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Tracking a Piece of Railroadiana: Milwaukee Road Lap Board

Milwaukee Road Railroad Collector

A dear friend from our old neighborhood passed away and his wife asked us if we wanted to buy some of his collection. He had loved trains as long as we’d known him and way before that. He had a mega-collection of hobby trains which his son rightfully claimed.  His daughter took the railroad pocket watches and some posters, but the rest was up for grabs.  We were pleased to purchase some of the remaining pieces.

Milwaukee Road Railroad Lap Table for Playing Cards or Board Games

We found the usual; lanterns, a ticket punch, locks and keys, a telephone from the rail yard, a few advertising key chains, oiling cans, etcetera, but one framed poster was unknown to us, shaped like a giant playing card with a king in the center. He wears a Milwaukee Road conductor’s hat, and sports a big smile. It measures approximately 28″ x 20″, and is made of a heavy-duty pressed board. At first glance, we were not sure of its original purpose. We read the fine print along the rim and learned it was a lap board provided for the accommodation of those who liked to play cards while traveling this fine railroad! This was most likely “back in the day” when rail travel was quite elegant and families would use them to visit the old west, go to see grandma, or just see the sights. You would place this board on your lap and begin the games. It was a wonderful idea then and a super display piece now!

My first personal train experience was just last year. A group of high school friends went from Milwaukee to Chicago via Amtrak to visit another friend. We had not seen each other for a while and had a lot of catching up to do! All of us were excited as we entered the train and had to move from car to car because it was so full. We ended up in one of the very last cars, settled in and began to chat! To our utter amazement, we were greeted with “shooshes” and “tsk-tsk” from the other riders. One of them pointed to a sign we had not noticed. It read “Quiet Car – no talking, no cell phones.” It was meant for those who wanted to rest their heads on the comfy seats or work on their computers, and most likely dedicated to the commuters. So, the four of us had to remain virtually silent for the next 1-1/2 hours. We passed a note or two but overall, obeyed the rules. Can you even imagine how hard that was?  I did not have the game board back then, but I am never quiet during a game so it would not have worked well.

The Milwaukee Road has quite a lengthy history. It started operation in 1847, ended in 1980. Officially known as the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railway (CMStP&P RR), it was a class I railroad, operating in the Midwest and Northwest.


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