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Bountiful man erects railroad signal in yard

A 1912 railroad signal semaphore from southern Oregon, which Larry Weist moved, restored and installed  in the backyard of his Bountiful home.
A 1912 railroad signal semaphore from southern Oregon, which Larry Weist moved, restored and installed in the backyard of his Bountiful home.
Lynn Arave, Deseret News

BOUNTIFUL — Never mind that the east side of Bountiful is miles away from the nearest train tracks. Larry Weist has a working, historic railroad semaphore cemented in his backyard.

Built in 1912, the signal bearing the number 6175 was posted in Curtin, Ore., a town along I-5 in the southwestern corner of the state in the Siskiyou mountains between Roseburg and Eugene. Weist said the number means it was 617.5 rail miles from San Francisco. The semaphore was on a Southern Pacific line at first and later owned by other railroads.

A railroad buff, Weist grew up in the area where the semaphore once stood. Two years ago he and a neighbor, Gene Bangerter, took a trailer to Oregon and hauled the signal to Bountiful. He won't say what he paid for the relic, which seems to have more sentimental than historical value to him.

"Let's say I paid too much, but I enjoy every penny of it," said Weist, a retired Deseret News reporter and editor.

The signal — a style "B" lower quadrant semaphore — is 29 feet tall, just lower than the top of Weist's house. It operated for 95 years. Four different railroads used that type of signal, patented in 1897. None were manufactured after 1923 and were phased out starting in the 1930s, although a few operated until recently on mostly isolated branch lines.

The railroad had 18 left when Weist bought his. "They're all gone now," he said.

Weist spent a year rebuilding and getting the semaphore in working condition, having to grind off decades of rust and grease.

"All parts are original," he said, with the exception of a few bolts that Oregon's wet climate nearly rusted through. "Now it's on the Weist ranch," sitting on a base he built with 3,600 pounds of concrete.

Weist, who volunteers three days a week to rebuild signals for the Heber Valley Historic Railroad, unveiled the semaphore at a dedication ceremony last week attended by some 50 family members, friends and neighbors. His wife, Margaret, hasn't been keen on the new backyard fixture.

"She wasn't happy about it," Weist said, "but now she tolerates it."

At least there's no chance of a train chugging through the yard.

e-mail: lynn@desnews.com