Review: The Railroad Man’s Magazine, June 1916

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 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.


  1. Thank you for doing the review! I've never seen one of these early issues, but it sounds a lot like the revived pulp 1929-54. Presumably it folded because it just wasn't selling enough copies to cover its costs; they certainly tried some weird combinations in the last year of its life.

  2. Over many decades I managed to put together complete or extensive runs of many of the Munsey pulps such as All Story, Argosy, Cavalier, and Munsey Magazine but I never found many of the early Railroad Man's Magazine in the teens.

    I imagine many workers in the railroad business bought the magazine, read it and left it in stations, cabooses, and trains all over the country. Maybe this is why we don't have many issues in present day collections.

  3. I knew they were rare, but i would'nt have guessed that they were rarer than All-Story or Cavalier. You're probably right on the way the readers treated these, and I'm guessing they were also not considered interesting enough to save. Unlike All-Story Burroughs issues, which are somewhat common but high-priced.

  4. This was a 1916 issue. RMM ran until 1919.
    This was out of the ordinary issue because of the 40 page long non-railroad tale.

    Perhaps the actual railroad magazines of the era were taking over.

  5. "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."

    Westerns are impenetrably clotted with dated western slang, until you read enough stories and learn the lingo.
    Mysteries are similarly beset.
    Flying stories depend on the reader knowing an aileron from a rudder.

    Railroad stories about railroading are similar. One has to understand the slang and the business of railroading to follow the plots.

    RRM is often afflicted with a more dated writing style.
    You just have to find and read more of them.

    Issues of railroad Stories, 1929-1954 with several title changes, has a more approachable writing style. One will learn the slang and become a "readin' rail" with little effort.

  6. Rick,

    I disagree with you about dialect and slang in story and dialog. I find them good in limited amounts, painful when plentiful. I had the same criticism to make earlier about an Alan LeMay story in Adventure.

    I guess the best analogy I can give you is that if I was reading an English story featuring a French protagonist, I'd expect the dialog to be mostly in English. Bits of French here and there would be acceptable. But if the entire dialog was in French, I'd have to learn a whole new language to read it. Not gonna happen. Maybe my loss but I'd take the risk.

    I had no trouble reading the railroading non-fiction in the same issue and enjoyed it. I've also read and enjoyed a few Harry Bedwell stories. And I plan to read more issues of this magazine. But not this story.

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