Wednesday, December 8, 2010

I Love Cuts: Railroad Cuts and Logos

I’ve always enjoyed trains — as a kid I grew up within a few blocks of where the Burlington Northern ran through my hometown. My sister and I made games of counting freight cars and seeing how many different kinds we could spot. We watched spinning train wheels until we were dizzy. And once we spotted a hobo, riding in style in a new car that was travelling by train to some auto dealer’s lot. We waved, and the hobo waved back to us. I love the sounds trains make, too – the whistles, the clack of the wheels, and that oddly fading sound (Doppler effect) as they pass by. So naturally as a printer, I love railroad printing cuts.

Our railroad cut collection got a big boost in the mid-1990’s. We hosted a meeting of the St. Louis Letterpress Society in our home, and one of our friends who attended said he had some cuts to give us. Irv was a former employee of Con P. Curran, a St. Louis firm that specialized in railroad printing. Con Curran advertised themselves as “the railroad printers”. Their offices, dating from 1893, were once located at 3rd and Locust in downtown St. Louis, in the area now occupied by the Gateway Arch. When the letterpress shop of Con Curran was broken up years ago, Irv was able to save railroad cuts and logos that otherwise would have been trashed.

Printers' cut of the old Con P. Curran office building at 3rd and Locust in downtown St. Louis circa 1893.

When we saw what he’d saved, we were amazed and grateful for his gift. There were cuts and logos from many different railroad lines — Detroit, Toledo and Ironton, Western Pacific, Rio Grande, Cotton Belt Route, Colorado and Southern, Frisco, Santa Fe, Burlington, Katy, Florida East Coast, D and W, Milwaukee Road, New York Central, Wabash, and Mobile and Ohio, to name a few. There were cuts of hand signals for trains, and cuts of the trains themselves. And there were cuts of the old Con Curran office building. It was a treasure trove for us.

Below are pictures of some of our railroad cuts. It’s fascinating to me to see what logos were used by what railroad lines. And for some of the old railroad lines long since defunct, these cuts are a memento of a time when much of the country traveled by train. What a great souvenir of our railroading past!



  1. I love the sound of trains too! How nice that you were given these railroad cuts--that would have been trashed--what a loss that would have been, and they are certainly in the best of hands.

  2. I'm glad the cuts were saved, too -- they're a real piece of history, and fascinating to look at.

  3. Wow, they say envy is bad but I envy this collection! We have 60 or so Burlington trains a day tooting their way through town at the end of our block. Karen and I both grew up in close proximity to railroad tracks so after a couple of days, we didn't even notice them.

  4. Thank you, George! Now the challenge for us is to use all of those railroad cuts -- maybe in a booklet someday.