Action in the Railroad Archives

By February 13, 2020February 17th, 2020HeritageRail News

By Aaron Isaacs, HRA editor

The quiet world of railroad history archives has seen some notable developments lately. I’m sure there are others that I’m unaware of. If you know of others, please click here to contact me.

Center for Railroad Photography and Art
The Center is arguably the highest profile archive, thanks to its book publishing, magazine, and traveling exhibits. Founded by the late John Gruber, it has received some of the largest, best known photo collections. Among them are Wallace Abbey, J. Parker Lamb, Jim Schaughnessy and Victor Hand. Gruber’s collection is expected to arrive in 2020. All are being digitized. The sheer number of photos is notable; 90,000 from Schaughnessy, 46,000 from hand and 25,000 from Abbey. The less well known John F. Bjorklund and Fred M. Springer exceeded 50,000 each. The total holdings were 161,000 in 2015. Given the commitments already in place, that number will grow to over 600,000 by 2021. As a result the Center has just relocated its storage facility to a larger space, owned by the City of Madison, Wisconsin.

Collections growth at the Center for Railroad Photography and Art.

Illinois Railway Museum Pullman Library
The Pullman Library has been located in a former bank building in the small town of Union, a mile from the museum. This is the repository for the museum’s Pullman Company records, a national resource for anyone restoring Pullman-built rolling stock. The museum is constructing a replica Main Street on the west edge of its grounds, complete with street trackage for a future expansion of the streetcar operating loop. The visitor entrance has already moved there, as has the museum bookstore, both housed in an historic store building that was moved on-site. Under construction is a multi-use building that will house the Pullman Library, along with the offices of the Milwaukee Road Historical Society.

There’s also a major acquisition to report. CSX closed its Calumet City dispatching office and donated a large collection of Baltimore & Ohio Chicago Terminal valuation maps, along with the metal flat files that housed them.

Pacific Southwest Railway Museum
In a great example of converting lemons to lemonade, the museum built a library from shipping containers to house the archive that had once been located in the San Diego Amtrak depot. The holdings continued to expand and the modular building has recently been expanded from 6 containers to 12. The entire structure is heavily insulated and the working areas are climate controlled. The museum has just received 350 boxes of San Diego & Arizona documents from the San Diego History Center, giving them custody of all known SD&A materials.

The Canadian Railway Historical Association has acquired the corporate records of Canadian Pacific, which is another way of saying the development history of Canada. This enormous trove has required the acquisition of a new building to house it. Cataloguing is underway.

Seashore Trolley Museum
After decades making do with a ramshackle building with a leaky roof, the museum has moved its library into a house that it owns near the museum entrance. It formerly housed a caretaker.

St. Louis Mercantile Library
Looking for a photo of a railroad right of way from the 1940s? The Mercantile Library has digitized the snapshots taken by John W. Barriger from the rear platforms of business cars as he traveled the nation. Barriger documented everything. A terrific resource.

Minnesota Streetcar Museum
Your editor happens to be the Minnesota Streetcar Museum’s librarian. This is old news, but the museum never had a library until five years ago. We built an addition to carbarn/shop building, including a climate controlled library room. Inside is the documented history of Minnesota’s and North Dakota’s streetcars.

HeritageRail Alliance
Our own organization is compiling a digital library of resource materials for railway preservationists. HRA members can access it under the Members section of the home page. The latest addition is a comprehensive series of diesel locomotive manuals and maintenance documents from the collection of retired EMD expert Preston Cook.

Tom Taber’s guide to rail history collections
Thomas T. Taber III devoted himself to researching railroad history. In addition to books on the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western and other eastern railroads, he was active in the Railroad & Locomotive Historical Society, and indexed the entirety of their publication Railroad History. I include him in this story because he compiled an essential reference work,  the most thorough guide ever to archives containing railroad history. It is now available online through the Northwestern University Library. The link is




Leave a Reply