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About Railroadiana: A Glossary
By Richard Barrett

Railroad artifacts are very diverse. They range from a little piece of cardstock called a "pass" to a several hundred pound locomotive bell or even a complete locomotive. To people just learning about railroadiana, the terms used by collectors, dealers, and reference books can be confusing and unfamiliar. Grouping things together, here are definitions of some of the more common types of railroad collectables. Photos of railroadiana from our members collections are shown at the end of the glossary, or click here to go to them.

Dining Car Equipment

Dining Car China - China made specifically for use in railroad dining cars or in the business cars used by railroad executives.

Dining Car Holloware - Silver plated (usually) utensils such as sugar bowls, soup tureens, wine coolers, creamers, etc., specifically made for use in railroad dining cars or in the business cars of railroad executives or business tycoons.

Dining Car Flatware - Spoons, knives, forks, and other utensils specifically made for use in railroad dining cars or in the business cars of railroad executives or business tycoons.

Dining Car Linens - Tablecloths, napkins and similar articles made for use in railroad dining cars or in the business cars of railroad executives or business tycoons.

Lounge Car Items - Items such as ashtrays or drinkholders used in railroad lounge cars.

Glassware - All types of drinking glasses used in railroad lounge cars or dining cars.

Menus - Breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack, and bar menus used on passenger trains.

Engine Hardware

Builders Plates - Cast or stamped plates attached to locomotives and some rolling stock with basic information about that locomotive or car.

Locomotive Bell - Used on steam and diesel locomotives as a close proximity warning device.

Air Horns - Used on diesel locomotives as a longer distance warning device.

Whistles - Used primarily on steam locomotives to perform the same function as an air horn on diesels.

Locomotive Gauges - Gauges used in steam locomotives to monitor conditions within the locomotive.

Number Plates - Cast brass or cast iron plates with cast-in or removable numbers which identified the railroad's locomotive number.

Paper Items

Annual Passes - Card stock passes generally good for one year of free travel over a particular railroad.

Baggage checks (cardstock) - Multi-part cardboard forms used to track checked baggage.

Baggage stickers - Advertising stickers to be placed on baggage - also used to aid in quick visibility of baggage destination e.g., Grand Canyon.

Broadsides - Trip flyers or timetables made to be mounted in frames at depots or to be readily displayed to promote a trip or event.

Employee timetables - Timetables issued for employees for their use in keeping trains running safely and on time.

Photographs - In terms of railroadiana. we are talking here about photographs distributed by equipment manufacturers or railroads to promote their latest products or tourist destinations.

Playing cards - Decks of cards sold or distributed on board trains and which carried advertising for the railroad on the cards.

Post cards - In the period from around the turn of the century to the 1950s, thousands of different picture postcards were issued by railroads and independent businesses showing railroad depots, locations along the railroad, or railroad equipment.

Posters - Posters originally served as advertising for depots, ticket offices and travel agencies.

Public timetables - A timetable distributed by a railroad or other interested party for the use of the traveling public.

Rule books - Small pocket sized books containing the rules for operating a particular railroad.

Tickets - Paperwork purchased by a customer to allow that customer to occupy space on a train or to travel on a train.

Train orders - Also called "flimsies", these were delivered to train crews along their route giving them instructions on how to proceed.

Trip Passes - Similar in nature to an annual pass except they were issued for a single trip.

Station Equipment

Baggage Checks (brass) - Used to track checked baggage.

Depot Clocks - Clocks used in railroad service in depots or offices.

Express Company Items - Items used by and generally marked with the name of an express company that serviced the railroads. Examples of such items are wax sealers, advertising signs, and scales.

Lead Sealers - Used as a security device to seal loaded boxcars or other similar equipment.

Telephone Equipment - Telephone equipment used in railroad service.

Telegraph Equipment - Keys, sounders, relays. and switching equipment used in telegraphy.

Ticket Cases - A lockable cabinet used in depots to hold unissued ticket stock.

Ticket Daters - A small machine used by the ticket agent to print or emboss information onto the ticket at the time it was sold. Typically, this information would include the date, the name of the railroad and the station.

Ticket Dater Dies - Brass dies used in ticket daters which utilized an ink ribbon to imprint the necessary information onto the ticket.

Ticket Punches - Paper punches used by conductors or ticket agents to cancel or restrict ticket use. Conductors' punches came in a wide variety of shapes with no two being the same on a particular railroad.

Train Gate Signs - Signs used at train gates or at a central location identifying for passengers what train left from what gate. Sometimes these also listed equipment or station stops.

Wax Sealers - Sealers used with melted wax to secure and seal envelopes or other correspondence being sent between offices by railroads or express companies.

Railroad Lighting

Trainmen's Lanterns - Lanterns used by railroad employees for signaling and for lighting.

Car Lights - Simple to very ornate lamps used to illuminate the interior of passenger cars or head and equipment.

Classification Lamps - Lamps used on the front of steam locomotives to provide information about the train to other railroad employees.

Conductor's Lanterns - A fancier version of a trainman's lantern used by conductors or given to a retiring railroad employee These are generally brass, nickel, silver, german silver or gold-plated.

Crossing Gate Lamps - Lamps used in conjunction with railroad crossing gates.

Depot Lamps - Lamps specifically made to illuminate depots in the days before electricity.

Gauge Lamps - Lamps used in steam locomotive cabs to illuminate gauges.

Headlights - Large lamps used on the front of steam locomotives and also on the tender of switching locomotives to light the track ahead.

Marker Lamps - Also known as tail lamps or platform lamps, these were used to protect the rear of the train.

Signal Lamps - a generic term used to identify marker lamps, switch lamps, classification lamps, semaphore lamps, train order lamps, etc.

Semaphore Lamps - Kerosene, signal oil, or electric lamps used to light up semaphores.

Switch Lamps - These lamps were used at switches to indicate the position of the switch.

Train Order Lamps - Used with a train order signal to let crews know whether there were train orders waiting for them.

Rolling Stock Items

Drumhead - A large illuminated promotional sign carried on the back of a railroad's premier passenger trains.

Passenger Car Linens - Head rest covers, sheets, pillowcases, etc, used on passenger trains.

Step Boxes - Wood or metal boxes used to make entrance to passenger cars more convenient from ground level.

Railway Post Office Equipment - Postal cancellation devices, postal car lighting devices, etc. used on board while sorting and canceling mail.

Trolley Roll Signs - Signs used on trolley and interurban cars to show the route and/or destination of a particular car. These signs were generally on cloth rolls which could be cranked along until the appropriate sign was found.

Trolley Fareboxes - Devices used to accumulate fares collected en route.

Trolley Fare Registers - A predecessor of the farebox which recorded fares collected by the Conductor. The money, however, was held by the Conductor.

Trolley Gongs - Signaling devices on trolley cars generally operated by the motorman stepping on an actuator or by the motorman pulling a cord.

Uniform Items

Uniform - A suit of clothes used by a railroad employee while on duty. This would consist of different items depending on the employee's job. For example, a conductor's uniform would consist of a coat, jacket, and vest, a hat, an overcoat, and accessory items such as a watch, cap badge, etc.

Hat Badge - A badge which identifies the employce's occupation (e.g., brakeman, conductor) and employer (usually).

Breast Badge - Typically worn by railroad police, dining car waiters , etc. who did not wear uniform caps.

Uniform Buttons - Brass or nickel-plated buttons specifically designed for use on railroad uniforms. Most designs were made for a specific railroad.

Photos from Member's Collections
intlocks.jpg (15079 bytes)
Above Left: A patent model of a 6-lever interlocking machine, constructed of steel and nickel-plated brass and mounted on a wooden base.  It is interlocked with a miniature track and switch.  Collection of Frank Schwartz.   Above Right: A beautiful brass locomotive bell and cradle, believed to be off a Pennsylvania railroad steam locomotive and made by the PRR's Altoona shops .  Collection of Bill Turner.
whistl.gif (20338 bytes) ppwt_dmi.jpg (20088 bytes)
Above Left: Two air whistles -- on the left a brass three-chime whistle; on the right a bronze four-chime whistle.  Both were typically used on electric suburban, interurban, and rapid transit cars around the turn of the century.  Collection of Phil O'Keefe. Above Right:  A cast paperweight marked for the Duluth & Iron Range Railroad.  Collection of Richard Zinn. 
hat_mkt.jpg (14205 bytes) bchk_op.jpg (5769 bytes)
Above Left: A conductor's hat from the Missour-Kansas-Texas Railroad. Collection of Don R. Mace. Above Right:  A brass baggage check by the Hoole Manufacturing Co. marked for the Oregon Pacific Railroad.   Collection of the late Chuck Richardson.  
step_ic.jpg (17708 bytes)
Above Left: A stepstool marked "I.C.R.R." for the Illinois Central Railroad.  Stools such as these were (and are) placed at entrances to passenger cars during boarding and unboarding.  Collection of Don R. Mace. Above Right:  A wax sealer used by the President's Office of the Oregon, Washington Railroad & Navigation Company. The image has been reversed for readability. Collection of Bill Kajdzik.

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