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Posted By: Walter F. Mathers on: 06/16/2002 09:52:45 CDT
Subject: Loose or Sloppy Joint Ferules

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Although many of us do our best to accurately portray and walk in the footsteps of those we choose to emulate, a goodly number of gaps still remain in what we actually know concerning equipment construction design.

For instance, we know a lot about Civil War era Federal COPPER torches and I believe that one of our associates may possess a set of what I believe to be slightly modified CW torches. To date, however, we haven't been able to located an extant set of unadulterated torches.

Now its monkey wrench time. According to a supply list accompanying a letter from Signal Lieut. Edwin P. Woodward at Memphis, Tenn. to Captain Leonard F. Hepburn, Signal Office Washington City, District of Columbia, written on December 29th. 1862, changes had already began to occur in design. In fact the accompanying list is actually dated September 11th. 1862 and states that 26 [sets] of staff poles and straps had been transfered to the Engineer Corps as Corinth, Miss. along with 7 sets of "old sets signal equipmts." He goes on to indicate that " 3 new sets equipments" were also transfer'd. Why did Woodward go out of his way to make such a distinction? Were these 'older' sets deemed to be un-serviceable or were they merely of an earlier style which Woodward wanted to point out? We don't know for certain.

My best guesstimate is that the first generation of flag joint couplings were three different sizes of simple BRASS (not copper) tubing. It may not have taken much service to see that the ferules had a tendency to wear thin near the tops and actually split under such constant pressure. Sometime thereafter (I have no idea when) a brass ring, just slightly wider than the ferule itself, may have been added, probably by heating it then slipping it onto the top edge of the ferule and having it rapidly cooled thus seizing (or shrinking) itself around the top edge of the brass tube. This would have somewhat solved the frequent splitting problem and met the requirement for the needed reinforcement. Please remember that this is only a guess on my part. It is based on the set of post-war signal poles I personally own.

My post-war set also has screw fittings both male and female. I bring this up because my hunch is that the poles visible in the Winder Building (Central Station) photograph have screw-in connectors, not bayonet fittings. There's a lot more going on in this photograph but I'll leave those morsels for other threads.

Igf my hunch about screw threads on period joint connectors is on the money I want to say that I think these improvements are not made throughtout the entire Federal signal service. If incorporated at all, I think that the screw thread'd joints would have only been supplied to high traffic locations like the Winder Station. There's also a strong possibility that it may have been an exclusive a Department of Washington item.

Why do I go with this theory? Well, my belief is based upon the visible contours of the ferules themselves. They just aren't straight up and down tubes like you see in, say, the posed Red Hill images of early-war signal officers. Notice too in the Winder scene that the 1st. joint of the torch-man is capped in brass at the base of the pole. I'm not so sure this was part of the standard lot issue design (so much as signal poles were ever standard).

A set of screw poles exist in an NPS museum at Point Lookout Park (need confirmation here Chip). The re-pro set was purchased from Will Hutchison sometime after 1981.
I asked Will if his design was based on existing documentation or copied from extant relics and he replied, "No. I just wanted to make sure the poles wouldn't comae apart and embarrass me during a demonstration."

Did I mention wooden wedge strips? ;)


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