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Cabinet of Curiosities

Cabinet of Curiosities

Welcome to our Cabinet of Curiosities. In researching items connected with the W&OD, we often find ourselves going down various rabbit trails discovering interesting things. Because we believe that you never know who else might be similarly interested, we created this page as our repository for that research. We hope you are inspired.


Autorailers (a more extensive treatment than on our History page)

For a time, beginning in the late 1930’s, this autorailer traveled the W&OD RR daily and had its terminus in Vienna.

This table is part of the roster of equipment of the Washington and Old Dominion Railroad

compiled by Ames W. Williams (The Washington and Old Dominion Railroad [1989])

Today the term AutoRailer™ (note the capitalizations) appears to have become a trademarked name and is employed in reference to various sorts of trailer and van whose purpose is to transport cars from their point of origin to a dealership. However, before highway systems were as broadly and as well developed as they are today in the United States, Europe, etc. (and still in places where, for whatever reason, tracks are laid but few roads are paved), vehicles other than trains were occasionally fitted to be able to travel on train tracks. As its name indicates, the Evans autorailer (or auto-railer) was bimodal, and could be quickly reconfigured to travel, as needed, on either rails or roads.

The frenetic churn of the internet is such that, at any given moment, images of/information concerning these bimodal vehicles may be available (only to vanish when dreaded link-rot strikes, a moment later). Assembled here is a collection of data both useful and somewhat stable (it is hoped) from a number of sources.

A fluctuating assortment of supplemental links pertinent to the autorailer:

  1. a collection of images of various versions of the autorailer;
  2. the Wikipedia article on the road-rail vehicle;
  3. the autorailer was also known as a doodlebug (interestingly enough, a term also applied to Hitler’s notoriously inaccurate V-1 flying bombs during WWII…), regarding which vehicle there exists a Wikipedia article. Edmund Keilty, as that article notes, authored three usefully illustrated, informative books on the subject between 1979 and 1988.

Anyone browsing this page who either knows of other images of autorailers on the web or has any that may be shared, contact, please, the manager of this site.

A Potpourri of Material Concerning the Autorailer

•A film (from the Prelinger Archives) produced by Chevrolet Leader News in 1935 promotes the Evans AutoRailer•

•The apparent novelty of the vehicular hybrid is addressed in a semi-popular publication

•An advertisement for the Evans Autorailer published in Life Magazine on November 1, 1943•

Schematic of an Evans AutoRailer 235hp 0-6-0Ds, USA/TC 7731-8

At the end of World War II, Evans built for the U.S. military in Europe (specifically, the USA/TC) a small number of autorailers. These shunting diesel locomotives, small and bimodal, were particularly well suited to relatively easy conversion between travel on the railways and roads, either of which was in bad repair and considerably disrupted. All six wheels, ordinary truck tires upon which rested the entire weight of the car, were driven by a hydraulic transmission. Two retractable pairs of flanged guide wheels, 16 inches in diameter, assured bimodality; when not on the railway tracks, the vehicle was steered by the rear wheels beneath the cab.

(Source for information above and schemata below: R. Tourret, Allied Military Locomotives of the Second World War [1995]. Thanks to Rudi Heinisch for the reference.)

•An erstwhile Alaskan school bus•

This photo, formerly on display at, evaporated in the mid-aughts:

•A decaying autorailer in Superior, WI•

•The autorailer as an absurdist command car of quislings•

In Closely Watched Trains (1966; DVD ed. 2001 [04/20:10ff.]), director Jirí Menzel employs to an effect both comic and symbolic the cumbersomely bimodal variety of autorailer pictured below. Ordinarily an automobile thus adapted for travel on the rails would have retained its rubber tires, partially deflated; these would have been supplemented with smaller, retractable pilot wheels for steering. A more costly refitting had been omitted in this case, however, so that the rubber tires might be stripped from the car and re-appropriated for military use, thus leaving the vehicle to ride the rails on ludicrously large rims. In the following brief scene, set in the closing months of 1944 in a sleepy village in occupied Czechoslovakia, the car exits briskly in reverse from the train station and gently forces forward its occupants, quisling Czechs in the service of the Nazi occupation.

Engraved Illustrations

Reproduced above from Rails to the Blue Ridge, by Herbert H. Harwood, Jr., is a contemporary engraving of the skirmish between Northern and Southern forces in Vienna (apparently near the western boundary of the town) on June 17, 1861.

The following paragraphs, drawing principally on Budd Leslie Gambee, Jr., Frank Leslie and His Illustrated Newspaper, 1855-1860 (Ann Arbor, 1964) provide some background concerning the production of images of this sort.

Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly, originally known as Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, pioneered in the United States the presentation of the news with elaborate, relatively high-quality engravings. Born Henry Carter, Frank Leslie began his career in publishing as an engraver at the Illustrated London News. Emigrating from England in 1848, he founded in this country a few years later a large publishing empire of fluctuating fortunes. There was a number of print ventures, many bearing his name, but the most successful and long-lived was FLIN, started in 1855 and published in various forms (to include at some points both German and Spanish editions as well) until 1922, when at last the name “Leslie” was submerged in a merger with Judge. Considerably more so than publications such as Harper’s Weekly and Appleton’s Journal (rivals that soon emerged), Leslie’s papers reflected their founder’s favoring of the visual over the textual, and thus aspired to a goal quite similar to that of modern television network news, that is, to report current events by means of images that were supplemented with text. FLIN’s sense of itself is conveyed succinctly (if a bit grandiloquently) through this excerpt from the edition of August 2, 1856: An illustrated newspaper, if it fulfills its mission, must have its employees under constant excitement. There can be no indolence or ease about such an establishment. Every day brings its allotted and Herculean task, and night affords no respite.

The creation of the engravings was, in fact, a demanding task. Depending on complexity and size (that ranged from small vignettes and portraits — such as one sees in the Wall Street Journal today — to one-, two-, and even four-page layouts), a single engraving could take as long as a month to prepare. An artist would normally record visual impressions of an event with a few rapid strokes which would later be developed from memory as well as notes jotted down on the sketch itself. A completed drawing was transmitted by the quickest means available to the office of FLIN, where, after having received editorial approval, it was copied in reverse onto one or more woodblocks (most often made of hard Turkish boxwood) by different artists whose rather regular improvements upon the original were called “finishings.” The image on the block(s) was then sent to engravers who carefully cut away the wood around the lines that had been drawn on a thin wash of Chinese white (shadows had been indicated by washes of India ink). The final product was a relief block, or group of blocks, which, when inked, produced what was known as a black-line facsimile engraving. This resembled rather closely a drawing in pen and ink. If the image was a large one (note, in the example above, the line running through its center), two or more blocks were first bolted together. Once the original image had been transferred, the blocks were sent to a master engraver whose initial cuts would indicate (across all of the blocks) the stylistic direction that the whole image should take. Then the blocks were unbolted and distributed among the engraver’s assistants, who would complete the task.

Leslie is usually credited with the introduction of the so-called divided-wood-block method in this country, though it is probably more accurate to say that he was the first to use the method extensively and with great success. The resulting image was always somewhat flawed because it was impossible to conceal completely the divisions between blocks. Thus, generally only newspapers used the method because they, unsurprisingly, favored speedy production over any inordinately painstaking quest for elusive artistic quality.

Leslie effectively called into being the profession of the pictorial journalist (or artist-reporter). While the art of photography was already in its infancy when the publication began, and while, during the Civil War, Mathew Brady and the photographers in his employ were busy recording what we now would likely regard to be superior contemporary images, Frank Leslie dispatched a so-called “Bohemian Brigade” of artist-reporters to depict all of the principal engagements. Indeed, Leslie deliberately rejected the use of the photograph, boasting, in the issue of April 2, 1859 that “we do not depend upon the accidental transmission of photographs, with their corpse-like literalness, but upon our own special artists.

Given that the process of photoengraving had not yet been perfected, we may be tempted to dismiss as expedient the apparent bravado in which Leslie casts his praise of the illustration. Certainly it is the case, however, that contemporary photographers, encumbered by their relatively primitive equipment, could not have hoped to capture some of the dramatic, even oddly fanciful moments visualized in Leslie’s engravings. Furthermore, the regard of photography as mechanical, inartistic, and jejune of spirit was scarcely unique. It is well worth noting that such was the neglect of Brady’s Civil War photographs (now as famous as Leslie’s publication is forgotten), in which project Brady himself had invested $100,000, that the photographer was ruined financially. The U.S. government, upon whose interest in the work he had relied, showed none after the war was over. The War Department did buy the collection, ultimately, but at public auction and for a mere $2,840. Although the efforts of his friends in government won for Brady a grant of $25,000 from Congress in 1875, he never made a complete financial recovery, and eventually, in 1896 at the age of 73, he died alone, a forgotten alcoholic, in a hospital charity ward in New York City.

The Engraved Illustration as a Vehicle for News in the mid-19th century

The engraved newspaper illustration attempted — or, perhaps better, pretended — to take its aesthetic cues from the canons of classical painting, but it was a decidedly second-class art: produced on a tight schedule, middle-brow at best, and often as stuffy and staged as the prose of FLIN (see the captions below). Nonetheless, the illustration was in fact not only more well suited to the popular tastes of mid-19th century America but also much more versatile than the contemporary photograph, whose relative novelty was simply not yet prepared to manage, let alone to match, the ability of a well composed illustration to recapitulate neatly the drama of a battle, a startling or noteworthy event, etc. The following illustrations (and their associated captions) drawn from FLIN provide instances of the sort of image that would easily have escaped the contemporary camera.

It is interesting to consider that, with the advent of digital photography, both the still and the moving image, fully reproduced mechanically, have at last become fully as arbitrary and potentially mendacious as the engraved illustration, in which the pictorial elements were obviously able to be deployed as the artist (and the editor and his “finishers”) saw fit in order to create a mood or an impression.



Our correspondent wrote: “There is a great carelessness in the handling of munitions of war, of which we have just had proof in our camp. Thinking to blow the flies from the tent by flashing powder — a common practice — a spark caught a box of three thousand musket cartridges, thereby causing a tremendous explosion, which wounded four men (two dangerously) and blew the tent to atoms.”


General Banks had arranged to stop the depredations which the Confederate steamer J. A. Cotton had been long committing along the Bayou Teche. He had advanced from Labadieville on January 11th with four gunboats, ten regiments of infantry and one of artillery, reaching Carney’s Bridge, near Pattersonville, early on the 14th. Their progress here was stopped by several earthworks, under whose guns lay the J. A. Cotton. Early on the 15th Commander McKean Buchanan opened fire from the Calhoun, and was joined in it by the other gunboats, while the troops were advancing on shore to engage the Confederate vessels and batteries from the rear. The troops were not long in subjecting their enemy to a fierce enfilading musketry and artillery fire from the woods; and such was its destructive effect that the J. A. Cotton had finally to retire toward an upper battefy at Butte La Rose, on the Atchafalaya. Early on the following morning the J. A. Cotton was seen floating down the bayou in a sheet of flame, having been set afire and abandoned by the Confederates. The troops, therefore, returned to Brashear City, the Federal wounded having been meanwhile placed on a raft and towed down the river.


An infernal machine designed by the Confederates to blow up the Pawnee and the vessels of the Potomac flotilla, which was set adrift near Aquia Creek, was picked up on the 7th of July, 1861, floating toward the Pawnee. The following description of the article was sent to the Navy Department: “Two large eighty-gallon oil casks, perfectly watertight, acting as buoys, connected bv twenty-five fathoms of three-and-a-half-inch rope, buoyed with large squares of cork, every two feet secured to casks by iron handles. A heavy bomb of boiler iron, fitted with a brass tap and filled with powder, was suspended to the casks six feet under water. On top of the cask was a wooden box, with fuse in a gutta-percha tube. In the centre of the cork was a platform with a great length of fuse coiled away, occupying the middle of the cask.”


Colonel A. K. Johnson of the Twenty-eighth Illinois Regiment has, during the late war, shared in the dangers of many a daring adventure. On the last day of the action at Shiloh, or Pittsburg Landing, and while the confederates were flying in confusion from their works, three of the officers in their flight passed very near the place where Colonel Johnson was stationed. The colonel instantly started in pursuit. Coming within pistol range, he fired at the nearest of his flying foes. This brought the Confederate officer down on his horse’s neck. Colonel Johnson, believing this to be a feint to avoid a second shot, determined to drag him from his saddle by main force. Riding up to his side for this purpose, he seized him by the hair of his head, but to his astonishment and disgust, he only brought off the Confederate major’s wig. Instantly recovering his headway, he again started for the delinquent, but his pistol had done its work, and before the colonel reached him his lifeless body had fallen from the saddle.

Prince Maximilian

Alexander Philipp Maximilian, Karl Bodmer, & the Reise in das Innere Nord-America

Alexander Philipp Maximilian (1782-1867) was a Prussian aristocrat, prince of Wied-Neuwied, which was a very small state that was eventually confederated into the German Empire formed in 1871 under Otto von Bismarck. A naturalist largely self-taught (not at all unusual in that era) and explorer, Prince Maximilian first undertook to describe the spring peeper scientifically in print. Because he had frequently observed the frogs, those further to the American west and north where he travelled, in bushes and small trees, the prince himself originally selected “Hyla” (which is derived from the Greek word for “forest” or “woodland”) as the name of the genus. When it was later noted, however, that similar frogs in Virginia and elsewhere prefer the ground, for reasons of taxonomic precision two additional genera came to be distinguished from Hyla (treefrogs): Acris (cricket frogs) and Pseudacris (chorus frogs).“Prince Max,” as he is referred to more casually by modern zoologists (now scientists, of course, and naturalists no longer), undertook two daring expeditions during his long life: in 1815-17 he traveled in southeastern Brazil, and in 1832-34 in North America (chiefly along the Ohio and Missouri Rivers). For the latter journey he commissioned the Swiss artist Karl Bodmer (1809-1893) to accompany him so that a detailed visual record might be available to enhance substantially the prince’s extensive notebooks, the texts of which, upon the return to Europe, were to be organized, revised, and polished for publication. Bodmer not only succeeded in creating an impressive collection of images of flora and fauna (to include those of the spring peepers near the top of this page) but also produced an array of detailed, distinctly unromanticized representations of the daily life, customs, and rituals of a number of Indian tribes. Incorporated into the extensive pictorial record were carefully crafted vignettes, portraits of individuals and groups, and meticulously detailed tableaux of textiles, utensils, weaponry, etc., among which are found jealously protected ritual objects such as the two containers shown immediately below. While the one on left, wrought from the corpse of a skunk, may be a medicine — or sacred — bundle, the intricately folded wrapper of animal skin or cloth (on the right, and enlarged just below) fixed to a shield held by an Assiniboin(e) warrior is certainly such a container:

Images of this sort and the lucid observations in Wied-Neuwied’s written account continue to retain considerable ethnographic value in view of the fact that the native material culture, never conceived by its creators to consist of more or less impersonal objects destined for preservation in a museum, was either ritually dispersed or, through pilfering by non-native settlers, scattered — if not simply obliterated — in the course of the westward expansion of the United States during the 19th and 20th centuries. Thus, it will also almost certainly remain beyond the power of ongoing archaeological research to recover anything more than an approximate inventory of accurate details concerning the tribal ceremonies and associated lore of Wied-Neuwied’s era. Although any modern student of aboriginal religions (throughout both the Americas and the world at large) would be quite aware that fetishes are believed to be imbued with immense power and lie at the very heart of tribal spirituality, the fashioning of the bundle itself and the selection of its contents were normally shrouded, quite deliberately, in great secrecy. In fact, the gathering ritual was – and remains, for a number of those who continue to reenact it – a religious one. While it may be reasonably speculated that the bones, viscera, etc. of various species of toad and frog were at least possible candidates for inclusion among the contents of the bundle, any medicinal properties that were attributed to such simples would have been fundamentally indistinguishable from the spiritual — even if, like the drugs of the modern scientific pharmacopoeia, the ability of the substance to cure or to kill depended on the dosage administered. More importantly, a certain logic would have informed the choice of an amphibian like the spring peeper: doubly liminal, this frog also undergoes a metamorphosis that allows its adult form to move freely between the wet and the dry of the marshland that it inhabits. The relics of such an uncanny creature, then, would quite easily have come to be regarded as especially numinous agents of transformation, especially efficacious tools whose employment in a system of magical practices inextricably intertwined religion with a very practical and encyclopedic knowledge of the genuinely medicinal properties of things found in nature.

Upon returning to Europe, the prince spent several years preparing his material and publishing short, scientific papers based on his notes and observations, until, between 1839 and 1841, he published a two-volume study, Reise in das Innere Nord-America in den Jahren 1832 bis 1834 (Journey into the Interior of North America, 1832 to 1834), in which there appeared the first effort, whose text is located near the top of this page, to describe the spring peeper and to provide it with a Linnaean binomial.

The prince expired peacefully in his homeland at the age of 84, having lived an unusually long life for a man who took very unusual risks. Although he seems almost miraculously to have avoided contracting any of a wide range of exotic tropical diseases (dengue, malaria, yellow fever, etc.) during his earlier extended exploration of Brazil, he had apparently lost most of his teeth to scurvy by the time he concluded his travels in North America, largely because his diet had consisted almost exclusively of heavily salted meats and dried grain, foods that resist spoilage quite well but are nutritionally deficient in vitamin C.