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:

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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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Reader Showcase, 12-11-17

Here's a mystery photo, showing a Birney car (#512) being worked on, signed for Fruitridge Avenue. My guess is this may be the Terre Haute Indianapolis & Eastern Traction Company in Indiana. If so, Don's Rail Photos says that Birneys 490 thru 514 were "built by American Car Co in December 1919, (order) #1228 as THI&E 490 thru 514." There is a Fruitridge Avenue in Terre Haute. (Kenneth Gear Collection)

Here’s a mystery photo, showing a Birney car (#512) being worked on, signed for Fruitridge Avenue. My guess is this may be the Terre Haute Indianapolis & Eastern Traction Company in Indiana. If so, Don’s Rail Photos says that Birneys 490 thru 514 were “built by American Car Co in December 1919, (order) #1228 as THI&E 490 thru 514.” There is a Fruitridge Avenue in Terre Haute. (Kenneth Gear Collection)

Here we are again, just in time for the holiday season, bringing many gifts. Like our last post (Reader Showcase, 11-30-17) we are featuring contributions recently sent in by our readers. These include some rare traction shots.

Again, our thanks go out to Jack Bejna, Kenneth Gear, and Larry Sakar for their great contributions and hard work.

In addition, just to keep a hand in, I have added some of our own recent finds that you may enjoy.

Keep those cards and letters coming in, folks!

-David Sadowski

Kenneth Gear shared some additional photos from the collections of the late William A. Steventon of the Railroad Record Club:

Salt Lake, Garfield and Western 401 was former Salt Lake and Utah 104. It changed hands in 1946, and is seen here in December 1952.

Salt Lake, Garfield and Western 401 was former Salt Lake and Utah 104. It changed hands in 1946, and is seen here in December 1952.

Niagara, St. Catharines and Toronto Railway locos 14 and 18.

Niagara, St. Catharines and Toronto Railway locos 14 and 18.

Niagara, St. Catharines and Toronto Railway 130.

Niagara, St. Catharines and Toronto Railway 130.

Altoona & Logan Valley Railway sweeper 50a in Altoona.

Altoona & Logan Valley Railway sweeper 50a in Altoona.

A North Shore Line Electroliner at the Milwaukee terminal.

A North Shore Line Electroliner at the Milwaukee terminal.

Chicago Aurora & Elgin freight locos 2001 and 2002.

Chicago Aurora & Elgin freight locos 2001 and 2002.

Jack Bejna writes:

Hi Dave,

I got back to work on my CA&E project and here are some shots of the final order of steel cars. In many cases I have more than one shot of individual cars so if you need any more images I may be able to help. This group of cars completes my coverage of CA&E’s fleet of passenger cars. I’ll move on to the freight motors and other miscellaneous cars that the railroad owned.

In 1941, CA&E ordered 10 new cars (451-460) from the St. Louis Car Company. This final order was not delivered until October 1945, after World War II ended. The new cars were compatible (and could train) with the Pullman and Cincinnati cars, and were used for all types of service. These cars were lighter and included many improvements.

I know our readers appreciate your fine work, and we will be glad to share any and all images you want to share with us.  Thanks again.

CA&E 451.

CA&E 451.

CA&E 452 as new.

CA&E 452 as new.

CA&E 453 plus one on a CERA inspection trip.

CA&E 453 plus one on a CERA inspection trip.

CA&E 454.

CA&E 454.

CA&E 455.

CA&E 455.

CA&E 456, eastbound at Lombard.

CA&E 456, eastbound at Lombard.

CA&E 457 and three more cars at Wheaton.

CA&E 457 and three more cars at Wheaton.

CA&E 457.

CA&E 457.

(See Comments section) Jack Bejna: "Here's the image that I started with, as found on one of my searches of the internet. As you can see, I just Photoshopped the end of the car so as to present a nice ¾ view. I never noticed the lettering was unusual and didn't do any work on it. In future posts, if I change/modify an image I will clearly label it as such!"

(See Comments section) Jack Bejna: “Here’s the image that I started with, as found on one of my searches of the internet. As you can see, I just Photoshopped the end of the car so as to present a nice ¾ view. I never noticed the lettering was unusual and didn’t do any work on it. In future posts, if I change/modify an image I will clearly label it as such!”

CA&E 458.

CA&E 458.

CA&E 459, eastbound at Wheaton.

CA&E 459, eastbound at Wheaton.

CA&E 460 at Collingbourne.

CA&E 460 at Collingbourne.

Larry Sakar writes:

TM 978 at San Francisco Muni's Geneva Yard in September 1983.

TM 978 at San Francisco Muni’s Geneva Yard in September 1983.

I was going thru my Milwaukee streetcar photos and ran across the one and only shot I got of the 978 in San Francisco. I had to climb on to this concrete wall in front of the yard and hold on to the cyclone fence with one hand and snap the picture with the other. The ledge was quite narrow.

Here is some valuable background for the Los Angeles streetcar and Pacific Electric Railway material. (Editor’s Note: See our previous post Reader Showcase, 11-30-17.

The Los Angeles Railway company operated a large network of streetcar Ines covering every part of Los Angeles. Los Angeles’ streetcar system was a cable railway in its early beginnings, which accounts for the fact that it was narrow gauge for its entire existence. On a number of streets in downtown LA, both the Pacific Electric and LARY operated on the same tracks. In those instances, there were three versus the standard two rails. Both lines shared the outer rail, but LA Railway cars had their own second rail “farther in”.

By the turnoff the 20th Century, the LA system was acquired by the great Henry Huntington. Huntington was the nephew of Collis P. Huntington, one of the big four involved in the creation of the transcontinental railway along with other eventual luminaries like Mark Hopkins, Leland Stanford, and Theodore Judah. Huntington headed the Central Pacific RR which ultimately became the Southern Pacific RR. The Pacific Electric RR was a wholly owned subsidiary of the SP, as were the Interurban Electric RR and Northwestern Pacific RR in the San Francisco Bay area. Henry Huntington transformed the former cable railway into the magnificent Los Angeles Railways Co. He was also the President and CEO of the Pacific Electric Railway, often referred to as “the interurban that helped build southern California.”

As was the case in so many cities, the rise of the private automobile began to take a toll on the streetcar lines, until the outbreak of WWII on December 7, 1941. Every available car was pressed into service. By the war’s end in 1945, the LA streetcar system was in need of renovation. Although both LARY and PE purchased new PCC cars, they could not overcome the post war turn towards freeways. PE’s right-of-way was beset with numerous additional grade crossings thus making the cars slower than competing automobiles and buses. By 1950 the LA Freeway system was knocking at PE’s door. there was little doubt of the eventual outcome. It remained only a matter of when PE would finally be killed off by the highway interests and one other well known menace, National City Lines.

First to succumb to the rail-destroying conglomerate (NCL) was LARY sold by Henry Huntington’s heirs in 1945. The company was renamed Los Angeles Transit Lines and equipment wore the well-known NCL “fruit salad” colors of yellow, green and white. Remarkably the LA system outlasted both Chicago and Milwaukee, abandoning the final five streetcar lines in March 1963. Some of the older equipment, like the sow bellies and Huntington Standard streetcars, were acquired by museums and one was “preserved” at the Travel Town Museum in LA’s Griffith Park. Several LARY PCCs also went to the Orange Empire Trolley Museum in Perris, CA. The remaining and newest PCCs were sold to Cairo, Egypt in 1963.

PE fared no better. Interurban lines on each of the four operating districts, as PE called them, (designated by direction) were abandoned even before the company was sold to bus operator Metropolitan Coach lines in 1953. Supposedly, MCL owner Jesse Haugh, a former officer with Pacific City lines (an NCL company), nearly had a heart attack when he saw the MCL emblem on the PE Interurban cars.

In 1958, both LATL and PE became part of the newly created Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority. But the MTA was, in reality, nothing more than a continuation of the pro-bus MCL/LATL managements. The two-tone green colors of the MTA were the colors of Metropolitan Coach Lines. The last PE line (to Long Beach) went to its grave in April 1961.

As stated previously, streetcar service under the MTA continued until March of 1963. Some of PE’s older 1200-series interurbans and all 20 of the Pullman built PCCs were sold to the General Urguiza Railway in 1959. Four years of storage in the damp, abandoned Hollywood subway brought an early end to their second lives in Argentina.

But the worst insult to transit came next. In 1963, the LAMTA became the SCRTD, Southern California Rapid Transit District. Never has a bus system been so misnamed. There was absolutely nothing “rapid transit” about it!

But when all hoped for California to wake up and return to its past, a transit revolution took place down the California Coast. A brand new light rail line was opened in San Diego in 1980. Known as the San Diego Trolley, it would start a transit revolution that rocked California. True, BART started up in the San Francisco Bay area in 1972, but San Francisco never lost touch with the streetcar the way LA did.

By 1990, LA was beginning to rise out of the dense smog that blanketed the area on a daily basis. It was then that the newly formed Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Commission opened its first light rail line, the Blue Line running between downtown LA and Long Beach via the right of way once used by the PE red cars. The line begins in a subway that one connects with via the LA METRO Red Line subway from LAUPT, Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal (Amtrak and Metrolink Commuter Rail).

Since then, two additional former PE lines to Pasadena and Santa Monica have been rebuilt and placed in service. Diesel commuter rail service, operated by Metrolink, serves other points once served by PE such as Glendale and Burbank. The service extends all the way up the California Coast to San Luis Obispo and south to Oceanside. Here, one can take the frequent trains on Amtrak’s San Diego Surfliner route or the commuter train from Oceanside to San Diego known as the Coaster. The Coaster operates equipment that resembles Toronto’s GO Transit system. Perhaps they are the same type of cars. Somebody familiar with both systems will undoubtedly know.

I went into my timetables and documents collection and found the 1983 San Francisco Historic Streetcar Festival brochure which pictured the cars that were going to operate. You’ll see that TM 978 was one of them. I had to scan it in part and then move it slightly to get the rest of it scanned as it was too long for my screen. I found some interesting things in my timetables and transfers that you are welcome to post if you wish.

Thanks!

San Francisco MUNI Part 3 by Larry Sakar

(Editor’s note: Parts 1 and 2 appeared in our last post, referenced above.)

SAN FRANCISCO MUNICIPAL RAILWAY STREETCAR LINES

The San Francisco Municipal Railway operates 8 streetcar lines. Although that may seem like a substantial number of streetcar lines, it is a fraction of the streetcar lines that once operated in the city by the Golden Gate. The 8 lines serve nearly every part of San Francisco. Within the last few years MUNI was reorganized into the SFMTA –San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency. The Market Street Railway which owns the historic streetcars is not a part of MUNI and receives no transit funding.

The Municipal Railway or MUNI for short uses letters rather than route numbers to identify the streetcar lines. Of course with the exception of the F-Line all of the other routes used modern Light Rail Vehicles with brand new cars now arriving and undergoing testing. The 8 lines are as follows:

E-Embarcadero (south of Market to Cal Train station)
F-Market St. & Wharves
J-Church St.
K-Ingleside
L-Taraval
M-Ocean View
N-Judah
T-Third St.

All trains entering the “downtown” area operate in the Market Street subway (with the exception of the E, F & T lines) to the end of the MUNI subway at Embarcadero station. The Market Street subway is a two-level tube. MUNI streetcars operate on the upper level with BART trains running in the lower tube. The MUNI subway ends at Embarcadero station but BART continues across the bay in a subway laid on the floor of the bay. The tube runs relatively close to the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge.

In the opposite direction BART turns off toward Daly City and eventually Milbrae and the line to San Francisco International Airport. However, they are still in close proximity at the BART Balboa Park station which is near the Curtis Green Light Rail facility. Let’s take a ride on MUNI:

Before the Market St. subway was built, streetcars operated down the center of Market St. from 1st to Duboce, where they turned off and entered the Twin Peaks tunnel. It is one of two streetcar tunnels, the other being the Sunset tunnel.

THE PHOTOS

1-3. I took the first three photos in late December 1973. If it looks like the car is running the wrong way that’s because it is. Long before passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, protestors decided to call attention to their plight by blocking the tracks on Market Street. PCCs put up their rear poles and ran the wrong way back down Market Street. At least two of the cars seen here were the 1006 thru 1015, which were double ended cars. Note the differing paint schemes between the PCCs.

4. We have operated thru the Twin Peaks tunnel and have arrived at West Portal station. This was the point where the various routes diverged and remains so today. The station was completely rebuilt when the LRVs took over from the PCCs and no longer looks like this.

5. This is the interior of one of the double ended PCCs.

6-7: By 1983 when I took these next two pictures the PCCs had been replaced by new Boeing-Vertol LRVs. The Boeing cars had many problems. When the new F-Market surface line opened in 1995, commuters flocked to the surface cars to avoid the delays caused by malfunctioning Boeing cars in the subway.

8. An interior view of one of the Boeing LRVs, which were articulated. Unlike TMER&L, who assigned numbers to each car of their articulated streetcars and interurbans, MUNI LRVs carried the same car number on each end, with one designated as “A” and the other “B”.

9-10: The Boeing LRVs were replaced by new LRVs built by BREDA. I don’t especially like the boxy looking front end of these cars. When I was in San Francisco on August 5th & 6th of this year (2017), MUNI was testing brand new LRVs which will replace the BREDA cars.

11-13: Three interior views of the BREDA LRVs. Like the Boeing cars before them, these cars have a unique but necessary feature. While operating thru the Market Street subway, steps are not needed as the floors are at platform height. As the cars depart West Portal station a warning bell goes off and a red light begins to flash. The floor then descends to reveal the steps needed to enter the cars from the city streets over which they operate. The door in the rear car has permitted fare cheaters to escape paying a fare. I saw school kids at various stops watch for that door to open. One would then jump in, thus blocking it from closing, while his cohorts scrambled aboard without paying a fare. The motorman was probably well aware of it, but knew better than to challenge the cheaters and risk potential assault. It surprises me that MUNI does not assign undercover personnel to catch these brats in the act.

14-17: This is the Curtis Green Light Rail Center near Balboa Park.

18. A BREDA two-car train lays over in front of the old Geneva car house. Look between the UPS truck and the train, and you’ll see that the old car house is fenced off. The building suffered extensive damage in the 1989 earthquake. MUNI plans to restore it when funding permits. The M-Ocean View, K-Ingleside and J-Church light rail lines all meet here.

19-22: Without question is MUNI’s most scenic streetcar line is the J-Church. A portion of the line operates on private right-of-way along the western edge of Mission Dolores park providing a spectacular view of San Francisco.

Recent Finds

Postwar PCC 4300, heading northbound on Route 42 (which was an offshoot of the Halsted line), has just passed under the New York Central on its way towards Clark and Illinois Streets. That's a Rock Island train passing by, with a Railway Express car.

Postwar PCC 4300, heading northbound on Route 42 (which was an offshoot of the Halsted line), has just passed under the New York Central on its way towards Clark and Illinois Streets. That’s a Rock Island train passing by, with a Railway Express car.

Four CTA prewar PCCs, led by 7033, are lined up on Cottage Grove at 115th in the early 1950s.

Four CTA prewar PCCs, led by 7033, are lined up on Cottage Grove at 115th in the early 1950s.

This one is probably late 1960s, as buildings around the funicular have already been cleared away as part of the redevelopment of the Bunker Hill area.

This one is probably late 1960s, as buildings around the funicular have already been cleared away as part of the redevelopment of the Bunker Hill area.

This view of the Angel's Flight Railway looks more like the early 1950s.

This view of the Angel’s Flight Railway looks more like the early 1950s.

Angel's Flight in the mid-1960s.

Angel’s Flight in the mid-1960s.

Don's Rail Photos says, "707 was built by Alco-General Electric in June 1931, #68270, 11193, as NYC 1242, Class R-2. It was renumbered 342 in August 1936. In July 1967 it was rebuilt as CSS&SB 707. It was scrapped in April 1976." Here, we see it prior to the 1967 rebuilding.

Don’s Rail Photos says, “707 was built by Alco-General Electric in June 1931, #68270, 11193, as NYC 1242, Class R-2. It was renumbered 342 in August 1936. In July 1967 it was rebuilt as CSS&SB 707. It was scrapped in April 1976.” Here, we see it prior to the 1967 rebuilding.

South Shore Line 108 in Michigan City.

South Shore Line 108 in Michigan City.

South Shore Line 111 in Michigan City.

South Shore Line 111 in Michigan City.

South Shore Line 211.

South Shore Line 211.

South Shore Line 111 in the mid-1960s. Not sure if this is in Michigan City or South Bend.

South Shore Line 111 in the mid-1960s. Not sure if this is in Michigan City or South Bend.

To me, this looks like the CTA DesPlaines Avenue terminal as it appeared on April 4, 1959. Work was underway to both reconfigure the terminal and build the adjacent Congress expressway. We are looking east.

To me, this looks like the CTA DesPlaines Avenue terminal as it appeared on April 4, 1959. Work was underway to both reconfigure the terminal and build the adjacent Congress expressway. We are looking east.

North Shore Line 714 on January 20, 1963, the last full day of service before abandonment. 714 is now at the Illinois Railway Museum.

North Shore Line 714 on January 20, 1963, the last full day of service before abandonment. 714 is now at the Illinois Railway Museum.

North Shore Line cars 715 and 748 at the Milwaukee terminal on January 20, 1963. 715 is now preserved at the Fox River Trolley Museum.

North Shore Line cars 715 and 748 at the Milwaukee terminal on January 20, 1963. 715 is now preserved at the Fox River Trolley Museum.

CTA PCC 7215 on July 9, 1957. Notice the large dent on the front of the car. In our previous post One Good Turn (January 20, 2017), we ran another picture of this car taken on August 21, 1956 showing the same dent. Chances are, CTA chose not to repair this, as streetcar service was being phased out. This car was retired about two weeks before the Wentworth line was converted to bus on June 21, 1958.

CTA PCC 7215 on July 9, 1957. Notice the large dent on the front of the car. In our previous post One Good Turn (January 20, 2017), we ran another picture of this car taken on August 21, 1956 showing the same dent. Chances are, CTA chose not to repair this, as streetcar service was being phased out. This car was retired about two weeks before the Wentworth line was converted to bus on June 21, 1958.

CTA PCC 7184 is southbound on Clark Street on July 9, 1957. I realize that some people might not like this photo, since it is not perfect and part of the streetcar is blocked by a moving vehicle. But such pictures do give you a sense that these were vehicles in motion.

CTA PCC 7184 is southbound on Clark Street on July 9, 1957. I realize that some people might not like this photo, since it is not perfect and part of the streetcar is blocked by a moving vehicle. But such pictures do give you a sense that these were vehicles in motion.

This view of two Garfield Park "L" trains is somewhere west of the Loop and was taken on April 13, 1957.

This view of two Garfield Park “L” trains is somewhere west of the Loop and was taken on April 13, 1957.

Indiana Railroad 375, probably on a 1938-40 fantrip. Don's Rail Photos: "375 was built by St Louis Car Co in 1926 as Indiana Service Corp 375. It was ass1gned to IRR as 375 in 1932 and rebuilt as a RPO-combine in 1935. It was sold to Chicago South Shore & South Bend in 1941 as 503 and used as a straight baggage car. It was rebuilt in 1952 with windows removed and doors changed."

Indiana Railroad 375, probably on a 1938-40 fantrip. Don’s Rail Photos: “375 was built by St Louis Car Co in 1926 as Indiana Service Corp 375. It was ass1gned to IRR as 375 in 1932 and rebuilt as a RPO-combine in 1935. It was sold to Chicago South Shore & South Bend in 1941 as 503 and used as a straight baggage car. It was rebuilt in 1952 with windows removed and doors changed.”

From the picture, it's hard to tell, but this is either Indiana Railroad lightweight high-speed car 35 or 55. If it is 55, that later went to Lehigh Valley Transit and became their car 1030, which is now at the Seashore Trolley Museum. Again, this appears to be a late 1930s fantrip.

From the picture, it’s hard to tell, but this is either Indiana Railroad lightweight high-speed car 35 or 55. If it is 55, that later went to Lehigh Valley Transit and became their car 1030, which is now at the Seashore Trolley Museum. Again, this appears to be a late 1930s fantrip.

Indiana Railroad 375. This car has been preserved as South Shore Line baggage car 503 since 1996 in Scottsburg, Indiana.

Indiana Railroad 375. This car has been preserved as South Shore Line baggage car 503 since 1996 in Scottsburg, Indiana.

Chicago Rapid Transit Door Control on 4000s

As late as 1950, the Chicago Transit Authority, which took over the Chicago Rapid Transit Company in 1947, was still using a very old-fashioned and labor-intensive method of door control on its 4000-series “L” cars, which were built between 1913 and 1924.

CRT had been unable to invest in more modern methods, which had been introduced in New York in the early 1920s, due to its lack of capital. Ironically, such an investment in multiple-unit door control (with a starting signal supplied to the motorman) would have saved CRT a great deal in labor costs.

If you’ve ever wondered how the old system worked, here is a detailed explanation from a rare 1950 CTA training brochure.  Conductors rode outside between cars, even on some of the newer post-World War II rapid transit cars, before the conductor’s position was moved to a greater place of comfort and safety inside the new “married pairs” of cars.

This brochure suggests that as of March 1950, all 4000-series rapid transit cars had been made into semi-married pairs.  As built, they were all single-car units.  The last single car units (the 1-50 series) were built for the CTA in 1960.

Knittin’ Pretty

Here is a real curiosity. Reading this 1954 brochure through, you might at first think it is simply encouraging people to ride the CTA in order to save a few pennies.

However, as the text goes on, it becomes an argument in favor of the CTA’s “PCC Conversion Program,” whereby 570 fairly new postwar PCC streetcars were scrapped, and some of their parts were used to build a like number of 6000-series rapid transit cars.

The cost of a rapid transit car with all new parts is quoted as $50-60k, while St. Louis Car Company offered to build them for just $32,332 each. Thus a savings between $17-27k per car is implied.

After doing some research, I eventually found a CTA document that gives the actual costs incurred. The first 250 curved-door 6000s, with some recycled parts, actually cost the CTA $54,727.64 apiece.

From this, two conclusions can be drawn. First, that the contract between CTA and SLCC allowed for price adjustments that increased costs by more than 67% over the bid price.

Second, that the PCC Conversion Program did not actually save the CTA between $17-27k as was implied in this brochure (and similar figures claimed elsewhere). Since the cost of the previous order for one hundred 6000s with all new parts was $40,904.01, somehow the cost per car actually increased by nearly $14k per unit.

The difference can be explained in how the program worked. Over time, CTA sold 570 PCCs to SLCC for $14k each. This figure is confirmed on page 13 of the 1961 CTA Annual Report. Meanwhile, the cost for each new rapid transit car ordered appears to have increased by approximately the same amount, at least for the first 250 cars ordered under this arrangement.

The cost per car for subsequent rapid transit car orders, in general, shows a gradual increase. 120 cars purchased in 1957 had a cost of $59,368.84 per car, or $4,600 higher than the first 250.

Perhaps part of this increase is due to inflation, but it is likely that the age and condition of the parts being recycled was another factor.

In light of this, a case can be made that, from a materials standpoint in constructing 570 rapid transit cars, this program did not save any money at all, compared to what it would have cost to build the same number of vehicles with all new parts. In fact, since the recycled parts were not new, chances are the program was a disadvantage, as old parts cannot last as long, or serve as well, compared to new.

The actual goal, it would seem, of the PCC Conversion Program, was to get rid of the PCC streetcars in such a way as to take them off the books without showing a loss compared to their depreciated value. The 570 cars involved were between five and ten years old when scrapped. As we know, there are PCCs that are still being used in regular service by a few transit systems. The newest of these were built 65 years ago.

The CTA had other reasons for wanting to eliminate even the modern PCC streetcars. Curiously, the costs of maintaining track and wire were not cited in any of the various documents I have seen.

On the other hand, the 1951 DeLeuw, Cather consultant’s report recommended that CTA not buy any additional electric vehicles, streetcar or trolley bus, due to the supposed high cost of electricity purchased from Commonwealth Edison. As it turned out, no additional electric vehicles were purchased for the surface system until the recent experiments with battery powered buses.

CTA saved money by eliminating two-man streetcars, through reduced labor costs, but the CTA Board was told in 1954 not to expect any further savings in this regard (after the elimination of red car service). The reasons may be two-fold: in some cases, on the heaviest lines, it was likely advantageous to use two-man PCCs, and some PCCs had been converted to one-man operation, or could be used either way.

The Chicago Transit Authority had an decade-long flirtation with propane buses during the 1950s. Propane was then quite cheap, but the buses so used were severely under-powered and had difficulty maintaining schedules. The service thus provided on the surface system by such buses was of lower quality than the PCC streetcars and may have contributed to continued ridership losses on the surface system in the late 1950s.

One can argue that it might have actually worked to CTA’s advantage to continue operating the PCCs instead of scrapping them.

-David Sadowski

FYI, the above graph shows the costs for various rapid transit car orders placed between 1947 and 1958. A couple things are worth noting. The first four cars were the experimental articulated 5001-5004 units, which were each approximately equivalent in length to two standard "L" cars. This, and their experimental nature, helps explain the relatively high per-unit cost. The 1958 total includes the 50 single car units (#1-50), but does not break down the cost relative to the final 50 married-pair units it is lumped in with.

FYI, the above graph shows the costs for various rapid transit car orders placed between 1947 and 1958. A couple things are worth noting. The first four cars were the experimental articulated 5001-5004 units, which were each approximately equivalent in length to two standard “L” cars. This, and their experimental nature, helps explain the relatively high per-unit cost. The 1958 total includes the 50 single car units (#1-50), but does not break down the cost relative to the final 50 married-pair units it is lumped in with.

Railroad Record Club News

Additional tracks have been added to two of our Railroad Record Club CD releases, which are available through our Online Store.

An additional 11:24 has been added to this disc, which now has a running time of 75:41. Source: The Silverton Train (Your Sound of Steam Souvenir #2, 1964).

We recently obtained another handmade Railroad Record Club acetate disc with some new material on it, which has been added to our RRC Steam Rarities CD. One more track from the East Broad Top has been added, and the Illinois Central track has been improved. The new running time for this disc is 76:34.

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.)

Check out our new book Chicago Trolleys. Signed copies are available through our Online Store.

HOLIDAY SPECIAL! This book makes an excellent gift. For a limited time only, we have reduced the price to just $17.99 plus shipping. That’s $4.00 off the regular price.

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Revisiting the Railroad Record Club

An RRC insert, found inside a vintage 1965 LP.

An RRC insert, found inside a vintage 1965 LP.

Following up on our earlier post about the Railroad Record Club (April 12), we found some interesting documents inside one of the many steam and traction LPs they issued in the 1950s and 60s. These date to late 1965.

The RRC Newsletter shows that record #32 came out late in 1965, and the five “special” pressings were also out by then. There is a mention that the company that pressed their records (RCA) was getting out of the business soon, but this may simply mean that they no longer wanted to make 10″ records, which were going out of favor.

The remaining four RRC tiles #33-36 most likely came out in 1966, since the club had been putting out four records per year. Those were also issued on 10″ LPs, but after that, the Railroad Record Club only put out reissues on 12″ vinyl.

There is also a description of a pressing error, where RCA apparently mismatched some of the two Nickel Plate Road LPs. RRC sold these to the public but unfortunately did not mark them as such.

Some recordings that were never issued are mentioned, including one of the Queensboro Bridge trolley, which last ran on April 7, 1957. Perhaps there is still rare traction audio out there waiting to be rediscovered.

Here is a video of that trolley*:

In response to your requests for more RRC titles on CD, we have added eight more steam titles to our Online Store. Nearly all of these have two RRC titles together on single compact disc.

To give you an idea of the relative value of cost, fifty years ago versus today, we made a comparison using one of those online inflation calculators. Each 10″ LP cost $4.00 in 1965, which is the equivalent of $30.30 now.

By comparison, we are offering two RRC discs in most cases for just $14.95.

The special South Shore Line 3-disc box set cost $12.49 when first issued, which would be nearly $100 in today’s money. We have the same title on two discs for only $19.95.

In addition to the Railroad Record Club recordings, we have also transferred a few other public domain recordings to compact disc.

We are still looking for a copy of RRC #23, which features Pennsylvania traction. There are vintage 1950s recordings of both the Johnstown Traction and the Altoona & Logan Valley streetcars on that disc. If you have a copy of this rare title that you would be willing to share with us, we would be glad to transfer it to compact disc and send you back your original along with a copy.

Thanks.

-Ye Olde Editor

*The narration is by prolific author Vincent F. Seyfried (1918-2012). He does get one thing wrong, however. The trolleys used on the Queensboro Bridge operation in its last days were built in 1930, not 1948.

Car 601, an “Electromobile” built by Osgood-Bradley, survived until 2009. It had been allowed to deteriorate for many years in storage, but at least parts from this car will help restore others.

The RRC Newsletter from late 1965.

The RRC Newsletter from late 1965.

The RRC Order Form from late 1965. LPs cost $4.00, which is the equivalent of $30.30 today. The $12.49 cost of the 3-disc South Shore Line recording would equate to $94.62 now.

The RRC Order Form from late 1965. LPs cost $4.00, which is the equivalent of $30.30 today. The $12.49 cost of the 3-disc South Shore Line recording would equate to $94.62 now.

RRC sold more than just records.

RRC sold more than just records.

There was a pressing error in 1965, and some of the two Nickel Plate LPs got mixed up. RRC sold these errors to the public and left it up to the purchaser to take note of the mistake.

There was a pressing error in 1965, and some of the two Nickel Plate LPs got mixed up. RRC sold these errors to the public and left it up to the purchaser to take note of the mistake.

Several new RRC steam titles are now available in our Online Store.

Several new RRC steam titles are now available in our Online Store.

A Railroad Record Club Discography

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The Railroad Record Club was started in the early 1950s by William Steventon (1921-1993), a farmer living near Hawkins, Wisconsin.  He issued a total of 37 10″ records (each containing about 30 minutes of audio) in his original series between about 1955 and 1965. In most years, four titles were issued.

One fan reports, “The Railroad Record Club was a hobby operation. Bill would edit tapes either sent to him by his friends, or from his own work, make a master tape, and send it off RCA’s custom record plant.”

Most records featured steam locomotives, but there were some traction recordings as well.  All of these included sounds that were once familiar to all, but were already fast disappearing from the American scene.  The recordings of the Railroad Record Club are an important part of the historical record, and supplement the films and photographs taken at the time.

Eventually, some of the original discs were reissued on 12″.  There were also some samplers made.

Hard information about the RRC seems to be lacking on the Internet, but I did find this article from the March 6, 1958 issue of the Milwaukee Sentinel:

TOWN STILL HEARS TRAIN ‘CHUG-CHUG’

HAWKINS, Wis., March 5 (Special) – The chug-chug of coal burning locomotives pulling up steep grades and the lonesome wail of the steam whistle can still be heard in this Rusk County village.  This is despite the fact that Soo Line train engines running through Hawkins have been dieselized for a number of years.  These sounds, instead, come from some 200,000 feet of tape recording made by William A. Steventon, manager of the Cream Valley Telephone Co. here.

200 CLUB MEMBERS

Steventon is the organizer of the Railroad Record Club, which has some 200 members throughout the United States and in several foreign countries.  During 1957 he sold 1,000 records in America, New Zealand, Australia, England and Canada.

Steventon got into this fascinating sideline in 1953 when his bride-to-be gave him a record of railroad sounds for Christmas.  It was of imitation noises, recorded in a studio.  This sounds like an unusual gift, until you learn that Steventon is the son of a locomotive engineer and climbed up on a chair to watch the trains go past his home in Mt. Carmel, Ill., as soon as he could walk.

TOY TRAINS AT 4

He got his first toy electric train when he was four years old.  As a teenager in the 1930s, he started building scale model electric trains.  Electric trains particularly fascinated Steventon.  He collected pictures of interurban lines throughout the country, also visiting as many of them as he could.

He now has seven complete model train sets and is working on another.  He hopes to get into steam locomotives later.  When he finishes building his new home east of Hawkins, Steventon plans to set up a system of tracks for his train.

When Steventon, working then for the government in Washington, D. C., got the sound recording for Christmas, he decided to record the real McCoy.

VISITED 15 STATES

Since then he has recorded steam and electric trains in 15 states– from New York to California, even in Chicago’s smoky Loop.  As you sit in Steventon’s office listening to the huff and puff of the engine and the clickety-clack of wheels over rail joints, you almost feel the sway of the cars.

Some recordings offered by Steventon to club members include sounds no longer heard on railroads such as the Illinois Terminal, Johnstown Traction, Potomac Edison, Waterloo, Cedar Falls & Northern, Shaker Heights Rapid Transit, Denver and Rio Grande Western, New York Central and the Duluth, Mesabi and Iron Range.  Club members are required to buy three of four records offered each year at a reduced rate.

ONE DESCRIBED

Here is his description of one record:

“One side will consist  of locomotive switching at Spooner, Wis.  Did you ever ride a sleeper and stop at some division point in the wee hours and listen to a nearby switch engine doing yeard work in a misting rain?  This is just such a recording.

“The other side will have the last steamer on the Wabash doing yard work at Bluffs, Ill.  This recording was made from the train and captures all the thrilling sounds of the air pump, clanging firebox door, exhaust and whistles.  This steamer has been retired since the spring of 1955, but lives on in this recording.”

Steventon said one woman in Maine wrote him that records her son has purchased “were so realistic that smoke from the trains got my curtains dirty.”

So, it appears Steventon dated the founding of the club to Christmas 1953, although I don’t think any records were issued before 1955.  The first introductory record was unnumbered, and the ones that followed ran from 1-36.  There were at least six special pressings in the early 1970s, and various samplers that presumably gave club members and record dealers some idea of what they could order each year.  Some records were reissued in 12″ format, and the club seems to have kept going until around 1986.

Here is what I assume to be a more or less complete Railroad Record Club discography. As far as I know, this is the first and only such discography that you will find online.

-David Sadowski

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 Pennsy 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 (Disc says No. 36)
36 Chicago, Aurora & Elgin, Chicago Transit Authority (Disc says No. 35)

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)

Samplers
S1 1st & 2nd Years -1-4, 5-8
S2 3rd & 4th Years – 9-12, 13-16
S3 5th Year – 17-20
S4 6th Year – 21-24
S5 7th & 8th Years – 25-28, 29-32
S6 9th year – 33-36

PS- Eric Bronsky writes:

As it turns out, I acquired a bunch of recordings many years ago and still have my copy of that Club’s 1965-1970 catalog. Scans are attached. The detailed description of each record should help you to fill in any gaps. You’re welcome to share these images through your blog.

I recall Bill Steventon’s apology for having to raise the price of all 10″ records to $4.00 (postpaid)! In those days the price increase seemed steep because I was earning only $3.00/hour.

I also saved several Record Club newsletters from various years up to 1986 and a 1971 catalog from Mobile Fidelity Records, which produced the original Interurban Memories album. All-Nation Hobby Shop once had a “record department” which sold RR sound recordings from several sources. “Traction Ted” Seifert was in charge of this.

RRRC 01

RRRC 02

RRRC 03

RRRC 04

RRRC 05

RRRC 06

RRRC 07

Railroad Record Club disc #13.

Railroad Record Club disc #13.

PS- You can now purchase some of these historic recordings on compact disc through our Online Store. We also posted a follow-up article about the RRC that you can read here.