Railroad Record Club Treasure Hunt, Part 2

1 Selection of Steventon tapes mostly unreleased

1 Selection of Steventon tapes mostly unreleased

Following up on our recent post William A. Steventon’s Railroad Record Club (September 24, 2018), guest author Kenneth Gear continues with a detailed rundown on his latest discoveries.

I have been interested in historic preservation for a long time, and it’s not every day that anyone comes across original material such as this. Suddenly, out of nowhere it seems, previously unknown, unissued audio recordings have emerged for some long-vanished steam and electric railroads, along with 16mm motion picture film, and various artifacts related to the Railroad Record Club’s 42 issued LPs, in their various forms. It seems like a miracle that somehow, it all survived to be rescued from oblivion.

Getting this done involved a tremendous financial sacrifice on Ken’s part, as he is of modest means. I hope that he will be able to recoup at least some of his substantial investment in the future. I am sure he will appreciate any contributions you may be able to offer him, towards the cost of transferring some of these reel-to-reel tapes and 16mm movie films to digital.

You can find Part 1 here: Railroad Record Club Treasure Hunt (July 30, 2017)

-David Sadowski

PS- Our new book Building Chicago’s Subways is now available for immediate shipment.  If you already pre-ordered it, your copy is already on its way to you.  We are excited to have had the opportunity to tell the story of this exciting chapter in Chicago history.  Details on how to order are at the end of this post.

Railroad Record Club Treasure Hunt, Part 2

It’s been over a year since I acquired a large portion of the William Steventon estate. The Railroad Record Club items that I purchased last year have enabled David and I to piece together a fairly complete history of the RRC and to more fully appreciate the time and effort Mr. Steventon put into producing these records. The homemade 78rpm records alone proved to be an invaluable resource. Not only did they provide us with some wonderful recordings, most of which hadn’t been heard in over fifty years, they revealed the pre-history of the club and offered a glimpse into the infancy of railroad field recording.

We were able to hear the very first railroad recording Steventon made– B&O trains at Riverdale, Maryland in 1953. We also finally completed our quest to get a copy of every single released RRC record digitized and put on CDs. We are now only in need of two samplers, the 5th and 6th years. More interesting information was garnered from examining original record jacket artwork and paste up boards, as well as the metal print blocks. We were also able to compile a list of records re-issued on 12″ stock and find out what was necessary for it to happen and the cost of doing it.

Photographs from his personal collection were scanned and published in the Trolley Dodger for all to enjoy. I think the effort that went into keeping all this material from ending up in a dumpster was well worth the time and expense and I’m happy to have been involved.

In spite of this, I knew the job was only half finished. There was much more that needed to be saved and time was running out. Those tapes I wrote about under the heading “what I left behind” in the first treasure hunt story needed to be preserved. There were still a big box of photos, reams of correspondence, the metal master discs for the 12″ reissues and lots and lots of sealed records.

The estate dealer was quite adamant that this stuff had to go…and quickly! I purchased all that I could, but I certainly could not afford to buy anything else and asked for some time to raise the money. As I tried to come up with the extra cash needed, months went by and the emails ceased. For a while it seemed that all this great material would be lost. Still, I squirreled away what money I could when I could and slowly, much too slowly, I approached his asking price. With the funds in hand, I emailed the estate dealer putting in the subject line that I HAD the money for the remaining Steventon estate items. Even as I composed that email I couldn’t be sure that the entire lot wasn’t already in some land fill rotting away. He answered me the next day, but it seemed a lot longer then that to me. His first two sentences were a relief:  

Ken, good to hear from you.  Yes, it is all as we left it a year ago.

There was one complication that needed to be addressed. I could not make the trip up to him in Wisconsin this year as I had done before. All the items would have to be shipped to me in New Jersey.

The estate dealer was agreeable to packing up the items and doing the weighing and making the transportation arrangements, but again there was a complication. This was his busy season and he would be working extensively out of town.  He would not be able to devote much time to this effort for the next few weeks. A little progress was made here and there through the rest of June and I purchased boxes and packing material in July. I was a little apprehensive about shipping old open reel tapes and vinyl records during the hottest part of the summer anyway, so I just had to be patient. In early August progress was made and on the 13th I received the long-awaited email:

The last box is packed.  You’ll have a pallet coming that’s right around 400 pounds, perhaps a touch over.  Nine boxes to be delivered to the YRC terminal. 

Several more delays would still be encountered, not the lest of which was the local hardware store’s forklift needing repairs. The hardware store, for a $20 fee, would be used to lift the pallet onto the truck. At last, in early September, with all hurdles cleared, a newly-repaired forklift placed the shipment on to the truck. Finally, the second half of the Steventon estate’s Railroad Record Club items were on their way to me.

A few days later I heading to the local YRC terminal to receive the long-awaited shipment. After some paperwork in the office, I backed a borrowed ¾-ton pick-up truck to the indicated bay. Soon a forklift lowered the last of the Railroad Record Club items from the Steventon estate into the truck bed. I now had a night of treasure hunting to look forward to!

I had sort of “cherry picked” the first half of the estate, so I knew that a great unexpected find was rather doubtful, but I did come across a few surprises.

THE TAPES

2 Tapes appear to be in good condition

2 Tapes appear to be in good condition

3 Tape with hand written track listing

3 Tape with hand written track listing

4 More unreleased Steventon audio

4 More unreleased Steventon audio

5 Lots of interesting material on these tapes

5 Lots of interesting material on these tapes

6 Still more intersting tapes

6 Still more intersting tapes

7 Unreleased audio this is why I bought the whole lot

7 Unreleased audio this is why I bought the whole lot

8 Steventon tapes

8 Steventon tapes

9 More Stevnton tapes

9 More Stevnton tapes

10 Even more tapes

10 Even more tapes

11 Small reels -the master tapes for the 78rpm records

11 Small reels -the master tapes for the 78rpm records

12 Another view of the Small reels -the master tapes for the 78rpm records

12 Another view of the Small reels -the master tapes for the 78rpm records

13 A box full of the Small reels -the master tapes for the 78rpm records

13 A box full of the Small reels -the master tapes for the 78rpm records

14 Close up of the 78rpm record master tapes

14 Close up of the 78rpm record master tapes

15 Another Close up of the 78rpm record master tapes

15 Another Close up of the 78rpm record master tapes

16 78rpm master tapes showing condition of tapes-not too bad

16 78rpm master tapes showing condition of tapes-not too bad

17 close up of 78rpm master tape showing condition

17 close up of 78rpm master tape showing condition

18 BC Electric and Montreal & South Counties tapes with Steventon letter

18 BC Electric and Montreal & South Counties tapes with Steventon letter

19 Montreal & South Counties tape with Steventon letter

19 Montreal & South Counties tape with Steventon letter

20 BC Electric tape with Steventon letter

20 BC Electric tape with Steventon letter

21 Close up of the BC Electric and Montreal & South Counties tapes

21 Close up of the BC Electric and Montreal & South Counties tapes

22 Railroad Record Club Master tapes

22 Railroad Record Club Master tapes

23 Master tape for record 26

23 Master tape for record 26

24 A stack of 22 Railroad Record Club Master tapes

24 A stack of 22 Railroad Record Club Master tapes

25 master tape Railroad Record Club number 16

25 master tape Railroad Record Club number 16

26 master tape Railroad Record Club number 15

26 master tape Railroad Record Club number 15

27 master tape Railroad Record Club with memo

27 master tape Railroad Record Club with memo

28 master tape Railroad Record Club number 17

28 master tape Railroad Record Club number 17

29 master tape Railroad Record Club number 18

29 master tape Railroad Record Club number 18

30 Note on box containing master tape Railroad Record Club number 18

30 Note on box containing master tape Railroad Record Club number 18

31 Two master tapes for record number 3

31 Two master tapes for record number 3

32 Two master tapes for record number 3 showing condition

32 Two master tapes for record number 3 showing condition

33 master tape Railroad Record Club number 7

33 master tape Railroad Record Club number 7

34 master tapes Railroad Record Club number 10

34 master tapes Railroad Record Club number 10

35 master tape Railroad Record Club number 23 with memo

35 master tape Railroad Record Club number 23 with memo

36 master tape Railroad Record Club number 17

36 master tape Railroad Record Club number 17

The reel to reel tapes that I had left behind last year were the real reason I went to all this trouble and expense to acquire the rest of the estate. I’m sure I did not get any of the tapes that were actually in Steventon’s recorder when he was trackside, but they may no longer exist. Perhaps he transferred these “field tapes” to newer tape stock, in an effort to preserve them and some of these duplicates are what I received. There is at least one recording I know he made that is not among my tapes. In the liner notes of Record Number 20, Steventon writes that the cab ride onboard NYC # 1441 with his father at the throttle was edited down from over two hours of tape. I would have been very happy to find 4 or 5 reels of tape marked “cab ride with Dad” but it was not to be. What I did find, however, is some very good and interesting stuff, most of which has never been released on a Railroad Record Club LP.

One tape that was a bit of a surprise was a 4″ reel of tape marked NYS&W. Of all the railroads in the New York area, why the Susquehanna? If he recorded this tape while in New York to ride and record the Queensboro Bridge trolley, which had to be prior to April 1957 when that line shut down, then why not record PRR K-4s on the New York & Long Branch which lasted until October of that year? Or all those electric locomotives on the NYC and NYNH&H? Perhaps he did record some or all these railroads and I just don’t have the tapes. Anything is possible, but I have found no evidence that he ever did. I’ll just have to wait until I have the NYS&W tape put on CD to find out just what the attraction may have been.

Other interesting finds include three 5″ reels of a fan trip operated by the Northern Pacific Railroad on June 20, 1957. 4-8-4 # 2686 pulled the train from St. Paul, MN to Staples. One tape is labeled “NP 2686-LV MPLS,” the second NP 2686 coal dock stop,” and the last, “NP 2686 LV Staples.” There was also a negative of the NP 2686 at Staples found among the photographs. Other steam and/or diesel tapes are labeled “CPR,” “NKP Ft. Wayne,” “N&W,” and “Soo Line.”

The traction fans among us will be happy to know there is plenty for them. The CNS&M has several tapes devoted to it. One tape is marked “CNS&M switching at Rondout and Mundelein”. There is a cut on Record 26 of locomotive # 459 switching at Rondout, but not at Mundelein. Another North Shore tape is marked “Mundelein Run” and another simply ” Mundelein”. One more CNS&M tape has “Electroliner” written on the box.

There is a tape marked “ITS 202”, apparently Steventon preferred Illinois Traction System to Illinois Terminal. On Record 25 Steventon wrote in the liner notes, “We had just arrived (at Harristown, IL) on interurban No. 202 where we had made an “on train” recording east from Springfield. We alighted and watched the 202 fade into the distance. This was the last sight and sound we had of the Illinois Terminal as an interurban. The “on train” recording of 202 and a streamliner is scheduled for release at a later date.” It never was. I don’t know about the streamliner recording, I may or may not have it, but I will consider it a privilege to be involved with releasing the 202 recording for him.

There are also tapes of the Cedar Rapids & Iowa City (CRANDIC), Charles City Western, Toledo & Eastern, and Capital Transit. Canadian traction fans are not overlooked either. There is a 5″ reel of the Niagara, St. Catharines & Toronto Railway. There are also two 5″ reels, one each, of the BC Electric and the Montreal & Southern Counties. These two tapes were recorded by Eugene Van Dusen, and the accompanying letter to Steventon, plus a copy of it sent to Elwin Purington, were found among some RRC papers I have. Another reel of tape not recorded by Steventon is “Cincinnati Street Railway Car 187 12/13/51.” Finding this was a nice surprise. I don’t know who did record it, but Steventon did not start making recordings until 1953.

Here is the entire list of the tape reels, excluding 21/2″ reels which I’ll list separately, and the master tapes for the LPs,

REEL TO REEL TAPES

INFORMATION MARKED ON TAPE BOXES

4″ reels:

1. NYS&W

5″ reels:

1. CPR-J. Van Brocklin
2. Soo Line
3. T&E NKP Diesel-NKP Ft. Wayne
4. N&W
5. N&W from Salem
6. N&W Billy + Larry on end
7. NP 2686 Lv Mpls-6/20/57
8. NP 2686 coal dock stop
9. NP 2686 Lv Staples
10. B. C. Electric
11. Montreal & Southern Counties
12. Potomac Edison #5
13. Potomac Edison H&F last run radio program
14. CNS&M -switching at Rondout and Mundelein
15. Mundelein Run
16. Capital Transit co 1151
17. ITS car 202
18. Cedar Rapids and Iowa City 5/31/53
19. CCW 5/18/54*
20. CCW CC to Colwell
21. Toledo & Eastern
22. PRR GG-1s

7″ reels:

1. Railroading in Spooner Wisconsin
2. CNS&M Electroliner
3. N. St. C & Toronto
4. Johnstown Traction and Altoona & Logan Valley
5. Cincinnati Street Railway car 187 12/13/51

The next bunch of tapes are smaller reels. These 21/2″ reels are in their original manufacture’s boxes and are marked only with a Railroad name and a catalog number. The catalog numbers correspond with the catalog numbers on the 10″ 78rpm acetate records that I acquired with the first half of the estate. As producing these records was a very time-consuming task, Steventon saved time by making a master tape for each record. The master tape would contain his spoken introductions followed by the train sounds. I bought over sixty of these small master tapes, and a large number have never been put on the regular Railroad Record Club releases. They contain sounds of railroads I was completely unaware Steventon ever recorded, such as L&N, Southern, and Virginian. This collection also contains the Queensboro Bridge trolley, the IND subway, and the Third Avenue EL recordings Steventon made in New York City.

21/2″ reels:

1. Potomac Edison, 4 reels
2. Shenandoah Central, 2 reels
3. Capital Transit, 3 reels
4. Altoona & Logan Valley, 2 reels
5. B&O, 9 reels
6. Shaker Heights RT, 3 reels
7. PRR, 5 reels
8. NKP, 1 reel
9. St. Louis PS, 1 reel
10. Illinois Terminal, 2 reels
11. ICRR 3 reels
12. N&W, 1 reel
13. WM Rwy, 1 reel
14. Baltimore Transit, 2 reels
15. Senate Subway, 1 reel
16. Scranton Transit, 1 reel
17. Rochester Subway, 1 reel
18. CB&Q, 2 reels
19. Niagara, St. C & T, 2 reels
20. Virginian, 2 reels
21. Southern, 2 reels
22. Queensboro Bridge, 2 reels
23. Wabash, 1 reel
24. Third Ave. EL, 2 reels
25. Soo Line, 5 reels
26. L&N, 2 reels
27. St. Elizabeth Hospital, 1 reel (used steam switcher to move coal hoppers)
28. Omaha Road, 1 reel
29. NYC IND Subway, 1 reel
30. Unidentified, 4 reels

This is not a complete set of all the master tapes made for the 78rpm records to be sure, but it’s most of them. I consider it a small miracle that any survive at all! I am not an audio expert, but in my opinion, uninformed as it may be, these tapes appear to be in reasonably good condition. I would think that the tapes would be able to withstand a few more plays, enough to be digitized at least. Neither David nor I have the equipment to attempt this and I think it would be ill advised of us to try anyway. The tapes are old and were not stored in archival conditions. I’m sure the prudent course of action is to entrust any work on them to a professional.

The last batch of tapes are the master tapes made for the released Railroad Record Club LPs. There are different size reels, some tapes are only of one side of the LP while others have both sides on the same reel. Some are in good condition and some are not. Some I have multiple copies of and a few of the LPs I have no tapes for, Rather then make a complete list of every reel I will simply list the few LPs I have NO master tapes for.

No master tapes:

RRC 21
RRC 24
RRC 29
RRC 31
RRC SP-2
RRC SP-4
RRC SP-6

Most of these reels are 7″ with only a few smaller or larger. The most interesting master tapes are the reels for RRC 3 EBT/D&RGW. There are two 7″ reels that most likely have the original release version of the record, the one with William Steventon’s narration. There are also two 5″ reels, one marked “sounds only” and the other labeled “Narrative.” Since Steventon removed his voice from the 12″reissue of the record, the “Narrative” tape must contain just the voice of Elwin Purington doing the new narration.

I’m not sure just what to do with these master tapes. Some are in rough shape and all these sounds are on the released Railroad Record Club LPs. It certainly would be a considerable expense to digitize them all and no new sounds would be gained. For now, I’ll store them in the best possible conditions that I can provide and perhaps one day a clear path of action will present itself.

MOVIE FILMS

1 Steventon Film that should be all trains

1 Steventon Film that should be all trains

2 Capital Transit B&W Night Film

2 Capital Transit B&W Night Film

3 Steventon film

3 Steventon film

4 Pennsy and B&O film

4 Pennsy and B&O film

5 Back of Kodachrome box

5 Back of Kodachrome box

6 Front of kodachrome box

6 Front of kodachrome box

I found several rolls of 16mm movie film within the boxes of audio tapes. Fortunately, Steventon was very good at labeling everything. He inserted little slips of paper into the film boxes listing the contents of the films. Unfortunately, the majority are family home movies. Most are of Steventon’s son Seth. His first day of school, Christmases, and birthday parties. There were six 100-foot reels that should be all trains.

16mm movies;

1. 100-foot reel but only about 50 feet of film. Labeled “Pennsy Fan Trip and B&O near Riverdale.”
2. 100-foot reel, full, labeled “Canada Term”. I’m not sure what that is supposed to indicate. I unspooled a few feet of film and the first few frames are without a doubt a steeple cab locomotive.
3. 100-foot reel, full, B&W, labeled “Cap Transit Night Film.”
4. 100-foot reel, full, labeled “EBT Reel 1.”
5. 100-foot reel, full, labeled “EBT Reel 2.”
6. 100-foot reel, full, labeled “Negative 1R Freight” Also written on box “bad footage.”

PRINT BLOCKS

1 Selection of print blocks

1 Selection of print blocks

2 More print blocks

2 More print blocks

3 Still more print blocks

3 Still more print blocks

4. Print block for very early RRC traction logo

4. Print block for very early RRC traction logo

5. Railroad Record Club logo print block

5. Railroad Record Club logo print block

6 Another style Railroad Record Club logo print block

6 Another style Railroad Record Club logo print block

7 Interurban car fron LP Sound Scrapbook-Traction

7 Interurban car fron LP Sound Scrapbook-Traction

8 Interurban car fron LP Sound Scrapbook-Traction in two sizes

8 Interurban car fron LP Sound Scrapbook-Traction in two sizes

9 PRR steamer from 1st edition of RRC 10 in two sizes

9 PRR steamer from 1st edition of RRC 10 in two sizes

10 D&RGW locomotive from the 1st edition of the LP the Siverton Train

10 D&RGW locomotive from the 1st edition of the LP the Siverton Train

11A Print block for NKP LP

11A Print block for NKP LP

12 Ad for RRC 25

12 Ad for RRC 25

13 Ad for RRC 25 reversed

13 Ad for RRC 25 reversed

14 Print block for large ad

14 Print block for large ad

15 Print block for large ad reversed

15 Print block for large ad reversed

16 Ad for traction watch fobs

16 Ad for traction watch fobs

17 Ad for steam LPs

17 Ad for steam LPs

18 Ad for steam LPs reversed

18 Ad for steam LPs reversed

19 Strange RRC ad

19 Strange RRC ad

20 Strange RRC ad printed version

20 Strange RRC ad printed version

I also acquired a good number of print blocks, which are mostly quite small and were used in the RRC advertisements.  I have a bunch of print blocks of the LP covers, all about the size of a postage stamp. They were used in ads and in the catalogs. There are a few complete ads that mostly feature a single record release. One large ad of interest is a very 1960’s, almost psychedelic illustration of a steam locomotive looming over a record player. Smoke is shooting from it’s stack and entwined within the billows of smoke are such things as a whistle blowing, a box cab electric locomotive, and a steam train. LPs are seen flying through the air and the words “steam and electric recordings” in twisted snake-like lettering fills the upper portion. Wild and unexpected. I would certainly like to know if this ad ever appeared anywhere in print.

I did not make a list of these small print blocks, there are just too many. I did photograph a representative selection of them. These photos will give a good idea of what is in the collection.

RECORDS

1 41 copies of RRC 3

1 41 copies of RRC 3

2 18 copies of RRC 5

2 18 copies of RRC 5

3 RCA test pressing for Sound Scrapbook Steam showing notation on upper left of sleeve

3 RCA test pressing for Sound Scrapbook Steam showing notation on upper left of sleeve

4 RCA test pressing for Illinois Terminal one of only 3 good discs

4 RCA test pressing for Illinois Terminal one of only 3 good discs

5 Back of RCA test pressing for Illinois Terminal

5 Back of RCA test pressing for Illinois Terminal

6 Close up of RCA test pressing for Illinois Terminal

6 Close up of RCA test pressing for Illinois Terminal

7 Close up of RCA test pressing for NKP

7 Close up of RCA test pressing for NKP

8 RCA test pressing for CN showing damage

8 RCA test pressing for CN showing damage

9 Metal press stamp

9 Metal press stamp

10 Metal press stamp with cardboard sleeve

10 Metal press stamp with cardboard sleeve

11 RRC Nashville Metal press stamp

11 RRC Nashville Metal press stamp

12 Metal press stamps in cardboard sleeves for RRC4 B&O

12 Metal press stamps in cardboard sleeves for RRC4 B&O

13 3 RRC Nashville Metal press stamps

13 3 RRC Nashville Metal press stamps

14 Metal press stamp for RRC LP

14 Metal press stamp for RRC LP

15 Railroad Record Club SP-4 boxes and sleeves

15 Railroad Record Club SP-4 boxes and sleeves

16 Record jackets for each of the 3 records in the SP-4 set

16 Record jackets for each of the 3 records in the SP-4 set

17 Label for 1st edition of record 1 side 1 of RRC-SP4

17 Label for 1st edition of record 1 side 1 of RRC-SP4

18 Label for 2nd edition of record 1 side 1 of RRC-SP4

18 Label for 2nd edition of record 1 side 1 of RRC-SP4

19 Label for 3rd edition of record 1 side 1 of RRC-SP4

19 Label for 3rd edition of record 1 side 1 of RRC-SP4

Since the estate dealer would only sell me the tapes unless I bought the entire lot, including the remainder of the RRC LP stock, I had no choice but to buy them. I’ll admit I would not have wanted to see all these mint condition, still sealed LPs go in the trash, but what am I going to do with them and where am I going to store them? These questions I’m still contemplating. However, these concerns are secondary to preserving and digitizing the tapes. I have a few options, I can rent a table at a few railroadiania swap meets, contact a few local hobby stores and see if they are willing to sell some, and David and I have been thinking of making them available through the blog.

I’ll have to carefully consider my options. It would be nice to make a little of my money back and put it towards digitizing tapes. For the record, here is a list of the 12″ remasters. They are all still sealed and, for the most part, in mint condition. A few may have a bend or crease in the jackets and a few copies of RRC 20 have brown water stains in the lower right corner.

12″ remaster LPs:

41 copies of RRC 3, EBT/D&RGW
18 copies of RRC 5, D7rgw
36 copies of RRC 8 CN
29 copies of RRC 3 15, CB&Q
34 copies of RRC 16, Westside Lumber
25 copies of RRC 20, NYC/C&IM (6 copies have water damage)
15 copies of RRC 26, CNS&M Freight
22 copies of RRC 29, NKP 779

Included with the unsold record stock were several mint copies of the original 10″ LPs:

10″ LPs:
1 copy RRC 2, WCF&N
1 copy RRC 4, B&O
2 copies of RRC 5, D&RGW
1 copy RRC 7, N&W
1 copy RRC 8, CN
1 copy RRC 10, PRR
1 copy RRC 16, Westside Lumber
1 copy RRC 17, Soo Line
1 copy RRC 19, DM&IR
1 copy RRC 20, NYC/C&IM
8 copies of RRC 28, Charles City Western
1 copy RRC 29, NKP 779
1 copy RRC SP-2 NP 2626

Twenty-four RCA test pressing were included in the sale, ten 12″ pressings and fourteen 10″. All these pressings are stamped on one side only and on the paper sleeve of two of the 12″ pressings there is a hand-written note: “Masters will be 12 inch”. This is the one rather disheartening part of the story. All but three of these test pressings are in very poor condition. The accrete has flaked off in large chips. When I removed the disc from the paper sleeve to determine its condition, a black snowfall often resulted. I’m not sure what to do with these, they are really just trash now. I will photograph the label of each one for my archive but after that, I just don’t know. The three good discs are two 12″ pressings for both sides of RRC 15, CB&Q. It’s lucky that the only undamaged 12″ RCA test pressings are for the two sides of the same record. The one good 10″ disc is for side 2 of RRC 25, Illinois Terminal.

The metal stamping plates vary in condition. I was able to inspect these plates while at the dealer’s property last July, so I knew what to expect. I turned them down last year to save my money for what I considered the good stuff, the artwork and 78rpm records. All the original RCA stamp plates were lost in 1973, necessitating the 12″ remaster program. These plates are the Nashville-made stamps made in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s. As I remember it, all 17 master plates were in the dealer’s warehouse. I only looked at them briefly but the top few were scratched and dented. Now, if I wanted the tapes, I had to buy them. Here I did a little dealing. Since these plates were a bit heavier than the records and I was paying for shipment by the pound, I convinced the dealer to choose a few of the stamps that were in the best condition. Those in poor condition he would not charge me for and he could discard them. The archivist in me wanted to save them all, but compromises must occasionally be made.

In all I got twelve of these stamps, five are 14″ and 7 are 12″.

I ended up with a bunch of returned records as well. Numbering somewhere around fifteen or twenty, these records were returned by buyers dissatisfied with them.  Most of them have a note attached with the buyer’s name and his complaint. Things such as scratches, surface noise, and various clicks and pops were the most often cited reasons for the return.

An interesting find was various copies of the records that comprise the three-record set of SP-4. I was able to put together a set of each of the three pressings this set had. A surprise was a set of these records not in the display box that they came in, but in three separate record jackets. Each jacket had the same drawing of CSS&SB MU #108 that appeared on the box lid. Perhaps this was some sort of test printing or the original idea for the jackets. I may never know but I’m sure it is a unique set.

PHOTOGRAPHS

NP 4-8-4 2686

NP 4-8-4 2686

CA&E Elgin train on street in Aurora IL 1931

CA&E Elgin train on street in Aurora IL 1931

Capital Transit PCC and bus Catholic University

Capital Transit PCC and bus Catholic University

D&RGW 476 locomotive featured on SP-1

D&RGW 476 locomotive featured on SP-1

D&RGW 481

D&RGW 481

Des Moines & Central Iowa car 1710

Des Moines & Central Iowa car 1710

EBT 15 on a rainy day very likely while record 3 was being recorded

EBT 15 on a rainy day very likely while record 3 was being recorded

Evansville & Ohio Valley car 134

Evansville & Ohio Valley car 134

Ill Terminal car 285

Ill Terminal car 285

Ill Terminal local on Caldwell Hill East Pearia about 1936

Ill Terminal local on Caldwell Hill East Pearia about 1936

Indiana box car 550

Indiana box car 550

Indiana RR 752 waiting for loads at mine scale

Indiana RR 752 waiting for loads at mine scale

Indiana RR car 64

Indiana RR car 64

Indiana RR car 93 at Anderson IN September 4 1938

Indiana RR car 93 at Anderson IN September 4 1938

Indiana RR Vigo with rails ripped out.

Indiana RR Vigo with rails ripped out.

Interstate car 711 ex-IPSC 427 September 3 1939

Interstate car 711 ex-IPSC 427 September 3 1939

Interstate car 711 on shop siding west of Greencastle June 3 1939

Interstate car 711 on shop siding west of Greencastle June 3 1939

Interurban car 44 and REA truck Rosslyn VA

Interurban car 44 and REA truck Rosslyn VA

MC&CL RR car 34

MC&CL RR car 34

MC&CL Steeple cab 52

MC&CL Steeple cab 52

Nice right of way photo but no info other than date March 31 1936

Nice right of way photo but no info other than date March 31 1936

S T F Co RR 54 Farmington MO

S T F Co RR 54 Farmington MO

Unidentified car and person

Unidentified car and person

Unidentified steeple cab locomotive

Unidentified steeple cab locomotive

Unidentified steeple cab locomotive photo 2

Unidentified steeple cab locomotive photo 2

Waterloo Cedar Falls & Northern car 100 this car is featured on RRC 2

Waterloo Cedar Falls & Northern car 100 this car is featured on RRC 2

Here again I had to do a little dealing. I went quickly through the box of Steventon photos last year, choosing about 20 photos to purchase. The box contained a mix of railroad photos and family snap shots. The family photos outnumbered the trains. Again, I did not want to pay for, or have the added weight of photos that were just going to be tossed away. Steventon’s son was the one who sold all this family history in the first place, so I saw no reason to try and get it back to him. The dealer agreed to sort the photos and sell and ship only railroad photos. He would discard the unwanted photos.

In all there are 135 photos of railroad equipment, mostly traction subjects. Some have complete caption information, and some have nothing. There are 23 photos of active traction right-of-ways but no caption information. 24 photos of abandoned traction right-of-ways have no captions. I cannot be sure if it is a “before” and “after” series of 27 photos. I also received 11 steam negatives, the aforementioned NP 4-8-4 # 2686 (two almost identical shots at Staples, MN) and several D&RGW narrow gauge roster photos. There is one EBT negative and a shot of a steam tractor.  I haven’t had time to scan all of these photos yet, but they will appear in the Trolley Dodger as I do. For now, here are a few scans to whet your appetite.

DOCUMENTS

Stack of prints of Soo 2715

Stack of prints of Soo 2715

VHS VIDEO TAPES 

There was one last surprise waiting for me. There are eight VHS video tapes in the estate lot, seven of which were professionally produced programs of traction subjects, several of which Steventon provided audio for. One tape on a store-bought blank was labeled simply “Railroad Programs”. I thought it was most likely a tape of TV shows about trains, but I popped it in the player just to see. It turned out to be a recording of a presentation that Steventon made to a local historical society. The video quality is bad, but you can hear everything he says perfectly.

It’s all really basic stuff, what you would expect him to present to a general audience. Such things as the appeal of a steam locomotive, the nicknames of various railroad job positions like “Hogger” for engineer etc.  He then gets into the “sound portion” of his talk. He has a reel to reel tape player with him, and he explains the use of whistle signals and then plays a cut of a B&O EM-1 from Record number 4, noting the “two longs-a short-and another long” signal for a road crossing. He then goes into how a steam locomotive gains traction. Here he plays the sequence of SOO Line 2718 backing off the wye track from the intro record. He stops the tape at places to note the change in the locomotive’s sound and what that indicates to the engineer. Next, he talks about the use of torpedoes as a signaling device and plays a cut from Record number 8. He never says that these sounds are from his records. In fact, he never mentions that he ever sold records and the Railroad Record Club is not once referenced.

He eventually brings out a chart of steam locomotive wheel arrangements.  He walks out of frame with it, but you can still hear what he is saying. At some point someone thinks to pan the camera around, but the view is only the back of the chart!

By the time he finishes with the chart, the program has gone on for about 40 minutes. Now he introduces “Whistle ‘Round the Bend” and plays the entire record, all 30 minutes. While the camera never moves during this, and Steventon just sits there listening, it’s a bit of a poignant moment. The video quality, as I said, is poor, and he is in the center of a wide shot, but it’s still possible to see that he is moved by the words and sounds he his hearing.

While little information is given about how, where, or when the sounds he played were recorded a little more personal stuff is revealed. He tells of the day in 1936 that his mother died. His father was at work and needed to get home. The NYC put every opposing train on the siding and he had green signals the whole way. He also tells us that he was a sickly child and his father took him onboard the locomotive with him, even against the rules, because he wanted to spend time with him, and make William happy, as the doctors said he may not survive into adulthood.  With this video I was able to “know” William Steventon just a little bit better.

As I have these tapes put on to CD, they will be offered for sale in the online store. I bought these tapes not to just save them from destruction, but to have them made available to everyone who may be interested. I think that is perhaps the best way to ensure these historic sounds are preserved. Not just as a tribute to the people who recorded them who are now gone, but to ensure these sounds will endure to instruct and entertain future railfans long after we are gone too.

-Kenneth Gear

New Steam Audio CD:

FTS
Farewell To Steam
Mister D’s Machine
# of Discs – 1
Price: $14.99

Farewell To Steam
On February 6, 1955 the Santa Fe Railway ran a railfan train from Los Angeles to Barstow and back for the Railway Club of Southern California. This was Santa Fe’s last run powered by a steam locomotive over this route. The engine was a 4-8-4, #3759. We have used the original, rare 1955 mono version of this recording, and not the later 1958 reissue that had a bunch of echo added to create a fake stereo effect.

Mister D’s Machine
When diesel locomotives replaced steam in the 1950s, they offered a multitude of different sounds. This original 1963 stereo recording showcases the many sounds of diesels on the San Joaquin and Los Angeles Divisions of the Southern Pacific, including the Tahachappi Loop, an engineering feat that made modern railroading famous.

As with all of our recordings, this CD comes with the complete, original liner notes.

Total time – 72:56

Order Our New Book Building Chicago’s Subways

There are three subway anniversaries this year in Chicago:
60 years since the West Side Subway opened (June 22, 1958)
75 years since the State Street Subway opened (October 17, 1943)
80 years since subway construction started (December 17, 1938)

To commemorate these anniversaries, we have written a new book, Building Chicago’s Subways.

While the elevated Chicago Loop is justly famous as a symbol of the city, the fascinating history of its subways is less well known. The City of Chicago broke ground on what would become the “Initial System of Subways” during the Great Depression and finished 20 years later. This gigantic construction project, a part of the New Deal, would overcome many obstacles while tunneling through Chicago’s soft blue clay, under congested downtown streets, and even beneath the mighty Chicago River. Chicago’s first rapid transit subway opened in 1943 after decades of wrangling over routes, financing, and logistics. It grew to encompass the State Street, Dearborn-Milwaukee, and West Side Subways, with the latter modernizing the old Garfield Park “L” into the median of Chicago’s first expressway. Take a trip underground and see how Chicago’s “I Will” spirit overcame challenges and persevered to help with the successful building of the subways that move millions. Building Chicago’s subways was national news and a matter of considerable civic pride–making it a “Second City” no more!

Bibliographic information:

Title Building Chicago’s Subways
Images of America
Author David Sadowski
Edition illustrated
Publisher Arcadia Publishing (SC), 2018
ISBN 1467129380, 9781467129381
Length 128 pages

Chapter Titles:
01. The River Tunnels
02. The Freight Tunnels
03. Make No Little Plans
04. The State Street Subway
05. The Dearborn-Milwaukee Subway
06. Displaced
07. Death of an Interurban
08. The Last Street Railway
09. Subways and Superhighways
10. Subways Since 1960

Building Chicago’s Subways is in stock and now available for immediate shipment. Order your copy today!  All copies purchased through The Trolley Dodger will be signed by the author.

The price of $23.99 includes shipping within the United States.

For Shipping to US Addresses:

For Shipping to Canada:

For Shipping Elsewhere:

Redone tile at the Monroe and Dearborn CTA Blue Line subway station, showing how an original sign was incorporated into a newer design, May 25, 2018. (David Sadowski Photo)

Redone tile at the Monroe and Dearborn CTA Blue Line subway station, showing how an original sign was incorporated into a newer design, May 25, 2018. (David Sadowski Photo)

Help Support The Trolley Dodger

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William A. Steventon’s Railroad Record Club

William Steventon

William Steventon

Today’s post is the first of two by Kenneth Gear, long a friend of this blog. We have great news to report– Ken has finally been able to purchase all the remaining Railroad Record Club items from the dealer that purchased them many years ago from the estate of William A. Steventon, who died 25 years ago.

Ken details all that in another post, Railroad Record Club Treasure Hunt, Part 2. These new discoveries have enabled him to offer what is, to my knowledge, the first-ever comprehensive and factual history of William A. Steventon’s Railroad Record Club.

Thanks in great part to Ken’s dedication and persistence, you can find practically all the RRC’s 10″ and 12″ output, now digitized on compact discs for the 21st century, in our Online Store. We thank him for these efforts, and hope you will too.

-David Sadowski

INTRODUCTION

As regular readers of this blog know, David and I have been gathering bits and pieces of information about the Railroad Record Club and its founder, William A. Steventon. We wanted to get a better understanding of what went into making these records, and to put together a history of the club. David started the ball rolling in April 2015 when he wrote the first Trolley Dodger post about it. As soon as I read that post I jumped aboard having been interested in the subject for some time. Together we finally managed to accumulate enough separate fragments of the story so that when we put it all together, it formed an accurate outline of the events leading up to the formation of the club and offered some insight into its operation. We were also able to build a brief biological sketch of Mr. Steventon.

Separately David and I looked for any resource that might reveal some small bit of new information. We read liner notes, club newsletters, and we looked through back issues of magazines in search of RRC ads. We collected order blanks, and I purchased copies of records I already owned because they had club inserts tucked away in the jackets. I researched the meaning of the matrix codes engraved in the lead out grooves of the LPs to more accurately date them. We studied artwork and found some of Steventon’s personal correspondences.  Everything came together when I purchased a large collection of Railroad Record Club items from Steventon’s estate. Combing through this material finally gave us enough information so that David and I could piece together the Railroad Record Club story you are about to read.

There are still unanswered questions to be sure and there are also missing recordings. We haven’t been able to secure copies of the 5th and 6th year sampler records. We also can only speculate on how, to whom, and at what cost these sampler records were distributed.

If any readers have any RRC material, please contact David. We only ask for a scan of any paper work or leads you may be able to offer as to who might be able to help. Thank you.

I have recently been able to purchase the last of the Steventon estate items I left behind last year (more on that in A Railroad Record Club Treasure Hunt, Part 2) and with luck David and I will be able to put together a few more pieces of the Railroad Record Club puzzle.

WILLIAM STEVENTON & THE RAILROAD RECORD CLUB 

William A. Steventon was born in 1921 in Mount Carmel, Illinois, son of a locomotive engineer on the Big Four Railroad (New York Central). As a child he spent much of his time around the red brick passenger station and wooden freight house across from Main Street. The family eventually moved to Cairo, Illinois and there he would often ride in the locomotive cab with his father. In the liner notes to Record number 20- NYC/C&IM while describing an in-cab recording made with his father at the throttle, Steventon reminisces about his boyhood days spent there:

“It is strange that this recording should remind me of something that I had almost forgotten. If I hadn’t heard my father pull a whistle cord in 50 years, and in the distance I should hear a certain whistle, I would know that it was him. This recording also reminds me of the many times I had waited as a youngster for him to whistle near Cherry switch to let us know he was coming home from a north-end run. It reminds me of the many times I have walked down Washington Street in Cairo and heard him whistling in the yards.”

After serving in World War II Steventon married and took a government job. He and his wife settled in the Washington DC area and it is here that the Railroad Record Club story begins.

It all began when Steventon’s wife gave him a record of Railroad sound effects as a Christmas gift, most likely in 1952. While he was interested in the concept of recorded train sounds, he was very dissatisfied with this record. He was convinced that the sounds were not those of actual trains, that they were train “effects” created in a recording studio.  He wanted sound recordings of REAL trains. He purchased one of the new reel to reel tape recorders that had recently become available and in March 1953, set out to make his first railroad sound recordings.

First recording

First recording

The first recording he made was along the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad at the Riverdale, Maryland passenger station (MP 32.4 on the Washington Branch). As best as can be determined, the first train he recorded was # 523 the “MARYLANDER” powered by an EMD diesel (he did not make note of the locomotive number). His second train was powered by steam but in his haste to hear the recording immediately after making it, he accidently partially erased it! He wrote about his frustration in an article for TRACTION & MODELS Magazine:

“When we made our very first recording in 1953 we took the equipment to Riverdale, Maryland and recorded a steamer thundering past the B&O station. When it was gone we stopped the recorder, rewound the tape and played it back. Nothing happened-the tape was silent. we waited thinking that the steamer wasn’t within “hearing distance” as yet, but when it became evident that we should be hearing the sound, we investigated.  In our enthusiasm to “get recording” we had failed to become familiar with our equipment. Instead of pushing the playback key, we had pushed the record key and were erasing the sound we had just recorded.”

That partially erased recording, as well as the others he made that night, were discovered on a 78rpm acetate record in his estate. It is included on the Trolley Dodger Railroad Record Club Rarities Steam & Diesel CD.

During the next few years, Steventon made numerous railroad sound recordings, both in and around Washington DC and on trips to visit family in Illinois. Near Washington DC he recorded the streetcars of the Capital Transit Company, steam & diesels on the B&O, and Pennsy GG-1s. He even recorded the sounds of the Senate Subway. He made trips to Maryland to record the Western Maryland, the Hagerstown & Frederick interurban cars and freight box motors, and he rode and recorded the Baltimore streetcars. In Pennsylvania he recorded mainline steam on the PRR, revenue steam on the East Broad Top, and made extensive recordings of the Johnstown Traction Company and the Altoona & Logan Valley. In Illinois he captured the sounds of the New York Central, Chicago & Illinois Midland, Nickel Plate, Illinois Central, and Chicago Burlington & Quincy among others. He did recordings of the passenger and freight operations of the Midwestern electric railways including the Illinois Terminal, Chicago North Shore & Milwaukee, Chicago Aurora & Elgin and even recorded an entire run of Chicago South Shore & South Bend M.U. car # 108 from Chicago to South Bend. In Iowa he added the Waterloo, Cedar Falls & Northern, Southern Iowa, Cedar Rapids & Iowa City and Charles City Western. In his travels he made recordings of the Pacific Electric, Shaker Heights Rapid Transit, Wabash, Soo Line, Denver & Rio Grande Western narrow gauge, and Norfolk & Western. In a 1958 newspaper interview he stated he had traveled to fifteen states to record train sounds. It is quite an extensive output and not all of it has been pressed into vinyl or released on tape or CD.

All this recording did not come easily. Dragging the equipment from home to car and from car to trackside required the help of at least one other person. Steventon wrote about the difficulty of using this bulky equipment in the field:

“We had a 12-volt auto battery for the primary power source, a 12 v.d.c. to 110 v.a.c. rotary converter, a reel to reel recorder plus a satchel of extra equipment, tapes, and assorted material. Two men could struggle with all this equipment, but it required three men to carry everything with any degree of ease and mobility. In addition, we normally carried a battery charger for use with keeping the battery up to par during the night. This could be left in the auto during the day but was a very necessary part of our total equipment requirement.”

It is a wonder anyone was able to record anything, considering the burden it must have been to get all this stuff trackside. It makes one grateful for the ability to record high quality sound and high definition video with just a tiny cell phone as we can do today.

Steventon eventually took a job as manager of the Cream Valley Telephone Company and he and his wife moved to Hawkins, Wisconsin. There he would continue to make railroad sound recordings, start a family. and create the Railroad Record Club.

Doing all this traveling and making these recordings invariably put him in contact with like-minded people. It is safe to assume that they would want to trade and share the recordings they made with each other. In the mid-1950s this was no easy task. Modern home audio systems, as we think of them now, simply did not exist. The problem was made even worse if recordings were to be shared or sold to someone who did not make recordings themselves and therefore did not own a reel to reel tape player/recorder. While most people at the time did not own a tape player, a phonograph could be found in most homes.

Steventon pre-RRC 78rpm records

Steventon pre-RRC 78rpm records

If Steventon wanted to give or sell his recordings to many other people, they would have to be put onto phonograph records. This too, wouldn’t be easy. The solution was to procure a portable disc cutter. These machines became available for home use starting in about 1929 and were most often used to record things off the radio. The standard record format of the time was a disc ten inches in diameter and made of aluminum covered with acetate. The 78rpm playing speed yielded no more than five minutes of content per side. These records had to be made in real time and the record blanks were quite heavy compared to a modern vinyl record. To distill more and varied content on these homemade records, he spliced together all sorts of bits and pieces and recorded brief introductions to tell listeners what they were about to hear. He conceived a catalog numbering system and had rubber stamps made for the most popular titles, the rest having hand-written labels. Steventon produced an extraordinary amount of records this way. Finding a sizable collection of these acetate records in the Steventon estate reveled just how extensive the output was. Although a complete catalog listing of these records can not presently be made, the following partial list is still very impressive.

01. Potomac Edison (aka Hagerstown & Frederick)
02. Shenandoah Central
03. Capital Transit
04. Johnstown Traction
05. Altoona & Logan Valley
06. Baltimore & Ohio
07. Shaker Heights Rapid Transit
08. Claude Mahoney Radio Program about NRHS fantrip (1953)
09. Pennsylvania Railroad
10. Nickel Plate Road
11. St. Louis Public Service
12. Illinois Terminal
13. Illinois Central
16. Norfolk & Western
17. Western Maryland Railway
18. Baltimore Transit
19. Senate Subway (Washington, DC)
21. Rochester Subway
22. East Broad Top
23. Chicago, Burlington & Quincy
24. Chicago & Illinois Midland
25. Niagara, St. Catharines & Toronto
26. Virginian
28. Queensboro Bridge
29. Wabash
30. 3rd Avenue Elevated
31. Minneapolis, St Paul & Sault Ste Marie
32. Louisville & Nashville
34. St Elizabeth’s Hospital (hospital in Washington DC that used a 0-4-0T to move coal from the B&O.)
37. Independent Subway

It is worth noting that this numbering sequence is totally different from the later one adopted for the 10” records issued later.

Things were apparently going well for Steventon’s railroad record enterprise for a while but things were about to change. Long playing 33 1/3 rpm records made of lighter materials and with improved sound were beginning to gain in popularity. Record blanks and parts for the disc cutter would undoubtedly become harder to get. Steventon needed to have his records made by a professional record pressing company to continue selling them. Steventon would have to make new master tapes for each release because the new records, although still 10”, could hold fifteen minutes of sound on each side-a full half-hour altogether. This would be the equivalent of more then five of the old acetates. He would forgo, for the most part, his spoken introductions and provide printed notes on the cardboard record jackets. These notes could be pretty sparse at first, containing little more than the railroad and locomotive number.

RRC intro record

RRC intro record

RRC INTRO old SP5

RRC INTRO old SP5

Bill Steventon recording compressor noise on CNS&M interurban

Bill Steventon recording compressor noise on CNS&M interurban

Eventually he began to write extensive notes on separate sheets of paper that were inserted into the record jackets. In time, the first completed master tape was sent off to the RCA Custom Record facility in Indianapolis, Indiana and soon afterward the first official Railroad Record Club LP came into being. The record was titled simply INTRODUCTORY RECORD and carried no catalog number. Side one contained the sounds of Soo Line 4-6-2 # 2718 powering an August, 1955 fan trip between Minneapolis, Minnesota and Rice Lake, Wisconsin. Illinois Central 0-8-0 # 3509 switching at Centralia, Illinois was featured on the flip side. A look at the first four characters in the matrix code engraved into the lead-out grooves of a first edition of this record, G8OL, gives the following information: First is the date code-G indicates the record was manufactured in 1956, then the label code-8 showing it was a custom job that was re-recorded from the client’s source material. Next is the category code-O meaning it is a phonograph record, and the fourth character-L denoted the size, speed & groove, 10”, mono, & 331/3 rpm. The final numbers 0479 for side one and 0480 on side two were simply sequence numbers. The Introductory Record was therefore available for sale sometime in 1956 or perhaps 1957.

He made the decision to sell these new records not as a regular mail order business, but as a club. The club membership idea may have been the direct result of the expense associated with this new endeavor. He had to have the records pressed by RCA which required metal master plates to be made. Cardboard record jackets had to be purchased and be printed with photographs or drawings. Tape stock had to be bought for the making of the new master tapes. All in all, this must have been a considerable expense. Selling the records through a club meant that the members were required to purchase a set number of records and paying for them in advance, thereby guaranteeing he would get some return on all this investment. The club worked like this: Four records would be offered per year. Members could buy the records at the discounted price of $4 each providing they maintained membership by purchasing at least three of the selections. Membership expired upon the purchase of one year’s group. There were no membership dues, but records were paid for in advance to provide the necessary money to have the metal masters made.  Special pressings could be purchased at club prices but were not counted toward the three-record minimum. Non-members could buy individual LPs at $5.25 each. $4.00 for a LP record sounds like a bargain but remember those $4 in 1958 had the same buying power as $34.72 in 2018! These Records weren’t cheap. According to a 1958 interview he gave to the Milwaukee Sentinel, the club started off very well. The article stated that there were some 200 club members through out the United States and several foreign countries including New Zealand, Australia, England and Canada. It goes on to state he has already sold 1,000 records.

Steventon continued to sell his records through the yearly club membership plan until October 1965 when the club membership requirement was withdrawn. The records would now be sold separately and at the same price to everyone.

From 1957 with the release of the Introductory record until October 1965 when the last regularly scheduled production of a Railroad Record Club release (Record number 32-New York Central) was offered, Steventon produced thirty-two regular club releases and three special pressings. One more release, SP-4-CSS&SB would be released later that year. Afterwards, Steventon released Records Numbers 33-36 and special pressings numbers SP-5 (a reissue of the introductory record) and the last all new Railroad Record Club record in 1983, number SP-6 Milwaukee Road box cab electrics. Each record was simply numbered in the order it was produced.

RAILROAD RECORD CLUB TITLES
0 Soo Line, Illinois Central (Introductory Record)
1 Wabash Railroad, Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha
2 Waterloo, Cedar Falls & Northern, Southern Iowa Railway
3 Denver, Rio Grande & Western, East Broad Top
4 Baltimore and Ohio
5 Denver & Rio Grande Western
6 Potomac Edison (Hagerstown & Frederick)
7 Norfolk & Western, Illinois Central (Also includes a bit of Illinois Terminal Railroad)
8 Canadian National (aka Canadian Railroading in the Days of Steam)
9 Winston-Salem Southbound
10 Pennsylvania Railroad
11 Shaker Heights Rapid Transit
12 Duluth Missabe & Iron Range
13 Nickel Plate Road
14 Pacific Electric
15 Chicago, Burlington & Quincy
16 Westside Lumber Company
17 Minneapolis & St Paul, Sault Ste Marie Railway
18 Chicago, North Shore & Milwaukee
19 Duluth, Missabe & Iron Range
20 Chicago & Illinois Midland – New York Central
21 Duluth & Northeastern
22 Buffalo Creek & Gauley
23 Pennsylvania Trolleys
24 Canadian Pacific
25 Illinois Terminal Railroad
26 Chicago, North Shore & Milwaukee (freight)
27 Capital Transit Company
28 Charles City Western – Waterloo, Cedar Falls & Northern
29 Nickel Plate Road
30 Sound Scrapbook, Traction
31 Sound Scrapbook, Steam
32 New York Central
33 Chicago, South Shore & South Bend (freight)
34 Chicago, South Shore & South Bend (freight)
35 Milwaukee & Suburban Transport, Chicago, North Shore & Milwaukee
36 Chicago, Aurora & Elgin, Chicago Transit Authority

Special Pressings
SP1 The Silverton Train
SP2 Northern Pacific 2626 Memorial Album
SP3 Whistle ‘Round the Bend
SP4 Chicago, South Shore & South Bend Railroad (passenger)
SP5 Soo Line, Illinois Central
SP6 The Milwaukee Road (electric freight)

He also produced several “sampler” records which contain short snippets of tracks from the LP records.

THE RAILROAD RECORD CLUB SAMPLERS

1st & 2nd Year Sampler:  (short excerpts from records 1 to 4 on side one & records 5 to 8 on side two)
3rd & 4th Year Sampler: (short excerpts from records 9 to 12 on side one & records 13 to 16 on side two)
5th Year Sampler: (short excerpts from records 17 to 20 recorded on one side only)
6th Year Sampler: (short excerpts from records 21 to 24 recorded on one side only)
7th & 8th Year Sampler: (short excerpts from records 25 to 28 on side one & records 29 to 32 on side two)

Among these forty-two LPs there are some real gems. He certainly started off strong with Record Number one. On side two there is one of his best “sound picture” type recordings. It features Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha 2-8-0 # 219 switching in the yards at Spooner, Wisconsin on a dark misty night in October of 1955. This was one of his favorite audio sequences and he described it like this in the record’s reissue liner notes:

“Close your eyes and imagine you are in a Pullman berth. Your passenger train has stopped at the station and you are sleepily listening to this nearby switching movement.” And from the notes to the original release: “That night in October of 1955 was very dark, moonless and misting heavily. The sulfuric, yet nostalgic odor of coal smoke drifted sluggishly over the Spooner, Wisconsin yards as the sound of exhausts and squealing brakes seeped through the murky atmosphere. A dim yellow light at the south end of the station platform rocked in the wind, flicking shadows to and fro over the moving cars.” 

If you don’t feel the dampness, smell the coal smoke, or find that you need to shake off a chill while listening to this, you’re just not trying.

There are so many remarkable sound sequences on these LPs that it would be impossible to list them all, Some of the most interesting ones include:  a D&RGW narrow gauge train with a mid-train helper on Cumbres Pass on Record number 3, the B&O EM-1 stopping and starting sequences on Record Number 4, a PRR 4-8-2 on slick rail on Record number 10, the cab rides in CSS&SB freight motors on Record numbers 33 and 34, the list goes on and on.

William Steventon did not exclusively use his own recordings on the Railroad Record Club LPs. In the second year of the club he began to utilize the talents of his friends, and the most notable of the group was Elwin D. Purington. Mr. Purington’s considerable recording talents added greatly to the quality of Steventon’s releases. Three records were entirely comprised of his recordings and they are three of the best. Record number 8-Canadian National (re-released as “Canadian Railroading in The Days Of Steam”) is one of Steventon’s favorites, and SP-2 the Northern Pacific 2626 memorial album Steventon called “a masterpiece.”  He provided the sounds for side one of Record number 12-DM&IR and his recordings of the CMSt.P&P electric freight locomotives are featured on Record SP-6.  He also did the narration on Number 3-East Broad Top and SP-3-Whistle ‘Round the Bend. Thomas A. Hosick recorded the train sounds for Record number 9-Winston-Salem Southbound, and John L. Wise contributed to Record number 10-PRR. Harold O. Lewis did some fine recording work that was used on three LPs, Record number 16-Westside Lumber, number 24-Canadian Pacific, and number 31-Sound Scrapbook-Steam. Eugene Van Dusen made all but the final three cuts for Record Number 32-NYC, and finally A. L. Shade, another top-notch sound recorder of trains, added his talents to Record numbers 13-Nickel Plate, 29-NKP 779 and 22-Buffalo Creek & Gauley.

Excellent HM Pech cover RRC 5

Excellent HM Pech cover RRC 5

Marginal HM Pech cover 1st edition of Record number 8

Marginal HM Pech cover 1st edition of Record number 8

RRC 19

RRC 19

The sounds on these LPs were great right from the start, but it took awhile for the record jackets to evolve into something interesting and appealing. At first the record jackets had little in the way of cover art, nothing more than a small photo or two plus a few paragraphs of text. Eventually sketches of the featured locomotive pulling a train were added, usually draw by an artist who signed his work HM Pech. These drawings could range from excellent (Record number 5) to marginal (1st edition of Record number 8). All mediocrity was removed for good when the cover art for Record number 19 was revealed. The cover of this record is a very nice accomplishment. The drawing of DM&IR 2-8-8-4 # 222 is perfect in every way. This great drawing combined with an appealing layout makes for a wonderful cover. A new visual benchmark for the Railroad Record Club had been reached and there was no going back. The drawing was done by Marshall P. (Pat) McMahon. He worked for the Minneapolis Star Tribune as an illustrator. His drawings of railroad equipment are flawless. The detail is meticulously rendered and drawn with precision and skill. Mr. McMahon would from here on out, be the main artist used by Steventon to illustrate the record jackets. When second editions of previously released records were pressed, McMahon would be called upon to create a new cover drawing. Every one is a vast improvement over what had come before. He also got the call to do new drawings when the records began to be reissued on 12″ discs, and he even did at least one drawing that Steventon sold prints of (Soo Line steamer # 2715). He would go on to do cover illustrations for thirty record jackets for the club! Rounding out the list of artists employed by the Railroad Record Club: Ernie Towler did a fine pencil sketch of a Shay locomotive for the 12″ reissue of Record Number 16-Westside Lumber and he did the cover of the reissue of number 15-CB&Q. Herb Mott did a painting of a boy watching a steam train passing for the cover of SP-3-Whistle ‘Round the Bend. This record has the distinction of being the only one with a full color cover.

RRC 17 Steventon enjoyed being here Hawkins WI Soo station

RRC 17 Steventon enjoyed being here Hawkins WI Soo station

RRC 17 1st edition drawing Hawkins WI Soo station

RRC 17 1st edition drawing Hawkins WI Soo station

RRC 20

RRC 20

Advertising had to be done, and ads were placed in several railroad and modeling magazines including Trains and Model Railroad Craftsman. Such tag lines as “Authentic steam and electric railway recordings,” “Sounds you like to hear steam-traction,” and “Out of the past and into your home” were used. A mailing list was maintained, and announcements and sales information mailed directly to those on it. Records were sold in hobby stores, and Steventon sent LPs  to railroad historical societies that coincided with the group’s interests. He even devised a unique “Audition Set Program”. To audition a set of records a request form had to be filled out. A choice could be made as to which records were wanted but a choice of pre-selected LPs could be made by choosing ” all steam” or “all traction” or both. A “random” selection could be made giving the customer the choice of titles and number of records. A deposit in the following amounts had to be sent: “all steam” consisting of 25 10″ records-$100.00, “all traction” consisting of 15 10″ records-$60.00 and “random” $4.00 each. After listening, the records were to be returned with (hopefully) a purchase order. The money for the purchased records would be deducted from the deposit and the remainder returned with the record order.

Eventually Steventon branched out and began to sell all types of things. His biggest sideline was selling photographs. The photo catalog alone was 40 pages! He sold 16mm, 8mm and super 8 traction movies, books, records from other producers, he even had a line of railroad logo watch fobs! In one sales flyer he was trying to unload his old adding machine, a Sears model No. 871.58251 (he wanted $40 for it postpaid).

After 1965, when The Railroad Record Club stopped functioning as a club, not much else changed. Steventon continued to release records and in fact had plans to release many more. In a 1966 newsletter Steventon makes mention of future planned releases, unfortunately not all of them were produced. He writes: “Future releases will be made on the basis of availability of time and material. At this writing an “on train” recording of the old 1000 series Chicago South Shore & South Bend locomotives is in production. No release date has been set.” (Records number 33 & 34). He continues: “Other material for future work includes many steam and electric lines including the Shenandoah Central (never produced), Baltimore & Ohio (never produced) Chicago Aurora & Elgin (Record Number 36), Chicago Transit Authority (record number 36) Queensboro Bridge (never produced) and others.”

This newsletter also announces the first Railroad Record Club selection ever to be released on 12” discs-Special Pressing number 4.  “On December 21, 1965 a new milestone was established with the release of a set of three 12-inch 33 1/3 rpm recordings of the complete run of interurban No. 108 from Chicago to South Bend. Approximately two hours playing time and conveniently arranged for automatic playing sequence. Prepared and recommended for the devoted traction enthusiast.”

Through the rest of the 1960s and into the 1970s Steventon successfully sold his records. Some of the most popular selections had second and even third editions pressed, and the covers and liner notes continued to evolve, The liner notes were becoming more extensive and contained more information, not just about the equipment recorded, but somewhat personal stuff as well. For example, on record number 17, the entirety of side one contains the sounds of the activities going on inside the Hawkins, Wisconsin Soo Line station. Although Steventon writes in the third person he conveys his pleasure at being there. The sound of the telegraph, talking with the agent, the rumble of trains going past, the whole “atmosphere” he loved. “Plant your feet on the desk” he writes, “lean back in your chair and you’re the agent at this small village station.” He wrote fond boyhood memories in the notes to Record number 20 and revealed in those same notes just how he felt about diesel locomotives. He wrote that while recording a C&IM 0-8-0 switcher going about her chores, he was “dismayed” and “disgusted” when a GM&O RS-1 came onto the scene.  He included the diesel on the record however, noting that the steamer and the diesel sharing the stage made for an interesting recording. As he puts it: “Actually this could be considered as the tug-of-war between two types of motive power as to which will dominate the railroad scene”. At this point, he had to be dismayed to know steam would be the loser. Eventually his negative view of diesels must have softened a bit because in 1988, when he revised the notes to Record number 20, he removed the word “disgusted” although he continued to be “dismayed”. Steventon never released an LP that was entirely diesel sounds. He recorded diesels with some degree of regularity, as his first recording was of one. In his estate there was an open reel tape labeled “Nickel Plate Diesels” and on those acetate records there are plenty of B&O diesels. Perhaps he thought his record buying customers wouldn’t want to spend money to hear those “disgusting” machines. Rarely is the sound of a diesel included on any of the records.

The Railroad Record Club continued steadily along until early in 1973. A situation then developed that could not be easily overcome, in fact, it never would be completely. Early in that year RCA informed Steventon that they would no longer press his records. In club announcements concerning this situation Steventon wrote “In February of 1973 they (RCA) notified us that all of their custom work was being discontinued.” If RCA would not press his records, he would just have to find another company that would. That plan quickly died when another, more devastating difficulty was discovered. RCA had lost or destroyed all the Club’s metal master discs at its Indianapolis plant. Without those master discs new records could not be pressed by anyone. Steventon was stopped cold.  If he wanted to continue selling his previously released records, new master discs would have to be made. By the early 1970s 7” singles and 12” albums were the standards and the old 10” format was on the way out. New master discs would have to be made and they would have to be 12”.  Steventon managed to surmount these obstacles. He found a new company to work with, Nashville Record Productions of Nashville, Tennessee.

Even as the process of remastering and pressing new records progressed, Steventon was cautious with his expectations. He wrote carefully in a flyer about the remastering: “Due to a shortage of raw material record pressings may become difficult to obtain. Consequently we have no guarantee that our complete line can be produced, but will re-issue each record as conditions permit.”  Interested parties were mailed a “Railroad Record Club Advance Notice Mailing Card.” On this card selections were to be made as to which records the recipient wanted to be notified of when the 12” reissue was being readied. The recipient could then purchase the record at a pre-production discounted price.  Progress was made, albeit very slowly. The RCA masters were lost in the winter of 1973 but by summer 1976, only two records had been reissued. The first two being number 10-PRR and the second Number 8-CN now titled “Canadian Railroading in The Days Of Steam.” Steventon could not simply reissue the records numerically starting at number one and progressing from there. This was a very expensive undertaking and he needed to release the most popular titles first. At first, he considered having all the records remastered at once and getting a press run of each. This idea was dropped when the cost turned out to be more then $30,000! He decided to go back to his original club plan where he required a set amount of those pre-production advance payments to come in. Once there was sufficient interest shown for a certain record, as calculated from the advance mailing cards, he would announce that it was being readied for remastering. He would only send an order to Nashville when enough of the pre-production money came in to justify it.

In a telling reply to an inquiry from a customer wanting to know why a certain record, number 36, was still unavailable, Steventon spelled it out clearly:

“The program of re-mastering was started in ’73 after RCA lost our metal masters. The pre-production offer is used to generate funds to pay for the re-mastering process. As a rule of thumb it takes about 125 pre-payments to cover these costs. Experience has shown that roughly only 50% of those who ask to be notified on a new selection actually follow through with an order. Thus we need 250 requests to start the program. As of this date (March 29, 1989) only 99 have shown an interest in record 36, CA&E. The pressing firm in TN has just notified us of another increase in production costs. Dollar wise we are now talking $1100 to $1200 to re-master and get the first press run. The RR club is not a profit venture – we only ask to break even. In 1987 we operated at a loss of $444.10. 1988 was better with a modest net income of $119.75. We need EVERY bit of interest shown to keep the program rolling – it is a tough job!”

It was a tough job to be certain and it was also a very slow one. An order blank from November 1984 shows only eight remastered records, Number 4-B&O, 7-N&W/IC, 8-CN, 10-PRR, 19-DM&IR, 29-NKP 779 and SP-5-SOO/IC the ex-intro record. Also for sale at that time was a second pressing of SP-4 the CSS&SB three record set. Also listed on this order blank was a brand new record. Even with the remastering difficulties going on the Railroad Record Club managed to release one last all-new record. This last hurrah was special pressing number 6-The Milwaukee Road- Box Cab Electric Locomotives on the Coast Division, recorded by Elwin Purington in stereo. On the jacket SP-6 is touted as the “30th Anniversary Issue 1953-1983.” Another fine McMahon drawing graced the cover.

As each 12” reissue was produced, Steventon would revise and update the liner notes. If the record had an existing McMahon illustration it was transferred to the new jacket in the same size it appeared on the 10” jacket, but with a wide white border. If a reissue did not have a previously drawn McMahon picture, one would be commissioned. These black and white record jackets were distinctive and attractive. On the reissues the audio content was always identical to the 10” version, since the same master tapes were used. There was one exception, however. Although the railroad sounds were exactly the same, on the original release of Record number 3-EBT/D&RGW, Steventon had recorded spoken introductions to each of the EBT tracks, just as he had done for the old 78 acetate records in fact, they are exactly the same.  Steventon wanted these introductions removed to correct a mistake and instead of simply taking them off and writing the information into the liner notes, he had Elwin Purington re-record them.

The long and expensive remastering project continued into 1990. A test pressing for Record number 16-Westside Lumber had a memo attached that read: “Record No. 16, Westside Lumber Co. Record pressing approved if “blips” at approximately 3 min, 36 seconds into side one and continuing for about 6 or 7 seconds were corrected. Card returned 1/10/90.”  Not all of the surviving test pressings have dates on the jackets, but it is obvious that this one had to be among the last. By the early 1990s’ compact discs were already poised to topple vinyl records as the standard audio format. Steventon simply choose not to upgrade to yet another new format. Record number 16 being reissued in 1990, proves that Steventon worked at remastering the records almost to the end of his life. He died in 1993, just three years after the test pressing date for Record number 16. The long, expensive, and difficult remastering program started in 1973 and continued into at least 1990. In all only 17 of the 40 10” records were reissued on 12″ discs.

RAILROAD RECORD CLUB RECORDS REISSUED IN 12″ FORMAT
#1-WABASH (10″ 3rd Edition Cover Art)
#3-D&RGW/EBT (New Cover Art)
#4-B&O (New Cover Art)
#5-D&RGW
#7-N&W/IC (New Cover Art)
#8-CN (New Cover Art) Title changed to “Canadian Railroading In The Days Of Steam”
#10-PRR (10″ 2nd Edition Cover Art)
#15-CB&Q (New Cover Art)
#16-Westside Lumber (New Cover Art) Cover changed from a photograph to a pencil sketch
#17-Soo (New Cover Art)
#18-CNS&M (10″ 2nd Edition Cover Art)
#19-DM&IR
#20-C&IM/NYC
#26-CNS&M (Freight)
#29-NKP 779
#SP-2-NP 2626 (Same photo used on both 10″ & 12″ record covers but reproduced smaller on the reissue)
#SP-4-CSS&SB (passenger) 3 record set was only released on 12″ stock in display box
#SP-5-Soo/IC Formally the introductory record (New Cover Art)
#SP-6-MILW Box Cabs (Only released in 12″ format)
17 records reissued from 10″ to 12″
2 records only released on 12″

The Railroad Record Club didn’t completely die with William Steventon. His son Seth revived the club some years after his father’s death by putting the entire line of records on cassette tapes. By this time, however, CDs were the favored format and the effort was shelved.

Because of William A. Steventon’s commitment to recording the vanishing sounds of a passing era on American railroads, and just as importantly, making those recordings available to all who were interested, we can today hear the sounds of a Hagerstown & Frederick interurban car speeding past a lonely country crossing. We can experience the sonic thunder of a New York Central 4-6-4 blasting out of Mount Carmel, Illinois with a whistle full of water. We can ride along in the cab of a CSS&SB freight motor on its trip out of Michigan city, and we can enjoy the work of the other talented railroad recordists whose work Steventon put on his records. We can even listen to that whining rotary converter in Harristown, Illinois.

-Kenneth Gear

New Steam Audio CD:

FTS
Farewell To Steam
Mister D’s Machine
# of Discs – 1
Price: $14.99

Farewell To Steam
On February 6, 1955 the Santa Fe Railway ran a railfan train from Los Angeles to Barstow and back for the Railway Club of Southern California. This was Santa Fe’s last run powered by a steam locomotive over this route. The engine was a 4-8-4, #3759. We have used the original, rare 1955 mono version of this recording, and not the later 1958 reissue that had a bunch of echo added to create a fake stereo effect.

Mister D’s Machine
When diesel locomotives replaced steam in the 1950s, they offered a multitude of different sounds. This original 1963 stereo recording showcases the many sounds of diesels on the San Joaquin and Los Angeles Divisions of the Southern Pacific, including the Tahachappi Loop, an engineering feat that made modern railroading famous.

As with all of our recordings, this CD comes with the complete, original liner notes.

Total time – 72:56

Pre-Order Our New Book Building Chicago’s Subways

There are three subway anniversaries this year in Chicago:
60 years since the West Side Subway opened (June 22, 1958)
75 years since the State Street Subway opened (October 17, 1943)
80 years since subway construction started (December 17, 1938)

To commemorate these anniversaries, we have written a new book, Building Chicago’s Subways.

While the elevated Chicago Loop is justly famous as a symbol of the city, the fascinating history of its subways is less well known. The City of Chicago broke ground on what would become the “Initial System of Subways” during the Great Depression and finished 20 years later. This gigantic construction project, a part of the New Deal, would overcome many obstacles while tunneling through Chicago’s soft blue clay, under congested downtown streets, and even beneath the mighty Chicago River. Chicago’s first rapid transit subway opened in 1943 after decades of wrangling over routes, financing, and logistics. It grew to encompass the State Street, Dearborn-Milwaukee, and West Side Subways, with the latter modernizing the old Garfield Park “L” into the median of Chicago’s first expressway. Take a trip underground and see how Chicago’s “I Will” spirit overcame challenges and persevered to help with the successful building of the subways that move millions. Building Chicago’s subways was national news and a matter of considerable civic pride–making it a “Second City” no more!

Bibliographic information:

Title Building Chicago’s Subways
Images of America
Author David Sadowski
Edition illustrated
Publisher Arcadia Publishing (SC), 2018
ISBN 1467129380, 9781467129381
Length 128 pages

Chapter Titles:
01. The River Tunnels
02. The Freight Tunnels
03. Make No Little Plans
04. The State Street Subway
05. The Dearborn-Milwaukee Subway
06. Displaced
07. Death of an Interurban
08. The Last Street Railway
09. Subways and Superhighways
10. Subways Since 1960

Building Chicago’s Subways will be published on October 1, 2018. Order your copy today, and it will be shipped on or about that date. All copies purchased through The Trolley Dodger will be signed by the author.

The price of $23.99 includes shipping within the United States.

For Shipping to US Addresses:

For Shipping to Canada:

For Shipping Elsewhere:

Redone tile at the Monroe and Dearborn CTA Blue Line subway station, showing how an original sign was incorporated into a newer design, May 25, 2018. (David Sadowski Photo)

Redone tile at the Monroe and Dearborn CTA Blue Line subway station, showing how an original sign was incorporated into a newer design, May 25, 2018. (David Sadowski Photo)

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Railroad Record Club Treasure Hunt

Kenneth Gear, author of today’s post, has long been a friend of this blog. Since we began writing about William A. Steventon and the Railroad Record Club of Hawkins, Wisconin (see our previous posts A Railroad Record Club Discography and Revisiting the Railroad Record Club), Ken has been very helpful in obtaining recordings in our quest to reissue the entire RRC oeuvre for the digital age.

Recently, following up on a lead for some RRC material, Ken traveled from New Jersey to the Midwest. The discoveries he is sharing with you today are the result.

This represented a tremendous investment of time and money for Ken who, like myself is of very modest means. Since there is only a very limited market for railroad audio (the whole world, apparently, being transfixed with video), chances are we will never be able to recoup Ken’s costs.

He does not care about that, since his main interest is in preserving these historic recordings for future generations.  Ken is doing this for the love of it, not the money.

Thanks to Ken, we will now be able to reach our goal of remastering all 41 issued Railroad Record Club recordings onto compact discs. We will let you know when that work is done. The only ones we don’t have now are some of the samplers.

One unexpected benefit of his quest is the discovery of additional unissued steam and electric RRC recordings, detailed below.

Due to the limits of Ken’s budget, he was unfortunately not yet able to purchase what appear to be the original RRC master tapes. If you are interested in making a contribution to that worthwhile effort, please let us know.

Any donations received will help Ken negotiate for their purchase, and make it possible to preserve these fine recordings for future generations of railfans. They are currently at risk of being lost forever.

It is remarkable that this collection somehow managed to stay intact for 24 years after Steventon’s death.

We thank you in advance for your help.

-David Sadowski

PS- The disc labeled Indiana Railroad is actually Steventon reciting a history of the Hoosier interurban. Since it quit in 1941, that predates the development of audio tape recorders in the early 1950s. A few fans had wire recorders in the late 1940s (these were developed in Germany prior to the war). Prior to that time, the only way to make a “field recording” was with a portable disc cutter. Those were available starting around 1929.

My Railroad Record Club Treasure Hunt

by Kenneth Gear

Some months ago David received a very intriguing email. It came from an estate auctioneer who wrote that he was in possession of a large collection of items from the estate of William Steventon, founder of the Railroad Record Club. He had seen the Trolley Dodger CDs for sale online and figured David would be interested in the collection. The auctioneer had these items in storage, where they had been for many years, and he now wanted to dispose of them. He asked David if he would be interested in buying these items or if he knew of anyone who might.

Knowing my keen interest in all things related to the RRC, David forwarded the email to me.

We were quite excited about the offer. What could this collection consist of? Had we hit the mother lode of RRC material? The possibilities were almost endless- photos, art work, even movies! The most satisfying find for me would be, of course, coming across some unreleased Steventon railroad audio. If there were some, would the 60 plus year old tapes be salvageable? Were they stored properly? As endless as the possibilities for great finds were, it was equally possible that disappointment could lie ahead.

At the very least it seemed very likely that we would be able fill the holes in the Trolley Dodger CD reissuing catalog. We were still in need of records 22, 31 & 32 plus the elusive sampler records.

Emails went back and forth between the three of us and eventually concrete plans were hammered out.

My friend and fellow railfan photographer Chris Hughes and I usually make several road trips a year in pursuit of short line railroads to photograph. This year, and as a favor to me, it was decided to find some photographic subjects conveniently close to were the Railroad Record Club items were stored. I wasn’t going to let this opportunity slip by without at least seeing the collection. On July 20th Chris and I set off from New Jersey heading for the Midwest, some short line RRs, and the possibility of a RRC gold mine!

The Day Arrives!

Anticipation was running high as I approached the building that housed the collection. Some of the items were laid out on a table and there were large boxes containing many copies of the same record, all still sealed in plastic and all were the 12″ reissues editions. What immediately caught my attention was that each box had beside it the metal print block for the cover of the LP contained in the box. There were other print blocks on the table as well, not every one had a box of LPs to go with it. This was the real deal for sure. Where else would the original print blocks come from but the Steventon estate.

I wanted the print blocks but was less interested in buying the LPs. I really didn’t want to get saddled with scores of records that I would have to find a place to store and later try to sell. A deal was struck and I got the print blocks but not the LPs. So far so good.

LIST OF PRINT BLOCKS PURCHASED
 full covers with titles and other lettering:
#1 Wabash
#4 B&O
#8 CN
#10 PRR
#18 CNS&M
#19 DM&IR
#20 C&IM/NYC
#21 D&NW
#22 BC&G
#23 Pennsy Trolleys
#24 CP
#25 Ill Term
#26 NKP 779
#27 Capital Trans
#28 Iowa Trolleys
#29 CNS&M Freight
#30 Sound Scrapbook-Traction
#31 Sound Scrapbook-Steam
#32 NYC
#33 & 34 CSS&SB freight
#35 Milwaukee Trans
#36 Chicago Trans
#SP-1 Silverton
#SP-2 NP 2626 (both front and back photos) 
OTHER PRINT BLOCKS
1st EDITIONS-TRAIN ONLY- NO LETTERING:
Intro SOO
#2 WCF&N
#3 EBT
#4 B&O
#5 D&RGW
#6 H&F
#7 N&W
#8 CN
#9 WSSB
#11 SHRT
#12 DM&IR
#13 NKP
#14 PE
#15 CB&Q
#17 SOO
#18 CNS&M
Not from a RRC record cover: BRILL 27-E truck

Next up was what appeared to be Mr. Steventon’s personal collection of RRC albums (for some unknown reason number 23 was missing). The records were in plain white jackets and did not have any of the liner notes or cover art with them. Just a hand written number in the upper right hand corner of the jacket, corresponding to the record contained therein. The records were a mix of 10 and 12 inch stock. It could be that Steventon upgraded his own collection with the 12″ remasters as they were pressed and that the 10″ records in his collection never got the 12″ treatment. If true, then we can finally know exactly which of the records were reissued and those that were not. It seems likely, but we will need to look a little deeper into this. Interestingly a few of the plain white jackets have a hand written “delete schedule” on them. This I’m sure is some whittling down of the tracks to fit in the allotted time of the record. Photos of two of them follow. Also found was a sampler record. I always thought there were 6 of these records but it turns out that each year only has one side of a disc. Therefore it’s not 6 records, but only 3. 1 down and 2 to go.

Along with these LPs came a large stack of test pressings. I wasn’t sure of just what may be on them, perhaps the deleted audio written of in those delete schedules. They went into the back of the SUV with Steventon’s personal RRC records. Things were getting very interesting!

The stack of test pressings consisted of 44 12″ records from the Nashville Record Productions and 4 10″ pressings from RCA Custom Records.

Also, I saved perhaps 50 10″ empty record jackets that were heading to a dumpster. I’m glad I did because I was able to find the jackets for 22 BC&G, 31 Sound Scrapbook-Steam & 32 NYC. I got those records from Steventon’s personal collection, but they did not, as I said, have any liner notes or jackets with them.

So no more suspense- yes unreleased Steventon railroad audio was indeed found!

It came in the form of “Audiodisc” record blanks that Steventon cut at home. For convenience’s sake, or perhaps to keep his tapes safe, he transferred field recordings on to these “record at home” discs. 25 of these discs were offered to me and I snatched them right up. Later at home, I discovered that 21 have railroad sounds on them. The rest were radio shows and a relative who was apparently proficient at playing the piano.

These discs are 10″ and play at 78rpm. They contain about 6 minutes of audio when fully utilized but not all are. Frustratingly some records, in spite of the label being marked “Western Maryland” or “Pennsylvania RR”, are blank on one side or contain just a fraction of the audio it could hold. There is plenty of good stuff here and the condition of most of the records are surprisingly good in my opinion. Here are some of the highlights:

One of the best finds is a record marked “B&O-1st Recording” It seems I have found a record of William Steventon’s first recordings! From the article he wrote for TRACTION & MODELS we know he accidentally erased his very first recording of a B&O steamer while trying to play it back. So perhaps this is actually his second attempt. The record contains B&O steam & Diesel sounds recorded at the station in Riverdale, MD on March 31, 1953. Trains include number 523 “Marylander” and number 17 “Cleveland Night Express” among others.

He would return to the B&O many times, with recordings being made at both Riverdale and Silver Springs, MD. I have records of B&O trains recorded in July, August, and September 1953. Some of these recordings include the station announcements for trains number 9 “Chicago Express” and Train 5 “Capitol Limited” . There is one great sequence (too short) of an on-train recording behind B&O 5066 powering local train #154. Also there is a very good recording of a 5300 series loco on a heavy drag freight. Even early on he sure knew how to capture the sound of steam.

There are recordings of steam on the Shenandoah Central (loco # 12) IC # 3619 at Christopher, IL, PRR at Mill Creek, PA, C&IM, and on the EBT. Some of this material may have been included on the released albums, but here William Steventon himself provides commentary and the sounds may be edited differently. Steventon gives information about almost every cut in his distinctive, Walter Winchell-like voice. Other interesting sounds are those of PRR GG-1s recorded on August 22, 1954. They were recorded at, as Steventon puts it, a “country crossing”. Plenty of that toneless yet somehow appealing GG-1 horn blowing is included.

Potomac Edison box motor # 5 has several sides of these records devoted to it. Without checking, I’d say there is more of the sounds of the cab ride on these discs than what eventually made it on to Record #6. There is some Shaker Heights RT as well. Plenty of Johnstown Traction and Altoona & Logan Valley too. This may or may not have been released.

There is definitely some unreleased traction sound here. One full record contains the sounds of the Baltimore Transit company. One side is a ride on car # 5727 on the Lorraine Line and the other side is car # 5706 on the Ellicott City Line. Both recorded on January 16, 1954 This recording is in wonderful shape too.

More fine unreleased traction sounds include a nice recording of the St. Louis Public Service. Recorded in December of 1953 it includes both on board and trackside recordings of PCC cars on the University Line.

There is also some Washington DC Capital Transit stuff I don’t think made it to Record 27.

There are some unidentified traction sounds on an unmarked disc. The record starts with William Steventon telling a story about a blanket someone gave his father that had pictures of locomotives on it (his father was an engineer on the NYC). The story abruptly ends without concluding and the sounds of motor hum, gears, and door buzzers start. It sounds to me as if the recording was made at a subway station. We know Steventon made recordings in the IRT subway in New York and this may very well be it. The other side has more unidentified traction sound that may been the Queensboro Bridge recordings that were mentioned in the RRC newsletter David posted in this blog some time ago. Maybe someone knows for sure what all this sound really is. One other record worth noting is titled “Claude Mahoney.” Playing the record reveled that he was a radio commentator in the Washington DC area. This is both parts of a two-part show about riding an NRHS fantrip from Washington DC to Harrisburg, PA by way of Hagerstown on October 4, 1953. No train sounds are included but it is interesting in itself, especially if you enjoy old time radio broadcasts.

All of these records will soon be sent off to David for him to transfer to digital. Hopefully he can clean up and restore some of the sounds that right now, are degraded with surface noise and various clicks, pops, and hisses. I’m sure there is enough good sound to fill out a CD and it sure will make a great Railroad Record Club “bonus tracks” CD.

Another interesting aspect of the Railroad Record Club story is that some years after William Steventon’s death in 1993, his son Seth made an effort to reissue the entire RRC catalog on cassette tapes. David and I made inquiries about this to several people without much success. It’s likely the project was abandoned before much headway was achieved.

Evidence of Seth’s attempts were included in the estate. All of the records were converted to cassette and cover art and liner notes were put on cards for every record. Four completed tapes were in the collection and so are many of the cards.

Next I purchased 10 cover art paste-up boards. These are what was used to make the print blocks. A few actually contain the original art work. It seems Steventon would have the lettering glued to the same canvas board that the artist drew the picture on. They are not all originals, but several are. This was a bit of luck I would have never thought possible. On a few, such as the BC&G drawing for number 22 and the trolley picture for #23, the glued-on lettering has fallen off. This has revealed more of the drawing than we record owners have ever seen.



COVER ART 

# 1 WAB (12″remaster cover)

# 3 EBT (12″remaster cover)

# 4 B&O (12″remaster cover) Original Drawing

# 19 DM&IR (12″remaster cover) Original Drawing

# 22 BC&G (12″remaster cover) Original Drawing

# 23 Pennsylvania Trolleys Original Drawing

# 24 CP Original Drawing

# SP-3 Whistle/Bend Original Painting

# SP-4 CSS&SB

# SP-5 Soo (12″remaster cover) 

 

One other original drawing was found hiding among the others. It is of WCF&N interurban car # 100. This drawing did not appear on any RRC record jacket. The car is featured on Record 2. The first edition of the record had a cover that featured a photograph of the car. The second edition had a drawing of it, but it is not the one I have. Both of these editions were on 10″ stock. There is no way of knowing for sure but maybe a 12″ reissue of number 2 was in the works and this was to be the cover illustration. It’s possible. It could also be that this was a gift to Steventon or he commissioned it simply because he liked the car. Who knows?

Several boxes of photos were for sale as well. Both finances and cargo space were starting to reach their limits so I had to choose only a few to buy. As time allows I will scan and email all of the photos to David and he can include them in future Trolley Dodger posts. For now, I’ve scanned a few photos that in some way relate to the Railroad Record Club.

Photo 1. I was looking for a good photo of William Steventon, preferably in a railroad setting or with audio equipment in the field or at home. Nothing was found but this photo of him I think is quite good.

Photo 2 & 3. I found a copy of the photo that was used in the TRACTION & MODELS magazine article, the one that shows him making a recording of a North Shore Line interurban car. It has been posted in this blog before but this is a much better scan. It was made from an actual photograph and not a magazine reproduction as posted before. The shot is somewhat wider too. Because it is a good scan it is possible to crop the photo to a point where you can get a good look at all that recording equipment he needed. Imagine having to cart all that stuff around. Think of this next time you shoot audio AND video on your tiny Smartphone!

Photo 4. As was stated before, William Steventon’s father Seth was an engineer on the Big 4 (New York Central). This is very likely him in the cab of NYC 6879. Photo is dated 1915.

Photos 5 & 6. These two are good photos to keep in mind while listening to Record # 20 C&IM/NYC. The in cab recording Steventon made while aboard NYC # 1441 with his father as engineer was recorded while switching in this yard. While this photo was not taken at the time the sound recording was made (sound recording made December 9, 1953, these photos were taken on February 12, 1948) and is of a different locomotive (NYC # 1169), the setting is the same- the yard at Cairo, IL. In the liner notes of this record Steventon writes about the sound of the locomotive being “amplified by the huge empty lumber shed we were paralleling at the time.” That huge empty lumber shed is plainly visible in the wider shot of # 1169. Seth was again the engineer at the throttle.

Photo 7. Seth in the cab of Shenandoah Central # 12. This is the locomotive that is on one of the unreleased audiodisc records. It was very likely taken on the same day as that the sound recordings were made.

Photo 8. When I saw this picture in the box with a bunch of others, it stood out too me. Why I wasn’t sure until I took a closer look. It is of Charles City Western car # 50. What made it stand out was that the angle and position of the car is exactly as the car appears on the cover of record 28. Remove the car barn and some of the background, take away the bit of freight car to the left, add a few clouds in the sky and you have the record cover! It would be hard to convince me that the record cover drawing is not based on this photo.

Photo 9. CCW car 50 as it appears on RRC record # 28’s cover. Compare the two.

A few interesting documents were found as well. There was a large box of correspondence to and from the Club. Apparently Mr. Steventon threw very little away. If you ever wrote to him or ordered a record from him, chances are your letter or envelope are in that box! I looked briefly for anything from me but no luck. I would have needed more time to do a good search.

What I left Behind

There were more treasures to be found in that darkened building for sure. Time, storage space, and money, the bane I’m sure of every collector, shook me from my excitation. No more space and no more money meant no more discoveries.

While I’m very happy with what I got, there is still more. All those boxes of records I turned down and all those wonderful photos I couldn’t afford. I would hate to find out they had to be trashed.

The most glaring oversight on my part were the boxes of reel to reel tapes I saw. I did look at them and even took some photos, but it all appeared to be master tapes for the records. All these sound I was positive were safely cut into vinyl.

After getting home and closely looking at those photos I can now see that there was unreleased railroad audio there too. Such titles as L&N, NKP Diesel, IRT Subway, IND Subway, 3rd Avenue El and the Queensboro Bridge Trolley, among others, now jumped out at me. Perhaps there might be a way to save this material as well.

I had a great time making these discoveries, and I’m very happy that David should be able to make CDs of these sounds so they can be shared with all who are interested. After not being heard in decades, it feels great to be a part of the effort to bring these lost Railroad Record Club sounds into the light of day.

Recent Correspondence

Continuing from our last post (regarding Speedrail) Larry Sakar writes:

This was the aftermath of the 8/24/49 collision at Soldiers Home. Car 1143 with motorman Ralph Janus was an all steel car. That was the one that backed up. Car 1119 with motorman LeRoy Equitz was a car that was wood with I think steel sheets surrounding it. That was true of nearly all of the 1100-series TM single cars except 1142-1145. Those 4 were all steel. Equitz was speeding going twice as fast as he should have been given that he had a yellow caution signal. As you came downhill and into the Calvary Cemetery cut, the r.o.w. made a sharp curve beneath the Hawley Rd. overpass and then continued downhill. That and the Mitchell Blvd. overpass at the east end of the cut limited the view ahead. Equitz didn’t spot the 1143 until it was too late.

The newspaper picture I’m attaching looks forward from the front or what was left of the front of 1119 to the back of 1143. Note the telescoping. That’s the floor of 1143 in front of the fireman who is bending over on the right. Had anyone been sitting in the smoking compartment of 1143 they would have been killed. Luckily, no one was.

The Calvary Cemetery cut is the only part of the abandoned r.o.w. that remains relatively unchanged today. Here are some photos of it over the years.

Thanks for sharing!

Larry again:

Here’s more about that accident, Dave as well as a view of the 65 as it looked upon arrival in Milwaukee. Note no front end “LVT” design.

I promised Scott (Greig) that I would look into the Speedrail accident of 9/5/50 to see if the newspaper accounts identified the crew of car 1121. In the July, 2017 comments, Scott thought that the motorman of car 1121 was Ralph Janus who was motorman of car 1143 which backed up for the missed passenger at Soldiers Home station on 8/24/49 and was rammed from behind by car 1119 with motorman LeRoy Equitz. I thought it was someone by the name of Eugene Thompson.

According to the Milwaukee Journal article, “Speedrail Dead Now 10; Line Has New Collision” (MKE Journal 9/5/50 P.1) the motorman of car 1121 was Eugene Thompson. The motorman of car 64 which 1121 ran into was Virgil McCann. There was one passenger aboard car 64, Ewald Rintelmann, age 50 of Hales Corners whom the article says was “shaken and bruised.” I hoped that the other two crew members aboard car 1121 would be identified but they weren’t. It only mentions that there were “2 other men aboard the freight car.” At least not in this article or the following day. As I mentioned previously, I recall the late Speedrail motorman Don Leistikow saying it was a father and son, one of whom was the conductor and the other the brakeman. The article reported that Maeder “initially blamed the accident on ‘slick, moisture covered tracks’.” The accident happened 1000 feet south of the West Jct. station.

The 9-5-50 article is also where we hear of the 8 or 9 year old boy Maeder saw “standing awfully close to the landing at Oklahoma Ave.,” who drew his attention away from the Nachod signal. “Ordinarily, you keep you eye on the light for more than an instant,” Maeder said. “On Saturday, however, I noticed a small boy about 8 or 9, standing awfully close to the tracks at Oklahoma av. landing. When I noticed, in a quick look, that I had the white light, my thoughts turned to the more immediate danger of the small boy and I turned my eyes from the light to the boy.”

I’ll give Maeder credit for coming up with a good story to explain his failure to keep an eye on the signal but that’s all. He makes no mention of the fact that Speedrail supervisor John Heberling was stationed at Oklahoma Ave. and that he had set the switch so that Maeder’s train went into the siding. Nor does he mention that he ordered Heberling to immediately reset the switch and let him out of the siding when the latter wanted to take time to call the dispatcher and see where Equitz was at. Neither John Heberling nor any of the fans gathered around Maeder on the front platform ever reported seeing a small boy playing or standing near the tracks.

When Maeder refers to “the landing,” I am guessing he was referring to the station platform. Oklahoma Ave. station was on the bridge over Oklahoma Ave.

About 3 years ago I had a phone conversation with George Wolter, the assigned motorman on Maeder’s train. I asked if it was true that Maeder took control of the train shortly after leaving the Public Service Building outbound to Hales Corners. He confirmed that Maeder said, “Go and have a seat. I’ll take it from here,” when they got to 6th & Michigan Sts. I asked if Maeder had given him a reason and he said, “Well we got caught in a traffic jam on 6th St.” I said, “OK but what does that have to do with anything?” Maeder taking over operation of the train wasn’t going to change the fact that you were caught in street traffic. I mean he wasn’t Moses. He couldn’t lift up his switch iron and demand that the traffic part and let his train pass in the name of the Lord.”

I know that was a rather sarcastic remark but Wolter’s excuse for Maeder was utterly ridiculous. Wolter said, “I will swear to my dying day that I saw that signal at Oklahoma Ave. and it was white.” That was the end of the conversation. His statement contradicts what he told the DA and testified to at the Coroner’s inquest. His exact statement at that time was that he was just coming up front having “gone back to the rear car for a while.”

This was when he spotted the roof of Equitz’s train coming up over the top of the hill ahead of the northbound train. He said he DID NOT see the signal at Oklahoma Ave.! I think his testimony at the time carries far more weight than the way he remembered events more than 60 years later. I should also point out that had he been so inclined the DA could have charged Wolter with negligence since PSC rules required that a qualified motorman had to be present at all times when someone who was not qualified was operating the train. He had absolutely no business being in the rear car of 39-40.

Don Leistikow said that had he been the motorman he would have stood right next to Maeder whether he liked it or not. He would have been the scheduled motorman and this was officially his train. He was the person responsible for it. As Don pointed out the PSC regulations did not make an exception just because you owned the company. Based on the way the DA went after Maeder and statements made by the DA as early as 9-5 when he said he had concluded that based on the evidence he’d gathered that Maeder went thru a red signal. And it was obvious that he wasn’t buying Maeder’s story about safety concerns. Maeder’s frequent sessions with railfans in his office, seeking their input while ignoring Tennyson the VP of operations, fits the pattern of someone who on 9/2 saw an opportunity to bask in the admiration of his fellow model railroaders and railfans and just couldn’t pass up such a “golden opportunity” to show off by being at the controls of duplex 39-40. Tennyson said as much in my book and reluctantly, I would have to agree with him.

I am sure our readers will appreciate this important bit of history on what was a very serious tragedy.

Finally, Larry asks:

One thing that has puzzled me for a long time is why the CTA was so anti-streetcar. It seems to me that they would have wanted to keep the PCC’s running on at least the 22-Clark-Wentworth, the 36-Broadway-State and the 49-Western Ave. Weren’t those 3 lines some of the busiest crosstown streetcar routes? It’s always seemed to me, not knowing much more than the basics about the CSL and CTA that it appeared to be terribly wasteful to junk all of those mostly new St. Louis Car PCC’s. Yes, I know that a lot of parts went into the 6000 series “L” cars but did they really recoup their investment?

I know there have been books written about the CSL but has anyone ever thought about writing a comprehensive history of it say for CERA? Dave Stanley told me that when CTA acquired CSL it was broke. Was the CRT in any better shape, financially?

In a way it’s too bad the CTA wasn’t selling off the PCC’s in 1949.Both the Waukesha and Hales Corners lines had turning loops so their being single ended would not have been a problem though whether Maeder could have afforded them, I have serious doubts.

TM did not have turning loops on any of the streetcar lines and that is part of the reason S.B. Way was not interested in buying PCC’s for Milwaukee. It would have meant constructing loops at the ends of the car lines or buying double ended PCC’s. I know of only 2 systems that had double ended PCC’s; PE and Dallas. Of course by the time the first PCC’s rolled off the production line for the Brooklyn & Queens, TM had pretty much turned its back on streetcars in favor of trolleybuses.

The Chicago Transit Authority purchased the Surface Lines in 1947 for $75m. However, the CSL had $30m in cash on hand in a renewal account, so the actual amount spent was only $45m.

While the underlying companies behind the CSL facade were bankrupt, this was more of a technical bankruptcy, a situation that the City of Chicago wanted to maintain since they had by the mid-1940s decided that municipal ownership was the only way forward. Otherwise, contemporary accounts indicate that CSL could have emerged from bankruptcy during WWII.

CSL could have done better, except that its fares were being kept artificially low by the Illinois Commerce Commission. When the CTA took over, there were numerous fare increases in its first decade of operation since the agency had the power to set its own rates.

By contrast, the Chicago Rapid Transit Company was a financial basket case that could barely pay its bills. During the transition to CTA ownership between 1945 and 1947, the most that CRT could spend for new railcars was $100k, while the Surface Lines had millions on hand for such purchases. CRT ordered four articulated sets while CSL ordered the 600 postwar PCCs plus other buses.

CSL was very much a pro-streetcar operator, but in the years prior to 1947, had been expanding service using motor buses and trolley buses, including some initial conversions of lightly-used streetcar routes to bus.

The City of Chicago commissioned a transportation study in 1937 that suggested replacing half the trolleys with buses. This still would have meant purchasing 1500 new streetcars.

As the years went on, this amount kept being decreased in the plans, from 1500 to 1000 to 800, and ultimately it became 600.

While the CTA still planned to order an additional 200 PCCs in their 10-Year Plan, published in 1947, this did not come to pass, and the first general manager of CTA, Walter J. McCarter, was hired in part because of his success in “rubberizing” the Cleveland streetcar system.

So, while CSL was pro-streetcar, increasingly the City of Chicago was pro-bus, and when municipal ownership came to be, the new CTA reflected the attitudes of the City.

The war had put off some bus substitutions and equipment purchases, so there was a backlog of conversions in the pipeline by that time. This led to a more rapid switch from streetcar to bus than might have been the case otherwise.

The difficulty in abandoning lightly-used lines also worked against CSL, and to some extent CSL and CRT competed with each other. Once CTA took over, they could rationalize both systems to work better together.

Still, even as late as 1949, CTA was at least considering purchasing 200 more PCCs, and retaining service on as many as 11 streetcar lines. The 600 PCCs were brand new, and the 83 prewar cars plus the 100 Sedans could have provided good service for many years to come.

Around that time, however, a number of factors were already at work against the surface system in general.

First, along with increased car ownership and frequent fare increases, there was a serious drop-off in surface system ridership, to the point where it was eventually decided that buses could do the job.

Second, the CTA changed its method of accounting, allocating a portion of surface system revenue to the rapid transit. This meant that some service that were once considered profitable were suddenly seen as unprofitable.

One thing that CTA did almost immediately was work to reduce their labor costs by eliminating as many employees as possible. This became even more important in the inflationary postwar period as unionized workers demanded better pay and benefits. CTA had a chronic manpower shortage and was thus in a weak position to hold the line.

Since most streetcars were two-man, they were easy targets for substitution by one-man buses.

A 1951 consultant’s report proposed that CTA retain the PCCs, convert them to one-man, and stop purchasing electric vehicles for the surface system due to the supposedly high cost of electric power purchased from Commonwealth Edison.

By the 1950s, CTA had become convinced that maintaining ridership was a matter of providing faster service. Faster service could not easily be provided on city streets, with increasing competition from cars and trucks, but there were ways to speed up service on the rapid transit system.

The so-called PCC Conversion Program was mainly public relations. The CTA had decided it no longer wanted to operate streetcars, yet had 600 that were just a few years old, with an expected 20-year life and attendant depreciation. The main purpose of the program was to take these cars off the books in a way that would not show a loss on paper.

While frequent claims were made that supposedly the program was yielding $20,000 or more per streetcar, CTA actually received $11,000 for each of the 570 cars sold to St. Louis Car Company. In addition, there were thousands of dollars in additional costs involved with adapting and reconditioning parts. Over the five years or so of the program, the amount of costs increased, to the point where, by 1958, CTA admitted it was receiving no more than scrap value for each PCC sold.

But since these were non-standard cars, there was no market for reselling them to another city.

The Conversion Program only made sense if you believed that PCC streetcars, which were state-of-the-art and just a few years old, had absolutely no future value as transit vehicles, even though the 1951 consultant report indicated that the tracks and wire were in good shape and were worth keeping. The consultant thought that the cost of replacing the service with bus was more than the cost of keeping what they had.

CRT was in such bad shape that within a few short years, CTA decided to devote 70% of its investments in upgrading it, even though in 1947 it only had a market share of less than 20% of local ridership. As a consequence, some might argue that the surface system got the “short end of the stick,” especially after October 1, 1952 when CTA purchased the assets of the competing Chicago Motor Coach Company.

Perhaps not coincidentally, this was also the date when the CTA, having eliminated its last remaining competitor, announced the Conversion Program that spelled the end of streetcars in Chicago. It was no longer necessary to offer a “premium service” that could compete with CMC for riders.

As for a history of CSL, it would be hard for anyone to better the Chicago Surface Lines book by Alan R. Lind, especially the third edition published in 1979.

The subject is of sufficient complexity to demand a series of books, of which Chicago Streetcar Pictorial: The PCC Car Era, 1936-1958 (published as Bulletin 146 of the Central Electric Railfans’ Association in 2015), at 448 pages, including several hundred photos in color, forms an important part. I am proud to have been a co-author of that book.

My upcoming book Chicago Trolleys, although a much more modest 128 pages, will be another addition to that field.

-David Sadowski

Bonus Pictures

FYI, I found this brochure in one of the issues of Surface Service (the Chicago Surface Lines employee publication) I recently scanned:

Pre-Order Our New Book Chicago Trolleys

On the Cover: Car 1747 was built between 1885 and 1893 by the Chicago City Railway, which operated lines on the South Side starting in April 1859. This is a single-truck (one set of wheels) open electric car; most likely a cable car, retrofitted with a trolley and traction motor. The man at right is conductor William Stevely Atchison (1861-1921), and this image came from his granddaughter. (Courtesy of Debbie Becker.)

On the Cover: Car 1747 was built between 1885 and 1893 by the Chicago City Railway, which operated lines on the South Side starting in April 1859. This is a single-truck (one set of wheels) open electric car; most likely a cable car, retrofitted with a trolley and traction motor. The man at right is conductor William Stevely Atchison (1861-1921), and this image came from his granddaughter. (Courtesy of Debbie Becker.)

We are pleased to report that our new book Chicago Trolleys will be released on September 25th by Arcadia Publishing. You can pre-order an autographed copy through us today (see below). Chicago Trolleys will also be available wherever Arcadia books are sold.

Overview

Chicago’s extensive transit system first started in 1859, when horsecars ran on rails in city streets. Cable cars and electric streetcars came next. Where new trolley car lines were built, people, businesses, and neighborhoods followed. Chicago quickly became a world-class city. At its peak, Chicago had over 3,000 streetcars and 1,000 miles of track—the largest such system in the world. By the 1930s, there were also streamlined trolleys and trolley buses on rubber tires. Some parts of Chicago’s famous “L” system also used trolley wire instead of a third rail. Trolley cars once took people from the Loop to such faraway places as Aurora, Elgin, Milwaukee, and South Bend. A few still run today.

The book features 226 classic black-and-white images, each with detailed captions, in 10 chapters:

1. Early Traction
2. Consolidation and Growth
3. Trolleys to the Suburbs
4. Trolleys on the “L”
5. Interurbans Under Wire
6. The Streamlined Era
7. The War Years
8. Unification and Change
9. Trolley Buses
10. Preserving History

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781467126816
Publisher: Arcadia Publishing SC
Publication date: 09/25/2017
Series: Images of Rail
Pages: 128

Meet the Author

David Sadowski has been interested in streetcars ever since his father took him for a ride on one of the last remaining lines in 1958. He grew up riding trolley buses and “L” trains all over Chicago. He coauthored Chicago Streetcar Pictorial: The PCC Car Era, 1936–1958, and runs the online Trolley Dodger blog. Come along for the ride as we travel from one side of the city to the other and see how trolley cars and buses moved Chicago’s millions of hardworking, diverse people.

Images of Rail

The Images of Rail series celebrates the history of rail, trolley, streetcar, and subway transportation across the country. Using archival photographs, each title presents the people, places, and events that helped revolutionize transportation and commerce in 19th- and 20th-century America. Arcadia is proud to play a part in the preservation of local heritage, making history available to all.

The book costs just $21.99 plus shipping. Shipping within the US is included in the price. Shipping to Canada is just $5 additional, or $10 elsewhere.

Please note that Illinois residents must pay 10.00% sales tax on their purchases.

We appreciate your business!

For Shipping to US Addresses:

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NEW – Chicago Trolleys Postcard Collection

We are pleased to report that selected images from our upcoming book Chicago Trolleys will be available on September 25th in a pack of 15 postcards, all for just $7.99. This is part of a series put out by Arcadia Publishing. Dimensions: 6″ wide x 4.25″ tall

The Postcards of America Series

Here in the 21st century, when everyone who’s anyone seems to do most of their communicating via Facebook and Twitter, it’s only natural to wax a little nostalgic when it comes to days gone by. What happened to more personal means of communication like hand-written letters on nice stationery? Why don’t people still send postcards when they move someplace new or go away on vacation?

If that line of thinking sounds familiar, then Arcadia Publishing’s Postcards of America was launched with you in mind. Each beautiful volume features a different collection of real vintage postcards that you can mail to your friends and family.

Pre-Order your Chicago Trolleys Postcard Pack today!

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The Chicago World’s Fair, by Streetcar

In this Chicago Surface Lines brochure, visitors were encouraged to see Chicago by streetcar, trolley bus, and, apparently, Zeppelin.

In this Chicago Surface Lines brochure, visitors were encouraged to see Chicago by streetcar, trolley bus, and, apparently, Zeppelin.

Chicago’s second World’s Fair took place in 1933 and 1934, and celebrated “A Century of Progress” since the city’s founding. Coming, as it did, in the depths of the Great Depression, this was a bold (and successful) venture, under the able leadership of Lenox Lohr (1891-1968). Chicago’s fair made a profit, while the later 1939-40 New York World’s Fair lost money.

Getting the 48,469,227 fair visitors back and forth to the lakefront site was a tremendous undertaking, and the Chicago Surface Lines played an important role. The fair opened on May 27, 1933, and it quickly became apparent that transportation needed improvement.

Two streetcar line extensions, among the last ones in Chicago, were hurriedly undertaken. The Roosevelt Road extension was the more elaborate of the two, since there were more obstacles in its path, namely the Illinois Central train station and tracks. The IC tracks were below grade, since they were built at the original ground level Downtown, which was raised several feet after the 1871 Chicago Fire.*

Chicago’s new Mayor Edward Joseph Kelly (1876-1950) took the controls of the first streetcar over the viaduct on August 1st, and posed for a good many press photos along the way. The two line extensions, from Roosevelt and Cermak, were retained for about 20 years, and continued to serve the Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, Adler Planetarium, and Soldier Field. They both had turnaround loops, to permit the use of single-ended as well as double-ended cars.

CSL had two modern experimental streetcars built, and used them to shuttle visitors to and from the fair. Of the two, at least part of car 4001 has survived to this day, while 7001 was perhaps more influential on the eventual design of the highly successful PCC cars, starting in 1936. The general configuration of this single-ended car, and its door arrangement, were followed on Chicago’s 683 PCCs.

Today, we present a Chicago Surface Lines brochure touting their service to the World’s Fair and all parts of Chicago. Along with this, we have some additional photos showing the Roosevelt Road extension. You can find some additional pictures of this operation in later days in one of our earlier posts. There is also a photo showing car 7001 on State Street in 1934, in World’s Fair service.

After the CTA converted the Roosevelt Road streetcar line to bus, the extension to the “Museum Loop” operated as a shuttle between August 12, 1951 to April 12, 1953, when it was abandoned, and eventually demolished. There’s a picture of the route 12A shuttle operation on the CERA Members Blog, here. (The same blog also shows the last known picture of car 7001, shortly before it was scrapped in 1959.)

The last route 21 – Cermak streetcar ran on May 30, 1954.

PCCs occasionally did run to the Museum Loop during special events, for example, on April 26, 1951, when General Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964) made a personal appearance after his dismissal by President Harry S Truman. You can read more about that historic event here.

Northerly Island, the site of A Century of Progress, was built on landfill. After the fair, it was used as Meigs Field, an airport for small planes, from 1948 to 2003.

Now that planning is underway for the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art to be built in the “Museum Campus” area, various ideas have been floated for improving transit in this area. These proposals include a streetcar line.

So, when it comes to Chicago’s lakefront, what goes around may yet come around- especially if it’s a streetcar.

-David Sadowski

*This is approximately correct.  It would be difficult to determine what “ground” level truly was when the City was first settled, since Chicago was built on a swamp.  Ground level was raised 10 feet downtown in the 1860s to permit the easy installation of a sewer system, and there have been numerous additions via landfill, especially east of Michigan Avenue, which was originally the shoreline. You would apparently have to go as far south as Jackson Park before the Lake Michigan shoreline is in its pre-development location.

For more information, go here.

1939-40 New York World’s Fair

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It’s worth mentioning that when New York put on their World’s Fair in 1939-40, they built a rapid transit extension of the IND subway system to reach the south end of the site. This operation was called the World’s Fair Railroad, and required payment of a second 5-cent fare. This branch line was constructed at a cost of $1.2m.

This extension ran partly through Jamaica yard, and went 8,400 feet beyond it, for a total length of just under two miles.

The privately owned BMT and IRT subway/elevated systems shared service on what is now the 7 line, and fairgoers could get there via the Willets Point station, which now serves Citi Field, home of the New York Mets. The regular fare was charged, and these trains reached the north end of the site.

The Long Island Rail Road opened a station along their line adjacent to Willets Point, which remains in use today.

After the fair closed, the World’s Fair Railroad spur was dismantled and removed, the only such IND service to suffer this fate. During the course of the fair, New York City took over operation of both the IRT and BMT, unifying the three subway operations under municipal ownership.

No rapid transit extensions were provided for the 1964-65 World’s Fair, which took place on the same location. However, there was a monorail for moving people around within the fair site itself.

A CSL map showing how the Roosevelt Road and Cermak Road streetcar lines were extended to new loops serving A Century of Progress.

A CSL map showing how the Roosevelt Road and Cermak Road streetcar lines were extended to new loops serving A Century of Progress.

The Roosevelt Road extension to the World's Fair site is under construction in this June 24, 1933 view. The Illinois Central station lies between here and what we now call the "Museum Campus."

The Roosevelt Road extension to the World’s Fair site is under construction in this June 24, 1933 view. The Illinois Central station lies between here and what we now call the “Museum Campus.”

From the looks of things, this picture was also taken on June 24, 1933.

From the looks of things, this picture was also taken on June 24, 1933.

It's August 1, 1933. The World's Fair extension along Roosevelt Road is now completed, and Mayor Edward Kelly (posing for pictures) is at the controls of the first service car. Kelly had succeeded Anton Cermak as mayor earlier that year after the latter was assassinated in Miami.

It’s August 1, 1933. The World’s Fair extension along Roosevelt Road is now completed, and Mayor Edward Kelly (posing for pictures) is at the controls of the first service car. Kelly had succeeded Anton Cermak as mayor earlier that year after the latter was assassinated in Miami.

A close-up of the previous scene.

A close-up of the previous scene.

The first service car over the Illinois Central viaduct, with Mayor Kelly at the throttle, in a picture taken at 9:30 am on August 1, 1933.

The first service car over the Illinois Central viaduct, with Mayor Kelly at the throttle, in a picture taken at 9:30 am on August 1, 1933.

An artist's rendering of CSL experimental pre-PCC streetcar 4001, built by Pullman. It entered service in 1934 and was retired in 1944. Its body shell is preserved at the Illinois Railway Museum.

An artist’s rendering of CSL experimental pre-PCC streetcar 4001, built by Pullman. It entered service in 1934 and was retired in 1944. Its body shell is preserved at the Illinois Railway Museum.

An artist's rendering of CSL experimental pre-PCC streetcar 7001, built by Brill. It entered service in 1934 and was retired in 1944. It was scrapped in 1959. Note that the car is signed for Clark-Wentworth, the busiest line on the Chicago system. Ironically, while this design resembles the PCC car of 1936, Brill refused to license the patented PCC technology, and as a result, was driven out of the streetcar market within a five years, after building but a few dozen "Brilliners."

An artist’s rendering of CSL experimental pre-PCC streetcar 7001, built by Brill. It entered service in 1934 and was retired in 1944. It was scrapped in 1959.
Note that the car is signed for Clark-Wentworth, the busiest line on the Chicago system.
Ironically, while this design resembles the PCC car of 1936, Brill refused to license the patented PCC technology, and as a result, was driven out of the streetcar market within a five years, after building but a few dozen “Brilliners.”

A side view of pre-PCC car 7001, showing how the general arrangement of doors was quite similar to that used on the later Chicago PCCs. (CSL Photo)

A side view of pre-PCC car 7001, showing how the general arrangement of doors was quite similar to that used on the later Chicago PCCs. (CSL Photo)

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CSL 7001, as it appeared on March 18, 1939.

CSL 7001, as it appeared on March 18, 1939.

Chicago Mayor Edward Kelly presides over the opening ceremonies for A Century of Progress at Soldier Field, May 27, 1933.

Chicago Mayor Edward Kelly presides over the opening ceremonies for A Century of Progress at Soldier Field, May 27, 1933.

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