Silly Johnny is Dead! Page 2

(Wx4's inter-dimensional department spanning the ether between the Grab Bag & Harmonic Convergence )

Really Weird and/or Cosmic RR Ads & etc.
Page 1

latest effrontery
to society:



Why didn't I buy it on eBay?
We have a winner!

The hoghead at far left probably started railroading when balloon stacks and ballon skirts were high style. Fifty years hence, he's still working nights in pool freight because he is only 70 years old, and he's still junior to the REAL seniority which owns the cushy passenger runs. In the 'good old days', engineers retired on average at age 70, or 71 (true!).

Still a couple of years away from a 'good' job (or age-related death), this elderly hoghead is fighting to maintain consciousness in the wee hours because he 's dedicated to the shippers.

Yep, you betcha!

We believe that this piece of patent propaganda needs to be recognized, because we judge that it represents perhaps the most preposterous piece of advertising claptrap ever put forth by an American railroad. Taking into consideration the other offerings on this page, this is no small accomplishment.

Thus we have come up with a befitting way to laud the C&EI for a truly wondrous exercise in detachment from reality, The Wx4 Crowning Achievement in Railroading Award. Way to go, boys!

It's too pathetic for me to shell out $9.95 on eBay.
Is railroading in your blood?
Question: Why do old railroad roundhouse sites end up on the Superfund list?

Answer: Because, back in the pre-EPA days, railroads used about every kind of noxious, caustic and carcinogenic chemical known to mankind to maintain and fuel their equipment.

For instance, just ask these twenty-something-year-old roundhouse laborers here at the company hospital, where they are undergoing the annual check on their state of slow death. Most of them probably will have to give us written answers, since their lungs are too wracked with mesothelioma to respond verbally.

Nevertheless, why do they look so content? Because this get-together also doubles as the annual meeting of their 1944 Hires Last Man Standing Club. It now being 1951, these guys are what's left of the original 68 members of the 1944 class. Of the originals, two guys quit in the interim, while the others who didn't make the photo were terminated for various rules violations, such as drowning in the turntable pit, croaking from benzene-related illness, or maybe even for being hit by a crane. So, yes, these guys are happy survivors, as were the two iron men who returned for the 1952 meeting.

In reality, the blood drive thing was nothing more than an attempt by the embattled C&EI public relations department to recover face from the hoots and cat calls that received their disastrously funny 1951 campaign (above).

Of course, after this ad appeared, a high incidence of leukemia and alcohol tainted blood nearly put the Red Cross out of business, and those of the public who viewed this ad swore-off blood transfusions.

Ebay couldn't pay me enough to buy this ad.
I'm Norfolk and Western: Sail Me!
Now that the beloved C&EI has set the tone, let's look at an example of what Norfolk and Western has contributed to clueless advertising.

Around mid-Century, N&W put out a series of ads that strived (unsuccessfully, we opine), to compare their railroad with totally unrelated history.

In ironic fashion, this example is probably apropos. Perhaps the N&W's cut-rate (merely a guess based upon the quality of their work) ad agency executives were subconsciously thinking of the railroad's technological state in composing this masterwork. After all, in 1953, N&W was still merrily constructing steam locomotives well after many large railroads had totally dieselized. Sure, N&W did this to placate coal shippers, but to the larger public, N&W 's fleet appeared more like the Spanish Armada's square riggers at than, say, Bull Halsey's aircraft carriers.

Sometimes accurate associations are not the best thing.

Another clunker on eBay.
Break Out the Good Times
And speaking of accurate associations...

Back in the late 1970's we encountered a flatcar sitting near San Jose's Newhall Tower. On top was a beautiful new Chris-Craft 30 foot (or so) cabin cruiser...with a hole in the hull nearly large enough to sail Philip's Armada through.

Sadly, this sort of thing has always been a sore spot with railroading. We ourselves learned that, even despite reasonable care, one's assemblage of valuable merchandise stands good chance of arriving in unassembled condition.

Given the railroad industry's sorry record in this regard, we say here as we literally and figuratively have said so many times before: What in the heck were the ad guys thinking?

Shipping manager: Hey Henry, get a load of this ad! These Reading boys are just plain stupid. Put that load of perfume bottles on the B&O, would ya? Christ...

This ad cost more than my first two Yugos on eBay
I hope that the ad men didn't choke on their cigars...
Double entendre's use in human interaction probably pre-dated sophisticated oral communication. First Og, while making an obscene gesture: Grunt grunt Og moan grunt. Second Og* Yuk yuk yuk. No, we don't understand exactly what was being said, but we can surmise that this hilarious off-color inference made the rounds in caves for millennia

Though idioms come and go or mutate over time (see: gay), I just can't believe that this ad wasn't a case of a bunch of hard-boiled, cigar-chomping ad men putting one over on Mr. E. H. Harriman, yuk yuk yuk. I mean, come on: Indoor Sports, pool table, garish furnishings, dolled up ladies, psycho-sexual games. Are they clubbing us over the head, or what? The only thing that would make things more obvious would be a sign reading Bob's House of the Rising Sun.

Alternately, maybe Mr. E. H. Harriman enjoyed a little off-color joke as well as the next guy, giving rise to a tradition of UP double-meanings: Big Boy; We can handle it; etc.

*I postulate that eventually, the constant confusion over everyone being named Og was the genesis of more-sophisticated human language; that the first non-Og was called Bob.

spent my eBay money on Chicken McNuggets instead
He ate a hole into the train, but he's still hungry?

Giant heads were a popular advertising tool in the Forties. I've always found this approach to be disturbing. I'm sure that others share this feeling. Test: Suddenly thrust a full-size copy of this ad in front of a toddler and shout BOO!

Thankfully, in the Fifties, these type of ads transmogrified into a more-appropriate genre of science fiction movies, such as Attack of the Giant Radioactive Head., the story of the victim of atomic bomb testing who goes on a destructive eating frenzy, or the sequel to the original The Day That the Earth Stood Still, entitled Etu Klaatu? - while returning to earth, Klaatu's spaceship is exposed to atomic bomb testing, causing Klaatu to suffer from horrible migraines due to the gigantic expansion of his head...and his suffering could only be relieved by the copious consumption of human blood!

So here, the dear Milwaukee Road, one of the true fountainheads of bizarre advertising, hyped pheasant sandwiches, in a national ad campaign, no less. Maybe this bit of homeyness was an attempt to soften the blow of the negative publicity that arose from their trains constantly falling off of their tracks.

Whatever their intent, you'd think that it probably backfired; implied that the South Dakota folks were devastating local wildlife (do you supposed that to meet the quota, the Army lent them machine guns ?) to feed the troops, because other types of meat were rationed. The folks in Tuscaloosa probably fed possum pie to passing troops, but Southern Railway was too smart to use that in ads, since that would remind Alabamians that they'd hunted off all of their pheasants for camp meat during the Civil War.

UPS won't ship radioactive tickets from eBay. Humpf!
Santa Fe, an Agent of Climatic Change

If you know anything about Santa Fe history, you probably know that, around the turn of the Twentieth Century, the company was intimately involved in the huckstering of land in what later became part of the Dust Bowl. One of "Uncle John's" ploys to lure unsuspecting settlers was to explain that while, yes, the short grass prairie was presently too arid for dependable dry land farming, it was a demonstrated scientific fact that the vapor from steam locomotives on its new railroad lines was advancing the line of sufficient rainfall westward from more humid areas at the rate of 18 miles a year. Yep pardner, the land may look like hell now, but give it a couple of years of passing trains and it'll be a Garden of Eden. I wonder why there's still an ongoing debate about human-caused climatic change - Santa Fe proved that we could do it a hundred years ago! And, to boot, all of those farmers that the railroad hauled in managed to cause the greatest ecological disaster in American history. Nice work!

So, fast forward a few decades, and here is Santa Fe at it again. If you've ever perused old copies of Popular Science from the 1950's, you'd know that most folks thought that atomic-powered cars, planes and personal vibrators were just around the corner, Thus, an atomic-powered Super Chief was not too fantastic to be beyond believability.

Here we see an intent Santa Fe ticket agent explaining passenger nuclear safety to a happy customer. The ad is pretty avant-garde for the times: notice that Mr. John Q. Public is not wearing a hat! Where the ticket agent got his helmet, I don't know, but I believe that it subsequently wound up as a prop on Lost in Space after a collision between the Atomic Super Chief and a nuclear-powered ice cream truck led Santa Fe to reconsider the whole thing. The mushroom cloud sure must have produced a bunch of rain, though!