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 Post subject: Where is discussion on saved Conrail documents?
PostPosted: Sun Aug 18, 2019 9:37 am 

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Last edited by Overmod on Sun Aug 18, 2019 4:39 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Where is discussion on saved Conrail documents?
PostPosted: Sun Aug 18, 2019 9:38 am 

Joined: Thu May 24, 2012 1:37 pm
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Overmod wrote:
I have looked, but can't find any discussion here regarding Wayne Laepple's note to the Trains Newswire on August 15th, regarding over 100 boxes of material from storage in the Smithsonian. Who can direct me to it?

I am ASSuming the 'saved from the shredder' is rhetorical; that homes for the material were found quickly and wholly internally, and that nothing was lost by not alerting the preservation community. It seems more than a little strange that Trains knows about this, but RyPN hasn't commented.

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 Post subject: Re: Where is discussion on saved Conrail documents?
PostPosted: Sun Aug 18, 2019 11:48 am 

Joined: Sun Apr 29, 2007 7:19 pm
Posts: 86
Here is a link to the article on the Trains magazine website:

https://trn.trains.com/news/news-wire/2019/08/15-conrail-predecessor-documents-bound-for-shredder-saved-instead

https://web.archive.org/web/20190818152733/https://trn.trains.com/news/news-wire/2019/08/15-conrail-predecessor-documents-bound-for-shredder-saved-instead

As background, Conrail made significant efforts to preserve records that were transferred to them, which today constitute some of the best collections of railroad corporate records in the US. Not all railroads are represented equally in what has been preserved. Records from many Pennsylvania Railroad departments have been preserved, while materials from the New York Central and the Central Railroad Company of New Jersey are few and far between.

An article describing this effort may be found at:

http://www.prrths.com/newprr_files/Hagley/salvaginghistory2005.pdf

https://web.archive.org/web/20190312132000/http://www.prrths.com/newprr_files/Hagley/salvaginghistory2005.pdf

I have been researching in records from Conrail predecessors for 19 years now, and I'm really surprised that this is the first I have heard about this group of documents. But, that is what happens when items are never processed and kept in storage.

Shredding is, most likely, not used here euphemistically. In my research I have found that some archives have destroyed entire ranges of previously accepted documents in the interest of making space.


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 Post subject: Re: Where is discussion on saved Conrail documents?
PostPosted: Sun Aug 18, 2019 11:52 am 
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Discussions relating to preservation of information don't seem a priority on RYPN. Since there is really no central organization to this site any more, this seems to be a reflection of individual interests (or lack of interest) rather than any site related policy.

Witness that it has been two years (August 2016) since the Interchange introduction page posting that the articles section would be returning to functionality.

PC

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 Post subject: Re: Where is discussion on saved Conrail documents?
PostPosted: Sun Aug 18, 2019 11:56 am 

Joined: Fri Dec 22, 2017 6:47 pm
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Location: Philadelphia, PA
The Trains article explained it well. Kurt Bell, Archivist at the PA Museum and Historical Commission, arranged the distribution.

Basically, the material went to the specific RR Historical Societies.

The Reading Company T&HS says:

" … one of the largest and most significant collections of Reading RR drawings the RCT&HS has ever received. The drawings cover buildings, bridges, and other structures built by the Reading RR, mostly in the time period from the late 1890s to the 1930s. We estimate there are at least 3,000 drawings, nearly all original linen tracings in good condition. "

Phil Mulligan


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 Post subject: Re: Where is discussion on saved Conrail documents?
PostPosted: Sun Aug 18, 2019 1:10 pm 

Joined: Sun Apr 29, 2007 7:19 pm
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I'd be interested in learning more about the Smithsonian's timeline for deciding to dispose of these items. 639 cubic feet is a large amount for any archive to consider. For those of you not familiar with archives, the budget considerations for archives are not unlike those for locomotive or rolling stock collections. The items might be historically significant, but the costs of receiving and caring for them are not free.

A short deadline decreases the opportunity for archives to make informed and responsible decisions.


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 Post subject: Re: Where is discussion on saved Conrail documents?
PostPosted: Sun Aug 18, 2019 1:56 pm 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 1:51 pm
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Location: Somewhere north of Prescott, AZ on the Santa Fe "Peavine"
I know of a couple railroad archivists that were caught by surprise by this announcement as well.

But I think I know why it "went down" quietly.

In one sense the Smithsonian should not have had this stuff "dumped" on them in the first place. It's well and good that it WAS saved, but the Smithsonian or Library of Congress is not quite the place for such specialized collections. I'm presuming that the Smithsonian saw its role from the start as merely a redistribution stop.

And this stuff by necessity happens quietly, on a "need to know" basis. Whatever forces with Conrail that got this stuff to the Smithsonian in the 1980s are/would be probably happy with the outcome, but far too many people see things in the Smithsonian as occupying some vaunted place of honor in national preservation--in spite of the common nickname of the Smithsonian as "the nation's attic." If and when deaccession happens, it can damage the image of the institution in question, and infuriate donors past, present and future. Thus, deaccession happens quietly, and seldom with the kind of news release we saw here, no matter how positive the outcome in the long term. And let's not even discuss the outrage had this stuff been sent to an auction house, like Penn Central did in 1975.

As for who got this stuff? "Success comes to the prepared." All of the groups in question have or have use of some form of facility to house the documents in question, plus at least some staff or volunteers to properly curate and file the materials for future access. And I guarantee you that, as inaccessible and "tomb-like" as some rail archives may seem to be, you're going to have a better chance of getting to what you hope to find at Lewistown, Bethlehem, Strasburg, Cleveland, etc. than in "deep storage" at Suitland (presumably stuck somewhere near Indiana Jones' Ark of the Covenant). But too many museums' "archives" amount to nothing more than a pile of boxes in a closet or back room. Too many people want to run trains rather than file paper.

This is a major problem with rail archives in the first place. Everyone seems eager to say "someone should save that!" and then, after all that work saving it, some people expect to be able to have the content delivered to them for free. Even shoving it all in a watertight shipping container costs money (a couple grand for the container, plus land plus occasional re-roofing or roofing tar or whatever). Volunteers or paid people (interns?) are needed to sort and organize (and maybe scan) the stuff; you need a facility with enough room to sort and file and store.

There are historians I know of whose personal archives take up the equivalent of a four-car garage, a medium-sized house, or an entire guest house. One late historian's personal archive is currently stored in TWO weatherproofed 40-foot shipping containers awaiting the construction of the archive facility for the museum that received it--and they'd better get that done before the lead archivist gets too old to handle it! Now, certainly there's some duplication between personal collections and existing archives; we all have to have our own copy of the "definitive" history of the RR, the loco books, etc. BUT you have to go through to ascertain. Redundancy is good--I constantly fret about what could happen if a fire, tornado, etc. were to hit certain buildings.

The original plan for the Maryland Rail Heritage Library at the Baltimore Streetcar Museum comprised eight bookshelves and a table. It now has hundreds of shelves, dozens of file cabinets, and stuff jammed everywhere and almost no room for that table--plus a container of unprocessed stuff outside in a flood zone because it's the only place to put it.


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 Post subject: Re: Where is discussion on saved Conrail documents?
PostPosted: Sun Aug 18, 2019 8:39 pm 

Joined: Mon Aug 23, 2004 5:10 pm
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Let me say this. From what I was told when I was reporting on this, these engineering drawings were not "dumped" on the Smithsonian. Rather, a long-time member of the Smithsonian staff began purposely collecting them in 1981 and continued to do so through at least 1984. He has since retired, and a Smithsonian archivist, who had begun to sort and index the materials passed away rather suddenly.

I have been to the Smithsonian storage compound in Suitland, Md., and I can tell you that if the entire National Mall was placed under roof, there still would not be enough space to accommodate everything!

These boxes and crates of drawings were offered to the Pennsylvania State archives, but due to its impending move to a new facility, the donation could not be accepted. That's when Kurt Bell took the initiative to contact the various organizations. All were pleased to accept the drawings. The alternative would have been their destruction, either by design or by simply allowing them to remain in storage in a space with a leaky roof!


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 Post subject: Re: Where is discussion on saved Conrail documents?
PostPosted: Sun Aug 18, 2019 8:56 pm 

Joined: Fri Dec 22, 2017 6:47 pm
Posts: 208
Location: Philadelphia, PA
One other point. Now that these RR-specific T&HS' have this addition to their archival collections, the documents need catalogued, sorted and put in files so researchers can use them.

Here's what the RCT&HS has to say:

" We are also going to need a lot more large-sized map folders to sort and store the drawings. These folders cost $10 to 15 each, and we will eventually need at least a thousand more of them for this and other drawings collections, so any donations towards this expense will be greatly appreciated. "

So if your favorite RR T&HS got some of this stuff, they're going to need $$$ to make it usable. I'm sure they would appreciate any donations.

Phil Mulligan


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 Post subject: Re: Where is discussion on saved Conrail documents?
PostPosted: Mon Aug 19, 2019 8:51 am 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 7:37 pm
Posts: 234
Everything Wayne said is correct. The SI was under the gun to clear out the unprocessed railroad drawings and had an Aug. 1st deadline. Craig Orr, an SI archivist (who ironically had also worked on the PRR Records Project back in the 1980s with Michael Nash and Chris Baer), was my initial contact and sincerely wanted to find a home for everything. And yes, "shredding" is what SI told me of the fate of the records if they were not saved. The PA State Archives was contacted because we previously received a large deposit of PRR bridge, track and structures drawings in the mid-1980s and it was felt we would be a good home for same, not to mention a longtime repository for Lehigh Valley RR records as well. As Wayne said, we are moving to a new building in a couple of years and are under a non-state records collecting moratorium and could not accept the SI donation. So I sprung into action and contacted the most likely repositories for the records, since I am already acquainted with most folks in these organizations. At my request, Nick Fry, Curator of the Barriger Library, was instrumental in reaching out to the NYCRHS folks which was a big help, too.

The records were collected by Robert M. Vogel, the SI's former Curator of Mechanical and Civil Engineering who has a penchant for bridges--he couldn't collect real ones so instead he amassed drawings. The records came from William M. Whener, Conrail’s Assistant Chief Engineer of Structures, based in Philadelphia. Vogel was collecting from him between 1981-1984. About fifteen years ago an SI curator named David Shayt had begun a project in the SI's Division of Work & Industry (NMAH) to process the drawings but the project was cut short by his untimely death. And the drawings sat at Suitland ever since, in the same palletized boxes and crates they arrived in back in the 1980's.

Sometimes railroad records do have happy endings.

K.R. Bell


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 Post subject: Re: Where is discussion on saved Conrail documents?
PostPosted: Mon Aug 19, 2019 1:43 pm 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 12:15 am
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Great job there Mr. Bell.

Since you seem to have a contact within SI on this stuff, have you heard of anything else getting close to the `move it or loose it" status??? Just so there is a bit more warning to other groups?

Regards,
Rich C.


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 Post subject: Re: Where is discussion on saved Conrail documents?
PostPosted: Mon Aug 19, 2019 3:09 pm 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 7:37 pm
Posts: 234
Rich,

This is the only accession I'm aware of at the moment that was getting jettisoned. Mainly because it was very large, was unprocessed and occupied valuable storage space at Suitland. Most of the other SI railroad collections are processed or at least in a semi-processed state, at NMAH or at the SI Archives.

The last NMAH Railroad Curator who worked in the Division of Work & Industry, and had some jurisdiction over this collection retired in December so I wonder if perhaps the time was ripe for action. The SI Archives' Craig Orr would know for certain.

K.R. Bell


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 Post subject: Re: Where is discussion on saved Conrail documents?
PostPosted: Mon Aug 19, 2019 4:04 pm 

Joined: Fri Dec 22, 2017 6:47 pm
Posts: 208
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Kurt, from all of us, thank you.

RCT&HS is happy to get its 11 boxes, even though they will spend $$$ to properly store the drawings.

" … one of the largest and most significant collections of Reading RR drawings the RCT&HS has ever received. The drawings cover buildings, bridges, and other structures built by the Reading RR, mostly in the time period from the late 1890s to the 1930s. We estimate there are at least 3,000 drawings, nearly all original linen tracings in good condition."

Phil Mulligan


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 Post subject: Re: Where is discussion on saved Conrail documents?
PostPosted: Mon Aug 19, 2019 5:57 pm 

Joined: Tue Aug 31, 2004 3:04 pm
Posts: 116
Location: San Jose, CA
Thomas Cornillie wrote:
I'd be interested in learning more about the Smithsonian's timeline for deciding to dispose of these items. 639 cubic feet is a large amount for any archive to consider. For those of you not familiar with archives, the budget considerations for archives are not unlike those for locomotive or rolling stock collections. The items might be historically significant, but the costs of receiving and caring for them are not free.

A short deadline decreases the opportunity for archives to make informed and responsible decisions.


While there may be rare occasions where poor choices might be made, those of us laden with these responsibilities take them seriously. Most often, our institutions or sponsors place unrealistic expectations that require scrambling for solutions. Reliance on outside relationships is a key. In this instance, Kurt was able to react.

PLEASE do not infer that those of us in collections or archival management are not knowledgeable. We take our positions seriously. Sadly in any downsizing activity, tough choices may have to be made. Sometimes, that involves trashing.

Ken Middlebrook
Curator of Collections
History San Jose


Last edited by Ken Middlebrook on Tue Aug 20, 2019 3:13 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Where is discussion on saved Conrail documents?
PostPosted: Mon Aug 19, 2019 10:29 pm 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 1:51 pm
Posts: 9262
Location: Somewhere north of Prescott, AZ on the Santa Fe "Peavine"
The bitter reality is that archives of the sort we oversee seldom ever get the chance to deal with large collections in an orderly and leisurely fashion. For every instance where someone has arranged a carefully curated, well-planned transfer of a collection of assets to any of the archives I have worked with, there are perhaps a dozen or two instances of a widow or heir calling to say "can you come and get this stuff/junk?" When I heard of Herb Harwood transferring his extensive collection to the Hagley Library while still alive, i LITERALLY screamed cheers and wanted to find a bottle of champagne or single malt to celebrate! "THIS is the way it needs to happen!!!"

When I was at the Md. Rail Heritage Library working weekly as a volunteer, one of the senior members of the Baltimore Chapter was making a weekly trip dropping off bags or boxes of books, periodicals, and other ephemera. I kept trying to rope him in to take an inventory of his donations for tax purposes, but he wordlessly waved me off and turned to leave, every time. I was told we were free to do whatever we wanted with what showed up. None of it was shabby, little of it was duplicate, and much of it was hard or impossible to find outside of very specific circles--such as the AAPRRCO periodical Private Varnish, the publications of various tech & Historical RR societies, original RR timetables and ETTs, etc. The few dupes sold for good money. He passed away about six months later, with a careful passing down of prized PRR models to his modeling friends among his last acts.

If "you" (and I mean anyone from an individual to the Smithsonian!) want your collection to outlive you and be of value to future generations, it requires advance preparation.
LABEL YOUR PHOTOS.
Leave your heirs a list of what is one-of-a-kind, what has family connections (that plain old NYC latern was your great-grandfather's), what is rare/valuable, and what can be dumped at Goodwill or the eBay seller.
WRITE A WILL. And update it. Simple wills can be cheap or free.
Talk with prospective receivers BEFORE you're ill. Find out that such-and-such museum doesn't have a functional library but the other one does.
Find out in advance whether your collection needs to be treated as one intact collection (the way a lot of big non-RR museums and libraries function), or they can just focus on, say, the ephemera from the one specific railroad, transfer your photos to a better library, and sell off the books that "everyone" already has.
Make people CARE about what you have. Share knowledge and imagery--on social media, on blogs, etc. Produce new generations fascinated by this stuff--or only the garbageman will get to see it.


Last edited by Alexander D. Mitchell IV on Tue Aug 20, 2019 12:30 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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