Our previous post featured some of the menus from the New York Central’s most famous train, the 20th Century Limited… but I left one out, as I felt it was appropriate for today. Printed in 1943, World War Two raged on, and much of the country’s resources were devoted to the war effort. Not only did the railroads move troops and materiel, they heavily advertised war bonds on timetables, menus, and even on a giant “billboard” in Grand Central. This particular 20th Century Limited menu featured a large American flag (the 48 star variety, of course) on the back with a little story about what our flag represents. It felt perfect for today! Happy Independence Day from I Ride The Harlem Line!
It seems that everyone today has a GPS navigator in their car. They’re wonderful little devices (in the hands of someone that isn’t an idiot), but they really make you wonder how in the heck anyone got around in the olden days, before GPSes. In fact, even the days before the GPS, where you’d type in your destination in MapQuest and you could print out instructions, seems dreadfully archaic. And even more so, on the road yesterday I saw a woman pulled over to the side consulting a map!
Back in 1907, as is quite obvious, there were no GPSes, thus people had to rely on maps and booklets, like the one I am about to post, to find their way around. But Emily, you say, a historic guide on how to navigate by car from New York City to Poughkeepsie has absolutely nothing to do with trains! Albeit true, the guide is nonetheless has a cursory relation to trains, in that it offers you a glimpse into the mindset of travel in the early 1900’s. Roads, quite frankly, are something we all take for granted (you didn’t build that!). Prior to World War Two, the roads in this country (especially for long distance and intercity) were hardly spectacular. That was certainly a factor in the popularity of railroads at the time. It wasn’t until cars became more common, and roads became far better, that trains lost their status as our preferred mode of transportation.
In all honesty, I never knew that booklets like this – showing turn by turn photographic instructions on where to drive – actually existed until I had discovered this. Since we’ve been covering the Hudson Line the past few months, I figured it was somewhat relevant, as this journey by car parallels both the Hudson River and the railroad, traveling from New York to Poughkeepsie. In some of the turn by turn photographs you can even see what are likely trolley tracks, something you definitely won’t see today. At minimum, it is an interesting look into the past!
What a quaint little drive you just enjoyed! Of course, the fun part is trying to find what each of those places looks like today. Here’s one comparison:
A lot has changed in the past 100 years, huh?
I’ve certainly mentioned it on this blog before… I’m terrible at finishing things. Oh, I am so brilliant at starting them. I always have the most wonderful ideas for things, for projects. But the majority of the time, they never make it out of my head and into reality. And the few that I do happen to act upon, well, many of them are never completed. I am very bad like this.
At least a year ago, maybe even longer, when I first became interested in railroad timetables, I made a little poster showing some of the New York Central’s system timetables over the years. I had just begun to appreciate the functional art that is a timetable, and the little portion of me that endured many art history classes began connecting the stylistic choices with the events of the time. And probably just like every paper I wrote for an art history class, it was comprised of complete and utter bullshit. It seemed to make sense at the time, at least I think it did. Maybe it makes some sense. Hell, maybe it makes complete sense, and logically explains why there were so many stylistic changes on the timetables over the years. I had every intention of posting it, after it was completed. After I, I don’t know, verified some of the grandiose claims that I made? But I never did that. And this sat. And sat. And sat some more, in the dark little recesses of my hard drive, covered in spiderwebs, with crickets chirping merely to hear their own voices, out of complete and utter loneliness.
Today, however, I am crazy enough to post this, mostly because the former project, which I had high hopes for, was calling out to me for some reason. It wants the chance to see the light of day. I doubt I’ll ever do anything with this beyond this post, but if there are any other art-slash-rail-history folks out there that would like to discuss this, I might enjoy that.
I don’t want to be an ass in saying this comment, but really, I wonder how trains function in the United States. Commuter trains and subways, like the ones in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Chicago, and other places across the country make sense to me. They are practical, and they don’t take too long. By the time I was twenty, I had been to the city a million times, all by train. We never drove. Driving took probably around the same time as the train, and you didn’t have to worry about parking, and tolls, and traffic. Taking the train is not too expensive, as well. It just makes sense. I can count the number of times I have gone to the city by car on one hand. And the first time was when I was twenty.
But how does Amtrak work? I’ve only been on Amtrak twice, going to Florida and back with my grandmother that has a minor phobia of planes. I’ve thought of taking the Lake Shore Limited to Chicago, but that is only because I like trains, and I think it would be cool to ride what was once known as “The Water Level Route.” But other than having a phobia of planes, and being a railfan, why would I want to take Amtrak? Searching up prices, I can get a round trip flight to Orlando for July 4th for $193. That ride takes two and a half hours. Or, with Amtrak, I could ride for twenty-two hours, and pay a whopping $423. Why would anyone want to pay more than double for a trip that takes more than seven times as long? In Japan I took the bullet train to Kyoto, which in terms of time and price is very close to flying. Close enough to compete, anyways. But then that just goes back to the usual argument that the US wanted their Interstate System, while other countries, especially Japan, concentrated on rail.
That sort of demonstrates my mind-set when I think about trains. There are some times when I read about their history, that I am completely and utterly baffled by how important they once were. Rail was the way that products and people were transported. And during World War II, trains were an integral part of the war effort. The New York Central operated personnel trains, mail trains, equipment freight, and even hospital trains. An average of two million troops per month were transported over the NY Central system during WW2. I always love looking at old advertisements, so today I have a collection of old New York Central magazine advertisements from the war years. Each advertisement depicts a different scene or use for the wartime trains: from riding the 20th Century Limited, to troop trains, to the fully equipped surgery suite on an army hospital train.
It is interesting to note that part of the reason why we have the Interstate System today can be attributed to the war. President Eisenhower pushed for the Interstate System, especially after experiencing the German autobahn while he served in World War II. He had also been associated with the Transcontinental Motor Convoy which drove from Washington DC to San Francisco, and took sixty-two days. That sort of puts it in perspective, how roads in between cities were back then. Today if you drove non-stop and managed to avoid traffic, you could drive that in two days. Sixty-two days, no wonder why people took the train!