Cool@Hoole

Featured Collection: Roland Harper Railroad Timetables

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You never know what you’ll encounter in a large manuscript collection! Even the seemingly predictable might surprise you.

The Hoole Special Collections Library holds a wealth of manuscript material from eminent botanist Roland Harper. Among his papers, you would expect to find information about plant life or just science in general (and there’s plenty of that!), but the collection also contains a large selection of railroad timetables. Harper collected these pamphlet-style train schedules during his travels over a 75 year period (1887-1962), so they’re a fascinating look into an ever-evolving — and now slowly disappearing — way of life.

Taking the country’s many regional lines, one could make it from west to east coast, starting in sunny California…

railroad timetable

…through the southwest to the Rockies.

railroad timetable

Chicago was a major hub, especially in 1892, just one year before the World’s Fair.

railroad timetable

This railway used images to represent stops along the way:

railroad timetable

The inventive PR office for this railway compared its routes to lines on a person’s palm:

railroad timetable

Harper even collected timetables abroad, like this one from Scotland, and another from Cuba!

railroad timetable

These timetables may seem like simply fascinating specimens of an age gone by, but they can also be of real help to researchers. How else might we understand, for example, what cities and regions were important in the past and how they were connected, and how drastically all that has changed since the advent of the automobile and the interstate highway system?

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