Western Rail Road Museum Archives News

On Wednesdays and Saturdays, Archives volunteers research and catalogue one of the finest electric railway collections in North America. Archives News archive

March 2011

In 2010 the Archive team successfully completed a transition of leadership with Allan Fisher succeeding Chuck Vercelli as Archives Chair. The transition has allowed us to rotate leadership responsibility, remain vital and incorporate new perspectives on our day-to-day functions. Under Allan’s leadership, the department has addressed space issues by renovating and reroofing our annex building, rationalizing the use of space, and identifying items that have remained “hidden in plain sight” while temporarily stored on cabinet tops and on carts.

Harry Aitken, Curator, has continued to survey our backlog of uncatalogued negatives, identified unique and obscure images and selected the best for printing and inclusion into albums. Additionally he has led our effort to integrate two recent major donations into our collection. Harry’s historical knowledge and keen eye have been essential to our success in catching up in sorting the 2009 and 2010 donations, catalogued over 5000 separate items, scanned over 4000 negatives, and printed over 2000 photos.

2010 was a record year for donations to the Archives. There were over 60 separate gifts from 54 different friends and members, including 300 books, 1300 magazines and newsletters, 4500 photographs, 900 negatives, 1500 slides, six 16mm films, 23 drawings, 50 technical manuals, 350 timetables, 1000 transfer books and tickets, and about 1000 Videotapes, DVD’s, and postcards. We also received a Central Pacific 1865 Gold Bond Certificate with coupons, a ticket turnstile, 2 conductor uniforms, 9 lanterns, 2 markers, 2 controllers, 3 scale display models of East Bay interurban cars, numerous badges, keys, and many boxes of miscellaneous ephemera. To all who enriched our collection and supported our operations with your gifts, a hearty thank you!

During 2010, we overhauled both our air conditioning unit and our dehumidifier, upgraded two of our Apple computers, bought a new professional scanner, and two new laser printers, all paid for with funds raised by the sale of duplicate and out-of-field material in the Museum Store and on eBay.

While all of this was happening, we supplied research help during 23 days when our library was open to the public. We provided research assistance and photo scanning and printing for 10 book projects, two web sites, four public exhibits and provided the program content for our 50th Anniversary celebration. We also continued in our key role of supporting our shop forces supplying information, drawings, and manuals for the maintenance, repair, and rebuilding of our historic equipment.

Our crew of regular Wednesday and weekend volunteers deserve all the credit for these accomplishments. They enjoy working together, and enjoy the opportunity to learn more from each other about electric interurban and streetcar systems. 2011 looks to be another great year, and the Archives Department would welcome your involvement.

November 2010

Research shows that people who volunteer and are part of a group tend to be healthier and happier. Volunteering in the Archives is good for your health! It is a pleasurable activity conducted with affable colleagues, and gives one a large satisfaction in shared goals accomplished. And if you are an electric railway aficionado, wow, what a bonus!

When talking to people about volunteering, I hear two primary concerns:

The Museum is too far away.

The majority of our volunteers come from the central Bay Area: San Francisco, and El Cerrito, Hayward, and even Livermore. Not only is the drive to the Museum quick, it also takes one through some beautiful and scenic areas. For the most part, you are on high-speed highways that allow for short travel times and good gas mileage.

I’m not comfortable with computers.

Many of the jobs in the archives have nothing to do with computers, such as: Assistant Librarians, Sorters (of collections, slides, photos, documents, timetables, books, periodicals, postcards, technical manuals and drawings), Researchers (for telephone and written requests), and Organizers.

We can even teach you not to fear the computer! Learn to work with our database that now has over 50,000 items, and 10,000 photographs cataloged. We also teach negative and photograph scanning and printing.

We need your help catching up on our huge backlog of donated items. Please join us any Wednesday or Saturday from 10 am to 5 pm in the Archives and find out how you can help yourself and your Museum to make a difference.

September 2010

July and August proved to be just as busy at the Archives as earlier in the year. With a record number of donations of all kinds, our volunteers have been working long hours to keep up with the volume of photographs, books, periodicals, drawings, timetables, and ephemera that need to be inventoried, sorted, evaluated as to appropriateness to our museum’s mission, and finally filed for future cataloging or disposition.

During the last two months, 21 volunteers donated their time to research projects for members and friends, sorted thru slide collections, and reviewed book and periodical donations for inclusion in our collection or for selling at the Museum Store or on eBay.

We continue to process photographs that curator Harry Aitken has selected for their importance and relevance. This requires cataloging, scanning, and printing images for our photograph albums.

Don Meehan and John Coleman have been working hard to make our storage container, called Annex A, suitable for future storage of items that are not temperature or humidity sensitive. This includes new insulation and wall and roof panels.

If you have had the opportunity to visit the Library and Archives lately (and we hope all of you will take the opportunity when you visit the Museum), you probably noticed that our storage space is at a premium. Arlene Miles continues to do a great job organizing, cleaning and making all of us aware of projects that need doing, but we need your help also.

If you are thinking of donating items to the Archives, please notice the emphasis placed on the mission of our Museum, which is also the mission of the Archives. We collect, exhibit and educate the public on electric railroads west of the Rocky Mountains, and all railroads in California, especially northern California. We are also very happy to receive technical manuals and publications that help in the rebuilding and repair of our railroad equipment, track and overhead systems.

We are looking for periodicals on a very limited basis. We do not need any magazines or newsletters after 1950. Trains, Railroad, Railway Age, Electric Railway Journal, and most newsletters from non-electric railroads and museums are of no value to us as we already have full sets of these widely distributed periodicals. If you have periodicals that you think we do need, please check with us first before bringing them.

If you are a retired senior citizen and you have a collection of railroad memorabilia, it is time for you to go thru this material and think about the appropriate disposition of your collection. Don’t leave it for your heirs to deal with. If you have not specified where the various parts of the priceless gems you have collected all these years should go, they may wind up in recycle or waste bins. The best plan of action is for you to donate the material while you are still alive and well so that it will go to where you believe it is appropriate. We at the Archives would be happy to consult with you about donations to our wonderful and growing collection.

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