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SS City of Midland 41 was a railroad carferry serving the ports of Ludington, MI, Milwaukee, WI, Manitowoc, WI, and Kewaunee, WI, for the Pere Marquette Railway and its successor, the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway from 1941 until 1988. The ferry was named after the city of Midland, MI.
The vessel was built by Manitowoc Shipbuilding Company in 1940 at a cost of $1.75 million. One of the last coal-burning car ferries on Lake Michigan, she entered service for the Pere Marquette Railway company in March 1941 as the largest Great Lakes ferry ever built. Powered by two Skinner Unaflow Steam Engines, the City of Midland 41 was capable of speeds up to 20 miles per hour with a cruising speed of 17.6 miles per hour.
The City of Midland 41 was unique for car ferries in that she also contained many amenities for the automobile and passenger traffic that crossed the lake in the warmer summer months. She had an extra passenger deck compared to the other ferries of her time, and frequently would run the Ludington–Manitowoc route during the busy summer months, serving as a moving connector of U.S. Highway 10. Because of her exemplary amenities as well as her size and aesthetic silhouette she was nicknamed the “Queen of the Lakes“.
In addition to transporting railroad cars through the World War 2 years, the City of Midland 41 also served as a training vessel for United States Coast Guard and United States Navy enlisted sailors, since the vessel’s Unaflow engines were similar to those used aboard the Casablanca-Class Escort Carrier.
In 1947 the Pere Marquette Railway was acquired and its assets, including the City of Midland 41, merged into the Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O). During the late 1940s through the 1960s the City of Midland 41 experienced the prime years of her career. In 1952 and 1953, the carferries SS Pere Marquette 21 and SS Pere Marquette 22 were upgraded, and two new carferries, SS Spartan and SS Badger, entered service. They were the last two railroad car ferries built on the Great Lakes.
The boys and I were supposed to be camping this week in the Adirondacks. However due to an unforeseen circumstance we had to cancel our trip. This past Sunday I had asked Max if there was anything he would like to do for a day trip. After a few minutes of deep thought Max responded “Steamtown”. I was totally caught off guard but thrilled just to spend time together.
We left late morning Monday timing a lunch stop at the Waffle House in Clarks Summit before we got to Steamtown. The Waffle House is my new addiction as the hash brown bowls are so good. Even better the prices are inexpensive as well.
After lunch Max and I would finish our trip arriving at Steamtown shortly after. It was a beautiful day in Scranton as we toured the grounds, took a short train ride around the facility and wondered through the roundhouse looking at several of the locomotives currently under repair. Max just like his mother has a passion for history. I myself love history but I am more of a photographic history person. One of the highlights for me was being able to walk through a RPO “Railway Post Office”. America’s mail used to move mostly by rail and I have always been fascinated by the process. Max and I sat and watched a short film about life aboard an RPO which I really enjoyed. “Before tweets, texts and emails, people communicated using written correspondence – letters, postcards and such. The U.S. Post Office Department – now the US Postal Service – employed thousands to collect, sort and deliver these letters, along with newspapers, magazines and small parcels. The Railway Mail Service was a significant mail transportation service in the U.S. during the time period from the mid-19th century until the mid-20th century. The RMS, or its successor, the Postal Transportation Service (PTS), carried the vast majority of letters and packages mailed in the U.S. from the 1890s until the 1960s.”
During our adventure we learned that Steamtown and the Nation Park Service have plans to restore to operating condition the largest steam locomotive in the collection, a Union Pacific “Big Boy”. This behemoth weighs 1,200,000 pounds, is 132 feet long and produces 6,000 horsepower. Currently the Union Pacific Railroad is restoring one to full operating condition at their Cheyenne, WY facility with plans to run it in 2019. Max was all about a road trip in 2019 to see this beauty storming the rails once again.
We finished out our afternoon at the museum store, had our National Park passport stamped, picked up a few souvenirs and headed for home. Super fun afternoon spending time with my son.
Here is just a brief history of Steamtown:
Steamtown was originally founded in 1964 by millionaire Nelson F. Blount. Blount established a non-profit organization, the Steamtown Foundation, to operate Steamtown, USA a steam railroad museum and excursion business in Bellows Falls, VT. In 1984, the foundation moved Steamtown to Scranton, conceived of as urban redevelopment and funded in part by the city. But the museum failed to attract the expected 200,000 to 400,000 annual visitors, and within two years was facing bankruptcy.
In 1986, the U.S. House of Representatives, at the urging of Scranton native Representative Joseph M. McDade, approved $8 million to begin turning the museum into a National Historic Site. By 1995, the National Park Service had acquired Steamtown, USA.
Julie and I have been wanting to spend more time at our National Parks, National Park Historic sites and just historical places in general. Back in the spring she had proposed a trip that would take us to Harpers Ferry, WV where we would visit Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, the C&O Canal Trail National Historical Park and the Antietam National Battlefield. We hiked the Maryland Heights trail which provided stunning views of Harpers Ferry. Several days later we found ourselves at Shenandoah National Park along the 105 mile “Skyline Drive” slowly making our way towards Charlottesville, VA. In Charlottesville we would sip wine at Blenheim Vineyards which is owned by Dave Matthews of the Dave Matthews band. Drank in the history at Thomas Jefferson’s “Mon-ti-chel-oh” along with James Madison’s “Montpelier” and had dinner with family in Culpeper.
I had no idea what to expect but I was excited for just the two of us to get away together and travel. We arrived at Harpers Ferry Historical Park Monday mid day. It was hot and humid and I was sweating standing still. We hopped on the shuttle bus and off we went. My first impression of Harpers Ferry was “Are we at Disney”? It truly looked as if it was built for their theme park. It’s like we were transported into the 1800’s. I think the newest house in Harpers Ferry is around mid 1800’s? According to 2016 voter registration there are 291 residents. Services are limited with only a few places to eat and yes they literally roll up the sidewalks at 7PM. Tucked into the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers. Harpers Ferry is steeped in railroad history as well.
Charlottesville was a different story. It was a much bigger city. However once we were in the Virginia country side miles and miles of horse farms and fences lined our path as the hustle and bustle slowly disappeared in the rear view mirror. I personally loved touring Monticello and Montpelier. I cannot decided even as I pen this which I liked more.
One thing I will say is I am blown away that Thomas Jefferson wrote 20,000 letters in his lifetime all in duplicate. Yes you read that correctly duplicate. Jefferson used a Polygraph in order to accomplish this. I believe either the Library of Congress or the Jefferson Foundation have all 20,000 letters. So fascinating!
Moving onto James Madison I cannot get over how incredibly well read he was and intelligent. Madison was extremely meticulous as well. But the one thing that stands out for me is the eventual relationship between him and Paul Jennings. Jennings was a personal servant, as a young slave, to President James Madison during and after his White House years. The story continues in a book I just ordered called “A Slave in the White House”.
As a side note we both found Antietam haunting. In the bloodiest one day battle of the Civil War every second an American died, 23,000 in total. It was gut wrenching as we toured the Battlefield. I cannot even begin to imagine the conditions these soldiers faced.
All in all this was a super fun adventure and cannot wait until we hit the road together again, cheers!
This particular postcard was postmarked aboard a Kansas City, MO & Albuquerque RPO (Railway Post Office). It was postmarked on train #8 of the Eastern District (ED) on October 9th 1944.
On this date:
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill arrives in Russia for talks with Joseph Stalin.
St. Louis Cardinals beat St. Louis Browns 4 games to 2 in the 41st World Series.
German occupiers turn off electricity in Amsterdam.
Canadian Offensive in West Zeeuwas-Flanders.
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It’s June 1953 and Dwight D. Eisenhower graced the Oval Office of the White House. This installment of “History Past” takes us into my collection of historical images, as these 3 iconic Kodachrome’s were taken while on a tour of the White House.
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In early 2015 I had purchased this vintage “Large Letter” postcard of Lake Placid. I’m a huge fan of the area and I just love the graphics of these pieces of history. An even bigger attraction was that it had been written on and mailed as well. However I payed little attention to the actual “Postmark” on the back until recently while going through some of my postcards. I noticed that the postal cancel was from the “Lake Placid Club” and not the Lake Placid, NY Post Office and this baffled me.
I decided to send a scan of the postcard to Bill German the Editor of the Postmark Collectors Club and he did some research for me on this subject. His initial response was that he was unaware of this “Postmark” as well. Bill recently wrote back to me with some history on the “Lake Placid Club” and as a matter of fact they will be running this in their March newsletter. Below you will find some interesting information about the “Lake Placid Club”.
The Lake Placid Club was a social and recreation club founded 1895 in a hotel on Mirror Lake in Lake Placid, New York , under Melvil Dewey’s leadership (The Melvil Dewey of the Dewey Decimal System) and according to his ideals. It was instrumental in Lake Placid’s development as an internationally known resort.
Dewey intended the club as a place where educators might find health, strength and inspiration at modest cost. Under his leadership, the club became nationally known for winter sports, building a winter clubhouse in 1907 that allowed year-round visits to Lake Placid. By 1923 the Club had grown to 9,600 acres, with 356 buildings (including 110 residences), its own theatre (seating capacity 1,200), library, boathouses, 21 tennis courts, seven golf courses, farms, a staff of 1100, a fire department and even a school, today known as Northwood School.
Early in September, 1899, trustees of the Club found the time ripe to bring together those most interested in home science, or household economics. They sent out many invitations for the first Lake Placid Conference scheduled to take place Sept. 19-25, 1899. One of the attendees, Ellen Swallow Richards, a founder of the modern domestic science movement, was elected chairman of the conference. The conference took place each year from 1899 to 1907.
The Club had been an active center of skiing ever since the 1910s. Ski-joring as seen in the picture at right was one of the attractions; ski jumping, ice skating, carnivals and cross-country ski lessons were others. Melvil Dewey’s son Godfrey was instrumental in bringing the Winter Olympics to Lake Placid in 1932. Without the club’s facilities and its national profile, Lake Placid would not have qualified to host the Games.
In the 1930s, a group of students from the Yale School of Drama performed at the Club’s Lakeside Theater during the summer months.
In 1966 Fred Missildine, who compiled a record of more than 30 national skeet and trap titles while working for Winchester-Western, operated the Fred Missildine Shooting School at the Lake Placid Club.
Membership declined steadily as vacationing trends among the wealthy changed. Air travel and time constraints meant that fewer families spent the entire season at the Club. In 1977 only 471 families renewed their membership, compared to 711 the previous year. The Club closed its doors soon after serving as headquarters for the International Olympic Committee during the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid.
During the 1990s the Club was a frequent target for arson and vandalism. Its last buildings were demolished in January 2002.
In 1926 Dewey established a southern branch of the Club in Lake Stearns, Florida; the town was renamed Lake Placid as a result. It is now owned by the South Florida District of the Church of the Nazarene, which operates it as the Lake Placid Camp and Conference Center.
For most of its existence the Lake Placid Club excluded Jews and other socially stigmatized groups. A Lake Placid circular explained that, “No one will be received as a member or guest against whom there is physical, moral, social or race objection, or who would be unwelcome to even a small minority … This invariable rule is rigidly enforced. It is found impracticable to make exceptions for Jews or others excluded, even though of unusual personal qualifications.” Dewey was forced to resign as New York State Librarian after it was shown that these policies were traceable to him personally, despite his denials. (Dewey soon after took up permanent residence at the Club, and beginning 1906 devoted himself to its development.)
In 1904 the New York State Board of Regents received a petition demanding Dewey’s removal as State Librarian because of his personal involvement in the Lake Placid Club’s policy of excluding Jews and other religious and ethnic groups. While the Regents declined to remove Dewey, they did issue a public rebuke, and in the summer of 1905 he resigned as a result.
In 1954, a New York Times article criticized the Club for its refusal to admit Blacks and Jews. The B’nai B’rith Anti-Defimation League filed a complaint about the Club. The dispute lasted several years, until the League decided to drop the charges of discrimination in 1959. Representatives of the Club claimed that its members were religiously motivated and therefore wished to vacation as Christians among Christians in order to “strengthen their appreciation of and attachment to Christianity.” Since Dewey’s time, the Club had been very strict about membership, avoiding fashionable vacationers, not serving alcohol in the dining room, and only accepting guests who came recommended by other members. The criteria for membership remained intact until 1976.
The Fonda, Johnstown and Gloversville Railroad (FJ&G) was at one point a 132 mile steam engine and electric interurban railroad that connected its namesake towns in east central New York State to Schenectady, New York. It had a successful and profitable transportation business from 1870 until the 1980s carrying workers, salesmen, and executives of the very large number of glove manufacturing companies in the area to the New York Central (NYC) station at Schenectady. From here they could catch trains south to New York City (NYC) or west to Chicago. It also handled freight and had freight interchange with both the New York Central and the Delaware and Hudson railroads. Passenger business declined starting before the Great Depression and particularly during it. Following a determined and expensive effort to recapture passenger business by acquiring five ultra modern high-speed Bullet interurban cars in 1932, the FJ&G abandoned passenger service in 1938. Freight business continued on for a few more decades, was later taken over by the Delaware-Otsego Railroad management and then eventually abandoned.
History and Route:
The FJ&G was formed in 1867 as a steam railroad. The first train ran from Fonda in 1870 all the way to Gloversville. Gloversville, named after the many glove companies in the area (237 in 1905), was at the northern end of the FJ&G for a few years before the rail road was pushed north by business owners. The Gloversville and Northville rail road went from northern Gloversville through Mayfield and Cranberry Creek to Northville which became its permanent terminus. In the later 19th century Broadalbin made a connection with the FJ&G at Broadalbin Junction where trains could head east to Vail Mills and Broadalbin. The Gloversville and Broadalbin as well as the Gloversville and Northville rail roads were eventually acquired by the Fonda Johnstown and Gloversville. The Fonda Johnstown and Gloversville was itself acquired by the Cayadutta Electric rail road and both of these lines assumed the name of the FJ&G for the remainder of their lives.
Acquisition of Bullet Cars:
After World War I, ridership started to decline on both the steam and electric divisions. The steam line acquired gas powered cars to take patrons to the Sacandaga Park in the early 1920s and FJ&G management concluded by 1932 that reequipping the passenger car fleet on the electric line would reverse matters even though the Depression had been underway since 1930. In 1932 at considerable expense, five lightweight, fast, comfortable, and power efficient Brill Bullet interurban cars were purchased from J. G. Brill and Company of Philadelphia. The bright orange FJ&G interurbans ran hourly into Schenectady where they looped around Crescent Park. Ridership did initially improve with operation of the new Bullet cars, but increased auto ownership, improved paved roads, the deepening of the Depression, and further decline in the glove business brought on another ridership reversal. The first sale of the unique Bullet cars by Brill had been to the Philadelphia and Western. The second and last sale was to the FJ&G.
Passenger Service Abandonment:
The Great Depression deepened and glove and fine leather manufacturing in Gloversville and Johnstown declined. The FJ&G’s Mohawk River bridge, which once had carried pedestrians and cars as well as trolleys, had been damaged ten years earlier by river ice. It was finally condemned by New York State in 1935 as too dangerous for any public transport. The FJ&G was forced to sell the Bullets and go back to using older interurbans that could run in either direction without having to turn around as they had in Crescent Park. By 1938 the FJ&G decided to abandon the entire electric car service and shut the line down that year and the successful Bullet cars eventually went to the Bamberger Railroad interurban in Utah.
Freight Business, Purchase by Delaware Otsego, and Decline:
As the next few decades past following the abandonment of passenger service, freight business continued. With the collapse of the leather business and other industry leaving, traffic declined to the point of the FJ&G closing down after 104 years of private ownership in January 1974. The Delaware Otsego Corporation acquired the line in 1974, but after only a decade of ownership the Delaware Otsego System abandoned the line in 1984. A trackmobile formed one last train that traveled the line collecting any equipment left on the dormant line in 1988, and the tracks were removed 2 years later. Some of the right of way was turned into a recreational trail from just south of the city of Johnstown to Denny’s Crossing near Broadalbin Junction. Another small portion near Vail Mills has also been converted to trail use, but the remainder of the original and now trackless FJ&G has remained unchanged for over 2 decades due to lack of funding, land disputes, and lack of interest. A small portion of the roadbed south of the city of Johnstown was built on by the Wal-Mart Distribution Center and the right of way in Vail Mills near routes 30 and 29 is soon to be altered with the intersection being converted to a traffic circle.
If the rails to trails is to continue the FJ&G will need to be paved from Denny’s Crossing toward Vail Mills to form a connection in that area and onward into Broadalbin. On the southern portion, the original right of way will need to be altered to go around the industrial park to continue south toward Fonda.
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Following the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States declared war on Japan and entered the largest full-scale war in history. As war raged around the world, countries divided into Axis and Allied powers and battlefields spanned across Europe, Asia, and Africa. Members of the armed forces were deployed to the far reaches of the globe and were separated from their families.
In a days before email, cell phones, and text messaging, letters served as a vital link between loved ones and friends. Army Post Offices (APOs), Fleet Post Offices (FPOs), and U.S. post offices alike were flooded with mail sent by service members and sweethearts. According to the 1945 Annual Report to the Postmaster General, mail dispatched to the Army in that fiscal year reached 2,533,938,330 pieces compared to the prior year total of 1,482,000,000 and fiscal 1943 sum of only 570,633,000 items. The Navy received 838,644,537 in fiscal year 1945 whereas the prior period saw 463,266,667 mail items sent. The bulk and weight of parcels and letters was competing with military supplies in transport vehicles. Officials from the Post Office, War, and Navy Departments faced a large problem: Was there a way to save room for equipment and still deliver the mail?
The Post Office, War, and Navy Departments worked together to ensure V-Mail for civilians and service members around the world. Numerous personnel, expensive pieces of equipment, photographic supplies, ships, and planes were needed to process and deliver V-Mail. The volume of mail and supplies was such that all three departments were needed to keep the network operational and keep the mail moving.
The Post Office Department was responsible for domestic dispatch and handling of mail. The Post Office sorted V-Mail by respective Army and Navy post offices and delivered it to the V-Mail stations in the United States. Postal authorities divided the continental U.S. into three regions and funneled the incoming and outgoing V-Mail to three facilities: New York, San Francisco, and Chicago. At the ports of embarkation the War and Navy Departments took over postal duties and Kodak ran the V-Mail photography operations. The military was responsible for the transportation of mail destined for overseas personnel. Getting V-Mail to and from the field depended upon a network of V-Mail plants at key locations in the European and Pacific theaters.
Technology was the linchpin in this inter-agency, international network. At the center was the Recordak machine that was initially developed by the Eastman Kodak Company for bank records. The microphotography equipment was designed for ease of use and mass production of recorded materials. Great Britain’s Airgraph Service relied on Kodak for shrinking letters onto microfilm for shipment. Following that lead, the U.S. War Department entered into a contract with the Eastman Kodak Company on May 8, 1942 to use Recordak machines to process V-Mail.
Kodak coordinated the photographic operations in the continental U.S. When it came to the far-flung overseas V-Mail stations, the processing was in the hands of the U.S. military. There, staff relied on the Recordak’s straight-forward design and function to process mail quickly. Captain James Hudson, trained by Eastman Kodak Company, operated V-Mail in Cairo, Egypt, described the machine’s actions:
“It accepted a stack of regular size sheets of paper, about 8 x 11, and fed them one at a time through this machine that was about the size of a small chest of drawers, or today’s paper copier. Cleverly, a light scanned the sheet through a narrow, transverse slot and exposed one frame of a 16 mm motion picture film that was synchronized with it, so that one tiny frame had the image of the full sheet of paper. For those days, that was a lot of compression and tremendous synchronization to make it happen. Kodak gets all the credit for that innovation” http://postalmuseum.si.edu/VictoryMail/operating/flipbook_flash.html
V-Mail letter sheets were designed to make the microfilming process easy. The distinguishing marks and uniform size of V-Mail stationery helped workers gather the folded letter sheets for their special processing. All sheets were set to standard dimensions, weight, grain, and layout.
The materials were produced by the Government Printing Office as well as printing and stationery firms that had been issued permits by the Post Office Department. Multiple suppliers were used to get the V-Mail forms to the people quickly.
The Post Office Department provided customers with special stationery for free. Correspondents could obtain two sheets per day from their local post office. Others opted to purchase the materials that were readily available in neighborhood stores.
V-Mail stationery functioned as a letter and envelope in one. Once the sender had completed her message, she put the recipient’s and return addresses at the top and then folded the sheet into a self-mailing piece. This set of addresses was essential to the final stages for delivery because only this side was reproduced from microfilm to photographic print.
The sender repeated addresses a second time on the opposite side of the sheet. This set, on the “envelope” side of the form, was used to carry the mail along its first stage of the journey from a mailbox to a processing center.
You can print out a copy of a blank V-Mail form (http://postalmuseum.si.edu/VictoryMail/images/vmail.pdf) to use as stationery. If you want to mail it, be sure to use first-class postage.
Letter Writing in World War II
For members of the armed forces the importance of mail during World War II was second only to food. The emotional power of letters was heightened by the fear of loss and the need for communication during times of separation. Messages from a husband, father, or brother, killed in battle might provide the only surviving connection between him and his family. The imminence of danger and the uncertainty of war placed an added emphasis on letter writing. Emotions and feelings that were normally only expressed on special occasions were written regularly to ensure devotion and support.
Military personnel felt the most connected to home through reading about it in letters. Civilians were encouraged to write their service men and women about even the most basic activities. Daily routines, family news, and local gossip kept the armed forces linked to their communities.
Wartime romances adjusted to long distances and sweethearts and spouses separated by oceans used mail to stay in touch. Couples were married on furlough and babies were born while their fathers were away at the battlefront. Letters kept America’s troops informed about home life and detailed accounts allowed them to be in the war and have that critical link back to their families. Others wrote to kindle new relationships and fight off the loneliness and boredom of wartime separation.
Mail played a significant role in maintaining morale on the battlefront and at home, and officials supported that role by working to ensure mail communications during wartime. V-Mail service could ensure this communication with added security and speed. The Office of War Information and the Advertising Council worked with commercial businesses and the community to spread the word about this new service and its benefits.
V-Mail was promoted as patriotic with advertisements emphasizing contributions to the war effort, such as saving cargo space and providing messages to lift spirits. To allay the fears and misconceptions of would-be V-Mail writers, news reports explained how the letters were processed and sped to military personnel.