While the Internet has made research an incredible amount easier, I did discover a new problem while looking up this lucky token. When I typed into Google the obvious parameters “1934,” “Union Pacific,” “lucky piece,” what I got back was page upon page of people selling one. I couldn’t find any information as to the background of these coins. So I had to rely upon that old grad school training and employ the concept of using historical context to discover the whys and hows. What I did was I changed my approach and tried to figure out “why 1934,” and it turns out the answer was right here on my own page… A Century of Progress – World’s Fair. Sure enough when I added that name to my search I found an answer; it was a giveaway at the World’s Fair in 1934 (and my guess is that it was given away at the “Travel and Transport Building,” which according to the guide book it housed an extensive train history exhibit). This also helps explain why I was running into such high numbers of these for sale across the web. I can’t even imagine how many “Lucky Pieces” the UP & ALCOA gave away.
If you really like this vintage art deco piece of railroad history, I know where you can find one cheap.
The Chicago Railroad Fair started in 1948 and was so successful it was extended into 1949. While the title makes it sound like just a typical trade show (and in many ways it was) it was also a lot more with various exhibits and the classic “fun for the whole family.” Even with those high numbers in attendance it was apparently “the last great railroad fair” held (which means that there must have been a decent number of these in the past). The theme of this fair, besides anything and everything RR, was the expansion of the RR west of Chicago. This of course meant a model of a Western town had to be built, and of course there had to be a bank, hence the creation of this souvenir. There are plenty of postcards and other images from this fair on the web, and it was a surprisingly large event held right on the Lake.
While researching this token I came across a modern event that I didn’t know existed: National Train Day. And wouldn’t you know it that it is this Saturday May 7th! There are various events being held across the country with multiple events being held in many states. In my town there are tours of various train cars and locomotives, history related exhibits, some sort of entertainment, and of course train models.
Guess what the kid and I will be torturing my wife with this Saturday?
This map came down to me from Uncle John Zabowski’s daughter Gail. He was in the Merchant Marines during WWII so maybe that is how this map came into his hands. The map was made by the Union Pacific, printed in 1943, gives a complete list of military bases on back, and doesn’t have any sort of Government stamp or secret level listed. It’s a bit worn and you can see the tape running across the middle. Though overall it is in decent shape.
My one question is “Why did they make this?” Now I know that these bases weren’t by any means Top Secret. Yet still it does seem a bit reckless to put them all on one map, along with major roads and rail lines. Yes, the war was pretty much on the other side of the globe, but you have to remember that German subs were found off the Eastern Seaboard and the Gulf of Mexico. On the other side of the country there were anti-aircraft guns up and down the coast. So really, was it worth making a map with everything in one nice package?
I found these two photos of my Uncle Frank McDermott in a stationary envelope that was stuck in a stack of miscellaneous papers. Of course there was nothing written on the photos or envelope to give an explanation but here is my guess. It looks like these were shot right after he came home from The War. The uniform of the guy next to him looks right for the era, as does the overall feel of the shot. Plus, I can’t think of any other reason my Grandma or Grandpa (or whomever) would have taken a photo of him walking down the street and one of him at work. (He worked for the Elgin, Joliet and Eastern Railway. So I’m guessing this was shot in their offices in downtown Chicago.) Also, the shirt box was from Bailey’s, which was a men’s clothing store downtown. A stop there would make sense after being away for so many years.
Uncle Frank was a favorite Uncle that introduced all of his nieces and nephews to sports, and the occasionally hidden dollar or two. He was great with all of us kids but never had any himself. Recently I came across a capital campaign that the National WWII Museum is running; one of those buy a brick and have it engraved projects. So we nieces and nephews decided to purchase one in his name. Not only is it nice to memorialize him, but museums have taken a hell of a hit in this economy. (Along with every other institution that isn’t a major bank or oil company.) So here is my pitch to you… Even if you can’t afford to give to a museum right now, then at least go visit one. Every little bit helps. Society thanks you.
This is an Elgin National Watch Company pocket watch. Elgin was THE name in watches of the 19th century and well into the 20th. They were an official maker of time pieces for the railroads, which meant they had to follow their very strict guidelines for accuracy, and it is estimated that about ½ of the 19th century pocket watches made were from Elgin. Chicagoans may recognize their name from the large clocks at Union Station that state “Elgin Central Time.” This isn’t declaring that the trains run according to the time of a particular suburb but are actually advertisements for a company that no longer exists.
I finally figured out which ancestor owned this watch by matching the photo inside to a recent collection of old photos my Dad gave me. It appears to be my Great Grandmother Katherine Winsel McDermott. Also, there is a 4 leaf clover in the rear compartment, so guessing that this came from the Irish side of the family was a pretty safe bet.
I decided to date the watch, which I figured wouldn’t be that hard since a serial number was printed right under the photo. Turns out that long ago when you bought a watch it was very common to buy a case that you liked and then match it up to a movement you fancied. This meant that the number really had nothing to do with the age of the actual watch. To date the watch you have to open up the casing to reveal the mechanics and use that number. I was a bit leery of this. Images of springs flying, ala a Warner Bros cartoon, came flooding into my brain. But, according to a web site I found it really shouldn’t be that difficult, and it wasn’t. It just opened right up and exposed the inner workings. The photos don’t do justice to how cool they look in person.
The serial number inside dates the watch as being made in 1893. This was the same year as the Columbian Exposition in Chicago. (Check out The Devil in the White City for a good read and a great account of this event.) I found references about watch companies doing a huge business at their exhibits during the Fair. I also have some memorabilia from the Fair so I know my family attended. Thus I believe it is pretty safe to say that this watch was purchased during one of their visits. The odd thing is that my Great Grandfather Frank McDermott was only 14 when the Fair took place. So to further my guessing, I’m going to say that my Great Great Grandfather purchased the watch, and then it was handed down from there.
This tie-clip (at least that’s what I’m assuming) is about an inch and a half long. I hadn’t noticed until recently that it’s marked as the “C&NW Pioneer.” Now my Great Grandfather McDermott, and also his Father, worked for the Chicago and North Western railroad. Since I’ve already made one assumption about this piece, I’ll make another and guess that this most likely came from my Great Grandfather. (I doubt it’s old enough to date all the way back to my Great Great Grandfather.)
The Pioneer is an actual train that I found plenty of references about on the web. It was the very first locomotive to run in Chicago back in 1848 (built in 1837 and delivered by schooner to the new city). I’m not sure for how long it was in service, but I do know that a new tender and car where built for it to be part of a display at the 1948 Chicago Railroad Fair (that I also have something from). (I also found this site that someone posted old slides they had purchased, one of which is of the Pioneer on its display train for the Fair.) Today the engine sits in a new display area at the Chicago History Museum.
The C&NW was bought by the Union Pacific in 1995. At one point the C&NW operated over 12,000 miles of track, but by the time they were purchased it was down to around 5,000. I’m not a train historian by any means, but to me this is an example of where we have gone wrong with transportation in this country. Maybe someday we will be able to once again not only rival, but beat other countries when it comes to good rail service. At least I sure hope so.