If it was early November, it was time for Art Dubin

Posted by Kevin Keefe
on Thursday, November 7, 2019

Arthur Dubin, well known as a professional architect and amateur passenger-train historian, rarely spoke of another aspect of his long life. Fabian Bachrach
Like any organization that’s been around long enough, what they used to call Kalmbach Publishing Co. has its traditions and rituals, most of which I take to heart by virtue of 31 years on the payroll. 

One I like in particular is the annual stockholders meeting, usually held the first Thursday in November. That would be today. Although the name of the company has changed — it’s now Kalmbach Media, folks — I’m sure it will be the usual convivial gathering of people who really care about the company and where it’s going.

It’s also somewhat bittersweet for me. That’s because for more than 20 years it was a day I could spend some time with Arthur D. Dubin, Kalmbach author extraordinaire and a world-renowned expert on passenger trains. Gracious in his manners and generous with his anecdotes, Art made for a superb lunch companion. He spoke slowly and deliberately, and I hung on every word.

Art would always come up from Chicago with two other friends with deep Kalmbach ties: Harold Edmonson, a former Trains staffer and Kalmbach Books editor, and the late Jim Neubauer, one-time sales promotion manager for KPC and later a C&NW clerk. Joining us would be Rob McGonigal, editor of Classic Trains. Our usual lunchtime hangout was just down the road at the Chancery, a restaurant that, alas, closed last month.

You might think our little group talked trains the whole time, but in my memory it was usually about people we’d known over the years, most of them rooted in Kalmbach lore. Al Kalmbach and David P. Morgan, certainly, but also such memorable characters as Rosemary Entringer, George Gloff, and George Drury. Art’s memories struck a chord with me most because Art went back the furthest. He’d known Al way back in the 1940s, probably when he bought his first KPC stock. 

For those who might require an update, Art was best known in our community for the two passenger-train books that have become standards of the genre, Some Classic Trains (Kalmbach, 1964) and More Classic Trains (1974). As I write this, both well-thumbed volumes are but 2 feet away, ready to bail me out once again if I need to know when the Santa Fe inaugurated the California Limited (November 27, 1892) or what the name of the first all-steel Pullman was (Jamestown, built in 1907). Thank you, Art!

Dubin's Some Classic Trains (1964) and More Classic Trains (1974) are landmark works of passenger-train history.
There was so much more to Art than these two books, though. He was an architect first and foremost, retired from the Chicago firm started by his father and his uncle, Dubin, Dubin, Black & Moutoussamy. Art had considerable success in his profession, including commissions from Chicago & North Western and the Chicago Transit Authority. During our lunch conversations, the names Sullivan and Burnham would inevitably bubble to the surface.

Art was a fixture on the Chicago railroad scene and he was a passionate and high-level railroadiana collector. His archive of photographs, railroad art, passenger-train promotional items, uniforms, and hardware at his home in Highland Park was astonishing, especially when you looked down as you entered his railroad room and realized you were standing on a section of the 20th Century Limited’sred carpet. The man knew how to make the right connections.

And he was generous. Later in life, and after his death on October 3, 2011, at age 88, portions of Art’s archives went to various institutions, including the Smithsonian, the Barriger Library in St. Louis, the California State Railroad Museum, the Newberry Library in Chicago, Lake Forest College, and the Indiana Historical Society.

Art was a force to reckon with if you were his editor. By that I mean he could be a stickler for the smallest of details, even to points involving the layout, photo choices, and other things not necessarily involving the writer. A couple generations of Kalmbach editors could tell stories about working with Art. “Gentlemanly contentious” is a phrase I might use to describe him. 

I knew all this before Art and I had our one and only chance to work together. It was his piece “When Pullman Went to the Fair,” a feature about the Pullman Company’s participation in various famous exhibitions, from the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 through the New York World’s Fair of 1939 right up to the famous Chicago Railroad Fair of 1948-49. 

The story ran in the October 2000 issue of Trains, and I remember the experience as a bit draining — lots of back-and-forth over the length of the story and the layout. The phone seemed to ring a certain way when he called. But I was pleased to finally get Art Dubin’s byline into the magazine during my tenure. In the end, I think he pretty much got it the way he wanted.

And I was fine with that, because around this same time I learned something else about Art. It turns out that back in 1943 he took a break from his architectural education at the University of Michigan to join the Army. After a brief stay for officer training at Lake Forest College, he was shipped off to the Pacific, where he eventually fought in the bloody campaigns to take the Philippines and Okinawa. The latter battle, from April 1 to June 22, 1945, was especially ferocious. 

Art was wounded twice. He ended up being awarded two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart.

I don’t know why I should have been surprised, but I was astounded to learn this over lunch at the Chancery. My impression is that over the years he had soft-pedaled his heroics, at least insofar as the railroad community was concerned. Nothing I’d ever read about him mentioned this war experience.

I’ve always believed military service counts for something special, especially if you have the scars to show for it. In the end, whatever impatience I might have had over working with Art was inconsequential. Let the writer have his head! He’d earned it long before in the Pacific. 

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