Smartcat Sundays: The Puppy Timetable

For almost as long as humans have been walking on this Earth, we have used hats. Whether they be for protection from the elements (with or without cat ears), for symbolic purposes, or simply for fashion, hats still remain an important part of our wardrobe to this day. Some historical figures are even well remembered for their hats, like Jackie Kennedy’s pillbox hats, or Abe Lincoln’s stovepipe hat. Today’s little bit of railroad history is an unofficial railroad timetable distributed by a hat salesman in Oneida, New York. The subject has come up on this blog before, where I have admitted my love for unofficial timetables.

If you ever wondered why many railroads began explicitly printing “Official Timetable” on their publications, it was certainly in response to the practice in the later 1800s and early 1900s for local businesses to distribute self-made timetables for the nearby train station with an ad for their shop on the other side. The marketing concept is both effective, and still commonplace today. If someone has something that is functional and useful that they will have close by that has your ad on it, there is a higher likelihood that when that consumer needs something, they will turn to you. Whether it be the unofficial timetable of yesteryear, or the box of matches (although not quite as common these days), fridge magnet, or wall calendar of today, all of these products are useful but also make you remember a particular business.

Although I try to focus my collection on the Harlem Division, it was hard for me to resist this purchase. Beyond my love for unofficial timetables, this card was probably the most quirky examples I had ever seen. And how can one say no to a cute puppy hiding in a hat? If I was looking for a hat in Oneida, surely I would have purchased one from Mr. Stone!

Unofficial Timetable
And how could you ever forget W. A. Stone, with this cute puppy timetable?

Watson A. Stone was born in 1847 and was a life-long resident of New York, spending much of his adult life in the Oneida area. Stone was an official sales agent for Knox Hats, a noteworthy New York City-based hat company that counted many wealthy and famous as patrons. According to popular lore every American president up until Kennedy wore Knox hats, and presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln was wearing a Knox-made stovepipe hat during his influential Cooper Union speech. In addition to his business selling hats and boots, assumedly to all the famous, well-to-do, and fashion-forward folks passing through Oneida, Stone was the Oneida postmaster from 1881 until his death in 1888 (which places the publication of this card at some point before that year).

Train stations of Oneida
The New York Central and the O&W Stations in Oneida

Other than being cute, the timetable hearkens back to a time when Oneida was traversed by several different railroads and was a maze of railroad tracks, simply a memory today. In the late 1950s and early 1960s several sections of the New York Central main line were relocated in upstate New York, including a section near Batavia (1957), and an area from Oneida to Canastota (1965). With that relocation, New York Central trains would no longer run through downtown Oneida, dashing anyone’s plans to hop off the train and quickly pick up a fashionable hat to wear.

Today, the former railbeds through town are an informal trail system, with plans to make it an official rail trail.

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1867’s Double Track Railroad

I’ve been a little bit under the weather recently and rather busy, so I haven’t had the time to put a proper post together for this week, however I did want to share a somewhat recent acquisition of mine. This 1867 New York Central timetable is the second oldest in my collection (my oldest is from 1864), and is a little bit of a curiosity as it includes descriptions of some of the cities found along the rail line. For example, it describes Rochester as, “having risen from a wilderness in less than half a century,” and explains that, “the first white child born in Rochester is still living near by, in the prime of manhood.”

At this time the New York Central was a mere double track railroad, but it boasts that it is, “regarded in both this country and in Europe, as one of the most important, best managed, and safest lines of iron roads now in existence,” where “so few casualties occur.” Well, that’s one way to market your railroad…

Enjoy this little bit of history, nearly 150 years old.

1867 New York Central timetable

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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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Happy St. Patrick’s Day from I Ride the Harlem Line!

St. Patrick's Day Parade Timetable
A special St. Patrick’s Day parade timetable printed by Metro-North in 1996.

When it comes to the worst day to ride Metro-North Railroad, it is usually a tossup between New Year’s and St. Patrick’s Day. Both involve large crowds of people that have imbibed a bit too much. Most years I think St. Patrick’s is the clear winner (or loser, perhaps?), because when it falls on a work day you have a combination between the regular commmuters and the drunks, and it usually isn’t very fun. After all, I’d rather not step over passed out revelers, or in pools of vomit while heading home after a long day at work, thank you very much.

Thankfully, St. Patrick’s Day falls on a weekend this year, so there will be no clashes between commuters and partiers. Though if you’re feeling brave and looking to go to the parade, Metro-North will be offering extra trains, sans adult beverages. Alas we’re not cool enough to get a special holiday timetable like the one above, but oh well. Either way, we wish all the Irish… and the people pretending to be Irish a happy St. Patrick’s Day!

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Metro North is 30 – A Collection of Tickets, Timetables & more

With Grand Central Terminal celebrating its centennial this year, most people have been so utterly focused on that event that they’ve forgotten another birthday (myself included). Metro-North Railroad is now 30, and has come quite a long way since its inception in 1983. Grand Central was restored to greatness, as opposed to being a dirty homeless shelter. For the most part, especially with the new M8’s, the railroad operates with decent equipment – not whatever the desperate railroad could scrounge up to have enough cars to operate.

Several other commuter rail services that were also run by ConRail in the past, like SEPTA and NJ Transit, are likewise celebrating their 30th anniversaries this year. NJ Transit has been celebrating their 30th by posting some of their first tickets and timetables, and I thought it would be fun to do the same for Metro-North. So here are some timetables, tickets, and other assorted goodness from the early days of Metro-North.

Early Metro-North TimetablesSome of the first Metro-North timetables. You can see the inside of the odd maroon Upper Harlem Line timetable in this previous post.

Metro North Guides
Metro-North published several guide books for riders in the early and mid ’80s.

Cashfares and Seatchecks
Cashfares for the Harlem and Hudson Lines, and some ’80s seatchecks.

Ticket fronts
In the early days, tickets were small little strips like these, similar to the ones previously used by the New York Central and the Penn Central.

Ticket backs
Backs of tickets showing their validation stamps. The ticket windows at each of those stations have since been closed.

In the coming weeks I’ll be sharing some more interesting things from Metro-North’s 30 year history… Happy Birthday, Metro-North!

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