I don’t know that this has ever been validated, and suspect the placement was more of an engineering decision to ensure the best use of resources while maintaining track stability. But it makes for a nice story.

We would explore the station; it was as if one day the railroad ceased operations and left the station intact.  There were old industrial style steel desks and file cabinets filled with invoices and documents. Anything of value had long been scavenged.

When I was ten or so, and living in Millville, NJ, my Aunt Emily gave me an old Lionel train set. It was a circa 1950’s Marine Corps engine and caboose, with a flat car and a silver passenger car. We would set it up under the Christmas tree. One year it refused to start, and I think the transformer was probably dead. I kept the set until I was married, and then sold it when I needed money to pay the mortgage more than the train set.  I have always regretted that decision.

As a teen, however, the set remained in storage in a box in my closet. I graduated to Tyco HO scale trains, building a little city but never having room for a permanent set up. Alas, all of those are long gone. I stil have some of the railroad spikes from those days.

I don’t have room for any sort of model railroad set up today, so instead I fulfil my passion of all things railroad with my collection of lanterns.  That is if you can call four lanterns a collection.

Last night, Apache Auctions had a special Thursday night auction.  I had to work, but I knew railroad memorabilia was on the auction block, and I spied this JUSTRITE electric lantern the week before.  I had to work, so Liz attended, with Mike and Tami. She managed to snag this lantern for $30 – my top price for it.

It is in working condition, and has been restored, albeit a bit amateurishly. No big deal, the modern parts that were used can be easily swapped out. A slotted screw that was missing was replaced with a phillips screw, and the modern wing nuts that hold the handle in place are an anachronism. It has a new 6-volt battery, which is acceptable. I wanted it for the blue globe.

Railroad lanterns come with various colored globes – red and white (clear) globes are the most common as they were standard equipment for every locomotive. Green globes are very rare, as are blue globes. Purple globes are the most rare.

Blue globes were used by maintenance crews; they were placed on one or either end of an engine car to show that it was under maintenance, according to Rule 26. They showed that the car was under maintenance, and only the maintenance crew was allowed to handle them.

Red globes were used to signal a train to stop, amber and green globes mimic our modern day traffic signals.  Amber meant the train was to proceed with caution, and green meant “go”. Clear gobes, refered to as “white globes” were used at train stops to indicate that passengers were ready to embark at a regularly scheduled stop. Often green and white lanterns were used together for this purpose, and white and green flags during daylight hours. The main reason was to prevent trains from stopping at an empty station.

Purple globes are the most rare. You have to be careful when buying a purple globe, as many are not truly purple, but have discolored due to chemical reactions due to the high levels of manganese in pre-WWI glass to the heat in the old kerosene lanterns. The true purple lanterns were used to indicate “STOP!” because of a side derailment.  I have yet to even see a purple globe.

My three other lanterns are all kerosene lanterns. I have an old Dietz Hi-Lo – used most often on road crews. They were made from 1912 to 1947.  Mine is older as the base is soldered to the lamp, and it was manufactured in New York City. It is later than 1921, but likely older than 1931.

Hy-Lo stood for High Quality, Low Cost. It has the original Dietz white globe. I acquired this at auction for arounf $15-$20. It is probably the first candidate for restoration. Unlike old furntiure, railroad lanterns gain value from a proper restoration. This will require some intensive work as the tank has rusted through with small pinholes.

The next is a Dietz Monarch with a red globe. Another New York City lantern, it sports the original it sprots the original Dietz red globe.  Monarchs were manufactured from 1900 to the present day. It is certainly pre-1956, when Dietz began producing in Hong Kong.  It is marked New York, but I am not sure if it was made in NYC or Syracuse. It is in great shape, and with a little TLC I am sure that I could have this operational with little work.

The last Dietz in my collection is a Dietz No. 39.  The No. 39 was produced from the 1880’s to the 1940’s. Unfortunately some enterprising douche converted it to an electric light at some point, thus eradicating any collector value. It is more a conversation piece than anything. If not for the butcher job, it would be the most valuable piece in the collection.

But back to the JUSTRITE – the globe is a Kopp EG 4020.  Kopp makes glass globes for a variety of purposes, including airport runway lights.  Those are usually dual colors, such as red/clear and green/clear for runways. They made glass insulators for power lines, and still manufacture glass lenses for traffic signals today. It is rare, but I cannot find a value.  I am still trying to date this piece, but believe to to be mid-1950’s.

So anyway, my collection is anything but valuable; but it is an outlet for me to explore my passion for railroads and trains and a bygone era.

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