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.
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.
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)
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)
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.
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.