News-Antique.com - Oct 03,2010 - Imagine: A mere century ago most people went from town to town or from state to state by rail, and virtually all goods – from raw materials, farm produce and livestock to every conceivable kind of finished merchandise and even the mail – were at some point carried on a train …
In America in the 19th century, trains were integral to the country’s explosive growth, geographically, economically and politically: They sped the industrialization of the Northeast before the Civil War and the rise of the Midwest’s urban centers in the Gilded Age that followed. Then there were the transcontinental links through prairie and canyon that are so much a part of the romance of the Old West: These were monumental undertakings that demanded engineering genius from the planners and the toil of countless laborers of different races, homegrown and immigrant. Some of these triumphs of human endeavor had a flip side – corruption, exploitation, bigotry, violence, not to mention the displacement of Native American residents – and I can say with confidence that none of the Irish, Chinese, newly freed African-Americans and others who broke their backs laying track and digging tunnels got a fair share of the wealth once the last spike was driven in and business started booming. Such injustices are part of our heritage, and we have a duty to know of them and learn from them; but they don’t diminish the importance of railroads in our history.
Bear this in mind as we enter the second decade of the twenty-first century, when most people travel long distances by car or plane; when consumer goods are usually delivered to our doors by truck; and when more and more personal communications traverse the countryside not along paths of steel but through a series of electronic connections in that intangible void called cyberspace. Think of it, too, now that our economic vitality is flagging and our foreign debt looms large. Fewer of us may go long distances by train nowadays, but it was the railroads that first put iron and steel into America’s backbone, its commercial infrastructure; the railroads were the sinews connecting America’s sprawling expanses, the arteries that nourished its entrepreneurial muscles, carrying its workers and its travelers, its products and its news, transforming it into a living, breathing, economically agile nation. Long before cars and trucks and planes, before Wi-Fi and text messaging, it was the railroads that did all that.
That said, I want to alert collectors and early-bird holiday gift-givers alike to the latest Railroad Memories (www.railroadmemories.com) auction, which is now online and closes Fri., Oct. 8, at 5 p.m. Mountain Time (that’s 7 p.m. EST and 4 p.m. PST). There are some 500 lots with a wide selection of great items in an equally wide price range: Even if you are not a railroad enthusiast per se, there is a lot of crossover into other collecting areas – dining car china and silver, glassware, lanterns, playing cards, badges, advertising, equipment and instruments, furniture