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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Tuesday Tour of the Hudson Line: Dobbs Ferry


A postcard of Dobbs Ferry station, and a portion of a Hudson River Railroad timetable from 1851, listing Dobbs Ferry station

Welcome to Dobbs Ferry, one of the lovely Hudson Line stations with a great view of the mighty Hudson River. On the fourth of July, I spent the day exploring the Hudson Line, but ended up spending most of my time here. The waterfront view is quite lovely, and adjacent to the station is the aptly named Waterfront Park – reason enough for you to come and visit this place. Though the station used by Metro-North particularly noteworthy (besides the nice Arts for Transit piece), the old station building still stands and is a lovely piece of railroad architecture. Though I didn’t get to see the inside, the station has two floors, the first of which has a waiting room, ticket window, bathrooms and a boiler room. It was designed by architects Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge in 1889. Last year the town was looking for proposals for businesses interested in leasing the station, but apparently all of those proposals were later rejected.


A 1914 map of Dobbs Ferry, depicting both the railroad and the river. Note the railroad sidings that are no longer present today.


Early 1900’s view of Dobbs Ferry station

Dobbs Ferry itself was named, as one would expect, after a ferry crossing over the Hudson River. Members of the Dobbs family arrived around the 1700’s, and operated their ferry until 1759. Other area ferries operated until the early 1900’s. It was this ferry that made the area an attractive place for an encampment of General Washington’s troops during the Revolutionary War.


Dobbs Ferry station in 1974

The current station at Dobbs Ferry, operated by Metro-North, is about 20 miles from Grand Central Terminal. The average train time to Grand Central Terminal is around 45 minutes. As previously mentioned, the station isn’t particularly noteworthy, but it did have a bit of a makeover in the mid-2000’s. The work at the station, part of the Hudson Line Stations Improvement Project, was completed in 2008. It included updates to the platform, overpass, and a new platform canopy. An elevator was also installed in the updated overpass, making the station ADA compliant. While this was all going on, some attractive art was also added to the station platform, as part of the Arts for Transit program.

 
  
 
 
   
 

Floating Auriculas, the lovely mosaic found at Dobbs Ferry, is probably the nicest thing you’ll find on the platform. Behind this piece is artist Nancy Blum, who has created public art for venues across the country. My love for the transit system in Minneapolis has been well documented on this site, and I was surprised to note that not only is Blum working on the art for three stations on the new Central Corridor line, she also did the art on my favorite, East Bank station. Blum has done public art in various media, but for the most part the underlying theme is nature and the natural world, and the piece at Dobbs Ferry certainly fits that theme. Blum’s lovely auricula flowers, about eight feet in diameter, adorn the side of the northbound platform, rendered in mosaic form using Italian glass and marble tile.

Thanks to Blum’s website, we get a lovely view of the progression of an Arts for Transit piece – from an original painting, all the way to the finished mosaic on the station platform. The first four photos above are from the artist’s site, the remainder (above and below) are mine.


Yes, Metro-North has plenty of awesome conductors!

  
 
  
   
 
  
   
  
   
 
  
 
 

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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…

  
  

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You never find what you’re looking for…

I think it is a proven fact that you never find something that you are looking for. Instead, you always find something else. While looking on my harddrive for a particular file, I encountered a little editorial cartoon about the Penn Central. I have absolutely no idea where this came from – the file was made nearly a year ago. I could have scanned it, or downloaded it… either way, I thought it was amusing and saved it. I love the concept of the anthropomorphized train sitting in a hospital bed, alongside a book about the “Golden days of Railroads.”

For the majority of my readers, I don’t really have to explain the significance of the Penn Central… but for the record, when the Penn Central went bankrupt in 1970, it was the largest corporate bankruptcy this country had ever seen.

The cartoon was illustrated by Hy Rosen, an artist with a long history of creating political and editorial cartoons. The first anniversary of his death just passed last week. He was 88 years old when he died. If you like the style, you can see more of Rosen’s work here.

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Tuesday Tour of the New Haven Line: Mount Vernon East

When it comes to communities with connections to Metro North, you can’t get more connected than the city of Mount Vernon. Two of Mount Vernon’s stations have been featured here before – Fleetwood, and Mount Vernon West, both on the Harlem Line. The city is unique in that it is intersected by both the Harlem and New Haven Lines, and that it has stations on both. Mount Vernon East is the city’s third station, and its connection on the New Haven Line – and in my own humble opinion, probably the nicer of the three.


Mount Vernon East claim to fame: being the true filmed location for the train station in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Mount Vernon East is a relatively short jaunt from Grand Central: approximately 14 miles. It is the first station after the New Haven Line splits from the Harlem Line, and the last station before the switch from third rail power to catenary. It is one of the dwindling number of Metro-North stations that still has a manned ticket window, open on weekday mornings. Located next to the ticket window is a dedication plaque, a memorial to Fred Wilkinson, a longtime member of the Metro-North Railroad Commuter Council.

 
   
   
 
    
 
   
 
  

Also included at the Mount Vernon East station is one of my favorite Metro-North Arts for Transit pieces. As I work my way through the entire Metro-North system, I definitely enjoy discovering the permanent art placed at quite a few stations by the Arts for Transit program. I’ve already gone on record stating that the pieces at Wassaic and Pleasantville rank pretty high on my list of favorites – though that had been before I visited Mount Vernon East. I’ve always adored stained glass, and glasswork in general, and I have an immense amount of admiration for those who work in the medium, as it is far from easy. But when glasswork is done right, it can be a pretty breathtaking sight. I could probably stare at this piece all day long, and not get bored. It is aptly titled Tranquility – a little oasis of calm hidden in a bustling network of express trains and rushing commuters.

   
 
   
 
   

That pretty much takes care of Mount Vernon East, which for those keeping score, is the 70th Metro-North station that I’ve photographed thus far. It just so happens that it is also the first New York state station I’ve featured on the New Haven Line. And besides New Haven’s Union Station, it may be one of my favorite New Haven Line station… though I do have quite a few more stations left to discover.

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Train Station Levitation

There are some wonderful photographs that have been circulating around the internet lately that I loved so much I just had to share. A young Japanese woman, Natsumi Hayashi, has done a series of “levitation” photos, some of which are at various Tokyo train stations. The effect is created using her camera on a timer, and the camera captures her in the middle of motion, frozen in mid-jump. It is a technique that she very obviously excels at, as her photos are so natural she really does appear to be floating. On the technique she says:

I am actually jumping, but if all goes well, I will appear to be levitating the moment the shutter goes off. But if my facial expression appears to look forced then it will only appear as though I’m jumping. That is why the moment I take off I try to appear as calm as I possibly can.

I exert force just at the start of the jump, then I drain all strength from my body. But this method is quite dangerous. As I come back to the ground I have lost my balance and fallen. But that is fine by me. That’s because the photographs only reflect the moments I’m suspended in the air.

I do have a feeling like I need to copycat this, as it looks like it would be incredibly fun to do. Perhaps the new goal for the Tour of the New Haven Line should be to not only get a panorama at each station, but also a levitation photo at each station. On second thought, maybe it isn’t such a great idea – I’ve had the cops called on me for just taking normal pictures… imagine me taking pictures and jumping around like an idiot. But this too is a sentiment that Hayashi is familiar with:

I get very nervous when I shoot in public places. When I am shooting on a subway platform or famous signt-seeing place and jump over 200 times in a row, nearby people start to whisper. No one speaks directly to me, but in a small voice they will say things like, “Is that girl mentally ill?” or “Should we call the police?”

Anyways, enjoy some of Natsumi Hayashi’s levitation photographs, some of my favorites which are posted below. You can find many more on her blog here. You’ll find photography, trains, and cats… hey, that sorta sounds like me!

 
  
 
  
 
  
 
 
  

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The Last Train

This blog of mine doesn’t get too many comments. Well, if you’re talking about legit comments that is. I think my comment blocker is up to more than thirty thousand pieces of spam. In fact, I don’t even know if I’ve got that many readers, I mean, besides myself and possibly my mother. But there must be some readers out there, because I do get quite a bit of email. All sorts of email: from people asking me how much their timetables are worth (not really sure), to people sending me their phone numbers if I ever want to talk about trains (I have a phobia of telephones. Really, I do). More often then not, I enjoy the emails I get. (I did get a mail once, telling me that I was the ugliest person on planet earth. I LOL’ed.) People send me pictures, people tell me their train stories. I really enjoy this, despite the fact that I feel a tad socially awkward and often fail miserably at responding to my mail. A few people recently have mentioned something about a song called The Last Train, and something about maybe a book coming out. I didn’t really think much of it, until I happened to see the book hanging out by the checkout line of Borders the other day.

I was standing behind a woman in line, she was even more indecisive than I, debating which of the silly knicknacks they put buy the checkout counter she should buy. Hiding on the shelves was a book called The Last Train. I tend to ignore the children’s book section (unless the book is The Stinky Cheese Man, because frankly, that book is awesome) but I had some time to kill, so I flipped through it. Let me just say, I absolutely adored the illustrations of this book. I would love to have a print of one of these illustrations on my wall (and conveniently the illustrator, Wendell Minor, sells them on his website… if only I had an extra hundred dollars lying around.) Anyways, I loved the illustrations so much that I made an impulse buy, and I wanted to share it all with you…

The spread above is definitely my favorite illustration from the book, and the one below my favorite part of the text. I definitely remember putting pennies on the tracks when I was a kid. Obviously not in Metro-North’s territory, but out in the hills of Pennsylvania, waiting for a freight train to pass.

If you’re interested in the book, it was written by Gordon Titcomb, and as previously mentioned, illustrated by Wendell Minor. And if your local Borders is closing like mine is, you might even get a deal on buying it! Oh, and you can check out this video that features some of the book’s illustrations, as well as Titcomb’s song The Last Train.

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Taking the Grand Tour: A Review of Grand Central’s New Audio Tour

Observant commuters may have noticed something new in Grand Central in November – a little booth by the ticket windows labeled Audio Tours. Or you might have seen it mentioned in the Mileposts, or perhaps in a poster on your train or at your station? Either way there is a new way to tour Grand Central – and I’m not talking about a giant tour group where you have to strain to hear the tour guide. Grand Central now has an official self-guided audio tour. While I was at Grand Central the other day I took the time to give the tour a shot – a review of sorts.

 
Audio tour booth, Metro North employee Patrick mans the booth during my visit

Honestly, I wasn’t expecting much. I know a lot about Grand Central, and I figured that I wouldn’t learn anything new. But I was a tad curious to know what would be included in a tour of Grand Central, and how it would be described. There are a lot of things I know about the history of the place. And I am also aware that there are folks in the hardcore railfan community that are of the opinion that there have been some… shall we say, anecdotal embellishments added into the lore of the Terminal. But there is just so much that can be said about the history of this building, what exactly do you say to fit into an hour, and what parts do you leave out?


Handheld device for the audio tour

I must admit though, I enjoyed the tour. The technology used is great. If you don’t want to borrow the device and headset for the tour you can download it to your own mp3 player – or at least you’re supposed to. I’ve been unable to purchase it on the website, not to mention it lists the prices only in Euros, which irrelevant if the company that made the tour may be foreign, it just looks poor in a US market. The actual devices that you can borrow for the tour are not only audio devices, they have a small screen in which to show a photo of where you currently are on the tour. I love the fact that it really is a self guided tour – you enter the number of the location you currently are in to hear about it. If you don’t want to hear about it, you can always skip that location. Or you can go in whichever order you please. Plus if you want to learn more about something, you can hit the green button. You can customize the whole thing and do whatever you want to.

Plenty of important places are described on the tour – from the obvious 42nd Street façade, to the clock and sky ceiling to the somewhat lesser known whispering gallery, spiral staircase in the information booth, and the walkways in between the glass panels. I loved that there were mentions of the 20th Century Limited, as well as Jackie Kennedy and the fight to save Grand Central. There were also plenty of things that I thought the tour could mention, but didn’t. Since the tour sends you outside anyways to see the façade, why not make another outdoor stop to see the majestic eagle – older than the Terminal itself – which once stood on the original Grand Central Depot? I also don’t recall hearing anything about William Wilgus. Wilgus was the railroad’s chief engineer, and the conceptual mastermind behind Grand Central. The tour briefly mentions that the Terminal ushered in the era of electric trains, but fails to mention why – and this is important! Would the railroad have undertaken such a massive project if steam locomotives were not banned on Manhattan island? Would the massively expensive project have been considered if not for Wilgus’ concept of air rights, of covering over the formerly open-cut railroad tunnels and building on it to recoup expenses and make money?

The tour does fall more on the side of artistic/architectural than railfan. But just the fact that the purpose of the building is for servicing rail, I think more of that rail history ought to be thrown in. What makes Grand Central a great railroad station, and not just a pretty building? (and I am talking more about dual levels and loop tracks, as opposed to ramps, which were mentioned)

 
Eagle originally from Grand Central Depot

For the most part the main narration of the tour was great. It was informal, like you were listening to an actual tour guide as opposed to reading one of the many books on the subject of Grand Cental. There were amusing little anecdotes thrown in, like the person asking the person at the information booth where to rent a horse. A lot of the extra details and stories on the “secrets” were recited by Dan Brucker… and I mean no insult to Dan, but there were times where it was tiresome to listen to his voice. He spoke loud and slow, perhaps as one would speak to a non-english speaker, hoping that over-enunciating words will help them understand. “This. Is. Not. A. STA-TION. It. Is. A. TER-MI-NAL. Be-cause trains. TER-MI-NATE. Here.” Now although I’ve never formally met Dan Brucker, I’ve overheard him doing tours. He is animated and it is obvious that he loves this place. But I don’t think that gets through in the tour. (Sorry Dan, please don’t be insulted, I’d still love for you to give me a tour any day!)

One option on the tour, which I believe was called Visual Experience has not been completed yet. The device mentioned that it is being worked on and will include clips from shows filmed in Grand Central. I hope they’re talking about audio clips and not video clips, because even though the device has the capacity for video the screen is so small. And if I had a hard time seeing what was in the tiny picture, then I am certain the little old ladies that took the tour right before me would have a major difficulty. Something on the other hand that might actually work would be a small companion brochure or booklet that accompanies the tour. Right now you just get a big clunky sheet of laminated paper with a map, which you can’t keep. I’m sure tourists would love something that can actually be kept. If cost is a prohibitive issue I’m sure an extra dollar or two could be charged for the nicer booklet.

Well, this certainly turned out to be the long-winded review. Basically it comes down to this:
Do I recommend the tour? Yes. The tour is ideal for people that enjoy the architecture and might not know a lot about Grand Central. If you know a lot about the place you’re probably not going to get as much out of it, but you’ll still probably enjoy it.
Did I learn anything on the tour? Yes. Somehow I had never even noticed the mural on the ceiling of the Graybar Passage.

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Edna St. Vincent Millay – Poet & Harlem Division Rider

As riders of the train, every day we share our commute with advertisements – there are ads on the platforms, and ads in the train cars themselves. Some of the ads are interesting and well designed, and others may be lacking in that department. Over the summer I recall seeing one specific ad for Columbia County tourism. It had a picture of a young boy looking through a paper towel tube, and it urged you to visit Columbia county. No offense to the designer, but I don’t exactly know how that would lure me to visiting you – my (hypothetical) kid can look through paper towel tubes all he wants at home, thank you very much.

Columbia County is a nice rural portion of New York, and a delightful change of pace from the city life – and there is more to do than look through paper towel tubes. The Harlem Line, and several other rail lines once ran through here, but that has disappeared. Copake Lake and the Taconic State Park are both interesting nature related venues, and the county has a rich history worth exploring. The home of the eighth president of the United States, Martin Van Buren, is located in Columbia county, and is open to visitors. Though probably less known than the former president, Pulitzer-prize-winning poet Edna St. Vincent Millay also made her home in Columbia county, and portions of it are open to the public. Last weekend, on the way home from Vermont, I made a stop at her former home, which is called Steepletop.


Edna St. Vincent Millay

Edna St. Vincent Millay was born in 1892 in Rockland, Maine. From a young age she was exposed to classic literature by her mother, and began to write on her own. By the time she had entered Vassar College at 21, she had already won several awards for her poetry. After graduation from Vassar, Millay moved to New York City and lived in Greenwich Village. Her book of poetry titled Second April was published in 1921, and includes one of my favorite poems of hers:

The railroad track is miles away,
And the day is loud with voices speaking,
Yet there isn’t a train goes by all day
But I hear its whistle shrieking.

All night there isn’t a train goes by,
Though the night is still for sleep and dreaming,
But I see its cinders red on the sky,
And hear its engine steaming.

My heart is warm with friends I make,
And better friends I’ll not be knowing;
Yet there isn’t a train I wouldn’t take,
No matter where it’s going.

As much as I’d love to say that Millay wrote this poem about the Harlem Division, it was only in 1925, and after Second April was published, that she and her husband moved to Austerlitz, NY. Her home was not far from the Harlem Division’s Hillsdale Station, and she did actually ride the trains from there: a famous Harlem Division rider. Millay spent the later years of her life in Austerlitz until her death in 1950. She, along with her mother, husband, sister, and brother-in-law are buried on the property. Although the home is occasionally open for tours (and is designated a National Historic Landmark), the poetry trail which leads to her grave, is always open to the public, and where all photos below are from.

 
   
  
  
 
  
   
 
   
 
   

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Tuesday Tour of the Harlem Line: Tuckahoe

This Tuesday we visit yet another Westchester Harlem Line station: Tuckahoe. Tuckahoe is interesting in both an artistic sense, as well as historical. It is one of the few stations on the line that has an Arts For Transit piece, and the old station building still survives. It may not be used for selling tickets any longer, but it is beautifully restored and is occupied by Starbucks.

Tuckahoe itself is village located in the town of Eastchester, in the southern portion of Westchester county. Although the railroad played a significant part in the growth of Tuckahoe and all of the areas located along the line in Westchester (and further north), it was the discovery of marble in the early 1800’s that led significantly to the growth of the village. (The village was officially incorporated in 1902, the marble quarries were shut down in the 1930’s). Tuckahoe marble was used in many high-profile buildings, including St. Patrick’s Cathedral in the city, and the Washington Monument in Washington DC.

Tuckahoe’s station building was erected in 1901 and was designed by architects Reed & Stem. Reed & Stem worked on several stations on the Harlem Line, including Chappaqua, Scarsdale, and most notably, Grand Central. An Arts for Transit piece called The Finder / The Seekers by Arthur Gonzales is present at the station. Companion pieces also by Gonzales are at Crestwood and Fleetwood.

The station is located in a commercial area, and there are a few shops and restaurants that surround it. On Sundays during the summer the station’s parking lot also plays host to a farmers market (which you can see in the first photo).

 
   
 
   
   
 
  
   
 
   

As a bonus, here are some older photos of Tuckahoe in 1988. The station building looks a bit run down, and although I’m not the biggest fan of Starbucks, I must admit it looks much nicer today.

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