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 Post subject: Bill Withuhn Retires
PostPosted: Sat Jan 02, 2010 9:25 pm 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 7:37 pm
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As of today, Jan. 2, the Smithsonian's last rail curator, Bill Withuhn, officially retired after 27 years of service. We wish him the best of luck in his retirement from all of his friends at rypn.org.

~K.R. Bell


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 Post subject: Re: Bill Withuhn Retires
PostPosted: Mon Jan 04, 2010 7:51 am 
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Location: Northeastern US
Thanks, Kurt. Congrats and best wishes, Bill!


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 Post subject: Re: Bill Withuhn Retires
PostPosted: Mon Jan 04, 2010 9:12 pm 

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Location: Washington, D.C.
Stephen Hussar wrote:
Thanks, Kurt. Congrats and best wishes, Bill!


SI may never see the likes of Jack White and Bill Withuhn again. America on the Move is a great legacy. And I honor Bill, too, for his military service to our country.

Godspeed to Bill as he pulls the pin.

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Erik Ledbetter
www.steamsafari.com


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 Post subject: Re: Bill Withuhn Retires
PostPosted: Mon Jan 04, 2010 10:14 pm 

Joined: Mon Aug 23, 2004 8:44 am
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Location: Salt Lake City, Utah
Anyone care to speculate what this might mean for the Smithsonian's ex-D&H PA #16, which was repatriated from Mexico through the efforts of Bill Withuhn almost 10 years ago and has languished unrestored since Doyle McCormack put it on trucks a short time later?

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 Post subject: Re: Bill Withuhn Retires
PostPosted: Tue Jan 05, 2010 1:33 am 

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Location: Salt Lake City, Utah
Any particular reason the SI has chosen not to find a replacment rail curator?

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David M. Wilkins

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 Post subject: Re: Bill Withuhn Retires
PostPosted: Tue Jan 05, 2010 9:27 am 

Joined: Thu Aug 19, 2004 2:19 pm
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Location: Washington, D.C.
wilkinsd wrote:
Any particular reason the SI has chosen not to find a replacement rail curator?


I speak with no particular inside knowledge of any kind here, I'm just speculating as a friendly outside observer of NMAH over the years. I could be very wrong.

However, given the organization's long-term institutional change from its roots in the history of technology to its present emphasis on social history, it seems more likely to me that future curatorial positions would be targeted more towards scholars in the history of mobility and social change than toward people with deep expertise in a particular industry or technology. Now don't get me wrong, Bill could and did do both, but I would speculate--speculate--that he is unlikely to be replaced on a one-for-one basis with a new transportation curator who brings the same mix of technical as well as social historical chops.

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 Post subject: Re: Bill Withuhn Retires
PostPosted: Tue Jan 05, 2010 9:43 am 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 8:28 am
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Location: Salt Lake City, Utah
I certainly cann see your point Erik. As someone who was in graduate school with an eye toward a PhD in History, before I jumped ship and went to law school, I could see the types of studies the academy was producing. There was a big emphasis in "social history" and less in the technical aspects of industrial and scientific history. Unless you viewed the development, for example, of Stephenson Valve Gear through the lens of race/class/gender, you were probably not going to get published, and not getting hired anywhere.

It is a shame, other than people like Bill, railway history has few voices in the professional history field. The only other one that comes to mind is H. Roger Grant (if there are others, I apologize, it's early).

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 Post subject: Re: Bill Withuhn Retires
PostPosted: Tue Jan 05, 2010 12:48 pm 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 7:37 pm
Posts: 216
I suspect Mssrs. Wilkins and Ledbetter are spot-on in their assessment of the direction in which NMAH--and other history institutions--is headed. It appears SI offered an attractive retirement buy-out offer to its staff as part of future restructuring plans. For more on recent SI staff retirements, see these links:

http://blog.americanhistory.si.edu/osay ... y-out.html

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/co ... 01958.html


Last edited by K.R. Bell on Tue Jan 05, 2010 5:00 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Bill Withuhn Retires
PostPosted: Tue Jan 05, 2010 2:19 pm 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 1:51 pm
Posts: 8358
Location: Baltimore, MD
The Baltimore Chapter NRHS has tapped the honorable Mr. Withuhn as featured speaker for its annual Chapter Banquet on March 20th in Parkville, Md., 1 to 5 PM. Outsiders and guests are welcome; contact me for details if you are interested. All-you-can-eat buffet is $25 a head prepaid by March 14th, $30 after that date.

[Disclaimer: I am 1st V.P. of the Baltimore Chapter NRHS.]


Last edited by Alexander D. Mitchell IV on Tue Jan 05, 2010 9:30 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Bill Withuhn Retires
PostPosted: Tue Jan 05, 2010 6:44 pm 

Joined: Tue Nov 21, 2006 12:04 am
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Location: Northeast Ohio
I have noticed here in Youngstown, OH the bias against technical history, in favor of social and labor history. Its a battle I constantly fight.


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 Post subject: Re: Bill Withuhn Retires
PostPosted: Tue Jan 05, 2010 7:03 pm 

Joined: Mon Sep 27, 2004 6:17 pm
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Location: Scranton, PA
On the bias against technical history in favor of social history: I have to agree, that seems to be the direction we're headed in, which is too bad. To me it seems that the two go hand in hand, and you can't properly teach about one without including the other.

For instance, you can't talk about a wheel lathe without talking about the guy who operated the thing, and you can't talk about the railway labor movement, 16 hour days, strikes and unions without explaining why and how a flange is recut on that lathe...

It is the best among us who are able to blend the two.

Dave Crosby

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 Post subject: Re: Bill Withuhn Retires
PostPosted: Tue Jan 05, 2010 9:33 pm 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 1:51 pm
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Location: Baltimore, MD
In addition to the other reports, we have news that Withuhn is planning to retire to the West Coast. So the banquet in Baltimore mentioned above MAY be your last chance to hear him on the East Coast.............


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 Post subject: Re: Bill Withuhn Retires
PostPosted: Wed Jan 06, 2010 12:24 am 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 11:54 pm
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I have noticed here in Youngstown, OH the bias against technical history, in favor of social and labor history. Its a battle I constantly fight.

Unfortunately,that's not exactly true. A lot of museums have a decidedly slanted vision of history. I can think of one where there are life-size figurines of caricatures that can best be described as composites of popular prejudices.

That's not history, its politics.

Some institutions are worse than others. I'm sure that some others here might remember that the very institution in question-the Smithsonian-created an "interpretive" exhibit of the Enola Gay B-29 that attributed the decision to deploy atomic bombs to racism, not the desire to finally end the war against facism or spare a depleted military from further casualties whose probability was attested to by the Empire's need to have a second exhibition of the weapon in order to surrender. Sometimes, the vacant opinions cause a furor. The Smithsonian earned a significant amount of bad will from that error.

Its easy to represent the jerk of one's left knee as historic fact or at least reasonable inference, the public can't really dispute a PowerPoint presentation that has the air of authority.

Taking care of 200 ton locomotives or World War 2 bombers is hard. A proper technical interpretation, requires mechanical and business knowledge that is remarkably absent from many college curricula. Its too bad the "liberal arts" are so illiberal.


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