Around the Country in Railroad Art

As the weather starts to warm up, perhaps you’ve been thinking about vacation. There are plenty of cool spots that one can visit, all by train. As we’ve certainly covered on the blog before, America’s railroads had in their employ both painters and illustrators to create works to entice travelers. Leslie Ragan is certainly one of my favorites – he worked for the New York Central as well as the Budd Company – and about this time last year we were posting some of his spring-like imagery.

This time I thought it would be fun to take a tour of the country through railroad art. There are countless examples of awesome posters and ads, but these are some of my favorites. Perhaps it will even give you some ideas on places to travel this year.

Maybe a nice shorter trip will be in order? Cape Cod, New England, Atlantic City and even Washington DC are all possibilities. Artist Sascha Maurer designed for both the New Haven and the Pennsylvania Railroads. The New England and the Atlantic City art below was designed by Maurer. Ben Nason also designed an array of posters for the New Haven Railroad, including the Cape Cod poster below.

  
  

Maybe you’d like to travel to a different city, a litter further away? Maybe you should visit Cincinnati!

Despite the fact that I’m not a big fan of the Pennsy, you it is impossible to not love this poster by Mitchell Markovitz.

Chicago is always a lovely place to visit!
  

Did I say tour the country? I lied. Maybe a visit to Canada is in order?
 

Now who doesn’t love a nice trip to America’s National Parks, the Pacific Northwest, or even California? Maurice Logan, William and Kenneth Willmarth designed some of these lovely views of the western United States.
   
  
  

Maybe a nice jaunt to the southwest? Artists Don Perceval and Oscar Bryn created these lovely posters for the Santa Fe.
   

Are mountains more your thing? Austrian artist Gustav Krollmann worked on these lovely designs…
 

Oh forget it, let’s just go everywhere! The awesome Amtrak posters designed by illustrator David Klein in 1973 make me want to see the entire country. Klein has a large body of work that is travel-themed, stretched over his entire career. His most known works were for Trans World Airlines, but he also produced work for Holland America Cruises and travel website Orbitz. Klein’s undeniably gorgeous work made railroads once again appear glamorous, just as they were in yesteryear.

 
  

Now that we’ve traveled around the country through railroad art, are you planning to take a vacation to some interesting locale? Are you going to go by train? Let us know in the comments!

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Local Timetables on the Harlem – 1890 to today

Every time I go to grab a snack at home, I find myself staring at an advertisement. And I’m not talking about the packaging of the food itself – my roommate has hung a calendar from our local pharmacy on the inside of the cabinet. You probably have one of these somewhere in your home – whether it be from the local Chinese restaurant, hardware store, bank, or doctor’s office. Businesses ingratiating themselves among their customers by providing them with a useful item (with a little advertisement for themselves, of course) is hardly a new concept – in fact it has been in practice for well over a hundred years. While today fridge magnets and calendars are commonplace, historically it wasn’t unheard of for a business to print useful cards with train schedules. What better way to remain at the forefront of your customers’ mind than to have your ad on a card they carry around everywhere?

Unofficial timecards are fairly easy to pick out – they bear no official railroad logo or marking – and generally have a whole lot of ads. They also use the railroad’s original name – the New York and Harlem – which was a name everybody knew, as opposed to calling it the Harlem Division, as the railroad did by this time.

Train timecard from Pawling Train timecard from Pawling
Train timecard from Pawling, 1892. A bifold card, the outside features advertisements for numerous businesses. In featuring only weekday trains, the card is tailored to the businessman that would likely patronize the featured establishments. For those looking for Sunday trains, the card advises to consult an official timetable “of the road.”

Another Harlem timecard
Timecard from 1890, featuring selected stops along the Harlem, all the way up to Chatham. Also a bifold, this card is likely more successful than the unwieldy one above, as it would easily fit into your pocket.

Although I wouldn’t classify it as an advertisement like above, the Woodlawn Cemetery also printed their own small time cards. You’ll note a great comparison below – an official railroad-printed Woodlawn time card, along with one printed by the cemetery itself. Besides the address and phone numbers of the cemetery, the card also contains an edited list of train times – corresponding with the cemetery’s hours – of course!

Timecards from Woodlawn
Timecards from Woodlawn. The 1891 card at left is official and printed by the railroad. The 1892 card at right was printed by the Woodlawn Cemetery.

Eventually, local timetables did become standardized – printed by the railroad, but still containing advertisements. Below is a nice collection of some local timetables throughout the years. Make sure you note an important portion of the design – the top of every New York Central local timetable is labeled as “official.” By the time the Penn Central came into being, this disclaimer was dropped. Also in the mix is a more current version of Metro-North’s local timetable. The new design still contains advertisements, but they’ve been relegated to the inside.

The current local timetable style

The current local timetable style

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The Budd Rail Diesel Car, and more art from Leslie Ragan

If you’ve been following our little series of posts chock full of lovely Leslie Ragan art in advertisements for the Budd company, you may have noticed a few ads featuring Budd’s RDC – or Rail Diesel Car. Today’s post completes our collection of Ragan ads, and focuses on the RDC. The RDC’s were widely used here and around the world – Australia, Canada, Brazil, and even Saudi Arabia all had RDC’s operating at some point in time.

The versatile RDC was an all stainless steel, self propelled railcar that could be operated as a single unit, or multiple cars could be coupled into one longer train. While they operated on all sorts of runs, it was common to see them on lines with fewer passengers, and in commuter service where there was no electrification – like the Upper Harlem Line.

 
Budd-built cars operating on the Harlem Line – at left, an RDC at Dover Plains, at right an SPV-2000, also in Dover Plains. While the RDC was highly successful, the supposed successor SPV was hardly so – acquiring the less-than-flattering nickname “Seldom Propelled Vehicle.”

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The Paintings of Leslie Ragan – Advertisements for the Budd Company, Part 1

Well it might not be very Spring-like outside right now, but at least this week we did have a few days with some enjoyable temperatures. I’m not sure about all of you, but I’m certainly ready for the cold weather to be done. I always joke that my camera hibernates for the winter, which isn’t quite true, but I would much rather be taking photos of trains in some nicer weather (And yes, I suppose it is somewhat ironic that despite all that I took my recent vacation to Alaska). The good thing is that hunting for railroad ephemera is a hobby that doesn’t really require nice weather. While wandering around I happened to come across a cache of lovely artwork by famed railroad artist Leslie Ragan.

Now if you’re familiar with the blog, you may remember that I’ve already profiled Ragan, and have already gone on record with how much I love his paintings. Ragan did quite a bit of work for the New York Central, and some of it was featured on system timetables during World War II and the ensuing years. Of course Ragan didn’t work solely for the Central – he created works for a wide variety of companies and organizations – including the Seaboard Railway, the United Nations, and even the Woman’s Home Companion. But perhaps Ragan’s largest body of work were the paintings he did for the Budd Company, and used for many of their ads in the 1950′s. And it was one of those ads that seemed decidedly Spring-like, and inspired this post.


This beautiful painting by Leslie Ragan, which seems to set the mood for a long-awaited Spring, appeared in an advertisement for the Budd Company.

If you enjoy Ragan’s artwork as much as I do, this post will be a real treat, as we have quite a collection of Budd ads. So many that there will have to be a part 2 at some point in the future!

   
   
   

Budd did not only make trains – this advertisement was for car bodies, but I absolutely adore the artwork of the Golden Gate Bridge.

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A visit to the secret library inside Grand Central Terminal

Grand Central Terminal has plenty of secrets, though most of them aren’t quite secret, as they have been covered in the media in some shape or form. If you’re lucky enough to ever get on a VIP tour of the Terminal, there is one place that tour most likely will never go – the Williamson Library. That’s right – hidden within the walls of Grand Central Terminal, since 1937, is a library! It certainly isn’t flashy – and probably not tremendously interesting to anyone that isn’t a railfan – but one of the library’s prized possessions makes this one of my favorite Grand Central secrets.


Photograph of Frederick Ely Williamson, which appeared in Fortune magazine. Williamson served as president of the New York Central from 1935 – 1944, and founded the library.

Frederick Ely Williamson, the library’s founder and namesake, was born on June 14th, 1876 in Norwalk, Ohio, the son of a clergyman. A 1898 graduate of Yale University, Williamson got a job with the New York Central in September of that year, after graduation. His first job with the railroad was as a Mohawk division clerk in Albany, with a salary of seventy dollars per month. By 1917, he was an integral part of the railroad, coordinating the movement of war supplies on the eastern seaboard. When the government took over the railroads for the war, he became the general agent for the port of New York. After the war, he continued his employment with the New York Central until 1925, when he became the vice president of the Northern Pacific railroad, and president of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy.

By 1932, Williamson had returned to New York, and ascended to the presidency of the New York Central, leading the company through the end of the Great Depression. During World War II he was appointed a Colonel by the Army, and named supervisor of railroads in the Eastern region. Williamson served as president of the New York Central until August 14th, 1944, when he resigned due to poor health. Shortly afterward, Williamson died in New York on September 29th, 1944, at the age of 68.

Although that short biography details the life of an intriguing individual, it leaves out one major detail about Mr. Williamson – he was not just a railroad executive, but a big railfan. A member of the Railroad Enthusiasts of New York, he founded the library that was eventually named after him in 1937. The library has been under the care of the Railroad Enthusiasts of New York ever since, and its current membership contains plenty of railfans, old railroaders, and even some current Metro-North employees.

  
Behind one very innocuous-looking door lies another door, and the entrance to the library!


Panoramic view of the Williamson Library, decorated with lights for the holiday season.

Located above the Apple store, the Williamson Library is generally closed off to the public. Without a keycard for the elevator, you’d likely never make it up to the floor. Even if you managed to do that, the outside door is so plain and unremarkable you’d likely never even notice you’re standing outside a room full of history. Contained within the library is an archive of over 3000 railroad-related books, periodicals, and other literature. Visitation for research is by appointment only, and the room is otherwise used for New York Railroad Enthusiasts’ meetings. It is also home to various old artifacts, including the first version of Metro-North’s mascot Metro-Man, and a remnant of the original 20th Century Limited red carpet.


The prized possession of the Williamson Library – a remnant of the 20th Century Limited red carpet.

The 20th Century Limited, which traveled from New York to Chicago, is likely the most famous train to have ever used Grand Central Terminal. The height of fashion and luxury, it transported countless famous faces throughout its history. Lavishly appointed, the whole experience commenced with a walk down a plush red carpet. It is claimed that the phrase “rolling out the red carpet” entered our lexicon because of this famous train. After the 20th Century Limited was eliminated in 1967, the old carpet was no longer needed. Thankfully, some folks had the foresight to cut the long carpet into pieces, and save a few remnants for posterity.



Advertisements and photographs of the red carpet in action.

If you’ve been following our Grand Central centennial celebration on facebook, 100 for 100 (which you totally should be!), you’ll recall that I mentioned the 20th Century Limited’s red carpet just the other day. I know of at least two different remnants of the original carpet – the one found in the library in Grand Central Terminal, and another that stays with the restored former 20th Century Limited observation car, Hickory Creek. If you visited Grand Central during National Train Day, you likely saw a portion of the red carpet – this was the one that travels with the Hickory Creek, and not the one that resides in GCT.


The other known surviving remnant of the 20th Century Limited red carpet in Grand Central on National Train Day. Photo by Otto Vondrak.

Whether the library’s portion of the red carpet will make an appearance for the Grand Central Centennial remains to be seen, but I certainly hope it will. It is definitely one of my favorite historical artifacts hidden within the Terminal, and with the library, one of Grand Central’s more secretive “secrets.”

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SmartCat, your guide to the Harlem Line

Several years ago when I really started getting interested in the history of the Harlem Line, and began collecting old timetables and artifacts, I had the grand idea that I would create a “digital museum” for the line. Although I attempted it with the “Harlem Line Historical Archives,” the archives were poorly organized, extremely clunky to find anything, and extremely time consuming to update. In an effort to create something better, I began work on SmartCat last summer. I had been hoping to launch it in the fall, but it never happened. Six months later, and long overdue, I am pleased to finally launch SmartCat.

In SmartCat you will find scans of over 300 artifacts related to the Harlem Line, ranging from 1857 to today. All items are tagged for easier browsing, and the system has a built-in search engine – an important upgrade from the old archives. The overwhelming majority of the artifacts currently available in SmartCat are timetables and postcards. Right now, only the covers of the timetables are scanned. Although it will be a massive undertaking, I hope to scan the insides of some of these timetables and make them available as well.

I’m going to quit talking about SmartCat – because you really need to be checking it out for yourself. You can use the below “guide” to the system, or click here to view everything.

SmartCat Search

Looking for something specific?

View all archived items

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The rat that ate my timetable…

Kids that ride the subway to school, take notice: I have a new excuse for you. Forget the dogs, say the rats ate your homework! These loathed (and sometimes giant!) rodents can be found all around the subways (and you can rate them, too!). Most people want them out of sight, but me, I’m looking for a specific rat. He’s probably long dead, but in his stomach you will find a little bit of history – namely portions of one of my most recent acquisitions. Despite it being munched on, I could not resist the purchase of an 1884 Harlem Division timetable. In all honesty, I have no idea if the damage done was actually caused by a rat. But it does make a nice story!

Even if the whole thing isn’t there – some train times are missing, and part of the fare list has been eaten away – I still love this timetable. It does list several old stations that no longer exist, like 86th Street (which is now an emergency exit in the Park Avenue Tunnel), Morrisania, and Kensico. What is left of the fare list is interesting, especially to see the prices and the types of tickets offered. In addition to single rides and round trips (good for 3 days), there were quarterly tickets (good for 3 months), and ticket books for the whole year. A one-way from Katonah cost $1.00, a round-trip $1.75, and a yearly ticket cost $100 – a savings of $7 from the quarterly tickets (quarterly tickets were cheaper at the end of the year, and most expensive at the beginning).

Because I love this timetable so much, I wanted to share it with you all. I scanned the entire thing, though some of the portions are truncated as to not show where the tears were. The timetable portions have been left as-is, without hiding any of the missing pieces, as I felt the information was too valuable, even if you can’t see everything.

 
   
  
   
  
 
 


1884 timetable side by side with current local timetables. They are very similar in size.

Part of the reason I find this timetable so interesting is because of the old ads found within. I always wonder if any of the establishments still exist, or what happened to them. Drake’s Travellers’ Magazine, which is advertised on the front of the timetable was a monthly 40-page magazine established in 1882 by John Drake. It contained information of the timings of various trains in the northeast, as well as some humor pieces.

There were several ads for baths in the timetable, though none of them seem to be in existence today. There are still Turkish and Russian baths in the city today, one of which was founded in 1892 – several years after the publication of this timetable.

It seems that the Barnums, owners of a large clothing store in Chatham Square advertised in the timetable had a personal interest in the Harlem Division. Both Stephen and Joshua Barnum were born in Brewster (or as it was referred to at that time, Brewster’s) and were certainly riders of the Harlem.

Otto Maurer, whose ad here is probably my favorite, started up his business in 1872 in the basement of a five-story tenement building. Not only did he sell magical equipment, he also repaired broken equipment, and taught magic lessons (in four languages!). Maurer died in 1900 (his obituary in the NY Times called him the “King of Magic”), and the shop was finally closed in 1903.

The Union White Lead Manufacturing Company, which also advertised here (though it does seem like a strange thing to advertise in a timetable), was organized in 1828. Their complex in Brooklyn covered over twenty-three city lots, and could produce around 3,000 tons of lead per year. Although the lead smelting operation there ceased in 1904 (and the buildings demolished), the surrounding soil is contaminated with lead even today.


Examples of other local timetables with advertisements, dated 1949, 1961, and 1965. City attractions and shows, as well as local taxi services seem to be the norm in later timetable advertising.


Some advertisements currently on Harlem Line timetables

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You may fly someday… a 1902 ad for the 20th Century Limited

Stop me if you’ve heard me say this before… I found a really cool railroad ad that I absolutely love. Okay, okay, I’ve said that far too many times. One of my most recent acquisitions is this 1902 advertisement for the famous 20th Century Limited. This famous train has little to do with the Harlem Line – it ran along the New York Central’s “Water Level Route” – part of which is today’s Hudson Line. But on the rare occasion where there was a problem on the tracks, the train could be diverted to Chatham and instead run down the Harlem Division, into Grand Central.

Part of the reason why I love this ad is the history behind it. The advertisement was printed in the inaugural year of the 20th Century Limited. In 1902, trains really were the best way of transportation in the United States. Although cars did exist, they didn’t really become available to the masses until 1908. At the time the ad was printed, the Wright Brothers had not yet made their historic flight. The world did not see its first passenger “airline” running scheduled flights until 1919. And the first automobile road across the United States, the Lincoln Highway, was not completed until 1913 – though much of it was unpaved and of poor quality. The true modernization of our intercity roads did not come until 1956 with the Interstate Highway System, truly sparking America’s love affair with the car. The glamor of rail travel began to fade, and the automobile replaced the train as the preferred method of transportation in this country. But in this ad the train was still king – and the 20th Century Limited was the most grand of all.


Obviously the pricetag of an early car was nothing for the Vanderbilts’ fortune. William Kissam Vanderbilt can be seen here in his racing car in 1904. [image credit]

The one thing I do find slightly amusing about this ad (I always find something slightly amusing – I’m easily amused) is how it somewhat shows the stagnation of our train technology. While other countries developed effective high speed rail systems, we’ve barely scratched the surface in terms of fast trains. As visible in the ad, the original travel time for the 20th Century Limited was 20 hours. Over the years that time was whittled down to fifteen and a half hours. Today, Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited follows a very similar route to the 20th Century Limited, and makes the journey in 19 hours. Although the Lake Shore Limited makes more stops than the 20th Century, one would think that in over a hundred years we’d be running a whole lot faster than that.

The United States has had many “firsts” in railroad history – like the first four-track railroad in the world – but other countries have far surpassed us in railroad technology and innovation. The highest speed record for a train is 361 mph (a test train, the record for an actual passenger train is around 245 mph), but unless we build dedicated rail lines for faster trains, we’ll never see an American train going more than 150mph. Perhaps we may fly someday – on a fast train speeding across rails of glinting steel.

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An interesting Harlem Division promotion…

Over the many years the New York Central was in existence they published countless advertisements and promotions to attract business and passengers. Some of them were fairly interesting – like the private
women’s room in Grand Central, which catered to the high-end ladies of the day. After all, you wouldn’t want your dress to get dirty on a long steam train journey, would you?

The New York Central even promoted venues that weren’t at all possible to visit by train – like China! A 1904 advertisement suggested all Americans should become familiar with the Chinese Empire:

Comparatively few people are familiar with the Chinese Empire as it exists to-day. In view of the constantly growing Oriental commerce of the United States, every one should become familiar with the Chinese Empire. The New York Central’s “Four-Track Series” No. 28 gives valuable statistics and information regarding the Flowery Kingdom…

Another advertisement that I recently acquired is a little bit closer to home. Published in 1937, this New York Central ad offered discounted tickets from New York to Wingdale or Wassaic. Now think about this for a second, if you are familiar with the area, what was particularly noteworthy about those two towns in that era? If you said that they both had facilities for the insane and mentally handicapped, you win a prize. The Harlem Valley State Hospital is obvious to anyone who has taken the Harlem Line up to Wingdale. Several of the State Hospital’s buildings loom over the current train platform. The location of today’s train station is not the same as it was in 1937 – it was further south and actually called “State Hospital.” Wassaic’s facility was called the Wassaic State Hospital, and it was located closer to today’s Tenmile River station.


The original State Hospital station, before this station and Wingdale were converted into today’s Harlem Valley-Wingdale.

The New York Central is remembered for things more noteworthy, like the “Water Level Route” – the first four-tracked route in the world, and the train that rolled out the red carpet for you – the 20th Century Limited. But in addition to doing those things, you could also take the New York Central to visit your institutionalized relatives… and for the low price of two dollars a round trip.

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Where oh where is my Kyle?

Friday Grab-bag of silly train things.

When you carry thousands of people together in a tin can, you are inevitably going to have some that don’t exactly know what to do with themselves. Some people read, some people mess around on their iPads, or even listen to music. But then there are also some idiots that can’t help writing things on the advertisements. Metro-North is usually really good about defaced advertisements, somebody usually takes them down after a short time. But every time I see one, I usually snap a photo. Here is a little collection of randomness, of stupid things people have done to posters on the train, and other stuff. I do claim responsibility for the dog in the Conductor’s cab, but all the rest are things I just happened to see while riding the train…


Bob the builder needs a beer after riding all day on the crazy train.


This dog was found hiding inside a conductor’s cab


This reporter says, “I like turtles.”


Maurice Adolf DuBois


Dont trip over skulls, fall in the gap.


This train is the Tinkerbell Express, making stops in Never Never Land.


You should always trust Emily.


I love Emergency Parking Brake Release


Mike is quite the enterprising fellow. Free massages for all the ladies!


Dog on the side of a newspaper stand


When people ask me to donate a dollar, I write the site on there instead of my name.


Where oh where is my Kyle?


Brooke Burke, before makeup

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