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home : columnists : columnists October 22, 2017

Leslie Haines' 'Stop and Go' signals

By Paula Dunn
From Time to Thyme

Okay, I've been driving on roundabouts for a few years now and I can honestly say I'm no more fond of them today than I was when they first started sprouting up in this county like toadstools after an April rain.

I can handle the smaller, less busy ones, but I avoid those big ones like the plague. If I wanted to up my heart rate that much, I'd take up running again.

The roundabouts have, however, given me a greater appreciation for what drivers must have felt like in the early 1920s when they encountered their first traffic signals.

Today we're used to traffic lights, but the transition to "Stop and Go" signals, as they were called then, was anything but smooth when they were initially installed.

Many of the ones in this area came from a company run by Leslie Haines, a Carmel native.

As a young man, Haines had been an electrician in the navy. After leaving the service in 1910, he moved back to Carmel and got a job designing and repairing elevator control panels for an Indianapolis company.

In his free time, he came up with all kinds of mechanical and electrical inventions. Among the items he created were Christmas lights for his holiday tree, an electric train for his son, washing machines for his wife and mother, and of course, his traffic signal.

In early 1924 he installed what is believed to have been one of the first Stop and Go signals in the country at the intersection of Carmel's Main Street and Rangeline Road, which was then State Road 31.

Haines' device was a square box with the words "Stop" and "Go" lit by red and green lights, respectively. It was mounted on a cast iron pedestal with a concrete base and stood about eight feet tall.

You'd think that would be hard to ignore, but some drivers - particularly those coming up from Indianapolis on State Road 31 - were used to breezing through Carmel without stopping, and they did just that.

Even motorists who didn't intentionally disobey the signal had trouble due to the lack of a yellow light to provide transition time between the green and red lights.

Noblesville bought three of Haines' devices and installed them on 10th Street. The first few days the signals were in operation, Mayor Horace Greeley "Pop" Brown, who'd undoubtedly heard what was taking place in Carmel, stationed policemen nearby with instructions to arrest anyone failing to obey the lights.

The first violator was jailed two days after the signals were installed, but more were expected. The September 27, 1924 Noblesville Daily Ledger noted that the mayor anticipated "a good deal of business in his court early next week."

Back in Carmel, that's exactly what was happening. Haines' Stop and Go signal had turned into quite the money-making venture. Town Marshal Roy Holbrooke was arresting people right and left.

Eventually, Carmel developed a reputation as a speed trap and drivers began to avoid the town. Local businesses suffered as a result.

In addition, in 1932 the state moved State Road 31 to Meridian Street, bypassing Carmel. Although the official reason for the move was a desire to eliminate some dangerous curves in the Broad Ripple area, the commissioners acknowledged they weren't happy about Carmel's traffic situation.

About this time, Haines' signal was removed from the Carmel intersection and replaced with stop signs, for reasons never made clear.

How ironic that the first community in Hamilton County to install a traffic signal is the leader today in trying to get rid of them.

Thanks to Nancy Massey for the Noblesville information.

Paula Dunn's From Time to Thyme column appears each Friday in The Times. Contact her at younggardenerfriend@gmail.com

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