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                   Saturday, April 16, 2011 - 10:10AM CDT

Past preserved: Traffic signal at Beau & Morgan

By DAN ROBINSON
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I have a stack of old photos that I've digitized and will be posting intermittently over the next few months. The first in this series is of the Econolite four-way traffic light that formerly hung over the intersection of East Beau Street and Morgan Avenue in East Washington, Pennsylvania, right in front of my parents' house where I grew up. For an unknown time before we moved to Washington from Charleston, WV in 1982, the lights at this intersection were permanently switched to yellow and red flashers. I never saw the conventional green-yellow-red sequence in operation. From the information I can gather, the signals were installed here in the 1960s.

This light is a distinct childhood memory. The yellow and red flashing lights would reflect faintly on the walls of my bedroom on summer nights when I had the window open. In elementary school, the sight of this light in the distance as my school bus turned onto Beau from South Wade Avenue was a daily sign that I was almost home. I dug through all of my old photos from the time I lived in Washington, and found a few where the lights made it into a shot.

Here is the four-way signal after a major snowstorm in 1993, looking north. Our house (my parents') is visible in the lower right:

A random shot sometime in the late 1980s, looking south from Morgan Avenue. Our family's 1986 Chevy Caprice station wagon is in the lower left, our house is off the screen to the left. The building across Beau street to the left is the former East Washington High School, with the sports/recreational field behind it:

A time exposure on Christmas Eve of 1993. Our house is the one lit up with decorations on the left. Every other year, a local organization would line East Beau Street with candle luminaries on Christmas Eve, which are visible here.

View from our front porch:

Today, these traffic lights are gone from East Beau Street, after being removed in the mid-1990s. Thankfully, to my knowledge, all of the lights are preserved. The two bi-directional signal heads at the corners were given to local residents. And thanks to the generosity of the East Washington Boro, the main four-way signal and the intersection's mechanical control box are now fixtures in my living room.

After the light was delivered to our garage, I began working to clean it up for display. I disassembled it, cleaned it up, rewired and repainted it. The aluminum signal casing and hoods were black for all of the years I remember it, but once I got it apart, I could see that it was originally the typical "school bus yellow", with coats of army green and finally flat black paint applied to it later. I chose to repaint it in its original color, which I also did with the control box casing. I replaced the original 125-watt bulbs with 10-watt sign bulbs, much more suitable for indoor display (the original bulbs were blindlingly bright!).

The control box is an old Econolite electromechanical controller (making the distinct 'ka-chunk' sound when the lights change), using a relay-actuated cam system sequenced by contacts activated on a rotating timer dial - no electronics! It runs on standard 110v household power (as do the lights), so the whole system can simply be plugged into a wall outlet. And everything still works!

VIDEO: This Youtube video shows the lights and control box operating.

For several years, I collected/restored traffic lights and signals in the late 1990s as an occasional sub-hobby, amassing about 8 different railroad and traffic lights over the years. Due to space concerns, I eventually sold my collection (at a healthy profit over what I'd paid for them). However, I kept the East Beau Street light and control box - it has too much personal historical significance for me to ever sell or get rid of. Today, it's still a part of my living room here in Illinois.

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