“…just as God intended!”
~ Buster Hughes, watching an electro-mechanical controller run the traffic lights at a Baltimore intersection
While some of my signals are running nicely on hobby circuit board controllers – Sean Breen in Canada being my favorite provider of these – there’s something special about the look and sound of an electro-mechanical (e/m) controller. These old devices use outdated but fascinating technology, implemented in a variety of ways, to run signals. Here are the e/m controllers that I have owned.
1960s Eagle EF-20
In June 2019, after five years without hearing that familiar “ker-chunk” of an e/m controller in my collection, I acquired a working 1960s Eagle EF-20 put together by Andrew Brent in Ohio. The controller unit itself (the pale green box with the timer dial window) was legally procured years ago from Lewiston, Idaho surplus by a signal technician/collector in the Pacific NW.
The controller was sold to me already configured for two-way vehicular and pedestrian motion with solid-state flash, so my tasks were simply to wire the signals and power chord to the back panel and to paint the cabinet. I brushed on Sherwin-Williams Ripe Olive Green in satin. The only adjustment I made was to bend the contacts on the timer dial a little bit to reduce the duration of the contacts, and thus remove the loud buzz with each cam advancement.
The controller fell forward off the table and onto the concrete floor when I had it free-standing with the controller swung open. After rending my garments, I looked everything over and discovered that I just had to reinstall the cam shaft, which had been jarred out of place, to get it running normally again. I then decided to have it sit on some blocks on the floor and bolted it to a partition wall. It is now running most of my signal collection:
2000 General Traffic Equipment (GTE)
The previous e/m controller I owned was a General Traffic Equipment (GTE) controller built in 2000 that was retired from Brooklyn, NY. I picked this one up from the GTE warehouse in Newburgh, NY in 2012.
I had a very cool display going with this controller for a while in my old place. Much thanks to New Jersey collector Steven Gambara for helping me set it up.
1993 GTE Model B3
My first controller was a GTE Model B3 controller made for New Orleans in 1993. This manufacture date came as a surprise to me – up to that time, I had assumed that e/m controllers ceased to be manufactured sometime around 1970. I acquired this controller from a very nice collector who shipped it to me from Louisiana in 2003. I had it running my lights when my kids were just little tots playing around them in the basement…great memories!
The highlighted detail in the photo on the left is a mechanical flasher with two fingers for alternate flash. It was kind of interesting that such a new controller still used this sort of mechanism rather than a solid state flasher.
When I first got my NYC red-green signal, I configured the B3 to run it: