Railroad collectors getting as rare as their memorabilia

BRAD HORN/Nevada Appeal Vendors show railroad items to customers at the Railroadiana show at the Nevada State Library and Archives on Saturday

BRAD HORN/Nevada Appeal Vendors show railroad items to customers at the Railroadiana show at the Nevada State Library and Archives on Saturday

Collecting railroad memorabilia has been an interesting hobby for Bob Fugina of Sacramento, but he is afraid the pastime may be going the way of the steam engine " or at least most steam engines.

He offered many train-related artifacts for sale at Railroadiana, a railroad memorabilia and antique show at the Nevada State Library and Archives on Saturday.

The show is part of Railway Reflections International Art Expo, a month-long event in Carson City, Virginia City and Dayton that showcases railroad-related art and benefits the reconstruction of the V&T Railway.

"This is my personal collection of many years," he said. "I asked my kids if they want it, but they aren't interested in railroads anymore. I'm supposed to leave them money."

He thinks young people are more interested in the future than the past, focusing on electronics and the like, leaving antiques alone, including railroad items.

"Thirty years ago, you couldn't keep railroad stuff," he said. "Now kids aren't interested."

Fugina said that was probably true of all antiques, but said the pendulum will swing back some day.

"It will have a rebirth, but not in my lifetime," he said.

He also said the advent of eBay drove prices down by showing people that there are more items available than just in the regional shows.

Fugina said now he has switched to collecting nautical items.

But in his train collection, he has a crank-style phone from the 1920s that he said would still work because a dial was installed inside.

"These phones got you to an operator and they had a switchboard to put your call through," he said. "These became rare because when phone companies replaced them, they would burn them so that they could get the metal."

He also had a footstool used in Southern Pacific lounge cars, many lanterns, which he said were among the most collectible of railroad items.

He only collected Southern Pacific Railroad items, he said, adding that at one time all items from that railroad were marked by the company.

Workers lived in company houses before World War II, he said, and if a worker took something and it was found in his house, railroad police would take it, probably beat him up a bit and then he'd get fired.

"After they couldn't do that anymore, they stopped marking things," he said.

Collector Ralph Domenici of Burlingame, Calif., didn't agree that railroad passion was fading. He said the reconstructed V&T should be a big plus, because it's so well-known among railroad buffs.

"Nationally the V&T is stuck in people's minds," he said. "Anyone that loves railroads, and to see it come back would be a big spark for both Virginia City and Carson City."

Other items on sale or display at the show included photographs, timetables and other documents from the Virginia & Truckee Railroad and the Carson & Colorado of Dayton, part of Bob McDearmon's collection. He had 1880s-era photos of C&C engines, Gold Hill, Reno railyards and the Republican National Convention train of 1877 headed east.

Sue Richey and her husband, Roy, of Virginia City, spent Friday evening and Saturday morning at the show.

Her father, brother and grandfather all worked on the Western Pacific railroad and she and her husband looked through old photographs to see what had connection to her family.

"I inherited a lot of stuff, but there's always room for more," she said.

Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at kwoodmansee@nevadaappeal.com or call 881-7351.

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