Nobody Knew How Many Others There Were Out There, But A Historical Society Seemed Like A Good Idea  by Gene Glendinning

It was quite a year.  B-52 bombers were pounding Haiphong and Hanoi and Assistant National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger declared, “Peace was at hand.”  Five burglars working for the Committee to Re-elect the President were arrested in the Democratic Party National Headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C.  The Supreme Court upheld a ruling for the busing of children to integrate public schools.  Apollo 17 made the last ever U.S. manned moon landing.  The six largest tobacco companies agreed to include a health warning in their cigarette advertisements.  Roberto Clemente became the eleventh player in baseball history to reach 3,000 base hits.  President Richard Nixon and Vice President Spiro Agnew won election in a landslide.  The Lehigh & Hudson River and the Erie Lackawanna declared bankruptcy.  The Chicago & North Western was sold to its employees.  And—oh yes—the Illinois Central Gulf came into being. 

For GM&O fans, 1972 was a year of sadness, for they sensed what had been the familiar sight of “Big Reds,” worn out and dirty F3’s, the last of the Alco switchers, and as later events revealed, much of the railroad itself would soon pass into memory.  Fans were numerous at trackside that year capturing on film or recorders the last images and sounds of their beloved GM&O.  It had been a great run but the railroad Issac Tigrett had welded together from a series of failed short lines had reached its end. 

Doug Steurer and Robert Schramm, are acknowledged to be the “Founding Brothers” of our Society.  They met in 1971 when Schramm, then the GM&O’s agent at Lockport, spotted Steurer, an active railfan and excellent photographer, shooting scenes of the railroad around the depot.  They became friends.  Schramm was instrumental in getting the young man a job as an extra agent/operator/leverman, which eventually led to Steurer’s appointment as third trick operator at Corwith Tower.  Their friendship grew and they began to discuss the importance of preserving the GM&O’s history.

Steurer was a member of the Northwestern Illinois Chapter of the National Railroad Historical Society in Rockford.  He became a member after Mike Schafer noticed Steurer’s slides he had brought to Carlson Commercial Photography for processing, where Schafer was then employed.  Schafer inserted a hand-written invitation to join the group in the envelope with the slides.  Steurer was assembling GM&O subjects for a comprehensive slide show that he intended would capture for posterity the railroad’s luster, flavor, and quirky history utilizing the then pace-setting dual-projector/audio system.  Tragically, before completing the project, Steurer was killed in an auto accident en route to work at Corwith Tower.  It was left for Schafer and another NWI member, James Heuer, to complete the project.  Schramm decided even more could be done through formation of a formal historical society, much like the New York Central, Pennsylvania, Nickel Plate, and New York, Ontario & Western organizations that were in the early stages of development.

Steurer had recruited Schramm as a chapter member.  The NWI Chapter was easily one of the most active and productive of railfan organizations.  Among those regularly attending meetings and fan trips were men who were already readily identifiable within the railfan community and others who would become so.  Schramm shared his vision for a GM&O historical society as a tribute to his railfan friend with fellow members who had a particular GM&O interest.  Among those he approached were Joe Petric, Schafer and J. David Ingles—then both employees of Kalmbach Publishing—and Charles Volkar.  Schramm talked to others outside the chapter, including fellow GM&O railroader Robert Zimmerman, a claims agent at Glenn Yard.  A few years earlier, Schramm had put together an article he ultimately submitted to Railroad Model Craftsman on the GM&O’s motorcars.  He needed photos to illustrate the piece and approached a photographer in Springfield named Richard Wallin.  Schramm now remembered Wallin and visited him to ask him to join.  Though not acquainted with the others, Wallin and Ingles were close friends, the two having spent many weekends together photographing central Illinois railroading. 

Schramm had become a frequent customer of the legendary All-Nation Hobby Shop in downtown Chicago and met Joe Legner who worked there and was a GM&O fan.  Through Legner, Schramm learned James Windmeier, a former GM&O employee at Brighton Park, also had ideas of starting a historical society with a particular emphasis on C&A/Alton history.  Schramm telephoned Windmeier and the two spent some time corresponding that eventually led to their deciding it would be best to join efforts.  Thus a nucleus was formed.

Letters and occasional phone calls were exchanged before a date for the first formal meeting was set.  Though no one involved remembers the actual date of that first gathering, it was held sometime in late 1972 at a Sambo’s restaurant, two blocks east of the GM&O main line and south of the Rock Island on Richards Street in Joliet.

Attending that meeting were Schramm, Ingles, Petric, Volkar, Wallin, Windmeier, and Zimmerman.  It was the first time Wallin had met any of the others except for Schramm and Ingles and the first time Windmeier had met any one else except Schramm.

Schramm had prepared for the meeting by obtaining the by-laws of five established railroad historical societies.  Along with the NWI rules, Schramm fashioned a rough draft of a constitution and by-laws for a GM&O society.  Schramm recruited a Chicago attorney, Robert Schmidt, an active NWI member and officer, to make sure both were satisfactory to meet Illinois’ requirements to establish a not-for-profit corporation.  By their own admission, none of those attending had any idea how many might become members (the consensus was probably about 250 at the most).

An Ohioan by birth, Schramm was also a Nickel Plate fan and particularly liked the format of that society’s magazine.  Wallin too liked its format, which was horizontal as opposed to the vertical layouts of the commercial and other society magazines for the simple reason the style afforded a better display of photos.  It was decided our Society’s publication would adopt the unconventional format though who or how it would be published was not decided.  The group resolved, however, that whatever was turned out would be of the highest quality possible within the constraint of available finances.

It was a happy day when certificate no.19554, issued by then Illinois Secretary of State Michael J. Howlett, showed up in Schramm’s mailbox testifying that the “G.M.&O. Historical Society, Inc.” was chartered by the State of Illinois as a not-for-profit corporation to become effective March 6, 1973.  Three of those attending the Sambo’s meeting were named incorporators: Schramm, Zimmerman, and Volkar, for the simple reason, according to Volkar, “because we shared the $25 filing cost.”  The document also identified five initial directors: Ingles, Petric, Schramm, Wallin, and Zimmerman.  At Sambo’s, Ingles had been elected president pro tempore with the understanding someone else would be named permanent president as soon as practical since Ingles felt his work at Trains might pose a conflict of interest.  Schramm was elected secretary-treasurer.

Now that the Society was officially a recognized organization, it made sense to schedule a general membership meeting and the first ever was held in November 1973 at the Holiday Inn on Veterans Parkway in Bloomington.  Schramm and Volkar had met Bloomington resident John Morris, a central Illinois railfan and member of the Central Illinois Railroad Club (who was also editor of the club’s newsletter), when the two presented a GM&O slide show for that organization.  Schramm asked Morris if he would join him in finding a Bloomington location and during the summer, the two rode Morris’ motorcycle all over Bloomington looking for a venue.  It was Morris who organized that first general meeting. 

Sixty-five members and guests attended, some of them Bloomington-based former GM&O employees.  The first permanent officers were elected: Wallin as president, Morris, now heavily involved, as vice president, and Schramm, secretary-treasurer.  Ingles, Volkar, Windmeier, and Zimmerman were elected directors.  The highlight of the meeting was the showing of the slide presentation Steurer had started and Schafer and Heuer had finished.  When the house lights came on, a stunned audience could hardly believe what they had seen.  The show was filled with exquisite images, accompanied by music tastefully chosen to evoke memories of the railroad as it once was.  Schafer has since presented the production numerous times since that first showing (and as recently as 2002) and every audience has been equally impressed.  It was a magnificent conclusion for a meeting Wallin later called “a huge success,” and a portent of what was to come from the GM&OHS.

The first issue of the GM&OHS NEWS was 16 pages and, except for the red logotype on the cover, all black & white.  The horizontal format remains to this day.

At the Joliet meeting, it was recognized that the Society’s primary focus would be publishing a magazine.  Wallin especially emphasized it would be the primary means of contact with the membership, the Society’s most tangible product, and strongly suggested most of the money the Society took in be applied to publishing a quality product on a consistent schedule.  But how that was going to be accomplished remained to be answered until Schramm asked Morris to assume the chairmanship of a Publications Committee.  It was he, supported by a seven-man Publication Committee, who almost single handedly assembled the first issue’s content, laid out the pages and produced what became issue no.1.  The format had been decided at Joliet, and what the magazine would be called was a forgone conclusion, the News, the same name the railroad used for its employee broadside.  The magazine’s purpose was stated in a message, signed by Dick Wallin, that appeared on the inside cover of the first issue under an uncaptioned photo of a DL-109 at rest with a crew of shop men in the foreground: “…We propose to give you the very highest quality publication that can be put together within the bounds of our financial structure.  Each issue will feature various aspects of the railroad hobby, including steam and diesel locomotives, passenger trains, cars, models and buildings.”

On the cover of the first all black-and-white issue (red ink was used for the cover logo and the smaller version on the masthead but the issue was otherwise monotone) that carried no date and only otherwise identified as “issue no.1,” was a Walter Peters shot of a Pacific, no.5292, leading a local through Springfield.  The rear cover was a Wallin shot of an E7, no.102, awaiting departure at St. Louis Union Station.  The decision to go with full-page cover photos, unadorned with copy, set the format that would remain constant for the next 28 or so years. 

The inside cover was devoted to President Wallin’s message and a masthead listing the Publication Committee, officers and directors.  There were two Society addresses listed: one for the Northern Region (Wallin’s Springfield postal box, still in use by him today) the other for the Southern Region, a Jackson, Miss. postal box rented by Art Richardson, then, along with Fred Bradley, about the only GM&O fans south of St. Louis known to anyone in the group.

Schramm had corresponded in 1969 with both Bradley and Richardson seeking information and photos when he was composing his motorcar article.  The three thereafter kept in touch sharing their common interest in the GM&O and Schramm made a point of keeping both informed about the development of the Society.  Meanwhile, Richardson, Bradley, Dennis and Charles Coniff, George Jurgens, and a few others around the Jackson, Miss. area had been diligently collecting anything GM&O they could get their hands on (often with the cooperation of GM&O men equally concerned about what would happen to the railroad once the pending merger became official).  Richardson and Bradley particularly were leading the effort.  Though forming a railroad historical society was not as high on their agenda as was the gathering of records and memorabilia, Richardson knew of a moribund group chartered by some friends called the Mississippi Railway Historical Society and decided resurrecting and amending that charter could serve as the umbrella organization for the deposit and protection of what had been collected.  The South End group discussed whether to remain independent or affiliate with the North End group and decided to leave it to the North End fellows to run a formal organization and publish a magazine since none in the south wanted the responsibility of either.  The South End group would loosely affiliate with the GM&OHS identified as the Southern Region of the GM&OHS.  The initial GM&OHS by-laws stated the Society would “cooperate or affiliate with” Richardson’s organization.  Both groups had decided to wait and see how each developed before taking any other steps toward a formal “merger.”  Richardson and the others would recruit South End members and supply materials for the News, but the Society’s management and publication efforts would be left to the North End men.  This arrangement lasted about a year of two before the Southern Region designation was abandoned and the South End members formally joined the GM&OHS.

The first department to run in the News was “GM&O Up To Date,” wherein events since the merger were documented.  The first column noted that IC changes thus far “are surprisingly few” but mentioned the reductions in runs operated and the closing of numerous stations as the ICG moved to the mobile agent concept.  Three photos that accompanied the column illustrated GM&O units paired with IC power, symbolizing the merged operations.  “GM&O Up To Date” would appear in subsequent issues, but as the transformation of the independent railroad as a component of the other progressed, the column made less frequent appearances though incredibly, is still employed 30 years later.

The lead two-page story was titled “A Condensed History of the GM&O” written by Schramm from then available published sources.  A useful ‘family tree’ diagram helped the reader grasp the multitude of chartered companies that were gathered together to create what eventually became the GM&O.  For many readers, it was the first time they had a quick-reference corporate history of the entire railroad.  Both the Northern and Southern regions were profiled.

The next article introduced modeling information that during the first few issues was more prevalent than turned out to be the case later, as articles of historical interest about the railroad were published.  David Busse, a member of the Publications Committee, wrote “How to Model GM&O’s Only E8” that described how, with little effort, the modeler could transform an AHM E8 to a more recognizable GM&O no.100A.  Schramm’s model was used to illustrate the story.  At the time, there were only a few commercially available cars and practically no engines in GM&O dress so any information on modeling an accurate GM&O prototype was welcomed. 

Another publishing precedent was set with the appearance of the first center spread, a Morris shot of the Midnight Special at Bloomington in April 1971 accompanied by a breezy and interesting extended caption.  For those left with only Amtrak’s rainbow images of mixed equipment on Chicago-St. Louis runs, the photo brought tears to the eyes of readers.

The second half of the issue was devoted to a two-page photo spread of six Alton and GM&O North End photos from Wallin’s vast collection, shots not previously seen in print (the first of many).  Another two pages were devoted to the Abraham Lincoln and Ann Rutledge titled “1935 Streamline Trains,” an article credited to Morris.  A couple of dandy photos and floor plans of the cars enhanced the brief copy.  Then a page graced by the GM&O wings and the word “Memorabilia” pictured a ticket, timetable, line drawings from early C&A timetables, and a photo of two ash trays, one Alton and the other GM&O, all from Wallin’s collection.

The inside back cover carried a dedication to Steurer, written by Schramm; a list of 14 Sustaining Members who helped pay for the issue by doubling their $5 membership; and a note signed by Richardson announcing his intention to establish a data bank of member and interested party collections in hopes the exchange of information would help identify where archival material rested.  Using Morris’ “boards”, a Galesburg printer printed that first issue.

The second issue featured a more artistic cover.  Several years would pass before full-color photos were featured anywhere in the magazine.

The second issue produced that year was numbered and dated, Fall 1974.  Like the first, no.2 was essentially an all black-and-white number, though again red (deeper in tone, more like the Alton’s red) was used sparingly on the front, inside front, and inside back covers to highlight the logotypes.  Though most of the photos appearing in the issue (there were 31 this time, up from the 20 that appeared in the first issue) were generated from color slides, society finances did not permit anything but the cheaper black-and-white process.  The Society’s membership (as reported by President Wallin in his message that appeared on the inside front cover) had nearly doubled, reaching 170, but inflation was running rampant and costs were rising dramatically.  With limited financial resources, the Society had done well producing the first two, 16-page issues since the cost of each used up almost all available funds.

The covers were an even balance between north and south.  Windmeier, a member of the Publication committee, became involved in the publishing effort, and though not a trained artist, had the eye of one.  He designed an impressive tandem of Alco FA’s (a Wallin photo) ‘blocked out’ against a stark white background.  A handsome border treatment set off the images.  The rear cover was a snowy rear end scene Wallin shot of the Abraham Lincoln Christmas Day 1963 at Springfield.  From the start, seasonal shots were highly sought after for both the News and later, Society-produced calendars, but were always hard to come by.  This one was a stunner.

Though it was reported in “GM&O Up To Date” that the repainting of former GM&O units was proceeding at a ‘leisurely pace’, the story also carried the sad news that only a half dozen or so RS road switchers were left operating in Illinois, all out of Bloomington, with the others transferred south or put in storage to comply with Illinois Pollution Control Board directives.  Another item reported less traffic was being run between Glenn and Springfield and that the ICG planned to soon finish a new connection over abandoned Illinois Terminal right-of-way south of Springfield for Chicago-Kansas City operations.  The column also reported that ICG terminated trackage rights over the Southern Railway between Corinth, Miss. and Memphis over which Southern crews had operated GM&O trains.

The lead article in the Society’s second issue was the first of a series that would appear from time to time titled “Along The Right of Way”.  A note explained the series’ purpose was to ‘regularly feature structures, signals, track diagrams, plans, bridges, etc., from outhouses to roundhouses, switch stands to interlocking plants, flag stops to terminals…’  The article was a collaboration of Jack Ferry, Schramm, and Windmeier.  It marked the first of the many fine layouts Windmeier would produce for the first decade or so as he took on more of the production manager’s role.  The article focused on two subjects, J.O. Tower at South Joliet and the Sparta depot.  To emphasize the Society’s historical intent, each subject was identified with their original owner; the Alton and M&O.  Multi-sided views of both structures and an excellent track diagram of the tower’s controlled trackage were included. 

The main six-page feature was an excellent piece of reporting by David Busse on the road’s orphan child, the “Plug”, officially train nos. 16-17 on the Chicago-Joliet suburban run.  It was a contemporary, fact-filled report with lots of quotes of regular riders and employees and excellent interior and exterior shots of a typical day’s operation.  Included were the author’s photos taken the day he rode the train with an IC GP7 providing the power.  This was the most expansive article so far produced and the beginning of the trend to more lengthy articles.

Two photo-filled pages followed, one devoted to images shot by Petric and Steurer of GM&O road and switcher units that were pressed into Plug service when the regularly-assigned F3s could not cover their assignments, and a second of C&A, GM&O and M&O steam roster shots from Wallin’s collection.

A “Memorabilia” feature made another appearance with a full-page photo of a GM&O baggage cart (complete with GM&O wings attached to one end and a switchman’s lantern at the other) that founding member Schramm used as a mailbox support at his Elwood home.  As eye-catching was the stylized logo Windmeier had created for this and the two other regular features, “GM&O Up To Date” and “Along The Right of Way” that gave the three columns an artistic touch suitable for a commercial publication.  From time-to-time, Windmeier updated his ‘standing department heads,’ each subsequent element an interesting and creative art element that added much to the overall professionalism of a publication being produced by non-professionals. 

There still was a page left and with nothing much else to run, a GM&N and an M&O logo, a hand-drawn illustration of a switch stand laid over a clever plea for publishable material, and a list of Sustaining Members filled out the page.  The list of supporters had grown.  There were now 25 who provided much needed added financial support. 

Looking oh-so-cool in their Seventies clothes, GM&OHS board members (left to right) Dave Ingles, Joe Petric, Charlie Volkar, and Dick Wallin discuss club matters while train-watching at Joliet Union Station after the conclusion of a board meeting in 1973.  Mike Schafer photo.

 

Like the first issue, no.2 was printed on relatively lower grade paper with a pebble finish cover stock.  Reputedly, to hold down costs, the printer was allowed to use whatever surplus paper he had on hand.  As a result, photo reproduction in neither issue was as sharp as would have been preferred.  But few photos, items, or articles about the GM&O had appeared in the commercial press before the merger so whether sharp or not, starved GM&OHS members were happy to see their favorite road in print.

Much had been accomplished in the first years of our Society’s existence but it was only the beginning.

The preceding article was first published in GM&OHS NEWS issue #100.

Caption Information opening photo:  Looking oh-so-sharp in their red-and-white livery, a trio of new GM&O SD40’s wheel a southbound Commonwealth Edison coal train through Odell, IL, on the Chicago-Bloomington main line.  A young GM&O employee, fan, and photographer, Doug Steurer, recorded this photo of a vibrant GM&O in twilight not long before his own death in 1972.

 



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