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Railroad Collections

Railroad Collections

The railroad collections at Lake Forest College began when the late Elliott Donnelley’s family donated his collection of books and ephemera relating to trains to the College library.  It has grown—sometimes with family assistance—to include, in owned and on deposit collections, thousands of books, approaching a hundred thousand photographs, over five thousand timetables, manuscripts, and over a thousand brochures and ephemeral items (lanterns, china, tickets, and fabric and paint samples).  Linked below are digitized images, finding aids, and documents from and relating to this significant library within a library.  

The focus of the collection is the railfan phenomenon, from early boosters (including artists and photographers) to second-generation, 21st century enthusiasts, preservationists, and photographers: (1) anti-moderns and nostalgic readers and visitors to and riders of preserved railroad passenger equipment, but also (2) followers of the latest developments and boosters of high-speed rail, freight and its equipment, transit/interurbans and commuter rail, etc. Coverage, originally focused on interests of Donnelley and soon Sloss, has grown to become what librarians refer to as “spotty” and relatively image-driven coverage of key U.S. and North American, but also—under Dubin as well as Donnelley—global railways. Since 1999 and the relationship (archival depository, host for annual photography conferences) with the Center for Railroad Photography and Art (Madison, WI), that group’s interests have led collecting here, as well.        

Elliott Donnelley (1903-1975) was a notable railroad enthusiast, modeler, preservationist, and book collector. After his death his family donated his collection of railroad books and periodicals and made related contributions to the library which he had done so much to make possible through his leadership on the Lake Forest College Board of Trustees. Special Collections has followed his railfan collecting interests—augmented by railfan photography—in its development, rather than great railroad archival holdings as found at the Newberry Library, Chicago. Soon the family also encouraged another major addition of railroad material: books, periodicals, photographs, time tables, etc. from the older railfan collection of the late Munson Paddock of Wisconsin, New York and Pennsylvania. Paddock’s collection complemented Donnelley’s; where the former had material of the early days of railroading from the nineteenth century, the latter’s holdings were from the late 1930s to the 1970s, the golden age of the railfan nostalgia and interest in America, as cars and planes gradually supplanted rail travel. Donnelley’s holdings, too, emphasized narrow gauge, western railroads, live steam, and modeling.

In the 1980s the late MIT scholar James Sloss’s collections were donated, including eastern and international material, as well as western railroad books, and 3,000 timetables. From the late 1990s through the mid 2000s the late Arthur D. Dubin, A.S.T.P. ’47 (1923-2011), of Highland Park, transferred from his nationally renowned collection an approx. 10,000-12,000 item photograph collection relating to the era of the high-speed, express limited train, which thrived from the late nineteenth century to the 1960s. In addition, this material includes his own photographs and purchased sets documenting his international rail and ship travels from the 1980s and 1990s especially. The core 7,000-8,000 images, though, reflect the U.S. focus and make-up of Dubin’s two still-essential books Some Classic Trains (1964) and More Classic Trains (1974).

Today the group of approx. 2,500 cataloged books and over 1,000 volumes and issues of periodicals, some of unique interest, stands as a strong library, or collection of collections, on railroading, with a unique window on the railfan phenomenon. The Special Collections-owned photograph collection exceeds 12,000 in number, including some rare 1860s and 1870s glass plate negatives and many first-century builder’s photos of locomotives and cars.

Elliot Donnelley

Arthur D. Dubin (left standing; 1923-2011) and Elliott Donnelley (1904-1975) on board a train on one of the latter’s privately organized western rail excursions, 1960s. The scenery is in Colorado, on either the second or third of the trips Donnelley organized for friends, according to Arthur Dubin.  Both men’s collections have combined to provide a major portion of the railroad holdings in Special Collections. The photo is by the late William Crosby, Wilmette.



The book collections begin with English and American illustrated and monographic titles of the earliest days of railroading in the early nineteenth century. The later nineteenth century is represented by railroad-specific titles and series, such as Poore’s Manual, and by more general travel books which reflect the rise of rail passenger travel, especially in the West. Some volumes are illustrated by albumen prints, among the earliest photo-illustrated books. The most comprehensive treatment begins with the post-World War II era, reflecting Donnelley and Sloss’s collecting, as well as books purchased with Donnelley family funding and selected initially by John Allen ’80 (Ph.D. MIT), a planner with the Chicago area’s Regional Transportation Authority. Examples illustrating the quality of the book collection make up one of the chapters (items 61-70) in One Hundred Rare and Notable Books… (2004).


The periodical collection is not large or complete, but its areas of interest include early unbound (ads still present) issues of post-Civil-War American trade periodicals from Munson Paddock who may have been associated with Angus Sinclair, a New York railroad publisher a century ago. In addition, there are runs of the standard rail history and railfan periodicals, most often also unbound to preserve their usefulness to modelers: Railroad Stories, Railroad Magazine, Trains, Railroad and Railfan, and Vintage Rails. Some railroad line-specific historical society periodicals are held (the Chicago & Northwestern, the GM & O, etc.).

Timetables, Advertising Booklets, and Maps

Timetable listings of trains for passengers and employees were collected by Paddock, Sloss, and Dubin, with Sloss’s holdings the most extensive, over 3,000 in number. Most are U.S. from the first half of the twentieth century, but there are a few earlier and later, and a small number of international ones. Donnelley, Paddock, Sloss, Dubin and others have collected advertising booklets and maps. Some are cataloged, but others are organized by railroad (North Am.) and by country.

Photographs and Media

The photo collections date back to the 1860s, with Munson Paddock’s glass plate negatives and prints of John Reid’s Paterson, NJ locomotive builders’ views. Paddock also possessed over 1,000 photo views of locomotives typical of Railroad Magazine’s 1920s and 1930s collector’s exchange. But Arthur D. Dubin’s collections on passenger cars and the lifestyle they represented from the 1890s to the 1960s form the bulk of the organized photo holdings of the Elliot Donnelley photo collection. Over four hundred of these are available on the web at www.railroadheritage.org (search “Dubin” or “Lake Forest College”). There are several smaller collections, including about fifty rare stereo views of the construction of the transcontinental railroad, 1865-69, by photographers such as Jackson and Hart, and focused on the Salt Lake City, Utah area (assembled in the 1980s by dealer William Lee, son of assistant librarian emerita Jo Lee Schaffer).

Donnelley’s own rail interests included his 1930s and 1940s modeling enterprise, Scale-craft (see library catalog), his preservation in the late 1960s of the Shay #5 locomotive at the Illinois Railway Museum and also his legendary 1960s summer western rail trips. Deposited by Miss Mariann Crosby, Glencoe, sister of railfan and Elliott Donnelley associate William Crosby, Jr., are about fifty still images documenting the IRM Shay #5 preservation effort and a small group of reels of amateur 8mm films, now converted to video, documenting some of the western rail trips. 

One photographic preservation approach of the Center for Railroad Photography and Art (Madison, WI), discussed below, has been the production and ultimate donation of three sets of classic steam photographs—by Jim Shauhnessy, Frank Barry, and Steve VanDenburgh—produced to the highest print quality by Jeff Brouws and Wendy Burton (NY).  These superb prints honor the best work of some of the best photographers of mid-century North America.  As such, they present a viable alternative quite possibly, as advocated by Brouws, in some cases to efforts to preserve whole collections of thousands of slides, negatives, etc. that may also have many issues relating to identification, photo quality, etc.  this collection of collections represents the highest standard of contemporary digital photographic printing.   

Manuscripts and Papers, Etc.

Correspondence and other records of collecting by Munson Paddock, including sketches in pencil and oil by the illustrator, provide a useful insight into early twentieth century railfan interests. The James Sloss material, received in the 1980s, includes his 1930 Harvard undergraduate thesis on partial loads for freight cars, a seminal work drawn on during Sloss’s career at Sears and in wartime military service. Arthur D. Dubin also has deposited some of his rail-related correspondence, including early Amtrak material and his correspondence with Lucius Beebe, as has Miss Crosby of her brother’s work with Donnelley and the IRM. Holdings total approx. 10 lin. ft.  There is a small group of miscellaneous railroad historical manuscripts, typescripts, etc. apparently not attributable or related to the collector/authors in this collection (Dubin, Sloss, etc.).  

Published Descriptions

The article by Arthur Miller on “Trains and Railroading” in the Handbook of American Popular Culture (1989), v.3, relies heavily on material in the Donnelley railroad collection, as does the less bibliographical essay “Railroad” in American Icons: An Encyclopedia of the People, Places, and Things That Have Shaped Our Culture, ed. Dennis R. Hall and Susan Grove Hall, 3 vols., Garland, 2006), v. 3. An earlier, longer draft version of this essay, The Railroad as American Icon, can be seen here.  An update to the 1989 and subseq. piece is provided in an article also by Miller on the Paddock and Dubin photographic collections in Railroad Heritage (no. 1, 2000).  The 2004-released One Hundred Rare and Notable Books…., issued at the dedication of the Donnelley and Lee Library, includes railroad books as one of its ten chapters, with ten titles profiled; see also the HTML version of One Hundred Rare and Notable Books….

Center for Railroad Photography and Art

The Donnelley railroad history collection is associated with the Center for Railroad Photography and Art (hdqtrs., Madison, WI) (CRPA) and its traveling exhibitions, beginning with “150 years of Railroad hotography,” organized in 1999 and shown since then, in addition to at the Donnelley Library early in 2000, in Sacramento, CA (1999), Altoona, PA (1999), Madison, WI (1999-2000), Urbana, IL (2000), St. Louis, MO (2001), and Carson City, NV (2001-2002). The second-oldest image in the exhibit is one of John Reid’s locomotive views from the Paddock collections; other views are from Paddock and Dubin material. Archives and Special Collections acts as the Center’s archives and has hosted on campus the Center’s first three annual national conferences on railroad photography. The Center’s American Railroad History in a Nutshell inlcudes Dubin material, both in print as a 2009 issue of Railroad Heritage, the Center’s periodical (available separately), and a a book, with a version of it on www.railroadheritage.org.  A second number in the “in a nutshell” series, Railroad Preservation in a Nutshell arrived to Railroad Heritage subscribers in October 2011, as issue 26, also available separately as a book from the Center.

In mid development now is an exhibition of Jack Delano (library of Congress) early 1940s photos for the Agriculture Dept. of railroad workers in the Chicago area—for its time a group that was widely diverse in backgrounds and also included women. The CRPA team has tracked down almost every one of Delano’s subjects and his son, photographer and professor Pablo Delano of Trinity College (Hartford, CT), has taken new views of many of the descendants—a group that includes the actor Gary Sinese.    

Since the late 1990s this collection has partnered with the Madison, WI based Center, under president John Gruber and starting in 2011 under executive director, now president, Scott Lothes, with board chairman and rail photographer Bon French, also a Chicago businessman and chair of the Chicago History Museum.  

Archives and Special Collections has hosted since 2003 all but one of the Center’s annual photography conferences at the College, drawing national audiences and presenters on historical and contemporary rail photography topics. The conference has grown from one day in 2003 to the better part of three, with exhibits, receptions, formal sessions, and workshops. Also, Special Collections houses on deposit the Center’s own photograph collections, most notably the Ted Rose photography archive, organized by volunteer research associate David Mattoon ’76.  The Wallace Abbey collection of railroad photographs was deposited in 2010, for which the organization has been a 2011-12 project, partially funded through the Center by a preservation grant from Trains Magazine.  Organized by David Mattoon, physical and intellectual organization has been underway since May of 2011 by Lindsey Harris ’14, Richter Scholar Huy Hoang ’14 (summer 2011), Zachary Meyer (Summer 2011), Caroline Kerr (summer 2011), Paulius Kuprys ’12, Harris Miller ’15, Lindsey Harris ’14, and Trang Ho ’15. Deposited in 2011 also was the already well-organized John F. Bjorklund slide collection (55,000 items in ninety-nine metal boxes).