As I have often mentioned, I love trains. It’s something that has been in my blood since I was a kid, watching trains go by my grandparent’s home in Grayburg, Texas – near Beaumont on the Missouri Pacific main line between New Orleans and Houston.
I’ve known several men who worked for various railroads, and many of them don’t understand the attraction for railfans. To them, it’s a job – period. But to me, and other lovers of all things rail-related, it’s a passion.
So it should come as no surprise that part of the hobby I enjoy is collecting railroad memorabilia, or as it is sometimes called, railroadiana. Like any form of collecting, there are different ways to enjoy this hobby. Some collectors get all they can of certain items, from whatever railroad – dining car china, for example, or timetables. Others collect items from certain railroads, and that’s where I fall into this obsession. My chosen lines are the Texas & Pacific and its corporate big brother, the Missouri Pacific.
I mean, if I can’t own the railroad, I can at least own a few pieces of it, right? So here are a few things that I have gathered over the years. And in case you’re wondering, no, none of them are terribly valuable – otherwise, I would never have been able to acquire them in the first place!
Timetables are a fairly common collectible. They’re not large or bulky, and relatively easy to store. And, they were produced in such large quantities, that even decades later, you can still find them at reasonable prices, unless you’re trying to find some really obscure ones or something. This is one of my favorite T&P timetables – it’s from 1943. Notice the big “V” for victory – also the three dots and a dash – Morse Code for the letter “v.” Three shorts and a long – it’s why the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony was used by the BBC during the war, as theme music for their newscasts.
Here’s another favorite. This timetable was given to me many years ago by Mrs. Mildred Green, a member of the Christian Church in Haskell where I was pastoring. Her late husband had worked for the Roscoe, Snyder and Pacific Railroad (you gotta love the ambition of that name!), and he received this timetable from the Missouri Pacific because of those connections – his name was even printed right there on the cover. The inside cover is also shown.
Here is another T&P timetable, this one from 1960. I like the graphic of the man taking off his cowboy hat as he is talking with the lady – definitely from a time in the past! I also have another version of this same timetable printed in black and purple, instead of the black and orange colors that this one has. Of course, every timetable had listings of that road’s passenger trains, the cities they served, and their scheduled days and times of service. (Click HERE for a link to Amtrak’s current list of timetables showing their routes – opens in another window.)
Some of the most popular railroad items to collect come from the dining and lounge cars. Eating a meal on the train has always been one of the great treats of rail travel – still is today, for that matter.
Back in the so-called “Golden Age” of passenger travel – the 1920s – the elite train on the Missouri Pacific system was the “Sunshine Special,” which traveled from St. Louis to the Southwest, with connections all throughout Texas and even reaching to Mexico City. When you ate in the dining car on one of those MP trains, you would find a beautiful charger plate at each place setting. These plates were adorned with a very nice painting of a steam engine in the center, and the state flowers of the states served by MoPac trains, with Missouri’s flower at the top, “12 o’clock,” position. EXCEPT, that is, on dining car service in Texas. When you were eating in the diner on the Texas & Pacific, or on one of the MP trains elsewhere in Texas, there was a different version of the charger plate, with the Texas bluebonnet at the “12 o’clock” position, like the one shown here.
Another favorite piece of mine is this linen damask napkin. It measures about 15″ x 22″ and has a gorgeous tone-on-tone view of the T&P logo in the center and very ornate corner designs. Imagine sitting down at a table with these at every place, and the heavy Reed & Barton T&P silverware, like this fork, with the T&P logo in the handle.
Do you remember when milk came in a little glass bottle instead of the waxed cardboard cartons they use now? If you ordered milk in the dining car, this is how it came – all the way from Sunnymede Farm of Bismarck, Missouri.
Of course, if you were traveling first class in the Pullman car, you might want something a little stronger than milk, especially to help you sleep in the evening. If so, the porter might bring you one of these little bottles of bourbon. It held 1/10th of a pint of 100 proof whiskey – roughly equivalent to the 50mL “shooter” bottles you get nowadays. You can still buy Old Forester bourbon today, but I bet it was never finer than when enjoyed to the “rocking of gentle beat” of your private Pullman compartment. I just love this little brown bottle – it’s about 2 1/2 inches wide by 3 1/2 inches tall.
One final piece to show you – it’s a cuspidor – AKA a spittoon – that has been in my family for generations. My grandmother Sallie McMillan gave it to me. Here’s the story as she told it. Her uncle – so that’s my great-GREAT-uncle – was a brakeman for the MP in East Texas. When he retired in the 1920s, as he was leaving the caboose for the last time, he announced, “This railroad has taken a lot from me over the years; now I’m going to take a piece of it!” He reached down and picked up the cuspidor, and headed home. It doesn’t have any markings on it to prove that it came from the RR, or out of a caboose, but that’s the story.
Thanks for sharing this look at some of my collection. Any other collectors of RR stuff out there? I’d love to hear from you.