Saturday, February 9, 2013

Deconstructing Old Ads with Bill Sonnett: Railroads and Fishing

I recently read a story published in 1906 by some fellows from the nearby town of Napoleon, Michigan where I used to live. They traveled in the winter of 1905 to the central part of Michigan's Upper Peninsula (approximately 450 miles) to hunt deer. In 1905 that was an area that would be described today as “road-less wilderness”. They were able to travel the entire way by train and brought back quite a few deer in the baggage car. Today there are no longer train tracks that pass through Napoleon and as near as I can determine, no passenger service that would allow one to make that same trip by rail from anywhere in southern Michigan.

The lack of decent roads and reliable automobiles in those days meant that the train was the quickest and cheapest way to get to a sportsman's destination. Passenger service was viewed by the railroads as an important source of income and much advertising in “Outdoor” magazines stressed the quality of their service as well as the quality of the hunting and fishing available on their routes.

When it come to advertising and collecting old fishing related items, one area that seems to have been neglected is the advertising brochures given away by railroads early in the last century. They were meant to encourage folks to get aboard the train and and head for some good fishing. I have picked up several of these interesting booklets over the years at antique tackle shows. The asking prices for such advertising pieces were so low that only "lack of interest" could explain them. In addition to great pictures and historical information, almost all of them contain fold-out maps of the railroad's route and suggested fishing destinations. I thought it would be interesting to show a few here.

When I first saw this 1903, 88 page booklet, I thought it was about fishing in Lake Erie. Wrong! The Erie Railroad passed through some great country and this book is loaded with detailed information and high quality photographs. A couple are shown below.

Chautauqua Lake is well known to tackle collectors today as an early Musky fishing destination. It is also famous as the birthplace of the “Chautauqua Movement” which was an adult education movement in the United States, highly popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As a matter of fact my Great Grandparents met there in the 1880's.

It is not often one sees a really nice string of Delaware River Smallmouth caught in 1899.

An 1893 Hunting and Fishing brochure given compliments of the Passenger Department of the Missouri Pacific Railway.

This very high quality brochure was put out by the Chicago, Milwaukee & St Paul Railway. It features many high quality pictures and descriptions. The one clue to dating the brochure is the following picture. It shows the only automobile seen in any of these handouts. That auto didn't look like much of a threat to the Railroads. Upon retiring as the long-time (1934-1959) fishing editor of Outdoor Life magazine Ray Bergman was asked what was the biggest change in fishing he had seen during his lifetime. His reply was, "the automobile".

The Canadian railroads were not to be left out. The Canadian National Railway advertised heavily in “Outdoor” magazines and as shown here, also gave away brochures promoting camping, hunting and fishing along their routes. The smaller 1927 brochure is a reprint and the larger 1948 booklet is 112 pages long and covers all Canadian Provinces and the Yukon Territory.

By the way, those fellows who traveled all that way in 1905 to hunt deer would be surprised today to find that their home township of Napoleon and surrounding Jackson County now has one of the densest populations of deer in the the State of Michigan! The future has always proved hard to predict and no one could have foreseen that in 1905.
Tight Lines,

Wild Bill Sonnett

1 comment:

Danniel Ward said...

Another great read from Bill!
Please keep it going.
D.A. Ward