A Collection of Railroad-themed Etchings by the American Bank Note Company

A few days ago I posted some lovely illustrations showing the fancy cars that operated on the New York Central and Boston and Albany railroads, all done by the American Bank Note Company. Admittedly, I had never really heard about that company until I saw their signature on the bottom of several of those illustrations. It was an intriguing discovery – not only does the company have roots dating back to the founding of this country, they’re still around today! Over the years they have done the engraving and printing for currency, postage stamps, stock certificates, and even railroad timetables. This style of illustration is what makes me absolutely adore old timetables from the 1800’s.

Because of my love of these illustrations, I’m amassed quite a little collection of them which I would like to share with you all. Though there were other engravers that did similar work, this collection is comprised of railroad-related engravings exclusively done by the American Bank Note Company. Many railroads used their services – you’ll note illustrations for the New York Central, the Pennsylvania Railroad, Grand Trunk Railway, and many others. In some cases I’ve isolated the illustrations from whatever they were a part of, often in the case of stock certificates. Hopefully you’ll enjoy them as much as I do… Have a favorite? Tell us in the comments!

 
 
  
 
 
 
 
 
  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


Read More

Riding in style on the New York Central and the Boston & Albany

Several years ago when I visited Japan, I got to ride one of the lovely novelty trains designed by Eiji Mitooka. Though he is more well known for the shinkansen he designed, he did create a few rather unique trains for the Wakayama Electric Railway, which, yes, is the system where a cat is vice-president. One of the trains is, of course, modeled after the cat, and when I reviewed it, I was pretty excited about the library on board. I always thought that a concept like that would never survive in popular use in the United States. It wouldn’t take long for every book on that train to be stolen or vandalized, if it were here and not in Japan. But really, the concept shouldn’t have surprised me so – as libraries on trains date back even to the 1800’s. No luxury train would be complete without a library, after all.

In fact, this is how the New York Central described one of their luxury cars, complete with library, in an 1889 timetable:

…made up of the most substantial and the handsomest railway carriages ever constructed. In the Buffet, Smoking and Library car are a unique buffet, movable chairs and couches in the most luxurious upholstery; a secretary supplied with stationery and writing material, and an enclosed Reading Room with a well-stocked library, in which is represented the best literature of the day, including the current newspapers and magazines.

I am not normally a collector of items from the Boston and Albany railroad, but they did print joint timetables with the New York Central, and some of them were a little bit too hard to resist on eBay. Contained in my most recent acquisition were some lovely illustrations of the luxury cars on the B&A. These illustrations were done, and printed by, the American Bank Note Company. That company has been around in some form since the late 1700’s, and still exists today. They’ve done everything from postage stamps, to stock certificates, and even old railroad timetables. While I have plans to feature some of the American Bank Note company’s illustrations for various railroads in the future (because they are so absolutely amazing), today I’m just going to share their depiction of long-gone fancy railcars.


Seriously, how could you resist this? If only timetables were still this gorgeous…


Vestibule of a train car manufactured by the Wagner Palace Car Company, formerly known as the New York Central Sleeping Car Company.


Dining car of the “very latest design and pattern, containing all the improvements known to the car-builder’s art.”


The buffet, smoking and library car, as depicted by the New York Central


“The sleeping cars in service on the Boston & Albany Railroad are of the latest and best designs.”

 
This is an example of the lunch basket you could order on the Boston and Albany. The train crew would take everyone’s orders and telegraph them ahead, for pickup at the next station stop. It was described as the “English method” of serving lunches.

Read More

Daily Boredom: Old timetable art turned into posters

There is nothing that I love more than the art on old timetables. And when I say old – I mean old – like 1800’s old. SmartCat has a few of these old timetables on display, including the oldest timetable I personally own – printed in 1865. There is just something beautiful about these bits of rail history, they are not just functional, but attractive – something timetables seem to have lost in the many years since.

As a graphic designer, I love the unique typography, as well as the illustrations found within. When I got bored on the train yesterday, I had the idea to turn some of the old art from these timetables into posters. I made four separate 11″ x 17″ posters, and had them printed up today – now I just have to find a place to hang them… hmmm…

  
  

Read More

Tuesday Tour of the New Haven Line: New Canaan

 

If it isn’t obvious, I’ve been to a lot of train stations. My current count of Metro-North stations that I’ve photographed stands at 83. I’ve chronicled my various issues here – cops in Melrose, a rent-a-cop in Bridgeport, and I’ve even had people yell at me that they didn’t want me pointing a camera in their direction (sorry, honey, but I’m trying to take a picture of that train, not you). However, this past weekend when I visited New Canaan I had a little bit of a different experience. I think this is the first time that I’ve ever seen a person excited that I was taking a photos of their station. I saw an older man, and when he saw me with the camera, he said, “it is a nice day for it, it is a very iconic station.” I think he was actually proud of his station, and that I was taking photos there. That is a first.

Though when it comes to train stations, the citizens of New Canaan do have a lot to be proud of. Their station, originally built in 1868, is one of the oldest surviving (and currently in-use) stations in the state of Connecticut. There has been plenty of work on it since – and it has even been jacked up and moved in order to accommodate a high-level train platform. The platform itself is a bit deceiving, as entering from the parking lot it appears to be low-level. However, the station and parking lot is raised above the tracks, which is why the station had to be jacked up during its restoration. Most recently, there was an expansion of the tracks, so the new M8 trains could run on the branch line.

  
  
Undated photos of New Canaan station from the Library of Congress. They were most likely taken in the late 1970’s or early 1980’s, and before the station was raised.

Somewhere along the way, New Canaan station, terminus of Metro-North’s New Canaan branch, and 41 miles from Grand Central Terminal, became a haven wealthy commuters to the city. Not surprisingly, the railroad played a significant part in the growth of New Canaan, as it made New York City easily accessible – in a little bit over an hour. Today’s New Canaan Branch started out as the New Canaan Railroad, which ran its first train on July 4th, 1868, from Stamford to New Canaan. In the 1880’s the line was leased to the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad, and by 1890 had merged with them.


1913 view of the station


1945 view of New Canaan station

I will not lie – I very much enjoyed visiting New Canaan station, and New Canaan itself. I had been told that the area was quite wealthy, and en route to the station saw houses (mansions?!) with six car garages. But despite the station being one of the oldest around, it certainly didn’t look ancient. On the contrary, it was beautiful and well taken care of. And to my delight, it is even open on weekends (as you’ve seen from my many tour stops, this is usually not the case, and I’m trying to get photos through the windows). Though the ticket windows may no longer be in use, it is lovely to see how they once looked in a station many, many times older than I am (I’m even younger than Metro-North – and @MetroNorthTweet has worked for Metro-North longer than I’ve been alive!).

 
  
   
 
  
 
  
 
  
   
 
  
 
 
  
 

Read More

Melrose Station, in the late 1800’s

I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to talk to some really interesting railroad people recently, one of whom is Joe Schiavone, better known in the area as the “Old Put Guy.” He’s just completed his third book on the New York Central’s Putnam Division, but has been a railfan ever since he was very young. When I met him for the first time several weeks ago, he told me that as a young boy taking photographs, getting an invite into the engine happened somewhat frequently. I told him that Metro-North does the same thing for me – except the invite is from the police, and the ride is in a cop car and not a locomotive engine. For me, posting about Melrose is almost like returning to the “scene of the crime.” That is, if photography were a crime. Which it isn’t. Or at least, it shouldn’t be. I will admit that I have bit of a phobia of police, so every time I go out and photograph, this event is on my mind. That, and the fact that some of my conductor friends will never let me live it down.


Plan of the Melrose station, built in the late 1880’s, or early 1890

Today, Melrose isn’t the most spectacular-looking station on the Harlem Line. But at one time, it did have a nice station, built in the late 1880’s, or early 1890. It had all the amenities a station of that era needed: a baggage room, ticket office, telegraph office, a waiting room, and of course access to the low-level platforms and trains. The area was four-tracked even at this early date, though the two middle tracks were separated from the outer tracks by a fence, visible in the station sketch below. The Chief Engineer of the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad at the time was Walter Katte, and he oversaw the work on the Harlem Division, north of the Harlem River Bridge. The line was four-tracked, and the tracks were lowered into the “Harlem Depression,” extending from Melrose to William’s Bridge. He also oversaw the construction of the Park Avenue viaduct, and a drawbridge over the Harlem River.


Sketch of the Melrose station

The only available land owned by the railroad was occupied by the tracks, and thus the logical solution for building the Melrose station was over the tracks. The plans for Melrose were duplicated for several other stations located in the depression, including Morrisania, Tremont, and Fordham. Chief Engineer Katte oversaw the construction of these stations. Built 17 feet above the tracks, the Melrose station was 73 feet wide, and 26 feet long. The waiting room was 18 x 32 feet, and the baggage room was 11 x 12 feet. The station framework was made of iron, and the interior of oak. The exterior was covered with iron panels, and was topped by an ornamental shingled roof. The cost of the station was $22,000, and the platforms cost $1,500.


Photograph of Tremont after construction, circa 1890. The fence dividing the center two express tracks has yet to be built.


The former Morrisania station was one of the other similarly designed stations, photo taken circa 1960.

Chief Engineer Walter Katte is actually an interesting figure in New York railroad history, though not often remembered. Not only did he work on the Harlem Division, but he also oversaw work on the New York Elevated Railroad Company. Between 1877 to 1880 they built the first parts of the Third and Ninth Avenue Els. Katte was born November 4, 1830 in London. He studied at the Kings College School, before serving as a civil engineering apprentice for three years. In 1849 he migrated to the United States and began work as an engineer for various railroads, including the Central Railroad of New Jersey, and the Pennsylvania Railroad. When the Civil War broke out, Katte served as a Colonel of Engineers in the Union Army, and oversaw the construction of several bridges. After the war, he worked for the New York, Ontario, and Western Railroad, and the West Shore Railroad, before becoming the Chief Engineer for the New York Central in 1886. He served in that position until his resignation and retirement in 1898 (William Wilgus ascended to the Chief Engineer’s position in 1899). Katte died in his New York City home on March 4, 1917.


Walter Katte

Read More

Tuesday Tour of the New Haven Line: Wilton

With this post I’ve achieved my first significant milestone on the New Haven Line. Thankfully, it has nothing to do with having the police called on me on another rail line (has yet to happen here, but I am very much expecting it. Especially after reading this post by Jim Cameron, chairman of the CT Commuter Council). No, this milestone is the Tuesday Tour’s completion of the Danbury Branch! In the 1800’s this was the Danbury and Norwalk Railroad, but of course today it is just a small branch of Metro North’s New Haven Line.

Despite growing up close to the Danbury Branch, I was never a passenger on it. I was always one of the people that made the slightly longer trek to Brewster and the Harlem Line. It was enjoyable to explore a line that is so close to my home-town, especially since most of the stations have their historical station buildings present.

Tuesday Tour of the New Haven Line: Danbury Branch:

Wilton is our final stop to check out on the Danbury Branch. The station is located not far from Route 7, and is 48.5 miles from Grand Central Terminal. Surrounded by trees and small stream, the area around the station is relatively peaceful. Like many of the other Danbury Branch stations, there is little that is particularly noteworthy here, besides the small station building which was closed at the time of my visit. In fact, on the day of my visit a busing schedule was in effect, making the platform exceptionally quiet. I could have made a sound recording for you, and titled it “The Sounds of Wilton.” On that day it would only contain the sound of the stream, unpunctuated by the normal wail of a train horn and the rumble of a diesel engine.

Without any further rambling from me, here are a few photos from Wilton…

 
   
  
 
   
 
  
 
  

Read More

Image of the Day: The Only 4 Track Railroad in the World

Today I have a random image of the day to share with everyone… And I must admit, I absolutely love it. Printed in an 1877 New York Central timetable is this engraving of the four tracks located alongside the Hudson River. The caption reads: Passenger Trains meeting each other while passing Freight Trains. Showing the Operation of the 4 Tracks.

Some weeks ago when I briefly visited the Switch Tower Museum in Norwalk I noticed they sold timetables and attempted to purchase a few. I believe the direct quote from the man operating the register was, “surely you jest” – as in this girl seriously collects timetables? In fact, this girl has an embarrassingly large collection of timetables. The entire collection will be up for viewing shortly. I was hoping to debut it last week, but I’ve hit some temporary snags. Until then, enjoy this little taste of the coolness that is to come. I absolutely adore the gorgeous illustrations in 1800’s timetables.

Read More

Tuesday Tour of the Harlem Line: Scarsdale

If I haven’t mentioned it before, I don’t really like trains. Really, I don’t. Trains are a means to getting somewhere, and you can often meet intriguing people aboard, but the mechanical object that is a train doesn’t really interest me. The thing that interests me about trains though, is how they effect people and place. Over its long history, as New York City’s first railroad – chartered in 1831, the New York & Harlem Railroad (todays Harlem Line) has undeniably had a significant influence on the towns it traversed. The railroad was an important catalyst for the growth of Westchester County over the late 1800’s and early 1900’s – and Scarsdale is no exception.

The town of Scarsdale, named for the ancestral home of land owner Caleb Heathcote, was mostly farmlands before the railroad arrived in 1846. In fact it was so rural the entire population of the town numbered 255, mostly farmers, in 1840 (today’s population numbers over 17,000). Due to increased demand, by 1877 train service to Scarsdale was regularly scheduled and reliable. In 1891 the Arthur Suburban Home Company purchased a 150 acre farm and began subdividing it into lots – marking the beginning of large scale suburban development in the town. The first influx of residents were wealthy New Yorkers who built estates and used the train to commute to the city.

Today’s Scarsdale station was completed in 1902 and was designed by Reed & Stem. I’ve mentioned Reed & Stem several times before, as they have designed a few stations along the line, including Tuckahoe and Chappaqua, and also did work on Grand Central Terminal. Their design was in a neo-Tudor style, the first building in Scarsdale with that style. Many buildings later completed in the commercial areas of the town mimicked it, and today Scarsdale is known for the style. It is definitely a beautiful area, and was a well-enjoyed stop on my tour of the Harlem Line’s stations. Neighboring station Hartsdale is sort of like a younger twin brother to Scarsdale – Hartsdale’s station also mimicked Scarsdale’s neo-Tudor style. The two also share a companion Arts for Transit piece, comprised of silhouetted figures, by Tom Nussbaum. Scarsdale’s portion is called Travelers, and the figures are located on the top of the platform canopies.

 
  
 
 
   
   
 
 
   
 

Read More

A little bit of old reading…

If I haven’t mentioned it before, I am a big fan of both Project Gutenberg, and Google Books. Both have available many old books free to read. And who doesn’t like free? If you find yourself interested in the history of the railroads in our area you can check out some of these books (and portions of books) from the 1800’s and early 1900’s.

A nice book about the history of railroads in the United States. The first chapter is a synopsis of rail history, and the second deals with Commodore Vanderbilt, and the New York Central Railroad.

The railroad builders: a chronicle of the welding of the states, Published 1919
Download an excerpt (first two chapters) here, or view the whole thing on Google Books.

For those interested in the Hudson Line, check out this book about the Hudson River Railroad:

Hudson River and the Hudson River Railroad, Published 1851
Click to view on Google Books

I’m currently reading the autobiography of Chauncey Depew, over his 93 years he served as Secretary of State for New York, as well as a senator, not to mention many years working for the railroad. He was the attorney for the New York and Harlem Railroad, and later became president of the New York Central. He mentions in his memoirs that he almost turned down the position when Vanderbilt offered it to him, as he had also just been offered a position as US Minister to Japan which paid more. Vanderbilt told him, “There is nothing in politics. Don’t be a damned fool.”

My Memories of Eighty Years by Chauncey Depew
Download this book from Project Gutenberg

Anyone else have some interesting books saved in their library on Google Books? Let me know! You can view my library here.

Read More