Southern Methodist University

Roland E. Collons photographs of railroads

A Guide to the Collection


Creator: Collons, Roland E., 1903-1989
Title: Roland E. Collons photographs of railroads
Dates: circa 1900-1940
Abstract: Roland E. Collons was a photographer and collector of railroad materials. His collection contains 86 US railroad scrapbooks and 18 foreign scrapbooks. The scrapbooks are made up of Collons’s railroad photographs, Railway Age magazine and other articles from circa 1900 to 1940. The collection consists of 15,338 photographic prints, 2,446 clippings and 10,798 negatives. Most photographs were made between 1926 and 1939. Living in Chicago, Collons’s collection is particularly strong in Chicago railroads, but he also made many images of the Southern Pacific, Union Pacific, and other railroads. Two folders contain drafts, photographs, and printed articles of Collons’s published works, 1936-1958, including "Casey Jones Story," published in Colliers magazine, 1939.
Accession No: Ag1982.0231
Extent: 89.5 linear feet (104 scrapbooks, 154 photographic prints, 1 index box, 2 folders, 8 drawers of negatives)
Language: Material is in English
Repository DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University

Biographical Note

Roland E. Collons (1903-1989) graduated from the University of Chicago, class of 1926 in petroleum geology and spent three years in Oklahoma and Kansas doing exploration and scouting work. With the stock market crash in 1929, petroleum exploration slowed down and Collons returned to Chicago to begin research and writing for investment houses. In the late 1920s and early 1930s working as investment analyst and as a railroad finance specialist, Collons was in contact with top railroad officers and eventually went to work for the Illinois Central in 1936 doing historical research and publicity writing. Because his job involved much research and travel he began to assemble and construct railroad scrapbooks. He wrote a study of the "Casey Jones Story," which was published by Collier’s Magazine (1939) and later reprinted that same year in Readers Digest.

In 1939 as the Great Depression continued to curtail transportation, the Illinois Central reorganized its departments. As the newest hire in the public relations office, Collons was terminated. Considering his work and years of experience, he became somewhat bitter toward the railroads and all work on his scrapbooks was suspended. Collons abandoned his interest in railroad lore almost entirely for this period of time, occasionally taking a train photograph on vacations and reading works by railroad historian, Lucius Beebe. In 1964, Beebe selected 59 of Collons’s images for his book on passenger trains, The Trains We Rode.

In the early 1940s an opportunity arose, after inheriting some money, for Collons to open a menswear store in Jefferson City, Missouri. This business was successful for the next twenty years. "Rip" Collons, as his retailing peers referred to him, won the Brand Names Foundations "Retailer of the Year" award in 1956 and 1957, and was written up in the Saturday Evening Post. National exposure eventually brought an opportunity to sell the store, which he accepted. Collons traveled for retail manufacturers for the next three years and revived his interest in railroads. He began working on the scrapbooks between trips. In 1961 he stopped traveling all together and moved to California to begin a career in real estate.

Collons also had an extensive book collection of over 650 books relating to railroads and American history. Wanting his scrapbooks and photographs to go to an institution where they would be used for research, on the suggestion of Lucius Beebe, Collons donated his collection to the DeGolyer Library in 1964. Roland Collons died in Sacramento, California, on December 22, 1989, leaving a legacy of historical railroad research behind in his scrapbooks and negatives.


Collons, Roland, and Quentin Reynolds. 1939. The man at the throttle was Casey Jones. Collier’s Magazine, August 12.

Collons, Roland, and Quentin Reynolds. 1939. The man at the throttle was Casey Jones. Readers Digest 35: 53-55.

Retail Promotion News, Men’s Wear Edition. 1957. James Lee says "Hats Off" to award winning Rip Collons. The Saturday Evening Post, May 13.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The collection consists of 104 scrapbooks (86 US and 18 foreign) with canvas covers, containing 15,338 prints, 2,446 clippings and 10,798 negatives. Collons made most of his photographs between the years of 1926 to 1939. The Collons scrapbooks reflect his emphasis on the "total" railroad, the property as a whole, including the right-of-ways, stations, bridges, engine houses, freight yards, etc. He made numerous views of roundhouses and coal chutes. Collons saw track layout and depots as important as the trains, thus creating a collection that has a unique coverage. Collons wanted to show a continuous, almost "moving" picture of the railroad line under study, the important main lines, and also the branch-lines and industry as a whole. He photographed almost every major US railroad, but primarily emphasized the Chicago area, with some attention given to Omaha, Kansas City and other major cities throughout the United States. Besides his photographs, he supplemented his scrapbook images with earlier material from Railway Age magazine (circa 1900s), other railroad magazines, and railroad maps. His collection also contains conventional three-quarter views of steam locomotives.

The negative collection housed in 8 metal drawers (two rows per drawer) consists of two sizes: 3 x 5 inch and 3.5 x 5.5 inch. From 1930 to 1933, Collons produced 3 x 5 inch negatives made with an Eastman "2-C Special" camera. He created an index with numbered and dated negatives, listing the subject matter, and a description of the location. In 1934 to 1939, Collons used a 3.5 x 5.5 inch or postcard size camera and began a new index and filing system.

Two folders contain drafts, photographs, and printed articles of Collons’s published works, 1936-1958, including "Casey Jones Story," published in Colliers magazine, 1939.

Arrangement of the Collection

The collection is organized into 4 series:
Series 1: United States Railroad Scrapbooks, circa 1900 to 1938
Series 2: Foreign Railroad Scrapbooks, circa 1900 to 1938
Series 3: Photographic Prints, circa 1926 through 1938
Series 4: Indexes and Negatives
Series 5: Articles and Drafts


Access to Collection:

Collection is open for research use.

Publication Rights:

Permission to publish materials must be obtained from the Director of the DeGolyer Library.

Copyright Statement:

It is the responsibility of the user to obtain copyright authorization.

Access Terms

This collection is indexed under the following terms in the Southern Methodist University Libraries' online catalog. Researchers desiring related materials may search the catalog using these terms.
Photographers -- Illinois -- 20th century.
Photography of railroads -- United States.
Railroads -- United States -- Photographs.
Photographic prints

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Roland E. Collons photographs of railroads, DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University.

Acquisition Information

Gift, Roland E. Collons, 1964.

Processing Information

Collons’s alphabetical order by railroad has been maintained with occasional edits for clarification and standardization. Some of the scrapbooks are wrapped in acid-free covers and all are housed in acid-free boxes.

Two smaller collections (formerly A1985.1172c and A1984.0441c) containing articles and drafts were added to consolidate the collection.

Finding aid by Susan B. Schmidt, November 2007.

Edited by Anne E. Peterson, November 2007.

Encoded by

Lara Corazalla, 2007.

Detailed Description of the Collection

Series 1: United States Railroad Scrapbooks, circa 1900 to 1938
43 boxes

Each of the eighty-six scrapbooks focuses on a railroad line or a railroad subject, and contains an assortment of articles, many from Railway Age, pasted onto the pages with black and white photographs (3 x 5 inch and 3.5 x 5.5 inch) all labeled with railroad line, location and date. Many scrapbooks include pictures and maps of the city, railroad station, freight yards and ports, interior and exterior of the locomotives and cars. Railroad names in brackets [ ] are the Library of Congress Authoritative Headings.
1 Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe
Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe
2 Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Locomotives
Atlantic Coast Line
3 Baltimore & Ohio
Baltimore & Ohio Chicago Terminal
4 Boston & Maine
Burlington Locomotives
5 Burlington
Burlington Chicago
[Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad Company]
6 Central Railroad of New Jersey
Chesapeake & Ohio
7 Chicago & Alton
Chicago & North Western
8 Chicago & North Western Equipment
Chicago & North Western Chicago Terminal
9 Chicago & Western Indiana
Chicago Belt Railway
10 Chicago Great Western
Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul
11 Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific
Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha
12 Denver & Rio Grande Western
Erie Railroad
[New York and Erie Railroad Company]
[New York, Lake Erie, and Western Railroad Company]
13 Frisco Lines
Frisco Memphis
[St. Louis-San Francisco Railway Company]
14 Great Northern
Illinois Central
15 Illinois Central Illinois
Illinois Central Equipment
16 Illinois Central Iowa
Illinois Central Memphis
17 Illinois Central New Orleans Terminals
Illinois Central Trains
18 Illinois Central Electrified
19 Lackawanna
[Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad Company]
20 Lehigh Valley
21 Louisville & Nashville
[Nashville, Chattanooga, and St. Louis Railway]
Michigan Central
22 Milwaukee Road Equipment
Milwaukee Electrification
[Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul, and Pacific Railroad Company]
23 Missouri Pacific Lines East
Missouri Pacific Lines West
24 Missouri-Kansas-Texas, MKT
New Haven
[New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad Company]
25 New York Central
New York Central Cleveland
26 Nickel Plate
[New York, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad]
Norfolk & Western
27 North Western Milwaukee
[Chicago and North Western Railway Company]
North Western Omaha
28 Northern Pacific
Passenger Equipment Cars
29 Pennsylvania PRR Altoona
Pennsylvania PRR Chicago
30 Pennsylvania PRR New York City Terminal Systems
Pennsylvania PRR Philadelphia
31 Pennsylvania PRR Equipment
Pittsburgh & Lake Erie
32 Reading
[Philadelphia & Reading Railroad Co.]
Rock Island
[Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railway Company]
33 Rock Island Chicago Terminals
Rock Island Illinois
34 Santa Fe Coastline
Santa Fe Kansas City
[Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad Company]
35 Sea Board Air Line
Soo Lines
[Minneapolis, St. Paul & Sault Ste. Marie Railway Company]
36 Southern (Mobile & Ohio Railroad)
Southern Pacific Coast Line
37 Southern Pacific Shasta Route
Southern Pacific Overland Route
38 Southern Pacific Equipment
Southern Pacific Texas & Louisiana
39 Terminal Facilities
Texas & Pacific
40 Union Pacific Locomotives
Union Pacific Los Angeles & Salt Lake
41 Union Pacific
Union Pacific Omaha
42 Wabash Eastern
Wabash Western
43 Western Pacific

Series 2: Foreign Railroad Scrapbooks, circa 1900 to 1938
10 boxes

Each of the eighteen scrapbooks focuses on a railroad line in that country, and contains an assortment of articles, many from Railway Age, pasted onto the pages. The Canadian books are the only ones in the foreign series containing original photography. Many scrapbooks include pictures and maps of the city, railroad station, freight yards and ports. The titles are Collons’s original headings and the information in parentheses ( ) is added for clarification.
44 Africa
Canadian National
45 Canadian National
Canadian Pacific
46 Canadian Pacific Equipment
Canadian Pacific Mountains
47 Chinese
England Southern
48 Germany
Great Western Railway
49 Indian Railways
London & North Eastern
50 LMS (London Midland & Scottish Railway)
51 New Zealand
Railways of France
52 South America Brazil
South America Colombia

Series 3: Photographic Prints, circa 1926 through 1938
1 box

The black and white prints for the following lines are of mostly locomotives, railroad depots with interiors and exteriors images, and freight yards.
Box Folder
53 1 Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad
2 Baltimore & Ohio Railroad
3 Chicago & Alton Railroad
4 Chicago Burlington & Quincy Railroad
5 Chicago & Eastern Illinois Railroad
6 Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad
7 Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad
8 Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad
9 Erie Lackawanna Railway
10 Illinois Central Railroad
11 Illinois Terminal Railroad
12 Kansas City, Mexico & Orient Railway
13 Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railroad
14 Missouri Pacific Railroad Line
15 New York Central Railroad
16 Northern Pacific Railroad
17 St. Louis & Hannibal Railroad
18 St. Louis & San Francisco Railway
19 Union Pacific Railroad
20 Wabash Railway
Miscellaneous Black and White Prints by Negative Number
Unidentified prints of miscellaneous locomotives pulling in and out of stations, freight yards and depots. The negative numbers refer to Collons’s numbering system.
Box Folder
53 21 Negatives: 1266-1988
22 Negatives: 2019-2982a
23 Negatives: 3178-3473
24 Negatives: 4536-4977b
25 Negatives: 55154a-5160b
26 Negatives: 6480
27 3 unmarked prints

Series 4: Indexes and Negatives
1 box

Index Note Cards: There are two index note card sets, both legibly handwritten with extensive notes on each negative giving the following information when known: railroad line, locomotive number and type, location with description and date. Not all 10,798 negatives have a corresponding record.
Negative Drawers: The negatives are housed in 8 metal drawers.
54 Two Index Note Card Sets
Set 1 is the index to the small negatives, 3 x 5, and numbering 90 to 3483.
Set 2 is the index to the 3.5 x 5.5 negatives numbering 100 to 6489.

Series 5: Articles and Drafts
1 box

These two folders contain drafts, photographs, and printed articles of Collons’s published works, 1936-1958.
Box Folder
55 1 Casey Jones Story: drafts, photographs, article from Collier’s Magazine (1939)
2 Six railroad articles written by Collons