Hopefully all of my readers that celebrate Christmas are enjoying your Christmas Eve… Did I ever mention that I love looking at vintage ads?`Even better are vintage railroad ads. Here is a little collection of holiday and winter ads from the New York Central. Have a great holiday, everybody!
If you liked these ads, check out another set of New York Central vintage ads from World War II that I posted back in June.
I effing love the Winnebago Man. I have loved that video on YouTube forever. And I clearly remember laughing so hard I had tears in my eyes. At my work we happen to get a lot of freelancers coming in and out, and we have a bonding ritual here in our little studio (nicknamed “The Cave”), out of view of the other suit-and-tie employees… we must watch Winnebago Man (and the Alabama Leprechaun video). The origins of the video clip are a little bit interesting for a web-designer working for a marketing team. Viral videos, and viral marketing, more specifically, are the buzzwords of the day. But it is certainly not a term I’ve heard used before the internet was widespread. But yet, Winnebago Man’s origins are from the days of VHS tape (originally filmed in 1988), passed around amongst friends, and beyond, which could arguably classify it as a pre-YouTube viral video.
So when I heard that there would be a documentary based on the Winnebago Man, I was ecstatic. I followed the updates on Twitter… and when I heard they were looking for people to help promote on the street team, I signed up along with my friend. Last night we took the train to the city after passing out some cards in the White Plains area to promote the film. Although we were focused on leaving them at restaurants and the like, people seemed to be really curious what we were doing. Which is totally opposite to what I would have imagined. Those people standing on the street corners attempting to hand you papers, they are damn obnoxious. And most people won’t take them… the ones that do often throw them away not far down the street. So when people off the street walk up to you and want to see what you’ve got, that surprised me. Any extra flyers we had were posted on poles or other places around for people to see.
And best of all, we met some interesting people on this little adventure. A restaurant host that wanted extra flyers to hand out to friends. Some great artists in the Union Square area (whom I gave my little IRideTheHarlemLine card, I hope they email me, I’d love to post some of their subway related art/photography on here). And even people that saw the flyer and recognized Jack Rebney, having seen the video.
It was a great little adventure last night… except for the nasty lady who took off her shoes and socks on the train, but I’m trying to forget that part. If you happen to be in the city though, you should definitely check out Winnebago Man. It comes out tomorrow.
I don’t want to be an ass in saying this comment, but really, I wonder how trains function in the United States. Commuter trains and subways, like the ones in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Chicago, and other places across the country make sense to me. They are practical, and they don’t take too long. By the time I was twenty, I had been to the city a million times, all by train. We never drove. Driving took probably around the same time as the train, and you didn’t have to worry about parking, and tolls, and traffic. Taking the train is not too expensive, as well. It just makes sense. I can count the number of times I have gone to the city by car on one hand. And the first time was when I was twenty.
But how does Amtrak work? I’ve only been on Amtrak twice, going to Florida and back with my grandmother that has a minor phobia of planes. I’ve thought of taking the Lake Shore Limited to Chicago, but that is only because I like trains, and I think it would be cool to ride what was once known as “The Water Level Route.” But other than having a phobia of planes, and being a railfan, why would I want to take Amtrak? Searching up prices, I can get a round trip flight to Orlando for July 4th for $193. That ride takes two and a half hours. Or, with Amtrak, I could ride for twenty-two hours, and pay a whopping $423. Why would anyone want to pay more than double for a trip that takes more than seven times as long? In Japan I took the bullet train to Kyoto, which in terms of time and price is very close to flying. Close enough to compete, anyways. But then that just goes back to the usual argument that the US wanted their Interstate System, while other countries, especially Japan, concentrated on rail.
That sort of demonstrates my mind-set when I think about trains. There are some times when I read about their history, that I am completely and utterly baffled by how important they once were. Rail was the way that products and people were transported. And during World War II, trains were an integral part of the war effort. The New York Central operated personnel trains, mail trains, equipment freight, and even hospital trains. An average of two million troops per month were transported over the NY Central system during WW2. I always love looking at old advertisements, so today I have a collection of old New York Central magazine advertisements from the war years. Each advertisement depicts a different scene or use for the wartime trains: from riding the 20th Century Limited, to troop trains, to the fully equipped surgery suite on an army hospital train.
It is interesting to note that part of the reason why we have the Interstate System today can be attributed to the war. President Eisenhower pushed for the Interstate System, especially after experiencing the German autobahn while he served in World War II. He had also been associated with the Transcontinental Motor Convoy which drove from Washington DC to San Francisco, and took sixty-two days. That sort of puts it in perspective, how roads in between cities were back then. Today if you drove non-stop and managed to avoid traffic, you could drive that in two days. Sixty-two days, no wonder why people took the train!
Back in February I spent a good majority of a Saturday hanging out at the Research Library at the Danbury Railway Museum. I was interested in seeing what they had in their collection regarding the Harlem Line, especially timetables. I wasn’t intentionally looking for the entire system-wide timetables published by the New York Central, but when I saw them, I really fell in love. These system timetables were really where Central showed off, with some really gorgeous art. It wasn’t later on after researching that I found out that many of these timetables were based off of art previously commissioned for a poster marketing campaign.
New York Central’s poster campaign began in 1925, after experimenting first with calendars. The marketing campaign was planned along with Central’s centennial celebration. The general theme of the campaign was to display the routes of the rail line: the natural landscapes, as well as the cities. A range of commercial artists were commissioned to design posters, one of which was Leslie Ragan. Ragan’s first New York Central poster, a Chicago cityscape, was published in 1930.
Ragan was born in 1897 and grew up in Iowa. From an early age he knew he wanted to be an artist, and often made drawings of buildings and bridges. Ragan was mostly self-taught, although he did attend the Cumming School of Art in Des Moines. He served in the Air Force in World War One, and upon returning studied for a single semester at the Art Institute of Chicago. In the early 1920’s, he went on to teach at the Academy of Fine Arts, also in Chicago. By 1930 he had relocated to New York and had begun painting for the New York Central.
I’ve gathered quite a collection of examples of Ragan’s art for the New York Central. I must admit that I love the way he painted clouds – whether they were clouds in the sky, or steam from a locomotive. His depictions of trains were very streamlined and smooth, accentuating the shape of the upper portion in which a person rides, and hiding the moving parts below. His art certainly has influenced some people today… if you’ve seen the movie poster for The Polar Express, you will note it bears quite a resemblance to the winter poster at the very bottom.
Two weeks ago I mentioned the wreck in the Park Avenue Tunnel in 1902, and how it led to electric service on the rails. Another thing the accident achieved was the replacement of the old Grand Central Depot. The old Depot at the time was serving a lot more trains than it could really handle. Trains often had to wait in order to enter the train shed. The one train involved in the wreck was waiting in the tunnel, when the train behind missed several signals and ended up crashing into it. The new Grand Central Terminal, with its two levels, was able to accommodate a lot more trains than its predecessor.
Construction on the Terminal was finished in 1913. And what does one want to do after spending $180,000,000 on a gorgeous new train station? Show it off to the world, of course! Recently I’ve had a lot of enjoyment looking at old newspapers. Although photography existed at the time, many newspapers still used engraved illustrations. And I really do love looking at these old illustrations of Grand Central.
All of those come from full advertisements shown in newspapers, like the one below:
One thing I thought amusing about the new Grand Central, was that when it opened, it had a private “Women’s Room.” And I don’t mean a bathroom. For twenty-five cents a woman could use a private dressing room, staffed by maids, to change her “costume” for a “social function.” They would even deliver her trunk straight to the dressing room! How grand! And let’s not forget that there were also hair and manicuring parlors, as well as a shoe polishing room. You know what I wonder though, was the line for that “Women’s room” out the door and around the corner like the lines today? Sometimes they really make you want to shoot yourself…
If you’re interested in seeing more old drawings and advertisements of Grand Central’s opening, click here to take a look through the Historical Archives.
Every single day we go through, we are bombarded by advertisements. On the television, billboards, and even on our commutes. All Metro-North stations and trains have plenty of advertisements themselves. And on some of the newer trains, they are even testing video boards for advertisements. I have yet to see one of those. But before you know it, I’m sure all the trains will have them. The MTA needs the money.
But I think compared to a lot of other advertisements, Metro-North train ads end up getting looked at a lot longer than most other advertisements. Which, if you are an advertiser, might be a good thing. Take a billboard, for example. You drive by it, or walk by it, and there is only a small finite amount of time where you are actually looking at it. On a Metro-North train, it is impossible to not see an ad. You are essentially sitting in a tin can for an allotted period of time, probably around a half hour, possibly more. You are looking forward, and the ads are just there. Subway ads are sort of there, but you really can go through an entire ride ignoring those, as they are smaller, thinner, and higher up. If an ad is good, there is a good chance a possible consumer is going to look at it, and for a long time. Longer than the few split seconds that some ads get. I’m sitting here for a half an hour. I need something to do.
Just by facing forward, you are going to see a bunch of ads. It is inevitable. You will see them.
Most days I ride the same train, in the morning or the evening. And I sit in the same car both rides. So often times I see many of these ads quite frequently. There are some that I like, and some that I hate. But some of my favorites are the ones that take into account the location and audience of the sign. Whoever designed them understood that they can possibly be looked at for longer periods of time. Because like I said, sometimes I need something to do.
My current favorite ads that are in rotation on Metro-North trains are some ads for Marks Paneth & Shron. I’m not a big city businessman, so I am hardly the target audience, but the concept was intriguing. Each poster has a puzzle. That puzzle gives me something interesting to do while I commute to work. I get the idea of the ad at first glance, yes. But there is the added intrigue of completing a puzzle, if I happen to look at the poster longer than that initial split second.
Two of the Marks Paneth & Shron ads
Another favorite poster of mine were advertising a book, by Dean Koontz I believe. Unfortunately I don’t have a photo of it. The ad had a photo of a book, and a phone number that you could text with your cell phone. When you texted the number, it would periodically send you story excerpts of the story to read on your phone. Personally, I think this is an awesome idea. It advertises your product, it gives people something to do on the train, and it transcends this sort of boundary between the physical world, and the virtual. Japan is a bit more advanced in connecting their ads to online information and websites. Many ads there have QR codes, which is a type of barcode, but it can hold much more data than the UPC codes we are used to on our products. Use your camera phone and take a picture of the code in the ad, and you are automatically forwarded to the ad’s website in your phone’s web browser. Maybe we’ll see that here at some point in the future.
Example of what is called a “design qr code” that I made. If you had a QR reader on your phone, like Japanese cell phones do, you would be forwarded to MTA’s new website (mta.info)
Anyone else have ads that they really enjoy? Other than the Sweet Million ads? (I know a lot of people find my blog searching for pictures of those ads online. They are pretty damn cute. Yay, kitties and puppies!)
As I was leaving Goldens Bridge station today, I noticed that someone had been busy in the station mid morning or early afternoon. In the south-side vestibule there was some new spray-painted graffiti that hadn’t been there in the morning. When I saw it, I made me think that it was about time for a part two to the original train graffiti post I made a few months ago. And so here you go, graffiti part two…
Goldens Bridge is such a small, quiet station. We don’t get much spray paint here. Mostly just penises drawn in the dust of the windows that nobody ever cleans… I’m sure the MTA will send some people to clean the windows. Someday. If the cleaning people’s jobs aren’t cut…
I can’t even begin to decipher that one…
No, I didn’t do this bit of graffiti. Considering my post on my dislike for this ad, I had been pondering something snarky to write on it. Someone else got to it first.
I imagine a bored track worker did this, knowing the third rail was off. That or someone dumb enough to go and write on a live third rail…
A warning for you to watch the gap. Yeah, that gap. The one right on the bottom of her face, under the nose.
A sticker someone left on an M7.
The NY Lottery does like to advertise heavily on public transportation… Trying to make it sound like it easy to win a million dollars in the lottery though, that is bullshit.
Now this certainly seems to me like a racist statement. A poster with a bunch of African kids, attempting to raise money for charity, and someone labels it as a future Obama rally… Classy, real classy.
Some people can’t stand riding on the subway… the massive crowds, the oppressively hot temperature, the noise, the rats… There’s a lot of potential stuff to dislike. However, some people like the trains so much that they ride them continuously. For eleven days. Apparently that is what happened with a thirteen-year-old boy named Francisco Hernandez Jr, a story that was published yesterday in the NY Daily News. Francisco was missing from his home for eleven days. And he was found at the Stillwell Avenue subway station, after “losing track of time” and riding the F, D and 1 trains. Did I mention he did this for ELEVEN DAYS? He also survived that entire time by eating junk food he bought with the ten dollars in his pocket. Where the heck can you purchase ANY food in the city for under one dollar per day?? Plus, the kid isn’t dumb. He didn’t want to be found, so he removed the battery from his cell phone so he couldn’t be tracked or called. Next time you ride the subway though, and you’re thinking how much you hate it, imagine living there.
In other news, the ads that Westchester County does for the train and bus stations make me laugh. They are so remarkably corny. Maybe the messages that they are trying to get across are valid: Feces and Phosphorus aren’t really that great in our reservoirs, but “Scoop the Poop” and “Don’t ‘P’ on Your Lawn” coupled with the incredibly lame people they have pictured, always makes me laugh.
For example, here is the Phosphorus poster:
Really, can you take that man seriously? Just look at the expression on his face! It looks like someone forgot to heed the previous ad, didn’t scoop their dog’s poop, and he stepped in it. While wearing new shoes. And he’s about to cry.
Here is a bonus closeup
Another ad I’ve been seeing a bunch recently on the train is this one about talking to your children about alcohol. They’ve just taken a stock photo of a young girl, telling us that she will have her first drink at age 14. I always wonder about people that are in ads like this one. For example, the woman in the genital herpes commercial that has to say, “I have genital herpes!” How desperate did that actress have to be in order to take that job? Does she get recognized as the “genital herpes lady”? Well, at least that was her decision to be in that commercial. Unfortunately this child had no choice. She was whored out as a stock photo child by her parents. Will friends at school recognize her as the “future alcoholic” from the ad? Perhaps my brain is just messed up from going through mountains of stock photography at work… It does get depressing when you start seeing these stock children all over and you recognize them!
The embarrassment of being in this advertisement may actually lead little Sarah to a life of alcoholism…
Plus this girl looks a lot like the poor Child Abuse flyer kid. She’s an alcoholic and was abused when she was younger!
The New York Lottery has come up with this new game: Sweet Million. They’ve been advertising like crazy in trains and stations, but I don’t think I really mind. The kitties and puppies and bunnies are so cuuute! The bunny poster is up in my Metro North train, and apparently the Times Square subway station is covered everywhere with ads for it. Large posters on the walls, backlit posters, ads covering the stairs, and ads wrapped around pillars… most of which are in the vicinity of the S train / Shuttle to Grand Central.
It may be the “easiest way to win a million with a dollar” but with 1:3,838,380 odds, “easy” is still pretty damn hard. Hell even I considered purchasing one of these tickets… and I usually think of the lottery as a tax for the stupid people. I am very well aware how ads influence me.
Anyways, enjoy some cuteness. And uhh… maybe buy a lotto ticket. If you do win a million, split it with me?
Hooray, this week the signboards around White Plains station have been updated. A minor but nice improvement, much cleaner type that is a lot easier to read. The speed of the scroll has been increased a bit, though now I would have to say it is probably a little bit too fast.
The outdoor signage has been changed so the train destination is much larger. Hopefully this will help with all the idiots wondering where the trains are going, but considering a lot of the people I see around here, probably not.
Earlier in the week we were also treated with (or subjected to some more interesting advertising) of a new 2010 car, which I believe was the 2010 Buick LaCrosse.
People around the station were passing out reusable black bags with the car logo on it, which will be rather great when I have to go grocery shopping this weekend. :D In the parking lot an actual car was parked there, and you were encouraged to open the doors and take a look inside. Some people checking out the car
As far as some of the advertising campaigns we get around here, this one was rather cool… or at least different from the norm. Though I don’t know about the name LaCrosse. Because when I see it, I certainly think of something different.
My name is Emily, though I am known by many who ride the train simply as Cat Girl, for the hats I customarily wear during the winter time. I am a graphic designer, a former Metro North commuter and lifelong Harlem Line rider. This site is a collection of my usually train-related thoughts, observations, photographs, and travels, as well as my never-ending hunt for intriguing historical artifacts.