Friday, August 5, 2016

Rail Keys - The Key to the Seaboard Air Line Railroad Company

Greetings!  Today's key takes us back to a railroad with a long history and a continued presence into today.  The key was donated by E. D. Mays, the executive general agent of the Seaboard Air Line Railroad Company's freight division, in 1954.  Attached was a letter with a brief history of the line.

Our key of the day, complete with a letter

"Remembering my promise made to you during our stay at Baldpate Inn during last Summer, I am forwarding to you a key which I hope you will add to your wonderful collection of keys.  The key I am sending is taken from one of the first passenger train coaches that operated into South Florida and, although it is old, it represents a passenger service that is still operating.  This key admitted many of the pioneer citizens of Florida to the Seaboard passenger trains and I hope this key may serve you sometime in using some of our passenger service into this part of Florida.  The Seaboard has gone a long way in developing its passenger service since this key was active, and we now have the "Silver Fleet" operating into Florida and the South, as the SILVER METEOR, SILVER STAR, and SILVER COMET.  The key I am sending you will also admit you to these trains."

The Seaboard Air Line Railroad Company's history essentially started back in the 1830s, when the line operated as a series of smaller Southeastern railroads.  The name changed around quite a bit, until the 1850s, when the "Air Line" part of the name came into play.  This idea of calling a railroad an "Air Line" is puzzling to think of now, in a time period when an airline refers to airplanes.  However, back when the term Air Line was used for railroads, it was more of a marketing slogan.  Air Line was used as a phrase to refer to the shortest distance between two places.  A railroad claiming to be an Air Line railroad was a railroad that advertised short distances and quick trips.  The confusion with airplanes didn't come around in the early days, since airplanes weren't even invented then, but later on, that became an issue.  One story says that the Seaboard's stock went up shortly following Charles Lindbergh's trans-Atlantic flight, only for it to return to normal as investors realized that it was only a railway.
An old advertisement demonstrating the "Air Line" principle

The trains mentioned as part of the Silver Fleet still have some continuation.  The three lines were long distance, hauling passengers in comfort and style from southern cities like Atlanta and Tampa up to New York.  Starting in 1939, these streamliners were some of the earliest ones along the East Coast, prompting some good years for the railroad.  Only the Silver Meteor and Silver Star remain in operation today,  run by Amtrak.

Much like many of the other rail services in the country, a decline in passenger rail travel combined with less demand for rail freight led to the downfall of the Seaboard.  Several mergers in the late 1960s and early 1970s left the Seaboard as part of the past.  The passenger services was transferred to Amtrak in 1971, while the freight service was eventually absorbed by CSX.

The Seaboard's logo

With the Seaboard Railroad no longer in existence, the key to the passenger trains may no longer be able to admit us to the trip, as Mr. Mays suggested in his letter.  However, two of the rail lines can still be taken, if you're in the area.  And of course, the key from the Seaboard Air Line can be seen, along with countless others, here at the museum.