Traffic signals are lights of Shrader's life

April 14, 1998|By JULIE E. GREENE

As a member of Hagerstown's signal department in the 1960s, William Shrader Jr. remembers when a signal employee drove through downtown streets while someone with a stopwatch was posted at an intersection to determine how to time the lights.

When the $2.1 million upgrade of traffic signals, poles and controllers at 55 downtown intersections is completed next April, computers will synchronize the lights, said Shrader's son, David, who heads the signal-sign division.

It could take up to two years to adjust the timing so that drivers traveling at the 25 mph speed limit will find the lights green, David Shrader said.

William Shrader, 71, said he gets compliments on the synchronized green lights the signal and engineering departments set up in the 1960s.


The upgrade includes the sensor system that Shrader helped install in the late 1970s that allows emergency vehicles to trigger traffic signals blocks ahead so they get green lights.

He also rigged the signals at Public Square to allow pedestrians to cross diagonally, a maneuver referred to as the "Shrader shuffle." Shrader said he got the idea from the "Barnes dance," named after Henry Barnes, former head of the Baltimore signal department.

Shrader worked for the signal department from March 1950 to April 1984, becoming superintendent in the 1970s.

"He loved the work. He seldom took vacation," said Shrader's wife, Norma. There were times she didn't think he would retire, so devoted was he to his job and the city, she said.

"It was something different all the time," said William Shrader. The couple live at 105 Eastview Drive.

When signal employees weren't working on the traffic system, they maintained the airport's beacon and landing lights and put up or took down the city's Christmas decorations, he said.

The city still had a Christmas tree in the center of Public Square and two-way traffic on Washington and Potomac streets when Shrader joined the department, he said.

Each of William Shrader Jr.'s four sons - David, Michael, Brian and Karl - worked for the city at some point, either in the signal department, the water department or the parks board, Norma Shrader said.

David Shrader said the variety of the job drew him to the signal department, which became a division of the Department of Public Works in the late 1980s.

Signal employees occasionally use the stopwatch method to time signals, but the technology and cost of traffic signals has changed dramatically since his father was in charge, said David Shrader, 50.

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