|Florida East Coast Chapter
National Railway Historical Society
[As recounted by Mr. Walter E. Smith, Former President, FECNRHS Chapter]
The founding members of the Florida East Coast Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society (NRHS) (FECNRHS) were myself, Mr. Robert (Bob) Selle, Mr. Williams [A former Florida East Coast (FEC) Railway Agent], Mr. Bill Robinson (A current AMTRAK Engineer), and Mr. George Diller (I think) [a Public Relations (PR) man with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)]. Mr. Williams gave a presentation which was videotaped by the Cocoa Library (and thank heaven it was). Among other things, he recalled working as an agent at West Palm Beach, FL in the late '30’s. He told how he'd watch young Henry and Edsel Ford come down to the station there and put a quarter on the tracks for the train to flatten. At the time, a telegraph operator was paid $0.35 an hour. He was appalled to see these rich kids waste what was almost an hours wage for a railroad employee. Later in the talk, he told how during WWII, he was working at Union Station in Washington, DC and he was told by his supervisor to write-up a bunch of reverse tickets for the White House. He explained that they were for folks returning to Washington, DC from a place they'd traveled to by other means. In this case, the President, Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR), was returning from meeting with Prime Minister Winston Churchill in Newfoundland, Canada. "He went up there on the cruiser, USS Augusta. He and Churchill had a conference and Roosevelt came back from Maine by train and I had to write the tickets for the party". The chills ran up my spine - this was the North Atlantic Treaty Conference - the United States of America (USA) had not yet entered the war but FDR and Churchill were already setting the framework for the United Nation (UN) forces in the future. The library man doing the videotaping said, "Do you realize what he's talking about, Walt"? I said, 'Yes, it'd be like the ticket agent who made up the tickets for Lincoln's trip to Gettysburg for the dedication of the cemetery they are telling us about it'. Mr. Williams later said, "I got up early the next day and went to Track 11 and sure enough, there was all the secret service men, wheelchair, and all." What a piece of history!!! This is one of the reasons I got the charter and started this chapter, but not the whole story. That goes back to the late ‘70’s when I was an engineer at the old (privately owned) Auto-Train. I was approached by the Head Librarian at the Cocoa Library - Ms. Lois Pierce - who asked me if I'd do a talk about the railroad for the children in the summer program they sponsored at the library. I agreed to set up a slide presentation and was amazed to find a few children but about 80 adults, many of whom had a deep interest in trains, and many fond memories of them. Several of these people had brought memorabilia, scrapbooks, and one man who had worked at the American Locomotive Company (ALCO) had a huge binder full of builder’s photographs of steam and early diesels. It was at this point I realized that there was a wealth of interest in railroads in the area and that many of these retirees had a treasure-trove of photographs, timetables, and memories that should not be lost. The following week, I sent away for information for the Charter and formed the FEC Chapter of the NRHS. After the first presentation, the library had to blink the lights because it lasted so late. Afterward, the people followed me out onto the street in front of the old library (it was like the Pied Piper) asking me for MORE! I agreed to do another presentation in a few weeks and this too convinced me of the latent interest in railroads and their history.
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