Wig Wag Signals and Wigwagging

Wig Wag Signals and Wigwagging – excerpt from the book “The Scientific American Boy” by A. Russell Bond
Our tramp adventure was really quite a blessing to us, for it taught us the necessity of a good signaling system between the Goblins’ Platform and the island and led to our learning how to wigwag, and later to the construction of a heliograph. Uncle Ed, when he read of our experience, sent us the U. S. Army “Manual of Signaling.” Fred, the tailor of our camp, made us two white flags with red centers. Each flag was two feet square and was fastened to a light staff about five feet long. Then we got out the manual and practiced sending signals, at first within shouting distance, until we got to be quite expert.

There were only three different movements that could be made with flags, but in the book different combinations of these movements were given to represent each letter of the alphabet and the numbers from 1 to 0. All these movements were begun and ended by holding the flagstaff upright, directly in front of the body, as shown in Fig. 147. The first movement was to swing the flag down to the right and back (Fig. 148), the second to the left and back (Fig. 149), and the third forward and back (Fig. 150). The following table gives the different combinations used for various letters:

The numbers 1, 2 and 3 indicate respectively the first, second and third movements. For instance, A was represented by the combination 22, which means that the flag must be swept to the left and back twice. B is represented by the combination 2112, that is, a sweep to the left, two sweeps to the right and a final sweep to the left, as shown in Fig. 151.

The end of a word was represented by a sweep forward and back; the end of a sentence by two sweeps forward and back, and the end of a message by three sweeps forward and back. It will be noticed that the same combinations are used for 2 and Z, 3 and tion, 4 and F, 5 and J, 6 and G, 7 and V, 9 and M, and 0 and B. The following abbreviations were given in the Manual:

These abbreviations saved a lot of time, for when we wanted to signal the word after instead of spelling it out–22-2221-2-12-211-3–we used the signal for A–22–followed by 3 to signify that it was the end of the word. Before was represented by 2112-3, your by 111-211-3, etc. It took quite a little practice to learn the different combinations. Fred and Reddy soon became experts, and could flash the signals back and forth at a great rate.

Wigwagging at Night.

At night we used a torch in place of a flag. The torch consisted of a roll of dried birch bark tied with wire to the end of a staff. It was found necessary to place another torch on the ground directly in front of the signaler so as to fix a central point and enable one to determine whether the moving torch was swung to the left or right. A later improvement was to use three lanterns, one in each hand and one attached to the waist to fix the central position. It was quite an advantage to have a lantern in each hand, for it saved changing over from one to the other when a second movement followed a first or a first movement a second.

The SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN BOY OR The Camp at Willow Clump Island
By A. RUSSELL BOND
NEW YORK
MUNN & CO., Publishers
1906