Proper definitions for what the Classic Era ought to be

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Proper definitions for what the Classic Era ought to be
Posted by Overmod on Friday, July 19, 2019 9:58 AM

Interesting thread on the MR forums about what definitions for "Modern Era" are appropriate.  Some interesting proposed taxonomies.

"Classic Trains" was always about the Golden Age of railroading, which ended sometime between the end of WWII and the 'end of steam' circa 1960, depending on some general preferences.  While at the time the magazine was founded a "50-year cutoff" made a certain amount of sense, lumping an era anywhere near "1970s" into 'classic' as Kalmbach has quietly done recently almost defies common sense.  Nostalgia for that era: yes.  "Classic" -- not so much.  One poster describes the 1960s as being a general 'Dark Ages' and from almost any viewpoint (including much of the vaunted advanced new approaches and technologies from that era) I think this would be correct; the '70s and early '80s aren't that much more 'classic' either when we get to them, and it would be interesting to see what sort of 'take' there would be for a nostalgia magazine specializing in that era.

Should we have a revised preference for the eras in Classic Trains, as I think we badly need ... and what should the definitions and bounds of those eras be?

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Posted by Flintlock76 on Friday, July 19, 2019 11:22 AM

Interesting.

Personally, I'd consider the "Classic Era" as a period dating from the driving of the "Golden Spike" at Promontory Summit closing the "Pioneer Period" of railroading, up to and through the post-war transition period of steam to first-generation diesels, ending in 1960. 

After 1960 it gets tough.  "The Dark Ages?"  The "Time of Troubles?"  "The Dismal Years"  as many Class Ones were going out of existance and/or falling to pieces?  Hard call.

After the Staggers Rail Act was passed it gets easier, we can call that the "Railroad Renaissance" era.  

It should be interesting to see the feedback and ideas on this!

PS:  This is the reason I don't look into the "Model Railroading" Forum all that often and stick to the one on the "Classic Toy Trains" site.  On the CTT Forum we don't agonize over our trains, we just play with 'em!  Woo-hoo!

It's like Christmas every day!

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Posted by Deggesty on Friday, July 19, 2019 12:00 PM

As Wayne says, the going became tough in the 60's. To me, one important date was 12/31/68--when the Pullman Company ended its overnight service.

I well remember my last trip attended by Pullman--From Washngton to Birmingham, with my mother, on the Silver Comet, in late November of 1968. When the two conductors came into our bedroom, I handed our Pullman ticket to the Pullman conductor, saying, "Here's our space," handed my RF&P/SCL ticket to the RF&P conductor, saying, "Here's my transportation," and said to him, "My mother has her transportation (which was a pass)."

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Posted by Backshop on Friday, July 19, 2019 12:24 PM

I just turned 60 and I believe the 50 year cutoff is correct.  "Classic" is probably anything that the majority of current hobbyists weren't around to experience.  I go to classic car shows and remember when those models were new.  I got interested in trains back around 1970, so anything before that is "classic".  My view is that some don't want that stuff to be considered "classic" because then they would have to acknowledge that they are getting older and no one wants to do that...  Maybe the (current) cutoff should be when 2nd generation diesels became the clear majority?

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Posted by Overmod on Friday, July 19, 2019 12:41 PM

Not to be overly argumentative -- I find it impossible to include things like repeatedly painting the undercarriages of P5 electrics to keep ahead of the cracks either 'classic' or demonstrative of 'the golden years of railroading' as the Great Generation defined it and oh-so-many readers and subscribers want it.

That's not to say there isn't a place for later material in such a magazine -- I complained about the arbitrary cutoff restricting discussion of the Metroliners and TurboTrains until recently, and there are plenty of things with 'golden age' intent like PAs on the Adirondack that qualify even now.  But to lump much of the '60s and '70s in with the 'golden age' is to stretch the gentle nostalgia inherent in the original magazine's conception.

I advocated years ago that we need an 'intermediate' forum that is not driven so much by contemporary railroading, as the Trains forums largely are, but not restricted by a nominal and arbitrary 50-year cutoff (even a rolling one).  One of the most interesting eras in railroading came in the 1980s, much of it is underdocumented or downright unknown, and we're rapidly approaching the edge of history in ways that can be almost dangerously underrated (for example, preserving the circuit design and microcode in proprietary control setups and boards in '80s-era locomotives).  But there's little place outside some niche discussions on RyPN about this, and precious little discussion of 'preservation' other than designing kludges when the magic smoke gets out somehow.

I do agree that 'Classic Trains' doesn't have to be either elitist of Pollyanna-ish about railroad history, and that it's completely legitimate to include up to the late '70s in a nostalgia magazine even if a 'fifty-year' cutoff for such material is as remote as 5550. 

'

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Posted by Flintlock76 on Friday, July 19, 2019 1:28 PM

You know, there's no right or wrong here.  If someone wanted to extend the "Classic Period" through the 1970's up to 1981 it wouldn't bother me at all.

My definition of a classic car?  If the car was around when my father was a kid, it's a classic.  If it was around when I was a kid, it's a bomb!Smile, Wink & Grin

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Posted by Miningman on Friday, July 19, 2019 2:17 PM

As we all know a great many roles that had defined railroads and what they did vanished over a relatively short period of time.

A partial list:

Branch Line Passenger

A great deal of mainline passenger

Connecting trains 

Coal and Water towers 

Mail 

Express and REA

Pullman Services

Pennsylvania  Station

Car floats and ferries 

Ice Reefers 

Stockcars

Telegraph

Towers and Stations ... and so on 

All these items disappeared 'relatively' simultaneously. So I would say the last time these things were intact and a highly functional part of operations. 

Wayne's 1960 is good. 1955 is good but will meet with resistance. To think there were still yet T1's, Niagaras and Hudsons in dead lines. Maybe that's the tipping point. Once we turned our back on that,and sent them off to scrap , railroading crossed the Rubicon. Overnight seemingly Michigan Central Station in Detroit and Buffalo Grand Central went from magnificence to dilapidated eyesores.  The Classic era was truly over. 

Perhaps a bit later up here. Canadian Pacifics Multimark was a valiant last gasp at its worldwide and diversified reach and Canadian National's revitalization of passenger services was brave and responsible. A wee bit of excitement in the dark 60's but both eventually fizzled. 

 

 

 

 

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Posted by AgentKid on Friday, July 19, 2019 3:44 PM

Vince, you've got some good stuff there.

Miningman
A partial list:

Branch Line Passenger - and Mixed trains.

A great deal of mainline passenger

Connecting trains

Coal and Water towers -  I remember being in both at Irricana. Right before the coal dock was demolished about 1960, Dad and I went up inside the empty bin. I had forgotten about that until I bought a book about Calgary railway history 15 or so years ago. What I remember is there is nothing blacker than creosoted timbers coated with 40 years of coal dust. There are two photos of me in our backyard about two years apart, one with the water tower in the background and the other without.

Mail and Express - I remember the afternoon Dad took down the blue Canadian Pacific Expresss and Telegraph Services sign, and replaced it with the red and white Canadian Pacific Merchandise Services sign. After many iterations Canadian Pacific Telegraph became todays Rogers Mobility. Canadian Pacific Express became CanPar. The CPR shade of blue lives on as a blue trim piece on the CanPar trucks.

Sleeping Car Service - in Canada.

Ice Reefers - experienced a brief revival in Canada when the TV Dinner people discovered that you could fully load a fresh frozen batch of product into a car and ship it across Canada without requiring additional ice. The end came when the old reefers reached the manditory retirement age and the food companies didn't want to spring for replacements.

Stockcars - the stock pen at Irricana went along with the coal dock and the water tower.

Telegraph - "a long time forgotten, with dreams that just fell by the way".

Towers and

Stations - my childhood. The end of stations with agents in Alberta came July 1, 1965. Other provinces varied within a year or two.

There are some other good points mentioned. I think the end of the era would have to be broken down into subsections; locomotives, rolling stock, operations, and new technology.

I like Johnny's idea about the end of US Pullman service.

I like the second generation diesel idea. Although I think you could break it down further by saying it was, pre- EMD GP30 and GE U-boats, American built Alcos, along with FM and Baldwin.

I may have more to add later.

Bruce

 

So shovel the coal, let this rattler roll.

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Posted by jeffhergert on Friday, July 19, 2019 4:47 PM

Classic is in the eye of the beholder.  As those who actually remember the original defined classic era become less, the newer generations will redefine what classic means.

For me, I don't remember steam because it was gone before I was born.  I can barely remember pre-Amtrak passenger trains.  For me the classic era goes into the early 1980s.  That's when changes really started happening.  If you think about it, except for steam giving way to diesel, loss of passenger trains and equipment becoming bigger, railroading didn't change much from the turn of the century.  Trains still had cabooses, there were open stations and towers, branch lines, general box car traffic, operation by time table and train order, 4 and 5 man crews.

It was the early 1980a when these things changed with a vengeance.  The seeds of change may have been sowed beginning in the 1960s and 70s, but they hit wholesale in the 1980s.  Staggers, technology and changes to labor agreement really changed how railroads operated.

The current state of railroads, and everything else, will someday be looked at by some as the "good old days".  Hard as that is for me to fathom.

Jeff

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Posted by Backshop on Friday, July 19, 2019 5:04 PM

+1 Jeff.  You said it much better than I did (not that that's hard to do)Big Smile

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Posted by Penny Trains on Friday, July 19, 2019 6:41 PM

Correct.  One man's "classic" is another's "ancient history".  More often than not it seems to depend more on generational consensus than any specific attributes.  My local classic rock station is now playing songs by bands they shunned in the 90's.  Now, however, it's my generation (X) that's moving into the "disposable income target demographic" as we enter our 5th decade.

The exceptions that tend to muck up the works are those items and events that transcend the era in which they originate and could have been deemed a "classic" by generations that came before the thing happened or the item was invented.  Case in point, the Lionel 400E:

The 67 Stingray (I watched my neighbor rebuild one of these from a burned out frame back in the 70's)

And SP4449:

And while I'm sure there are billions more examples, these 3 represent items whose beauty of design will always keep them popular, and thus, "classic".

But.

For someone born in the diesel era, and a fan of Amtrak...

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Posted by Backshop on Friday, July 19, 2019 7:44 PM

Here's a good timeline.  I'll now say 1980.  It's the time when the old big Class 1's started merging other big Class 1's.  Chessie and Family Lines were just holding companies with separate railroads.  It's when BN merged Frisco that "Classic" ended.  Then the march towards the Big 7 started.

http://trains21.org/railroad-mergers-takeovers/

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Posted by Backshop on Friday, July 19, 2019 8:16 PM

Look at the picture at the top of the "On The Property" blog.  That's Classic Railroading.  Most railyards are so sterile nowadays.  No interlocking, roundhouses, coaling towers, etc, etc.

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Posted by BaltACD on Friday, July 19, 2019 10:12 PM

The Classic Era began with The Fair of the Iron Horse with the B&O celebrating it's first 100 years of existance in 1927.  The Fair was a celebration of everything that had taken place in transportation during the prior history of mankind.  The Fair highlighted the best of the Eastern carriers motive power and some contemporary equipment both passenger and freight.

Subsequent to 1927 you had the Stock Market Crash, the Depression, carriers trying to entice passengers back to the rails - the M10000 and the Pioneer Zephyr, the various carriers efforts with streamliners in both heavyweight, lightweight, steam and diesel powered.  The WW II period where traffic of all kinds ran through pre-existing records any way one wanted to look at them.  The post War optimisim of 'brand new lightweight streamlined diesel passenger trains' - Optimism that continued to the middle 50's and the building of the El Capitan hi-level equipment and the Denver Zephyr.  The combined Steel and Coal strikes of 1958 cast a pall over the industry that brought about the PennCentral merger that ended the period. This 30+ year period had it all - Super Power steamers, 1st generation diesel electrics, electrification between NY & DC, streamliners of all kinds, freight traffic of all kinds at volumes never anticipated, troop and military equipment trains - ALL TOGETHER

The PennCentral merger began the era of Financial Distress - the creation of Amtrak, mergers, abandonments the era of red ink which continued through to the creation of ConRail and continued to the enactment of Staggers in 1980 and in reality to the mid to late 80's.  (Rail managements, long encumbered by regulation had no idea of what it took to run a deregulated business operation).

The late 80's to the present is the present day.

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Posted by Flintlock76 on Saturday, July 20, 2019 9:54 AM

Boeing's 707 didn't just kill the long distance passenger train, it took out the ocean liner as well.

All that aside, it was a superb aircraft!  

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Posted by Erik_Mag on Saturday, July 20, 2019 12:25 PM

I'm inclined to using 1970 for the end of the classic era. This was shortly after the end of mail trains causing the end of a large number of passenger trains, the end D&RGW narrow gauge (excepting D&S and C&TS), the FT, construction of big locomotives for UP (GTEL, double diesels), PRR, NYC and NH disappearing into PC and the end of Alco. !970 had the bankruptcy of the PC and the formation of the BN. Shortly after was Amtrak, the end of electric operation on the Milwaukee.

I see the period of 1970 to the early 1980's as the interregnum between the Classic era and the post Staggers revival.

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Posted by BaltACD on Saturday, July 20, 2019 3:43 PM

The nominal period from 1980 and the implementation of Staggers to approximately 2000 was the 'Plant Rationalization' period.  The period where the carriers did their best to jetison lines that did not support the level of traffic they desired - these lines were either abandoned outright or conveyed to Short Lines - either sold or leased.  In leasing the carriers still retained ownership but the got rid of all the other requirements of operating and maintaining the trackage - the short line had to provide manpower, motive power and maintenance for the line - the owning carrier would have to pay taxes on the property, however, those were more than offset by the amount received from the lease agreement.

Today the hedge fund controlling CSX is now selling off their previously leased short lines to forego the sustained 'income over time' of the lease to obtain the one time purchase amount that can then be liberated from the CSX treasury in the name of 'shareholder value'.  Looting!

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Posted by Flintlock76 on Saturday, July 20, 2019 5:23 PM

'Balt, even though a past history doesn't make it right "looting" a railroad is nothing new.

Ever read the history of the Erie in the 19th Century?  Ay-yi-yi..., as my grandfather used to say.

Now 'scuse me for a bit, I have to go back and drool over that picture of the Lionel 400E Penny Trains posted!  WOW!

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Posted by BaltACD on Saturday, July 20, 2019 5:54 PM

Flintlock76
'Balt, even though a past history doesn't make it right "looting" a railroad is nothing new.

Ever read the history of the Erie in the 19th Century?  Ay-yi-yi..., as my grandfather used to say.

Hence the phrase 'Robber Barons'.

However there is a difference, the Robber Barons were trying to expand the reach of their robberies.  Today's looters are just extracting proceeds from contraction and not rolling it into the continued benefits of the remaining property.

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Posted by MidlandMike on Sunday, July 21, 2019 12:14 AM

If I had to pick a date, I would say the classic era ended in 1971, the day Amtrak took over.  It not only affected passenger service, but it put the railroads solely in the freight business.  But I could see the magazine's benefit of a 50 year sliding cut-off.

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Posted by Flintlock76 on Sunday, July 21, 2019 11:32 AM

BaltACD

 

 
Flintlock76
'Balt, even though a past history doesn't make it right "looting" a railroad is nothing new.

Ever read the history of the Erie in the 19th Century?  Ay-yi-yi..., as my grandfather used to say.

 

Hence the phrase 'Robber Barons'.

However there is a difference, the Robber Barons were trying to expand the reach of their robberies.  Today's looters are just extracting proceeds from contraction and not rolling it into the continued benefits of the remaining property.

 

'Balt, what you said is certainly true.  Even though the "Robber Barons" had their assortment of looters, the difference between the looters of those days and ours is the "Robber Barons," while certainly out for the money, were always looking for ways to grow the businesses they were involved in.  Can't say the same for today's looters, by any means. 

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Posted by M636C on Tuesday, July 23, 2019 6:48 AM

For some reason I am drawn to the standardised "Eras" used by modellers of German Railways. So far there are five eras.

Era 1 = Railways of the German States up until 1925

Era 2 = The Deutsche Reichsbahn up until 1945

Era 3 = The Bundesbahn (West) and Reichsbahn (East) pre computer numbering

Era 4 = Bundesbahn and Reichsbahn up to German Reunification

Era 5 = Post Unification including Privatisation

From these any intermediate point could be chosen as ending the "Classic Era"

What are the equivalent change points for USA Railroads?

I could suggest:

the USRA Administration

the introduction of Streamliners (say 1934)

the widespread introduction of diesel locomotives.

the Penn Central Merger and formation of Amtrak

These are just suggestions, but the Classic Era could be considered to be before any of these points.

Peter

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Posted by Overmod on Tuesday, July 23, 2019 9:03 AM

Flintlock76
Even though the "Robber Barons" had their assortment of looters, the difference between the looters of those days and ours is the "Robber Barons," while certainly out for the money, were always looking for ways to grow the businesses they were involved in.

Keep in mind that the 'Raubenritter' are a specific historical reference, which has little to do with financial manipulations or 'steal a loaf of bread, go to prison; steal a railroad and go to Congress'.  It refers to the extortion of as much money out of shippers and 'the public' as "the traffic will bear" -- for, as W.H. Vanderbilt put it so eloquently, the benefit of those able to compel it.  

One might argue both ways about Vanderbilt's pre-Daniels dislike of any sort of high-speed tie-up-the-railroad special trains mandated by competition: we see the arguments right up into the PSR era both 'pro and 'con'.  We also have a somewhat better idea of why drag-freight persisted into the truck era, and why so many railroads that didn't understand -- or don't yet comprehend -- the importance of assured satisfactory service still have problems ... unless they have stranded business!

Now, on general principles I find it hard to condemn corporate management for not looking out for the best interests of the stockholders, or in a more modern era, the stakeholders.  One might also point out that those with the greatest actual impact on how things are done (and not just the obvious 'names' like Barriger or Perlman or quite arguably EHH in many respects, but the relatively unsung guys in regionals and short lines) have always been those willing to build up the plant and effectively improve things, rather than cut to the bone, abuse an adversarial work force, pare operations back to where only 'convenient' traffic gets served or close the railroad in favor of cheaper modes, etc.  And frankly I support those who build up and shake up, even when they're financial manipulators like the van Sweringens or Bob Young.

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Posted by PRR8259 on Thursday, July 25, 2019 6:25 PM

I think this kind of a discussion will alienate some people.  Born in '68, the contemporary widecab diesels just don't do it for me.  I have tried to embrace steam, have owned all kinds of steam models, but at the end of the day I have no real connection to that time period.  I had several friends who were into steam particularly the brass models of it.  They are mostly dead, or else no longer doing anything with model trains, or have "modernized" to 2nd or 3rd generation diesels.  My interest in steam passed with my friends.

My son is going to like this current era because it is what he sees.

As for me, I did have fleeting glimpses of Reading Alco Centuries and a road trip to Erie in which I saw CP's big MLW's.

To me Classic could be early 80's on back.  A C44-9W just can't compare to an M-636 especially if it's Mexican, for me.

So where is someone like me supposed to go? If not here.

John

 

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Posted by Erik_Mag on Thursday, July 25, 2019 11:50 PM

John,

Being a '54 baby, the steam era is to me what the general consensus is for the "Classic" era for you. I do see an ad for Classic Trains while typing this that states the focus is the 1920's to the 1970's (not quite the 80's). Railroading in the 1980's was significantly different than even at the end of the classic era, which is not to say that there weren't a lot of items of interest from that era. An example is that a few of the first generation San Diego Trolleys are finding their way to museums and there are many other aspects of that era worth preserving.

As for where to discuss 1980's era railroading, the Trains magazine forums are apt to have more discussions on that era than this one (this is NOT intended to mean you would be unwelcome here - welcome mat is out for everyone). Prototype information for modeler's may be another source. I'd also figure that in 10 years, the 1980's would be part of the classic era.

 - Erik

P.S. I have a lot of memories of railroading in the 1970's: early 1970's BN coal trains; brand new Espee SD45T2 rolling past the Richmond BART station, BART when new; Amtrak with Heritage cars; DD35's.

P.P.S. A couple of RR books from my late father-in-law where from the immediate post-war era and were about the approaching demise of mixed train short line railroading - Beebe's Mixed Train Daily was one of them.

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Posted by Backshop on Friday, July 26, 2019 6:25 AM

Another reason they may want to keep with the 50 year window is strictly practical.  Any older than that and you won't have any writers who experienced it.  Unless you just want reprints of old Trains articles, it would all have to be highly researched stuff instead of personal experiences. That may be practical for books but not so much for a magazine.  I like the articles by JDI about his railfanning "safaris" the best.

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Posted by Flintlock76 on Friday, July 26, 2019 11:11 AM

Well guys, remember what I said earlier, there's no right-or-wrong here, the only important thing is a good discussion. 

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Posted by PRR8259 on Friday, July 26, 2019 12:26 PM

As someone who was a kid during the 1970's, I patently reject the notion that it was somehow the "dark ages" of the diesel era.

There was a huge variety of motive power and paint schemes on the rails, and the bicentennial equipment just added to it.

I've watched many videos of the 1970's, and there was much more variety on Cajon and Tehachapi than in later years when it seemed to be all SD40/45 variants.

Even into the 1980's lots of neat equipment was still around.

In our state, automobiles older than 25 years are eligible for the Classic plates.

So why does Classic have to be 50 years?

John

 

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Posted by Penny Trains on Friday, July 26, 2019 7:25 PM

Flintlock76

Well guys, remember what I said earlier, there's no right-or-wrong here, the only important thing is a good discussion. 

 

Precisely.  Reminds me of what Dick Christianson and crew went through when they were trying to come up with a name for what became Classic TOY Trains magazine.  For those who don't know, the delicate political balance between collectors and operators was the problem.  Very similar to steam vs. diesel in most respects.  The compromise was to add "For the collector and operator" to the magazine's name.  But do we really need to go that far with CT?

Big Smile  I'm Cuckoo For Choo Choo Stuffs!  Big Smile

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