Thursday, September 24, 2015

Railway Men, Unite!

Some of William Miner’s convention badges
In the 19th century, railroads were the biggest business in the United States. W.H. Miner, Co., was just one of the hundreds of companies running railroad lines, building locomotives and railcars, and manufacturing the parts that went into building those cars. Because of the huge scale of the railroad industry, and its vast geographical range, “railway men” began very early on to create organizations that would help coordinate their activities. These associations worked to create standardized rail gauges, time zones, traffic signals, and  freight rates, and in many cases were the driving force behind the legislation of new safety features, like air brakes and automatic couplers.

Since there were so many different aspects to the railroad industry, it’s no surprise that there were dozens of specialized associations, from the American Association of Baggage Traffic Managers to the Association of American Dining Car Officers to the Railway Signal and Communications Suppliers Association. William Miner was a member of a number of railroad organizations, and the collection of pins in the Miner Room serves as a memento of the meetings and conventions he attended.

William Miner was a member of the Railway Supply Manufacturers’ Association, the American Railway Master Mechanics Association, the Master Car Builders Association, and the Car Inspectors and Car Foremen’s Association. The ARMMA took as its object “the advancement of knowledge concerning the principles, construction, repair and service of the rolling stock of railroads,” while the MCBA’s goal was “to procure uniformity in car construction, secure the most economical results in the interchange of traffic between the railroads of the country.” To this end, in 1879 the MCBA published The Car-Builder’s Dictionary, which defined and illustrated every part used in the construction of railway cars (the book is still being updated and is now known as The Car and Locomotive Cyclopedia).

1908 Convention scenes, published in the July issue of
Railway Master Mechanic magazine
There was a good deal of overlap in membership and goals among these organizations of car builders, and they frequently held joint conventions. These meetings were as much about pleasure as they were business, and as such were generally held in resort towns such as Mackinac Island, Michigan; Saratoga Springs, New York; and Atlantic City, New Jersey. Photos of the 1908 Convention of the MCBA and ARMMA, held in Atlantic City, show the attendees enjoying the delights of the Boardwalk (sadly, William doesn’t appear in any of them, though we know he was there). The members also had the opportunity to hear reports on a variety of exciting topics, such as mechanical stokers, brake shoes, the apprenticeship system, and the “best system of washing out and refilling locomotive boilers.”

William returned to Atlantic City at least one other time, in June 1922, for the Railway Supply Manufacturers’ Association’s annual convention, which was held in conjunction with the meetings of the American Railway Association Mechanical Division, the Air Brake Appliance Association, and the Air Brake Association. As the Railway Review reported, “It is expected that the combined meeting will constitute one of the largest gatherings of railway men ever held.” The Pennsylvania Railroad offered a special train from Chicago to Atlantic City for attendees.

Young’s Million Dollar Pier, ca. 1911
A key part of this event was the displays by railroad supply companies (including W.H. Miner), exhibiting their products. This exhibition was held at the Million Dollar Pier, one of Atlantic City’s biggest entertainment complexes. Originally built in 1906 by Colonel John L.Young, the Million Dollar Pier was 1700 feet long and contained (in addition to the Exhibit Hall) a theater, aquarium, roller skating rink, and the World’s Largest Ballroom. While William would have frowned upon some elements of Atlantic City’s nightlife—illegal liquor and gambling—he undoubtedly enjoyed the opportunity to meet with business acquaintances and make some new customers for W.H. Miner, Co. Perhaps Alice joined him on this excursion, and they strolled the Boardwalk together, taking in the sights and sounds of the east coast’s most popular leisure destination.

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