I’ve always wanted to read one of the Munsey-era Railroad Man issues. In its first incarnation it lasted 13 years before Frank Munsey decided to merge it into the Argosy in 1919. Like most pre-world war 1 magazines, early issues are quite hard to find. So I was happy to get my hands on a scanned copy of the June 1916 issue. Even if you aren’t a fan of railroad fiction, read on. Something may pique your interest.
|The Railroad Man’s Magazine, June 1916|
The issue is thick, 192 pages of content plus 24 pages of advertising including the inner covers and the rear cover. The fictional content is only 80 pages including one long novelette of 42 pages, The Whistle, which was later made into a silent melodrama in 1921 featuring cowboy star William S. Hart and Myrtle Stedman. This novelette has no illustrations and has nothing at all to do with railroads, making it a surprise entry in this magazine. It features a poor widower who loves his son and brings him up single-handedly only to see him lose his life in a mill accident. The accident was due to the unsafe operation of the mill, designed to maximize the owner’s profits. The widower, insane with grief and rage, kidnaps the mill-owner’s infant son and brings him up as his own, denying the joy of parenthood to the mill owner. The ending is a sure cure for dry eyes and the writing by the husband and wife team of May Wilmoth (Anna May Lyman) and Olin L. Lyman is above the usual pulp standard.
J. E. Smith’s Observations of a Country Agent is spot on in its analysis of human behavior, which hasn’t changed much in the last century. Part reminisce, part musing, the titular country railroad agent observes human honesty in connection with the railroad, ranging over fare concession claims, lost property scams and the unreasonable expectations of those who don’t have to do the job themselves. These articles were reprinted in the second incarnation of the magazine when it was relaunched in 1929. The author was John E. Smith (1862-1930) of Indiana, who was employed by the Pennsylvania Railroad in various capacities during his lifetime and wrote these in his spare time.
The rest of the fiction can be safely skipped over. Tutt of the D.Y.N. by J. C. Wright is a romantic boxing drama revolving around a love triangle. Honk and Horace by Emmet F. Harte is a reworking of the plot of O. Henry’s classic The Ransom of Red Chief, set in a railroad depot. This is one entry in a long running series in which all the stories are titled Honk and Horace and have no sub-titles, making it a bibliographer’s nightmare. Jerry’s Calf is similarly inspired by Ellis Parker Butler’s Pigs is Pigs, starring a bull calf, a young lily-livered station agent and a gun-happy local farmer awaiting delivery of said bull. Hiram on a “Baching” job by prolific pulpster Charles W. Tyler turned out to be impenetrably clotted with dated railroad slang, and I didn’t feel up to trying to figure it out. A sample from the very beginning of the story: “YOU can’t beat a Yankee!” Which is a long-established truth, an’ a sayin’ that was put on the wire back in the ol’ “main” at 109 early in the buddin’ days of them hit-an buck Barclay perforators.
The non-fiction turned out to be more interesting than most of the fiction. There are articles on the newly-formed federal Bureau of Standards in Washington and what it does for railroads, the way the Suisun Sinks near San Francisco were filled in for the freight trains, railroad time-keeping, a history of telegraph companies, visions of railroads a century into the future (we haven’t lived up to those visions), the average height of railroad executives compared to those in other industries, real life experiences of railroad men, the daily milk delivery to New York from across the country and Canada and the legal wranglings of the railroads. A miscellany of articles, profusely illustrated with photos whose reproduction quality is excellent for the time period.
All in all, an excellent package, and I was quite surprised to see that the magazine ended its run in 1919, just three years after this issue appeared.