Owen Davies, Bookseller

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Owen Davies, Bookseller
Posted by scwylder on Tuesday, August 9, 2011 1:28 PM

During the 1960s and '70s I would visit Owen Davies, Bookseller near La Salle and Division Streets in Chicago's Old Town. I remember a man with an encyclopedic memory and a long-suffering assistant. The latter may have taken the business to Oak Park after Davies' death. The Oak Park store was not as well organized, but still had a wealth of railroadiana. I'd be interested in others' memories of this now-legendary shop.

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Posted by ZephyrOverland on Wednesday, August 10, 2011 10:55 AM

Ah yes, Owen Davies.  I initially heard about this place through ads in Trains Magazine in the mid-1970's, right when I began getting into trains.  From my house, the store was a one CTA bus ride away. I remember the Pennsy calendars hanging in the stairway and the place was very packed with railroadiana in what was essentially an apartment in a 1900 brownstone.  I believe Owen had already passed on - I recalled only seeing his wife and the assistant.  They always had a classical music radio station playing in the background and the one thing I thought was strange was a picture of Lenin hanging in the back room (the kitchen).  The one purchase I treasured most from that store was a March, 1944 issue of the Official Guide with a routing cover sheet from the North Shore Line.  I was able to get that for $10.  I devoured that Guide on the bus ride home.  For some reason, I never went back there again after purchasing the Guide.  I heard shortly afterwards from my high school rail buddies that the store moved to Oak Park but I never had a chance to go there.

There were two additional non-museum related railroadiana stores that I patronized.  One was the Broadway Limited Antique Company in New York City, in the same building where the Official Guide was originally published.  Among other things, they had a substantial inventory of original Official Guides for sale, and I bought a couple there.  The other store was operated by Arnold Joseph, who had a store in one of the older office buildings on Broadway near Pennsylvania Station in New York City.  I dealt with him by mail a number of times, but I also visited his store twice.  I bought a number of Official Guides from Arnold - my first trip in 1980 yielded a dozen issues and he threw in a copy of the first Amtrak timetable as well as a copy of an AAR publication which listed all passenger train names in the US in 1950.



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Posted by CSSHEGEWISCH on Thursday, August 11, 2011 10:10 AM

I went to the original store on LaSalle Street not too long after Owen Davies' death where I obtained my first OG.  Dorothy Davies and the assistant were both quite helpful in narrowing down the period I had in mind.  I did get back there once or twice afterwards during college breaks.

I did visit the Oak Park store several times in the 1980's.  While it did seem a bit cluttered, it was still organized reasonably well and I was able to find a pretty good collection of suburban timetables for various roads and agencies.

The daily commute is part of everyday life but I get two rides a day out of it. Paul
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Posted by daveklepper on Friday, August 12, 2011 3:51 AM

Never knew Owen Davis or visited the store, but remember the advertizements.   I did know Arnold Joseph, who was an active railfan, particularly with regard to electric lines, and went on a number of New-York area fan trips where he was also a passenger.   I believe I read of his passing in the New York Division Electric Railroaders Association Bulletin.

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Posted by NPHistory on Saturday, November 12, 2011 12:30 AM

I began purchasing Northern Pacific items (mainly non-timetable) from Owen in the early 1960s. I was excited to meet him when I attended the first convention of the NAOTC in Chicago in August of 1968. The day I arrived in Chicago I walked to his bookstore and began to peruse his stock of ephemera. It was like being in a dream. I selected a stack of railroad material and radical labor items from his extensive stock and returned to the hotel, planning to see him again at his table during the convention. Either the first or second night a group of us went to dinner with him, and a good time was had by all. That night, on his way home he died of a heart attack. He had left all of his stock in my hotel room, so I called his wife, Dorothy, when I learned of his death, and arranged to bring his stock back to the store. Needless to say, it was indeed a sad day. Owen was an absolute gentleman and I felt priveledged to meet him after our long correspondence and dealings. He was too soon gone.

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Posted by FlyingCrow on Saturday, November 12, 2011 6:59 AM

What a great guy and what a great store.    That sort is long, long gone now.   He had the neatest stuff for sale, and ...usually at a decent price.

I rode the train up from KC with friends just to shop with Owen.   

AB Dean Jacksonville,FL
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Posted by richhotrain on Sunday, November 13, 2011 4:56 AM

Geez, I have lived in Chicago and the Chicago suburbs all of my life.  As a kid in the 1950s, my Dad took me to train shops downtown.  As a young adult working downtown, I visited a bunch of model railroad shops.  Yet, I never heard of this gentleman or his store.  Sounds like that was my loss.


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Posted by artpeterson on Thursday, November 17, 2011 10:49 AM

The building Owen's store was in - 1214 N. LaSalle - still stands, but is just another brownstone on the street these days.  Pre-urban renewal there were a number of used bookstores around Monroe and Wells in Chicago (just around the corner from the All-Nation Hobby Shop, etc.).   You could find some really interesting refrence books in those stores (Olcott's Land Values Blue Books for Chicago have been quite useful in locating photos, etc.), but I agree with the other posters - for railroad books and timetables, nothing compared to Owen Davies.  FWIW, Art

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Posted by glenellyn on Wednesday, December 7, 2011 5:16 PM

Owen Davies, great memories! Back in the late 50's, early 60's a few of us guys from our high school railroad club in Glen Ellyn would board the C&NW and ride to the "loop". Object, ride the CTA all day for only $.25! You had to be clever at lunch, couldn't afford to pay twice to board the CTA, ate lunch in the subway, root beer & Austin cheese crackers with peanut butter from the vending machines, still love this combination.  Eventually we would end up at Owen Davies. A great cavern of railroad books,etc. I remember the building and the large windows in front where the ever helpful Mr. Davies was at his desk. Those really were the good old days!


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Posted by scwylder on Wednesday, December 28, 2011 1:20 AM

This information is very helpful. August, 1968 is best known for the Democratic National Convention and the demonstrations in Lincoln and Grant Parks. I'm guessing the tiometable collectors were meeting earlier in August. I'm working on a article I hope to sell to Classic Trains about my August 1973 honeymoon. I took my new bride to see the store on our layover between the Broadway Limited and the Quad City Rocket, and I had thought Owen was still there. Memory plays tricks. Dorothy Davies and Tom Bullard must have been the only ones at the shop.

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Posted by Jordan Davies on Monday, May 14, 2012 4:58 PM

I just noticed your post re my father Owen Davies. I was very touched by your remembrance of my father. Thank you so much. 

My dad was one of the best dealers in the field and he loved the business and all that came with it bust most especially the trains. 

Thanks again

Jordan davies

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Posted by skystts on Thursday, January 3, 2013 7:41 AM

this thread is really memory lane. On the day JFK was shot, I was halfway between Lake Shore Drive and Owen's store. Probably the only day in his store that the subject of railroads did not arise. Anyone know the whereabouts of Doug Wornom, who bought most of the stock from Dorothy?


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