Ragan’s Trains

Ragan painted few trains (other than a few background images in his landscapes) for the New York Central before 1939. But his first famous painting, the iconic image of the streamlined Twentieth-Century Limited locomotive designed by Henry Dreyfus, also became his most-famous painting.

Click image to view a 1.0-MB, 2,398×3,659 JPG.

Ragan and, presumably, the New York Central liked this image so well that he repeated it, again and again, in posters and calendars over the next decade. First was the 1938 (or possibly 1939) calendar that used the same locomotive but with an autumn background.

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Ragan Moves to New York

Leslie Darrell Ragan is probably the best-known railroad poster artist of the twentieth century. His only competition would be Grif Teller, who mainly did calendars but also a few posters for the Pennsylvania Railroad, and Howard Fogg, who mainly did paintings that were sometimes reprinted as posters for sale, but not for posting in train stations.

Ragan’s first poster for the New York Central was this 1929 image of Chicago. Click image to download a larger view.

Ragan studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and served as a fighter pilot in World War I. At some point, he moved to New York. It is tempting to think it must have been in 1928, as that was the year of his last poster for the South Shore while his first poster for the New York Central was in 1929, but some on-line bios suggest it was before that time.

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Leslie Ragan Paints for the South Shore

During the 1920s, the interurban Chicago, South Shore, and South Bend Railroad, best known simply as the South Shore, hired numerous poster artists to advertise its trains. Of these, the one who eventually became most famous is Leslie Ragan, whose later work for the New York Central and Budd epitomized the art of mid-twentieth-century rail paintings.

All of these posters except the last one were issued in 1927. Click to download a 2.2-MB, 3,772×5,691 JPG of this poster

Curiously, almost all of the poster artists I’ve featured over the last several days were born in the 1880s, the only exceptions being some of the contributors to the Southern Pacific posters. I suspect the reason for this seeming coincidence is that these artists happened to come of age at a time when printing technologies had advanced enough to make it economically feasible to print large numbers of multi-colored posters.

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Sascha Maurer Redefines the Railroad Poster

Born in Germany in 1897, Sascha Maurer loved to ski and paint water colors in the Bavarian Alps. He studied at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts and, after serving in the German Navy during World War I, migrated to the United States.

This 1935 poster is one of the first Maurer did for the New Haven. Click image to download a 1,363×2,027 JPG.

By the 1930s, Maurer was painting posters for ski resorts in New England as well as for Splitkein, a pioneer maker of laminated skis. His striking images caught the attention of the New Haven Railroad.

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Southern Pacific Posterizes Its Streamliners

At least one of these three posters is often credited to an artist named W. Haines Hall, but according to Travel by Train they were all a collaborative effort. “Their family resemblance stemmed from the fact that one man, German-born draftsman Morris Rehag, rendered their streamlined forms.” Fred Ludekens, of the advertising agency Lord & Thomas and Logan, along with Haines Hall and Paul Carey, both with Patterson & Hall, then added the colors.

Click image to download a 1.7-MB, 2,464×3,557 JPG.

Of these artists, we know most about Haines Hall as he was a partner in Patterson & Hall, the company that later employed Bruce Bomberger, who did many of the ads for the California Zephyr. Born in Missouri in 1903, Hall moved to San Francisco in 1925 and went to art school, eventually becoming–along with Maurice Logan–one of the “Thirteen Watercolorists.”

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Maurice Logan Paints for the Southern Pacific

Maurice George Logan was born in 1886, three years after Oscar Bryn, and like Bryn grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and studied at, among other places, the Mark Hopkins Institute of Art. In 1915, he helped form the Society of Six, a group of California artists who were challenging conventional paintings with works of “vivid color, dashing brushwork and expressive energy.” The six painters were specifically reacting against the “tonalism” used by such painters as Gustav Krollmann and Sydney Laurence.

This 1923 poster is flat but has the bright colors found in most of Logan’s early paintings. Click to view a 1.5-MB, 2,443×3,567 JPG.

Perhaps spurred by guilt–his father had never approved of his becoming an artist–he started making a series of paintings for the Southern Pacific in 1922, an association that would last more than a decade. He did covers for Sunset Magazine–then published by Southern Pacific–as well as advertisements for Shell Oil; map and magazine covers for Chevron; and other commercial customers. His willingness to do commercial as well as fine art work made him financially more secure than the other members of the Society of Six, and he showed off his good fortune by painting in a three-piece suit covered with a smock.

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John Held Jr. Draws for the New Haven

John Held Jr. was a well-known cartoonist and illustrator in the 1920s. Born in Salt Lake City in 1889 (the same year, for those who are keeping track, as Maurice Logan), Held claimed he had no art training except from his father and from Mahonri Young, a grandson of Brigham Young. Yet he sold his first illustration to pre-Henry Luce Life magazine at age 15 and claimed to have sold other drawings even earlier.

This 1924 poster is the earliest I could find by Held. Unlike most of the other posters, it is aimed at travelers to the south rather than to the north. Click image to view a 990×1,487 JPG of this poster.

By age 16, he had a job as cartoonist for the Salt Lake City Tribune. He moved to New York in 1912 and soon became nationally famous for his cover art on such magazines as Life and Vanity Fair. By the time the New Haven Railroad asked him to illustrate posters and booklets in the mid-1920s, he was well known for both making fun of the prim “Gay Nineties” and for illustrations that effectively defined the “Roaring Twenties.”

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Gustav Krollmann Paints the Northern Pacific

In 1926, the Northern Pacific Railway became the first to use a 4-8-4 locomotive, which is why this wheel arrangement is often called a Northern. To publicize this achievement, the railway hired Austrian artist Gustav Krollmann to paint scenes along the railway featuring passenger trains being pulled by Northern locomotives.

Krollman’s most famous poster shows a 4-8-4 locomotive pulling the heavyweight North Coast Limited over Bozeman Pass. Click image to view a 1.5-MB 2,544×3,461 JPG.

Krollmann was born in Vienna in 1888, making him two years younger than Oscar Bryn. After studying at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, he moved to the United States and settled in St. Paul, headquarters of the Northern Pacific and Great Northern railways.

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Oscar Bryn Paints the Scenery

In addition to his Travel by Train poster, Oscar Bryn did a number of posters and paintings for the Santa Fe Railway. The most famous is his Arizona poster, which looks as if it could have been one of the Travel by Train posters modified for Santa Fe use, but actually dates to 1949, fifteen years after the Travel by Train campaign. Like Bryn’s other Travel by Train poster, this is richly colored but flat, giving a fair representation of the impression people have of the Grand Canyon even if it doesn’t look much like the real thing.

Click to view a 2.1-MB JPG of this poster at 2,500×3,475.

Bryn was born on Honolulu in 1883 but grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area where he studied at the Mark Hopkins Art Institute (Hopkins being one of the “Big Four” founders of the Central Pacific and Southern Pacific railroads). He worked in the San Francisco Chronicle‘s art department and did some illustration for the Southern Pacific’s Sunset Magazine.

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Hernando Villa Paints the Indians

Hernando Gonzallo Villa was another in the stable of artists nurtured by the Santa Fe Railway in the first half of the twentieth century. Born in 1881 in Los Angeles to parents who had moved there when California was still a part of Mexico, Villa’s father was also an artist who had a studio on the city’s plaza. Villa studied art in school, then started work for a number of businesses.

A 1926 ad for the Chief designed by Louis Treviso. Click image for a larger view.

The tale of Villa’s artwork for the Santa Fe actually begins with Louis Treviso, an artist who was born in 1889 in a covered wagon in Arizona. He designed posters for the Santa Fe before World War I and, after the war–as art director for a San Francisco advertising firm–coordinated Santa Fe’s advertising campaigns. His ads were the first to illustrate the obvious idea of an Indian in full headdress to advertise the Chief, the first all-Pullman train between Chicago and Los Angeles that Santa Fe inaugurated in 1926. This “extra fine, extra fare” train cost $10 more than a sleeper on the slower California Limited, which, at about $130 in today’s money, is actually quite reasonable for a first-class upgrade.

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