The signalman wrenched the last heavy lever into place and watched the long freight train slide passed him.

He sat back at his old, beaten up desk, checked off the last piece of paperwork and filed it away.

That was it. No fanfare, no applause, no big farewell. Tomorrow morning the computers would take over, doing it all automatically.

He would start his new job as a supervisor, a new desk and chair in a modern new building in the centre of town, only a short walk from his house. The signalman smiled. He couldn’t wait to get started.

© CE Ayr

Written as part of the Friday Fictioneers challenge hosted by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (more details HERE). The idea is to write a short story of 100 words based on the photo prompt (above).

To read more stories based on this week’s prompt, visit HERE.

85 thoughts on “THE SIGNALMAN

  1. A lovely little tale of technological change and its effect on people. I wasn’t expecting his response at the end, and, in truth, I was a little disppointed by it. I suppose because the trope of skills and pride disappearing is one we understand, whereas his reaction wasn’t motivated. It would be a more interesting one than the standard trope if we knew why he felt this

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Neil. I wanted to show that not everyone is scared or put off by technology change making life easier. The natural thin is to feel sorry for the workers, but I’m sure there are some who welcome change. With more words I would have emphasised cold days, broken old machinery, train delays, old bones and tired muscles, and so his reaction is to a nice comfortable new job to see out his final years of work.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. I have to agree with Neil. We’ve seen leaps and bounds of technological progress in my field (printing) over the last 40 years, but at the same time a tremendous loss in craftsmanship. Anyone can push a button, but it took real skills back in the old days.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I agree with that Roger, and the same applies to a lot of creative industries. However, does a signalman require craft or artistry that is a loss to the world if it becomes pushing buttons instead? Pleased I’ve started a bit of a debate with this one.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. on first read I conjured up an old man as the signalman, but then I re-read it and thought, this man is happy because he can out some of his training to use. that must have included training in automation. Additionally if he lived in a country with extreme weather conditions he would certainly welcome sitting behind computers and controlling the trains like he has always done. Nice little compact story Iain Kelly.


  3. Nicely told. I remember an episode of the second season of The Wire where the longshoremen’s union leader watches a presentation on automatic loading docks and sees the writing on the wall. All he can see with this technological wizardry is his children’s hungry faces.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love The Wire and remember this episode. Sometimes though I do think there is a romanticised idea about some of these industries and jobs – longshoreman would be one definitely – where it’s just obvious that machinery would make it all work better and smoother. It is a worry though in the decades to come – what jobs will there be left for humans to do?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I, too, thought of The Wire as I read this. Which is maybe why I why I was surprised by the narrator’s reaction. Nicely done, so much conveyed in so few words.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I like the fact he was happy with the change in his job. We sometimes forget that technology – as well as putting folk out of work and breaking traditions – often makes peoples’ lives one hell of a lot easy. Just think of farming – one industry where back breaking labour has been reduced greatly. Nice tale, Iain and a lovely, upbeat ending

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This tugged at my nostalgia and I was hoping that the last line was sarcasm but as I can see from the other comments, it wasn’t. My reaction was ‘Nooooooooo’. I am always so sad that things are torn down and replaced to make way for advances.
    Please forgive me Iain as my mind won’t let me believe he was happy in the end. Nostalgia beat reality for me on this occasion. Great piece, I always love writing that I battle with.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wasn’t expecting such strong reactions to this piece! Glad it provoked a strong response from you. As I say, I do think some of the industrial jobs that are being replaced are often romanticised, and those that have actually spent years doing the hard work and labour night actually be pleased to get some help! Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂


  6. “And he lived happily ever after.” 🙂
    A well captured, satisfying moment in his life.
    (I tried your link to “read other stories HERE” and got nowhere. If no one else has this problem, then I must conclude my whatever isn’t in sync. Sigh.)

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I very much liked your story, Iain. Your words were very evocative and created a picture of what it is like to work as a signalman. I loved the contrasts that you created. He is leaving work in isolation to be a supervisor – working with people, not trains and machinery. He’s exchanging an old, beaten-up desk for a new desk and chair in a modern new building rather than a draughty signal box. He will have a short walk to work. No wonder he’s smiling. I would be too! In fact, I am smiling just thinking about it!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. This reminds me of the story a young woman I worked with wrote for a college class. It was to be the reaction of a slave newly freed after the Civil War. Her take? He didn’t WANT to be free, he felt safe right where he was. I wasn’t expecting that nor was I expecting your ending. Well done.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Ha, I love the way you turn nostalgia on its head here. Not everything modern is bad, and old stuff may be romantic, but also often inconvenient.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Really enjoyed your story. Lot’s to think about either way, but I loved the positive take. Out with the old & in with the new, at least for him. Great twist that I didn’t see coming. Also, thanks for the feedback today, I really appreciate it.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I like his acceptance to change. The nostalgic feel at the beginning added to how far he had come in his job and ability to change.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. At first I was a little sad… I thought that much like many other jobs, technology was taking this poor guys job away. Was very happy to see it turned into a promotion for him and he can finally enjoy a break in his manual labor.

    Liked by 1 person

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