Monday, February 27, 2012

Chapel car secrets Pt 1

Rehabilitation of a landmark property invites many opportunities to learn from the object.  The chapel car rehabilitation is no exception  - the structure has been largely untouched since it was built at Dayton, Ohio in 1898 and there is much to learn from it.

Work on the car's roof began in January 2012 and in late February an unusual discovery was made: a business card for H. J. Geisler at a Dayton, Ohio saloon was found in the car's roof sandwiched between the soffit, blocking, and roof decking.  The Sample Room advertised "fine wine, liquor, and cigars," and claimed "Kentucky whiskey a specialty."

The American Baptist Publication Society ordered Messenger of Peace from the Barney and Smith Car Company in early 1898. Eugene Barney was a lay Baptist minister and supported the church - his company built all seven Baptist cars. Baptists strongly advocated temperance and it is easy to believe the placement of the saloon's card in the roof was both intentional and in spite of the church's values, yet "why" cannot be proved with the evidence at hand. As wood railcar experts, however, Team Chapel Car has strong evidence to suggest that the placement of the card in the roof was intentional.

So when, who and how did the saloon calling card find its way into the roof of a Baptist chapel car?  Here is what Spike knows:
  1. This area of the car has been inaccessible since 1898.  The decking was covered with Terne roofing material that was nailed to the deck with all the seams soldered in situ.  There was only one set of nail holes in the roof decking and they match the nails protruding from the bottom of the Terne metal. 
  2. The card is about the same width as the soffit so it had to be carefully placed parallel with the outer edge as the roof deck was fastened in place.  It was located along the edge of the upper roof deck and was accessible to Barney and Smith's car builders.
  3. Messenger of Peace served in at least 11 States but car records assembled by Wilma Taylor in This Train is Bound for Glory do not show a return visit to Dayton after the car departed for its dedication in May 1898.
1898's Dayton, Ohio was a bustling industrial center.  Mary and Robert Steele wrote Early Dayton : with important facts and incidents from the founding of the city of Dayton, Ohio, to the hundredth anniversary, 1796-1896.  It mentions anachronistic milestones such as the the birth of the first white male baby, the many churches, numerous railroads and traction companies, and the successful railcar building enterprise of the Barney and Smith Car Company.  The statistical index lists 81 churches by denomination and admits to 399 saloons; the text does not describe any of the latter or their locations.

So what do you think is the story of the wine, liquor and cigar ad in the roof of the chapel car?  Write us a story about how the card got in the roof and send it to us; the Museum would be delighted to publish any interesting theories!


Sue said...

My son was the one that found the card, and out of curiosity, I have been trying to find mention of the Sample Room or Geisler on the internet but no luck so far

kevin said...

I am not surprised at all. I have found bottles and cans of beer, whiskey bottles and bar tokens hidden in walls of buildings that I have worked on. Even when I was starting in the trade it was common for tradesmen to have a bottle on their bench along with numerous drinks after work. I look at this find as a reminder of who the tradesmen were in the past.

Spike said...

More information coming soon!