Monday, December 21, 2009

Illinois Central Railroad Pencil

Great pencil!

Indeed!

But you’re going to have to say an awful lot to match its length.

Don’t I know it. But where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Wait a minute — you’re an English teacher. Aren’t you supposed to avoid clichés?

Ordinarily, yes. But rules are made to —

Just stop right there. So what’s the story on this pencil?

Wish I knew. I found and bought it at a used-furniture and junk store in an Illinois village some years ago. My guess is that this pencil was made for railroad use. The odd designation “FORM NO. 520” does not suggest a traveler’s souvenir.

And there’s no eraser. Not a very friendly pencil.

Perhaps that’s a reminder not to make mistakes. “Service with safety,” after all.

The Illinois Central — is that important to you as an Illinoisan?

Sort of. Elaine and I —

Elaine?

Excuse me: my wife Elaine. Elaine and I and our daughter Rachel rode on the Illinois Central line (or what once was the I.C.) when we spent a summer in Chicago’s Hyde Park some years ago. And Elaine and I have traveled to Chicago on The City of New Orleans, formerly an I.C. train, now Amtrak. But what really interests and excites me about the Illinois Central Railroad is its place in music.

Yes, of course. [Begins to sing, slightly offkey.] “Good mornin’, America, how are —”

Yes, that’s a great song. But I’m more interested in the role that the I.C. plays in blues lyrics. Here, listen to this podcast about it.

[Twenty-one minutes later.]

That was a good show. I didn’t know that Casey Jones was an Illinois Central engineer.

Well, you learn something new every day. Let me add one more song, full of train effects: Bukka White’s “The Panama Limited.” The Panama was another I.C. train.

Who knew that a post about a pencil would turn into a post about railroads and music?

Not me.

[This post is the seventh in an occasional series, “From the Museum of Supplies.” The museum is imaginary. The supplies are real. Supplies is my word, and has become my family’s word, for all manner of stationery items.]

Also from the Museum of Supplies
Dennison's Gummed Labels No. 27
Fineline erasers
A Mad Men sort of man, sort of
Mongol No. 2 3/8
Real Thin Leads
Rite-Rite Long Leads

More on the Illinois Central
The Illinois Central Railroad, Main Line of Mid-America (American Rails)

comments: 5

macon d said...

Nice post!

"Supplies" sounds like the perfect word.

Who'da thunk that they had (have?) specific pencils for specific forms?

bibliotrope said...

My dad worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad from the late 30s into the 1970s, by which time it had become the Penn Central and then Conrail. So I am fond of railroad memorabilia because it reminds me of my dad.

I don't remember specific pencils for the Pennsy such as this one for the I.C., but I have memories of cards he used to use as a yardmaster to list the numbers of each car as they put the trains together in the yard. He would sometimes bring the cards home and my sisters and I would write, in pencil of course, the numbers 1 to whatever (50? 100? this was decades ago and I forget that detail) in the left-hand column, happy to help Daddy in his job keeping the trains running. I don't know why no one ever thought to pre-print those numbers in that column.

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks, Macon. And thanks, Bibliotrope, for that bit of railroad and stationery history.

Anonymous said...

Illinois Central, 1905. http://www.shorpy.com/node/9137

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks, Anon.