New York City Red-Green Signal

Do you remember the old-fashioned two-color (red and green only) traffic lights of New York City?  Whenever I visited New York in the 1970s, I was fascinated by the old 4-way signals with only red and green lights that were scattered around the city.  These quaint fixtures I saw were the vanishing remnants of the original GE and Horni/Ruleta signals that were installed from the 1920s through the 1940s.

New York City began installing standard 3-color signals in the early 1950s, while continuing to maintain thousands of the original units. In many cases, the older 2-color signals were upgraded to newer equipment without converting to three colors (see image on right).  In all, it took over 40 years for the last of the original 2-color signals to be replaced and even longer for the upgraded 2-color lights to finally be converted to 3 colors.

In the early years of my collecting, I received a generous gift from a fellow collector; a 4-way Ruleta signal. It was complete, but needed a fair amount of work, and after I had partially dismantled the light, I sold it. I always regretted that decision, so I kept my eyes open for a replacement.

Above is the replacement light that I purchased in May 2012. I drove to New Hampshire to purchase it from a retired New Yorker.  According to him, the signal was taken down from Merrick Blvd in Laurelton, Queens in the mid-1970s and given to him on the spot by the contractor. This is evidently a later (1940s) variation of this type of signal.  It has the Horni design, but has no manufacturer name stamped or embossed that I can find.  The original wiring was plastic-coated, rather than the older cloth style, but the feed wires into the light were cloth. There is  a 2″ steel elbow at the top, indicating that it was mounted on an overhead mast.  It was configured as a 3-way signal, with one of the four sides covered by aluminum “blanks”.  To my surprise, there were lenses, reflectors, and light bulbs on all four sides.

NYC Red-Green openNew York City originally painted their signals either black or olive green.  All of them were re-painted yellow in the 1960s during the reign of Traffic Commissioner Henry Barnes.  I prefer the old fashioned look of the darker signals, so I stripped the yellow and black layers off  and then brush painted it with glossy Rustoleum black.  After painting, I wired it up with a custom circuit-board controller manufactured by Sean Breen.

Special thanks with this restoration goes out to several people, including:

  • Gordon Loeffler, for rewiring the sockets
  • Sean Breen, for making the customized controller
  • Dave McPhail, for several rare-as-hen’s-teeth brass wing nuts to replace the missing ones
  • Lary Brown, for custom-making brass eye bolts to fit the old wing nuts
  • Ed Tapanes, for his assistance with getting this light dismantled, and for keeping his tongue off it, at least when I wasn’t looking
  • Patrick Gorman, who, come Hell or high water, saw to it that I had one of these lights in my collection!