JeffPo's Miscellaneous Railroad Items Page

Last update:  11/16/17

Although my main interest in railroad memorabilia has been focused on the lantern and lamp, there are many other collectible items associated with the railroad.  You would be amazed at what people collect.  There's silverware and china from the passenger trains.  There's timetables and tickets from the train stations.  There's various uniforms and insignia that the railroad workers wore.  The list goes on and on.  If there's an item that is associated with the railroad, there is a group of people that like to collect it.  Visit any railroad show and you'll be overwhelmed by the displays.

This webpage will show you various other items I have collected that are somehow connected to the railroad industry.  While it might not be as extensive as my lantern webpage, it still conveys my fascination and love of the railroad industry.

Jump to Whistles

Jump to Telegraphs

Jump to Wax Seals

Jump to Baggage Tags

Jump to Ticket Punch

Jump to Insulators

Jump to Railroad Passes

Jump to Tool Checks

Jump to Semaphore Signals

Jump to New Haven Zoo Train Postcard



No one can think of the railroad without thinking of whistles and horns.  They were used as a means of communication and warning.  Locomotives are required to sound a warning at each railroad crossing.

"Dead man" whistle

Here's an example of a brass whistle used on a diesel locomotive.  It's about 3 inches tall.  Called a "dead man's whistle", it was used in the cab of the locomotive as a "wake up" kind of device.  To prevent run away trains because of sleeping engineers, various measures were put into place that required some kind of action.  For example, a peddle or button had to be pushed every so often.  If the peddle or button wasn't pushed, this whistle would sound.


Before the invention of radio and telephones, fast communication was accomplished by the telegraph.  The railroads used telegraphs to send train schedules, freight information, etc.  It was an effective communication device that was used well into the 20th century, by the railroad, military, and other industries.

Telegraph key and sounder  

Here you see a telegraph sounder and key.  The sounder is on the left and the key is on the right.  I've mounted them onto the same board.  You can find some, called a KOB, that were manufactured this way for training purposes.  The key is depressed, it closes the circuit and sends current to the sounder.  The coils of the sounder (those round things) basically form an electromagnetic that pulls down the black bar that is over them.  This causes the armature (the silver looking bar) to strike the frame, creating a sound.  When the circuit is broken (by releasing the key) the armature returns to its original position, striking the upper bolt that it normally rest against, producing another sound.  The two sounds are slightly different, like a click & clack, or click & clunk.  These sounds were used in the form of Morse code to construct a message.

Wax Seals

Sometimes the railroads sent documents that were confidential in nature.  These were meant to be seen and read only by the person or group they were being sent to.  To ensure the confidentiality, and to verify that they had not been tampered with, the envelopes and correspondence were sealed with wax.  A stick of a special wax was heated over a flame and allowed to drop onto the envelop, forming a puddle.  Then the seal was pressed into the wax.  The wax would bond with the paper fibers.  To open the envelop, the wax seal would have to be broken.

A wax seal on a letter from Loudoun Castle, Galston East Ayrshire, Scotland

Wax seals have been around for hundreds of years.  Not only did they provide a measure of confidentiality, but a wax seal could also be a stamp of authenticity.  They were used on a variety of documents from legal decrees to land deeds.

Wax seals are no longer used in an official capacity, but rather as decoration or fun.  People may use them on wedding or party invitations.  Most wax sticks already have a wick so you don't have to hold it over a separate flame.  There's even a "wax" made for hot glue guns.  You can even buy stick-on rubber/plastic "wax" seals to place on letters, to give it the appearance of a old style wax seal.  The advantage of the hot glue gun material and the stick-on seals are that they are flexible and can actually be sent through the modern mail system without worrying about it breaking like a real wax seal would do.

Of course I'm interested in wax seals that were used by or associated with the various railroads.

Jump to Pennsylvania Railroad wax seal

Jump to Adams Express Company wax seal

Jump to Erie City Iron Works wax seal

Jump to American Railway Express Agency wax seal

Pennsylvania Railroad wax seal

This is an image of a wax seal from the Pennsylvania Railroad.  The wooden handle is about 4 inches tall.  The base is made of brass.

This is an image of the impression that Pennsylvania Railroad wax seal makes.  The image is mirrored so that it is readable.  Hot wax would be dropped onto the envelope, then pressed down with the seal.  The wax bonds with the paper fibers as it makes the impression.  To open the envelope, you would have to break the wax or rip the paper.

Adams Express Company wax seal

This is an image of a wax seal from the Adams Express Company.  The metal handle is about 3 inches high, and the base is made of brass.

This is an image of the impression that Adams Express Company wax seal makes.  The image is mirrored so that it is readable.  

The Adams company was originally started in 1839 by Alvin Adams.  In the early 1900s, the company was a large stock owner in the Pennsylvania Railroad and the New Haven Railroad.  This particular wax seal probably dates from the late 1800s.  In July of 1918, Adams Express, along with other companies, was consolidated into a new company called The American Railway Express Agency.

Initial St. Davids station.  Image from Radnor Historical Society Collection

The Pennsylvania Railroad station at St. Davids was located in Wayne, PA. Wayne is in the western suburbs of Philadelphia at the intersection of Chamounix Road & Glynn Lane. The station was originally called “East Wayne”, but was renamed to St. Davids after a nearby historic Episcopal church. It started as a small, one story building.

St. Davids Station on right.  Photo from around 1890

The small station was replaced with a larger, two story building that resembled other station buildings along the Pennsylvania Railroad’s main line.

St. Davids Station.  From 1963.

The station was torn down in 1966 after falling into disrepair.  In 2001 only the waiting shed (seen on the left side of the photo) remained of the original St. Davids station.

Saint Davids Station as of December, 2012.  There is no ticket office at this station.

Erie City Iron Works wax seal

This wax sealer came from the Erie City Iron Works company.  The handle is wooden, and the entire seal is about 3 3/4" tall.

It is marked with THE ERIE CITY IRON WORKS, and ERIE, PA.  This is a mirror image for better viewing.

While this is not a railroad company, its history is so rich that I could not pass it up.  And it did have ties to the surrounding railroads, providing supplies and other materials.  The company specialized in boilers and steam engines.  Its steam engines powered drills, saws, tractors, and other machinery.  The company was founded as the Presque Isle Factory in 1840, by Vincent, Himrod & Co. They changed their name in 1851 to the Erie City Iron Works.  A lot of those that went on to work for the big railroads such as the Pennsylvania Railroad got their apprentice work at the Erie City Iron Works.

An Erie City Iron Works steam engine played a central role in the first oil well.  I think we’re all familiar with story of Colonel Edwin L. Drake and his oil well in Titusville, PA.  I actually made a model of the oil well in one of my high school social studies classes. 

Drake's oil well.  Drake is on the right, in the top hat.

They struck oil on August 27, 1859, and ushered in the birth of the oil industry.  Oil would later provide lubricates for the railroad, as well as kerosene for their lanterns.  This oil drilling well, the first in history, was driven by a steam engine from the Erie City Iron Works company.  Incidentally, Drake himself had previously worked for the railroad as a clerk, express agent, and conductor.

Hudson River tunnel 

In 1880, a grand railroading engineering feat was being attempted.  The Hudson Tunnel Railroad was trying to build a tunnel under the Hudson River in New York.  The Erie City Iron Works company fabricated the tunnel rings used for the project.

The workers were tunneling without an excavation shield, relying instead on compressed air to maintain the tunnel’s form.   They had tunneled about 1200 feet out from the Jersey City side of the river when a blowout caused a roof collapse which flooded the tunnel and killed twenty workers.  The stalled project didn’t resume construction again until 1902, with the tunnels becoming operational in 1907.

American Railway Express Agency wax seal

This is an image of a wax seal from the American Railway Express Agency.  It's about 4 inches tall.  The actual seal is made of brass.

It is marked with AMERICAN RAILWAY EXPRESS, 3583, MESSENGER.  This is a mirror image for better viewing.

American Railway Express Agency ad from the mid 1940s

The American Railway Express Agency was a rail express service founded on March 29, 1839.  It was basically the UPS or FEDEX of its day, and for a time the only rail express service in the United States.  By 1917, there were seven express companies that were consolidated into the one American Railway Express Agency.  Because of this government sanctioned monopoly, the express company was obligated any and all shipments within the United States.  This meant they had to ship items that truck lines would not handle, such as cattle, auto mufflers, ladders, rugs, fruits, vegetables, circus animals, and explosives.  They even moved radioactive material for the Atomic Energy Commission.  The company changed its name to the Railway Express Agency in 1927.

Baggage cares operated by the Railway Express Agency (REA) were carried on many high-priority passenger trains.   They carried high-priority and time-sensitive parcels from city to city and were a major source of revenue for various passenger trains.  Interestingly, even today’s Amtrak has returned to hauling express time-sensitive freight as a source to boost the revenue.

Railway Express Agency reefer car.  Was previously a WWII  "troop sleeper".  The square panels along the sides use to contain windows.

Beginning in the early 1900s, the Railway Express Agency operated a refrigerator car (reefer) line.  The express refrigerator service grew and expanded until the mid to late 1950s.  Business started to decline after this due to refrigerated motor truck shipments.  By 1965, many of the agency’s reefer units had been stripped of their refrigeration units and were leased as bulk mail carriers.

The Railway Express Agency filed for bankruptcy in 1975.

Baggage Tags

When you travel today, like via an airline, a paper tag is placed on your baggage to keep track of it and identify it as yours.  As a passenger, you're given a piece of paper (a baggage check) that has the same number as the tag on your baggage.  The railroads use a similar system today, but over a century ago the baggage tags were a bit fancier and made of brass.

If you want to learn more about baggage tags, visit Tag Town:  Great website about railroad baggage tags.  It's good for learning and to use as a resource.


Louisville & Great Southern, and Alabama Great Southern Railroad baggage tags

Here's a matched set of baggage tags from Montgomery, Alabama to Chattanooga, Tennessee via the Louisville & Great Southern Railroad (L&GS) and the Alabama Great Southern Railroad (AGS).  The tag on the left would be attached to the luggage with a leather strap and the tag on the right would be given to the passenger as a check.  It's nice to have a matched number set (30).  These tags were made by the Jas. Murdock Jr. company.  The larger tag is about 2" tall and 1.5" wide.

Here you see the reverse side of each tag.  Notice that the baggage tag on the left is reversible, in that now it says Chattanooga to Montgomery, and the railroad names are reversed.  The passenger baggage check on the right has some fancy markings by the engraving and die sinker that created the tag.

The Alabama Great Southern Railroad (AGS) was created in 1877.  The Louisville & Great Southern Railroad (L&GS) was in existence from about 1871 until 1878.  That means these tags are from 1877 or 1878.  This is the timeframe of Billy the Kid getting mixed up in the Lincoln County War.

Alabama Great Southern Railroad

AGS locomotive around 1905

The Alabama Great Southern Railroad (AGS) organized in 1877 by railroad investor Emile Erlanger  It was a successor to the Alabama and Chattanooga Railroad.   In the late nineteenth century, the AGS was one of the five railroads that comprised the Queen and Crescent Route between Cincinnati, the Queen City of the Midwest, and New Orleans, the Crescent City.  The East Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia Railway and the Richmond and Danville Railroad purchased a controlling interest in the AGS in 1890.  The Southern Railway controlled it after 1895.  Today it operates as a branch of Norfolk Southern Railway.

Louisville & Great Southern Railroad

I couldn't find much information at all on the Louisville & Great Southern Railroad (L&GS).  I found a route map and a timetable, but that's about it other than a reference to a time frame.  From what I can tell, the railroad existed between 1871 and 1878.  I'm assuming it was absorbed/merged into the Louisville & Nashville Railroad (L&N) because the L&N acquired quite a few railroads around that time and area.

Here's a partial image of a timetable from September of 1874.  I noticed they used Pullman Palace Cars.  I happen to have a conductor lantern that was used in Pullman Palace Cars.

Philadelphia & Reading Railway baggage tag

Here's a baggage tag from the Philadelphia & Reading Railway.  The leather strap was used to secure it to the baggage.  This type is called a shell baggage tag.

Here's a closer look.  This baggage tag dates around the late 1800s into the early 1900s.  It was made by the American Railway Supply Co.

Here's the backside.  It has bent/curved sides such that it can hold an insert made of either metal or paper.  This insert would either have a number (if metal) or passenger information and a number if paper.  The passenger would then be given a matching tag with the number.  This shell was attached to the luggage with a leather strap.

Here's an example of the paper insert (I think) that would be placed inside of the brass shell.  I'm not quite sure if this is the insert part, or the baggage check part that would be given to the passenger.

Here you see the paper insert inside of the bras shell, with the leather strap attached.

Philadelphia & Reading Railway

Philadelphia and Reading Railway logo

The Philadelphia and Reading Railway (P&R) was one of the first railroads constructed in the United States.  The Philadelphia & Reading Railway was established in 1833 to transport anthracite coal. The pioneering 94-mile line evolved into a mighty corporation serving eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. Operations included coal mining, iron making, canal and sea-going transportation and shipbuilding. With its great complex of shops for locomotive and car building and repair, and constant advances in railroad technology, the company held a position of leadership in the railroad industry for over a century. The Philadelphia & Reading created the Reading Company to own on paper during the 1890s, trying to ward off the government's effort to break up monopolies. After World War II as America began to turn away from coal as its major fuel, the Reading's fate began to turn as well. The Reading entered bankruptcy in 1971 and its operations were taken over as part of the federally financed CONRAIL in1976.

Philadelphia & Reading RR Passenger Station - 95 Broadway

Ticket Punch

A ticket punch is a hand tool for permanently marking admission tickets on the railroad.  It looks like a hole punch except that it has a longer reach, and it also can have a distinctive shaped die.  It makes a chad when used.  Anyone that has seen the animated movie, The Polar Express, probably remembers the scenes of the conductor (played by Tom Hanks) using his ticket punch to write a word on the tickets of the kids (i.e. BELIEVE, LEAD, LEARN, etc.)

Pennsylvania Railroad Ticket Punch

This is a ticket punch that was used on the Pennsylvania Railroad.  Once you boarded the train, and it was moving, the conductor would come around and ask to see your ticket for the ride.  He would punch it with a mark such that the ticket couldn't be used for more than that one trip.  On the left side of the image you see the holster that was used to carry the ticket punch.  The ones I've seen at the railroadiana shows always look pretty plain.  This one is a bit fancy, with designs, almost like a cowboy gun holster.  I wonder if it was custom made?  You can also see the type of mark this punch makes in the white paper shown in the image.  I'm not sure what kind of symbol it's supposed to be, or if it has any particular type of meaning.

In this image you can see that the ticket punch is marked with PRR on the handle, which stands for Pennsylvania Railroad.  Most of the ticket punches I have seen are not marked for the railroad, and all the ones I have seen that are marked are always marked for the PRR.  I would assume other railroads also marked their ticket punches but haven't come across any yet.  Maybe PRR is just more prevalent in my area.  You can read more information about the PRR on my Pennsylvania Railroad Lantern Page.


Glass insulators have been used for decades to insulate overhead electrical wires from the poles that support them.  The need for them arose after the invention of the telegraph and its associated wires.  As railroads expanded across the country, the need for insulations on their communication wires grew.  And as electricity become more common, and even greater demand for insulators arose.  Glass insulators were made in a variety of shapes and colors.  While more than just railroads used them, I like the ones specifically marked for a railroad.  To read more about insulators and collecting, visit this webpage:

Canadian Pacific Railway Insulator

This is an insulator from the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR).  It is cast along the bottom with CANADIAN PACIFIC RY. CO.  Height is about 3 5/8". You can read more about the CPR on my Canadian Pacific Lantern Page.

Pennsylvania Railroad Insulator


This is an insulator from the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR).  It is cast on top with P.R.R.  Height is about 3 7/8". You can read more information about the PRR on my Pennsylvania Railroad Lantern Page.

Railroad Passes

Railroads sometimes needed to provide free transportation.  This could be for officials or employees that needed a means of getting back and forth to work.   Railroads created railroad passes for those needing this free travel.  The passes were generally a small piece of cardstock that would fit in a wallet.  There were about the size of a credit card, maybe a tad bigger.  In some cases passes were made of other materials.  I once saw a pure silver pass at an auction.  But the overwhelming majority of railroad passes were made of heavy paper.  Printed on them were the circumstances of how they could be used, like for a specific period of time, or on specific trains, etc.

This is a 1927 pass for E.J. Beckner, a brakeman on the Norfolk & Western Railway, at the Roanoke Terminals in Virginia.  Notice the coaches and trains that it can't be used on.

This is the reverse side of the 1927 pass for E.J. Beckner, a brakeman on the Norfolk & Western Railway, at the Roanoke Terminals in Virginia.

This is a 1928 pass for E.J. Beckner, now a conductor on the Norfolk & Western Railway, at the Roanoke Terminals in Virginia.

This is the reverse side of the 1928 pass for E.J. Beckner, now a conductor on the Norfolk & Western Railway, at the Roanoke Terminals in Virginia.  Notice on this one, the note about the restricted trains has moved to the back of the card.

You can read more information about the N&W Railway on my Norfolk & Western Railway Lantern Page.

Tool Checks

Have you ever had a friend or coworker borrow a tool and never return it?  They either forget about it or it’s lost somewhere. Well railroads had the same problem with workers using company tools without returning them. Sometimes they were lost, but sometimes they were stolen (by the employee!).  Replacing tools cost the company money, and that affected the monetary bottom line.  Plus it could delay work if a certain tool for the job couldn’t be found.  The railroads had a system using metal tool tags to keep track of tools used by the employees.

A tool tag was a small piece of flat metal, generally made out of brass. They varied in size, but were generally about the size of a quarter or fifty cent piece. They came in a variety of shapes, such as round, octagonal, and rectangle. At the very minimum, they would have the railroad initials stamped in them and a number.  Sometimes they would have a specify a specific tool and say something like LAMP CHECK.  When a worker wanted to check out a tool, they would use a tool check. They would leave the tool check in place of the tool, and the number of the tool check along with the worker’s name was recorded in a log book. If the tool went missing they knew who was supposed to have it.

Here you see three tool checks.  From left to right you have one for the P&R (Philadelphia & Reading), one for the K&IT (Kentucky & Indiana Terminal), and one for the L&N (Louisville & Nashville).

You can read more information about the P&R Railway (which was the predecessor of the Reading Railroad) by looking above at my Philadelphia & Reading Railway section.

You can read more information about the L&N Railroad on my Louisville & Nashville Lantern Page.

Semaphore Signals (this section is still being worked on)

Semaphore signal on the Santa Fe Railroad, 1943.

The semaphore was one of the earliest forms of fixed railroad signals.  They consisted of a blade, attached to a spectacle with colored glass roundels, mounted to a tall pole (or signal "bridge") that by being displayed at various angles could signal various instructions to the engineer driving the train.  They used illuminated colored roundels for nighttime use.  Semaphore signals were patented in the early 1840s by Joseph James Stevens.  To read more about semaphores and how they were used, visit my Semaphore Lamp page.  If you want to really dive deep into the subject, visit this excellent webpage by Todd Sestero:

Semaphore #1


This is a lower quadrant semaphore signal, meaning that from a horizontal position it moves downward.  It has three colored glass roundels, which are red, yellow, and green.  The blade portion is 42 inches long.  When you include the cast iron spectacle (the part that holds the glass roundels) the entire semaphore signal is about 68 inches long.  It's quite a hefty piece, weighing 63.3 pounds.

Semaphore #2


This second semaphore is an upper quadrant semaphore signal, meaning that from a horizontal position it moves upward.  It has three colored glass roundels, which are red, yellow, and green.  The blade portion is 48 inches long.  When you include the spectacle (the part that holds the glass roundels) the entire semaphore signal is about 77 inches long.  The spectacle on this one is made differently than the first one.  It isn't as thick.  While it has some weight, it's not as heavy as the other one.  This ones weighs 45.7 pounds.

New Haven Railroad Zoo Train Postcard

The Zoo Train was started on the New Haven Railroad in 1955 by the railroad's administrator at the time, Patrick McGinnis.  They were looking for ways to increase the railroad's revenue.  The train departed from different areas of the New Haven Railroad's territory on Saturday mornings and made various stops along the way to the Bronx Zoo in New York.  They used a bus company to transport riders from the Van Nest Station to the nearby zoo.  The trip was quite a festive event.  They handed out information packets that included this postcard, plus balloons.  Professional zoologists were onboard the train with a variety of small animals for education and entertainment along the trip.  After the zoo visit, the train would ferry the riders back home late Saturday afternoon.  The Zoo Train program lasted into the late 1960s.


The front of the postcard had an image of a passenger train being pulled by a New Haven diesel, with a variety of animals on board.

The back of the postcard advertised the New Haven Railroad Zoo Train.

This postcard is quite a bit different than most because it also has a phonographic recording imprinted on it, that can be played on a record player at 78 rpm.  I'm old enough to remember when cereal boxes would sometimes come with records imprinted on the back.  You would just cut out the back of the box and play it on your record player.  I remember listening to a few ghost stories off the back of some Honeycomb cereal boxes.


I didn't have a record player, nor did I want to punch out the center hole.  A co-worker managed to play the record using a riser to get above the spindle, and some painters tape to secure the postcard.  I must say, I was very surprised  and disappointed by what was on the postcard.  I had assumed it was going to be a very nice commercial, with more information on the train ride.  The back of the postcard even says the record will "tell you more about it".  Instead, the record was just a rendition of The Animal Fair nursery rhyme.  The broken promises of the McGinnis era of the New Haven Railroad continue into the 21st century!  :)  Not a great recording, but have a listen:

New Haven Zoo Train (2.26mb MP3 file)

Other Railroad Related Pages On My Site


  Model Trains

  Railroad Lanterns

  Pocket Watches

  Railroad Locks

  Wax sealers, telegraph, whistle, misc. (current webpage)

* Back to home page *