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Fairbanks Feature: Playing Cards from Well Known Rail Lines

James D. Van Trump Library | Frank B. Fairbanks Transportation Archive | Fairbanks Features

Showcasing a variety of materials located in the Frank B. Fairbanks Rail Transportation Archive

No. 7  Presentation


Fairbanks Feature: Playing Cards from Well Known Rail Lines

In the golden days of railroad travel, amenities abounded for the rider, especially on the long distance excursions. Railroads provided decks of cards to passengers, many times given out free. These cards were good advertisements for the sights that could be seen along the way. They also showed pictures of the rail cars and engines of that particular rail line and/or reminders of the great historical background of a railroad. Many of these cards came in durable boxes; some are covered in velvet-like material. These cards were not produced to be discarded at the end of the journey. There is a high quality, good, long-lasting feel to the cards.

Frank Fairbanks collected these cards as he traveled the United States. The Fairbanks Archive has playing cards from 46 different rail lines, given out on train trips between 1952 through 1965. Some of the decks still have their seals intact, and some have been opened but the cards have never been used. All the boxes of playing cards are on display in the Archive, and patrons can handle and examine each box.

  • “Pennsylvania Collection” Four rail lines represented: Reading, Lake Erie, Pennsylvania, and Erie Railroad
  • Great Northern Railway and The Santa Fe
  • Wabash and the Chicago and North Western Railway Company
  • Louisville & Nashville R.R., Burlington Vista-Dome Zephyr, and The Atlantic Coast Line
  • Two very interesting decks come from the Southern Pacific Lines. Each deck is different. One side of the card has a lovely color photo of the train itself. The other side has a photo of a sight along the route. With 52 cards plus extra cards in each deck, there are over 100 different well known photos along these routes in the time period of the 1950s to 1960s.

The Frank B. Fairbanks Rail Transportation Archive is open by appointment on Mondays, from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Use of the archive is free to PHLF members (one of the benefits!); non-members are assessed a $10 use fee.

The Archive is located on the fourth floor of The Landmarks Building at Station Square, in the offices of the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation.

To schedule an appointment, email Librarian James Halttunen:

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Phone: 412-471-5808  |  Fax: 412-471-1633