This is one of only two "Blue Flag" keys we have seen from the Delaware & Hudson Railroad. It is stamped D&HBF on one side of its bow and has the maker mark ADLAKE stamped on the other. It is bright gold color, and someone may have polished it in the past. Condition is extremely nice, with the bit edges and barrel end not quite sharp to the touch -- signs of light use.
This rare key resembles a switch key, but its purpose is very different. Note the bit cut, dramatically different from standard D&H switch key cuts. Together with a lock, it would have been used to close a section of track from rail traffic, preventing individual rail cars from being moved; or to prevent rail traffic from going past a specific point along the track; or anywhere a lock would prevent something from being moved. We have not yet seen a lock with a blue flag marking from the D&HRR. Many rail lines did not stamp locks with blue flag markings, but instead painted them bright blue to increase their visibility.
HISTORY: The color blue was adopted long ago as a safety signal by the railroads to protect workers in a notoriously dangerous industry. The term "blue flag" came about because originally, fabric flags were used as warning devices, and it has stuck through today, despite cloth being replaced by metal signs and other things like locks and lights. Federal safety regulations prohibit whatever is "protected" by a blue flag device from being moved or used until a new inspection is done. And only the repairman-employee who placed the blue flag (or possibly another employee holding the same job title) may remove it.
Among the primary uses of locks as blue flag devices are for closing stretches of track to prevent cars and equipment from being moved, and for stopping traffic to ensure the safety of railroad workers out working on the track. This key likely would have been used to accomplish that, locking a switch or track signal so it could not be changed.
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