Visions of the Apocalypse – Gary Union Station

Imagine a post apocalyptic world devoid of humans. Plants grow wild and unchecked, predatory animals reassert their dominance at the top of the food chain, and the landscape begins to change as man-made structures crumble. For some reason, this scenario captures the interest of many, and has been publicized in various media. Documentaries like Aftermath: Population Zero, television serials like Life After People, and books like World Without Us all tell the story of not how humans disappeared, but what exactly would happen to our world if they had. Post-apocalyptic art (with no people whatsoever, or a significantly reduced population) is actually a thing, and various illustrators have created scary yet attractive interpretations of not just our world in decay, but rail infrastructure too.


Chicago’s “L” imagined after being abandoned for 100 years in “Life After People.”

 
Illustrations by Russian artist Vladimir Manyuhin in his series “Life After the Apocalypse.”


An abandoned Athens Piraeus station, envisioned by Anmar84.

 
Japan’s Hamamatsuchō station (left) and Yoyogi station (right) by Tokyo Genso.


“The Last Station” by Sonic.

 
Shinjuku station (left) and Nakano station (right), also by Tokyo Genso.

The interesting thing to note is that many of these interpretations are not completely imaginary, but based upon fact. Places like Pripyat, Ukraine – a city of almost 50,000 hastily evacuated in 1986 after the Chernobyl disaster – offer real world glimpses of what does happen when people disappear. Closer to home, there are plenty of abandoned buildings where one can witness an “apocalyptic world” first hand, and by directly observing the effects of time, posit what would happen in a world without people. Cities based primarily on industries that have long waned – like Detroit, Michigan and Gary, Indiana – are flocked to by those intrigued with urban decay. Gary itself was featured in an episode of “Life After People” imagining the world 30 years after humans by visiting places abandoned for a similar amount of time, including the former Gary Union Station – our subject today.

Artifacts from Gary
Artifacts from Gary – a 1906 ad advertising real estate in Gary ((Ad from the Chicago Historical Society, ICHi-37353)) and postcards of Gary Union Station. Land in Gary was touted as an “absolutely safe investment,” but the question is, for how many years?

Founded by US Steel (and named after founding chairman Elbert H. Gary) in 1906, the city of Gary, Indiana was constructed as a home to a large steel plant, containing 12 blast furnaces and 47 steel furnaces. The location was optimal, as it was close to Chicago and the Great Lakes, as well as various railroads. Attracted by thousands of new jobs, immigrants flocked to Gary, and by 1920 the city had a population of 55,000 residents. However, the success of the city was largely dependent on the industry on which it was founded – steel. That industry prospered for many years, but was adversely effected by the Great Depression. Operating at 100 percent capacity in 1929, the plant was only operating at 15 percent capacity in 1932 ((Gary: History)). While the high demand for steel during World War II and the years after led to prosperity, by the late 1950s the industry was yet again in decline. As industry waned and foreign steel came to prominence, Gary’s workforce was slashed – the city had over 30,000 steelworkers in the late 1960s, but by 1987 there were a mere 6,000 ((Encyclopedia of Chicago history)). Once populated by around 170,000 in 1970, Gary’s population now hovers at around 80,000 ((Where Work Disappears and Dreams Die)).

 
Photos of Gary Union Station in more prosperous times. Photos from the U.S. Steel Photograph Collection, via the Indiana University Libraries. Photo at left: 1910, photo at right: 1931.

Gary still produces steel, and is not completely abandoned. A description of the city, from a man found in one of the city’s homeless shelters, is particularly apt: “It’s not dead yet, but it’s definitely on life support.” ((Where Work Disappears and Dreams Die)) A quick tour of the city makes that “life support” comment pretty obvious. As Gary’s prosperity, industry and population declined, many buildings around the city fell into disrepair and were abandoned. Schools, theaters, post offices, and hotels were all left to decay. Of course, we’re headed to Gary Union Station, also long abandoned. Constructed in concrete in 1910, the station shares the same Beaux arts aesthetic as other famous stations, including Grand Central Terminal. Flanked by elevated railroad tracks on either side, the station could be easily missed by someone passing through. Abandoned for rail use around the 1950s, the station served as an example of 30 years after people for the show “Life After People”. Though the elements have certainly taken their toll, large parts of the damage were caused by people. Everything of value has been stripped, every window has been broken, and some of the walls bear graffiti.

We’ll be taking a quick tour of Gary Union Station, or rather, what is left of it. Although I do find abandoned buildings strangely attractive, it is obvious that this station has seen better days. Enough of the building still exists where it could probably be restored, but with the economic state of Gary the likelihood of that is probably nil. Alas the station will continue to stand in its decrepit state, completely open for vandals and urban explorers alike.

 
  
  
  
   
  
 
  
 
  
  

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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!

 
 
  
 
 
 
 
 
  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


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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.

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Have you checked out “The New York Commuter’s Glossary” yet?

Have you checked out “The New York Commuter’s Glossary” yet? If you haven’t yet heard of the book, it is a humorous little collection of words and illustrations related to the art of commuting. It was written by Mike Malone – who is the man behind Train Jotting, illustrated by the awesome Joe Walden, and of course, designed by me. You can buy copies online, or if you happen to be in the White Plains area, Gary Waxman is selling copies at his newsstand in the train station. You can also find it at the Village Bookstore in Pleasantville.


Gary Waxman shows off the book


Yes, this book was designed while riding Metro-North

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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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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.

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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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Friday’s From the Historical Archive: Leslie Ragan, Artist of the New York Central

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.


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