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This page contains both original essays and comments on postcards as well as articles formally published in Metro News, the bi-monthly bulletin of the Metropolitan Postcard Club while I served as editor. Many of these reprinted articles have been enhanced on this website by adding additional content.

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Table of Contents

20. Mar 2017 - Aug 2017
19. Aug 2016 - Feb 2017
18. Aug 2015 - June 2016
17. Jan 2015 - June 2015
16. July 2014 - Dec 2014
15. Jan 2014 - June 2014
14. July 2013 - Dec 2013
13. Jan 2013 - June 2013
12. July 2012 - Dec 2012
11. Jan 2012 - June 2012
10. July 2011 - Dec 2011
9. Jan 2011 - June 2011
8. July 2010 - Dec 2010
7. Jan 2010 - June 2010
6. July 2009 - Dec 2009
5. Jan 2009 - June 2009
4. July 2008 - Dec 2008
3. Jan 2008 - June 2008
2. July 2007 - Dec 2007
1. Aug 2006 - June 2007

To keep the blog page a reasonable length the articles found within will be archived approximately every six months. To access this content click the links on the left side of this page.


WARNING: Some of the content to be found in this section, including the archives deals with topics of a violent or sexual nature in both pictures and text, and is meant for a mature audience. If you feel you may be offended by such content you should leave this page now.


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October 9, 2017

Gone But Not Forgotten:
Railroading on Cape Cod

By Alan Petrulis

For anyone stuck in traffic on Route 6, it seems impossible to divorce Cape Cod from the automobile. The very nature of this place seems embodied in car culture. While this is undoubtedly true, it only arrived at this point by evolving from an age when railroads ruled. It was the introduction of the railroad, not highways that first turned the Cape into a major tourist destination. For most, this time seems so distant that the many significant ways the railroads altered the landscape are now looked upon with puzzlement. In a century or less, many of these once busy railways have turned into a collection of half remembered artifacts. Without knowledge of the railroad’s place in history, these features remain as mysterious as relics from some ancient civilization. Deciphering this past may be helped along by examining old postcards that captured many aspects of railroading on the Cape.

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Postcards depicting railroads has long been a popular theme for postcards. Small stores would often publish pictures of their local station, not just as a matter of pride, but because it was a favorite subject for commuters and tourists passing through. Railroad companies also published views of their stations and rolling stock for self-promotion. Perhaps more importantly, these were considered manly subjects. It was women who were first attracted to postcard collecting, at least in numbers, probably due to the tradition of their keeping up scrapbooks. Postcards became just another form of paper to collect. In the eyes of most men, postcard collecting like most women’s activities was first considered a trivial habit. When publishers realized they were missing out on a large pool of potential customers, they began searching for subject matter that would also appeal to men. Railroads and trains proved to be one of the subjects that hooked men, and thus raised the status of postcard collecting.

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Railroading in all its forms remained a popular hobby for most of the 20th century, and this in turn increased the popularity of railroad postcards that is still often reflected in their higher prices. While many of these cards are not difficult to find because of the large numbers produced, others are now rare. As with all types of postcards, some of the most desirable today feature train stations that no longer exist. Though many structures disappeared through modernization, other station stops were simply eliminated as demand dropped. Some of these old stations have since been repurposed while others were demolished. In some cases the lone postcard is the only remaining record of their existence. Looking for postcard evidence becomes particularly interesting when trying to piece together entire railroad lines that have gone out of business. This can be a daunting task but one within reason if narrowed down to just one of the many small lines that once existed. The railroads of Cape Cod fall nicely into this category.

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Even though the population of Massachusetts was quite large by the mid-19th century, it wasn’t evenly distributed. Most residents were concentrated in and around Boston, and then in the many coastal towns or mill towns on rivers. Cape Cod was then a backwater for fishermen and poor farmers. Provincetown at the tip of the Cape had a sizable fishing community due to its deep safe harbor, but the stage route was long and arduous so it largely connected itself to the rest of the state by steamer and packet to Boston. Railroads would eventually create a great transportation network, but travel by steamship remained an essential part of travel in New England well into the 20th century. There was little inducement for anyone to build a railroad into the wilds of Cape Cod as few had any reason to go there.

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A place people did want to go to was Nantucket or rather the people of this remote island wanted to connect to the mainland. Even though Nantucket was declining as a major whaling port, there were still many who needed to journey between there and Boston. The most common route was by steamship, which carried passengers to New Bedford where they could pick up a northbound train. When the Cape Cod Branch Railroad was established in 1848, their line only extended out from Middleboro as far as Sandwich, which was well short of their ambitions. After paying off their debts they reorganized in February 1854 into the Cape Cod Railroad with intentions of extending their line all the way out to Hyannis to satisfy Nantucket interests. Travel between Nantucket and Hyannis by steamer would be far shorter and cheaper than to New Bedford. By July the new station house and a thousand foot long railroad dock equipped to meet steamers were completed. It opened with great fanfare.

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Although a direct route running diagonally across the Cape between Sandwich and Hyannis had been surveyed, the route built took the line along the north shore to Barnstable and Yarmouth Port before sharply turning due south. While this added on miles, It played to the possibility of increasing passenger service. Even though Nantucket was steadily declining as a commercial port, it was beginning to attract summer visitors, and so was the Upper Cape. There were those who saw the potential of tapping into this new market but there was a problem; the charter of the Cape Cod Railroad only allowed it to extend as far as Hyannis. To get around this legal obstacle the stockholders incorporated a new railroad, the Cape Cod Central in March 1861. This was only a paper company as the actual trains were run by the Cape Cod Railroad. The coming of the Civil War the following month delayed the laying of new track, but by 1864 construction was underway.

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Reaching the town of Orleans had been the railroad’s origin goal, but ambitions grew in the interim. The problem was that bonds for the existing project had already been difficult to raise during wartime, and now as the line was extended east from Yarmouth to Harwich they were running out of funds. The Cape Cod Central then began petitioning the government to fund an extension up to Provincetown as a patriotic necessity. Without it they argued, the forts protecting its Harbor might not be supplied fast enough to repel an enemy attack. While Confederate raiders did pose a real threat to the entire New England coast, Congress did not take this issue so serious to warrant the expenditure of additional funds. The defenses already erected there were dubbed Fort Useless and Fort Ridiculous, which illustrated existing concerns over money badly spent. The Cape Cod Central would reach Brewster then Orleans by the end of 1865, but by then the war was over and no additional funding would be forthcoming.

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Although the fishing industry on the Cape fell into decline in the post Civil War years, the growing middle-class ushered in a new era of travel as they began taking vacations in large numbers. Inns and summer homes began springing up, most notably in places serviced by rail. The Cape Cod Railroad saw a notable increase in passengers who were not only making more trips; they were also using the railroad as a commuter service between home and work. This increase in ridership provided them with enough revenue to finally buy out the Cape Cod Central in April 1868, which they were already secretly running. Soon after, they began surveying a new route up through Eastham to Wellfleet. This portion of the Cape however posed new problems; the neck was much more narrow preventing good detours around the salt marshes that riddled its shores. The only way that the line could continue on a relatively straight course was by importing a great deal of fill to lay the track over. Even with these obstacles, the railroad began scheduled service to Wellfleet by the end of 1870.

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The residents of Falmouth had a long interest in bringing railroad service to their town, but their first serious efforts failed as they unfortunately made on the eve of the Civil War. When funding became available in the postwar years, work on the Vineyard Sound Railroad began being constructed between Cohasset and Woods Hole. After the completion of a number of large bridges, this railroad was up and running by the summer of 1872. Steamer service from Nantucket was then moved from Hyannis to Woods Hole. This was a huge economic blow to Hyannis and use of its railroad wharf steadily declined.

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The year 1872 was a pivotal one in Cape Cod’s railroad history, when both shareholders and the Massachusetts State legislature approved the merger of The Old Colony & Newport with the Cape Cod Railroad. By September they were both consolidated into The Old Colony Railroad. Their next major project was extending the line another fourteen miles from Wellfleet to Provincetown. This too was slow going because of the tremendous amount of fill that needed to be hauled in. Then on July 23, 1873, a train full of dignitaries left Kneeland Street Station in Boston and became the first to make the entire five-hour trip to Provincetown by train. The line was officially dedicated the following year when President Grant paid a visit. The line was extended past the town station to the harbor where a new railroad wharf could directly connect with steamers and fishing boats.

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The fishermen in the town of Chatham on the southeast corner of the Cape were particularly interested in seeing the railroad extended their way. Towns with rail service were now out competing them as they could get their product to market much faster and fresher. Desire however does not always transfer into action, and funding issues, innovative construction proposals, debates over route, and seemingly endless studies delayed construction for many years. The branch of the Old Colony Railroad was only extended from Harwich to Chatham in 1887. It was the last railroad line to be built on Cape Cod.

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Steamship service was a major part of New England’s transportation network, and it was usually set up to work in conjunction with the expanding railroad network. The most important route to cover was between Boston and New York, which did not go unnoticed by Richard Borden of Fall River. He established the Bay State Steamboat Company in 1847 to provide service from New York to Fall River where a connection could be made with his Fall River Railroad for continued service to Boston. This quickly grew into the Fall River Line that became the preferred route for most travelers due to savings in cost and time. To accommodate demand, the line acquired largest side-wheel steamboats ever made. The Fall River Railroad did not go directly to Boston, but made a connection with the Old Colony in South Braintree. Eventually Old Colony began leasing this line, and finally bought it out in 1896. While this seemed a valuable asset at the time, various factors eventually ate away at business. The opening of a new steamship service out of New Haven, Connecticut was the foremost of these as it created stiff competition. After the Cape Cod Canal opened in 1916, many steamers bypassed established rail connections altogether. By 1937, competition from automobiles and a long strike finally put the Fall River Line under for good.

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While the construction of the Cape Cod Canal entailed a great deal of dredging and widening of existing rivers, the isthmus between them had to be excavated. At first all the digging was done by hand, then in 1911 giant steam shovels were brought in to continue the job. A temporary narrow gage railway was then built alongside the construction sight so that massive amounts of sand and boulders could be haul away. These tracks were constantly being torn up and laid anew as the work progressed. Few portions of the track lasted for more than a month. By the end of 1914 when the excavation was completed, the entire track was ripped up and hauled away on the New Haven line. Even though this railroad only had a lifespan of two and a half years, it was captured on many postcards.

Real Photo Postcard

News stories such as the digging of the Cape Cod Canal made it to print, but there were few outlets for images at the time other than postcards. While such coverage by publishers added to the postcard’s popularity, it was not always a convenient medium for the job. In this case, publishers had the time to print cards because the project they depicted lasted many years. This also insured profit because the public’s interest would be peaked for some time. Postcards depicting other events like train wrecks were also in high demand but interest in them faded rapidly. When they exist at all, they are most often the handiwork of a local photographer who could quickly capture the accident, and then produce just enough real photo postcards to satisfy demand.

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Although the Old Colony Railroad greatly expanded in the 1880’s and 1890’s by buying other railroads, they ran into serious trouble during the depression of 1893 that plagued the railroad industry across the United States. The only way they found to survive was by giving the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad a 99-year lease of their entire system. Although this line under J.P. Morgan now had a near monopoly on all service in southern New England, it was also in decline. High debt and poor ridership during the Great Depression caused them to abandon their lease, which in turn forced Old Colony to declare bankruptcy in 1935. The courts however forced the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad to continue running the line except where they suffered egregious losses.

Real Photo Postcard

Things began changing right away. In two years the tracks between the railroad wharf and Hyannis station were torn up, and the spur line to Chatham was shut down. Passenger service to Provincetown was ended in 1938 amidst generally deteriorating conditions. By 1959, the automobile was dominating tourist travel, and all passenger service on the Cape’s rails ended. While some freight service remained on this bankrupt railroad, the line above North Eastham was completely abandoned the following year. Many thought the only way to protect the remaining railways on Cape Cod was to include the New York, New Haven & Hartford into the great merger being planned with the Pennsylvania and New York Central railroads. After years of negotiations, this took place in 1969, but it wasn’t long before the giant Penn Central filled for bankruptcy.

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By 1973 the Regional Rail Reorganization Act created a commission that began looking into ways to solve the financial woes of railroads throughout the United States. At the same time, Massachusetts bought all the failing rail lines on Cape Cod, which were merged into the Consolidated Rail Corporation (Conrail) in 1976. Massachusetts would continue to own the rails but Conrail would run freight service over them. Eager to get out of Cape Cod, Conrail turned their freight service there over to The Bay Colony in 1982. All freight services, now largely consisting of hauling trash, was turned over to the Massachusetts Coastal Railroad in 2008.

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Starting in 1981, new efforts began being made to bring some passenger service back to the Cape. The first attempt was made by the Cape Cod & Hyannis Railroad, which was already running excursion trains for tourists over the remaining network. While this ambitious revival ended in 1989 when the state stopped providing subsidies, limited summer passenger service between New York City and Hyannis on Amtrak’s Cape Codder began in 1986. This service was also plagued with problems and ended ten years later. The Cape Cod Central was founded in 1999 to be another heritage railroad running excursion trains, but this time the route was limited to the old line running between Hyannis and the Cape Cod Canal. While the rolling stock is gleaned from many different lines across the county, the scenery is all Cape Cod. Operation of this line passed to Cape Rail in 2006, which became a subsidiary of Iowa Pacific Holdings in 2012. They revived some seasonal passenger service between Boston and Hyannis the following year by way of the CapeFLYER.

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Even though the automobile now dominates access to Cape Cod, interest in alternative transportation has been growing in recent years. While train service on the Cape might be expanded, it has its limits. Many sections of the abandoned Old Colony Railroad were ripped up and repurposed for use as bike trails when there seemed no future for rail travel. Any efforts to reestablish these former routes would no doubt be met with resistance from competing interests. Many miles of informal rights of way also remain open to foot traffic. Passage however is never guarantied as some parts are completely overgrown, while missing bridges and fill can leave you dead in your tracks.

Postcard Detail

Publishers seemed reluctant to depict train tracks on their view-cards of Cape Cod so not to dispel the rural mystique. The growing tourist industry was not just dependent on good transportation and accommodations, it needed to attract people by promoting an idealized vacationland. The exception to this was postcards depicting depots, which was already a popular subject for collectors and those riding the rails. Many train stations held newsstands that sold postcards alongside their newspapers, but their inclusion was often determined by traffic. Stations that made connections with steamships had a high volume of passengers passing through, so they were the most likely to have postcards for sale and be captured on postcards. Other stations were little more than seasonal flag stops used only by a handful of people at a time, so there was no profit to be made by opening a newsstand in these places. While there is no doubt that some images are rare, there is a good likelihood that every station on the Cape was captured on at least one postcard. Even if this isn’t true, there is always the possibility of the most obscure place winding up on a real photo postcard because these cards only took one interested person with a camera to make.

Postcard

Many different publishers placed images of Cape Cod’s railroads on postcards, which is testimony to their popularity. Large firms like Rotograph, Valentine & Sons, and A.M. Simon in New York, and even E.C. Kropp in Milwaukee manufactured these cards. Many derived from Boston where Tichnor Brothers, Robbins Brothers, and Thompson & Thompson published postcards of the Cape’s depots. Even larger firms like American News and New England News published cards that were distributed from their newsstands. H.A. Dickerman of Taunton not only published many postcards of the Cape, many small local stores published their own cards through them. Depot cards were produced by most local establishments that sold other images of the Cape like Walter D. Baker and C.W. Megathlin of Hyannis, J.E Josselyn of Falmouth, W.B. Lambert of Pocasset, E.I Nye of Wellfleet, P.H. Phinney of Monument Beach, E.D. West of South Yarmouth, and of course the Provincetown Advocate. In the 1960’s a number of historical societies began reproducing old photographs of depots as postcards. Though more modern, these might be the only cards that capture some stations. Examples of most follow, listed in order on individual lines as they were built.

This article consist of three parts; click on the links below to continue reading.

Railroading on Cape Cod part 2
Railroading on Cape Cod part 3


September 6, 2017

The Twelve Points of Scouting
By Alan Petrulis

Views of childhood as a modern phenomenon, have been disproven by a variety of surviving artworks dating from ancient times. Rather than depictions of children as miniature adults, we find them playing with their mothers, toys and pets. Adolescence however is another matter. For most of civilized history, nearly everyone was involved in some sort of farming. Children were usually moved to the fields as soon as they could handle the work. This tradition was then incorporated into factory work during the industrial age. Radical changes to this model came with the turn of the 20th century. With a population shift to cities, and a growing middle-class, a new emphasis began to be placed on education over child labor. This was not universally seen as progress for large numbers of young people with more time on their hands introduced new social ills such as those termed hooliganism.

Many youth movements were born out of a desire to harness or at least direct this newfound freedom. Some like wandervogel in Germany were truly spontaneous and had no true leadership, while others developed into highly regimented organizations with constructive aims. The basic premise behind all these movements is that they embrace and even promote a set of defined values. While it is easy to see how the ideas supporting counterculture movements can easily stir up controversy and opposition, even those that promote core values highly prized by a society have never been without detractors.

People usually view the values they hold as absolutes that they do not want challenged, but this creates a situation where other points of view cannot always be tolerated. This is a problem inherent in all democratic societies that only grows more difficult to reconcile with a diverse population. These same issues tend to be extended to any organization or movement that is value based. Even when designed to promote good, it is often found that we cannot all agree on what is good. Very often these organizations only come to represent majority viewpoints. While most former Scouts continue to say that their experience in Scouting has made them better able to handle life, this doesn’t address those oppressed by majority rule. Bigotry, sexism and discrimination have historically been supported by adherence to core values. We can now see this in recent controversies surrounding the presence of homosexuality and transgender children in Scouting. Policies that one side welcomes are abhorrent to the other.

The ability to highjack a doctrine that is successful at controlling behavior has never gone unnoticed by those willing to use it to further their own agendas. While this has often been done for personal gain, it can become extremely potent and even dangerous in the hands of the state. Totalitarian regimes that are only interested in one point of view have been exceptionally good at indoctrinating core value through youth organizations. While an emphasize on duty was widely promoted in all nations a hundred years ago, its role in organizations like Hitler Youth or the Young Communist International has left a bad taste in many peopleÕs mouths. This has led groups like the Boy Scouts to relinquish most of their soldiery trappings, but they are still looked upon by some as too militaristic.

Despite the problems found in value based movements, the appeal of Scouting has remained strong, which can be clearly seen in the sales of Scouting for Boys written by Robert Baden-Powell. Since its first publication in 1908, it has become the fourth bestselling book of the 20th century. Baden-PowellÕs inspiration for this handbook was born out of his personal experiences while serving in the British Army. He had already published a book on military scouting, Reconnaissance and Scouting back in 1884 while stationed in British-India. His own skills were further enhanced after meeting up with Frederick Russell Burnham during the Matabele War in Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). Burnham was an American adventurer working for the British South Africa Company. Having served as a tracker in the Apache Wars, he teamed up with Baden-Powell on reconnaissance missions behind enemy lines. It was during this time together that he passed along the woodworking skills that he learned while growing up on a Dakota Sioux reservation, and from his familiarity with the last frontiersmen of the American West.

Maximum Postcard

A few years later, Baden-Powell took part in the Second Boer War where he was besieged in the town of Mafeking, the capital of the Northwest Province of South Africa. The siege lasted more than seven months, and during this time Baden-Powell worked closely with the local Cadet Corps that was supporting British troops. After observing the practical value that well trained young men had on the war effort, he began collecting his own ideas on how to build self-reliance through skills in tracking and craft. This became the basis of Scoutcraft, which he promoted in his 1899 book, Aids to Scouting. His newfound status as a military hero helped to bring these ideas to light at a time when the public was hungry to receive them. This inspired the formation of many organizations such as the Boy&rsquo:s Brigade, but after the publication of his Scouting handbook in 1908, a full fledged organization of Boy Scouts was born.

While the British model for the Boy Scouts drew heavily from their experiences in India, other local traditions were incorporated as the movement spread around the world. Even though diverse Scouting organizations were established in Argentina, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, India, Malaya, Malta, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Russia, South Africa, Sweden, and the United States by 1910, all were still united by their adherence to the points expressed in Scout Law. While it seems difficult to argue against the values expressed on the cards below as anything but those good citizens should embrace, their lack of precise meaning has inspired inconsistent interpretations over time. When Loyalty is equated to unyielding duty to one’s country, should we ask to what purpose? Discipline can also be read as mindless obedience to authority; a virtue to authoritarians, but not to those who believe authority must always be questioned if freedom is to be preserved. Most interpretations of the term Clean cannot be separated from Christian concepts concerning sin. It is interesting to note that the often cited virtue of being reverent to God is replaced here with that of tenacity. This is no doubt a reflection of the long standing hostility between church and state in Republican France where the cards were made.

Since many Scouting activities take place at outdoor camps, it places many Scouts far away from their families. The problem of homesickness that arose was the same as that experienced by young military recruits, which inspired the creation of postcards as an inexpensive method of correspondence. It should then not be surprising that during the golden age of postcards, many publishers introduced a wide variety of Scouting themed cards. These cards also played a prominent role in promoting Scouting and introducing the public to its values. A good insight into these points can be found in a beautiful set of twelve French postcards published by Roberic of Paris. Though undated and unsigned, they may have been produced during the First World War when any sort of card that supported national unity through shared beliefs was officially encouraged.


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1   A Scout is trustworthy.


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2   A Scout is loyal.


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3   A Scout is helpful.


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4   A scout is a friend to the world and the brother of all other scouts.


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5   A Scout is courteous.


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6   A Scout is kind.


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7   A Scout is disciplined.


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8   A Scout is always in good spirits.


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9   A Scout is brave, resourceful, decisive.


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10   A Scout is tenacious.


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11   A Scout is hardworking, reliable and thrifty.


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12   A Scout is clean in body, thoughts, words, and actions.



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