Railroad Marking Mysteries:
Will the Real "S. Ry." Please Step Forward?

Above: Scranton Railway Company uniform button. Below: Scranton Railway Company token.
Above. Adams & Westlake "Reliable" lantern marked "S. Ry. Co." with a trolley bracket. Click on the image for a larger view. Below. Close-up of letters.

Show a lantern marking that reads "S. Ry." to most railroad lantern collectors, and they will immediately say it stands for "Southern Railway". But does it necessarily? Type" S Ry" into our Railroad Names Database, and 19 candidates appear! However, the database makes no distinction between "RR" and "Ry" so some candidates could be ruled out with additional research. Still, there are definitely multiple candidates for these initials, and therein lies one of the most perplexing problems for railroadiana collectors-- matching railroad initials with the correct railroad.

Case in point: Shown at right are a uniform button and a token that are unquestionably from the Scranton Railway -- a traction line that operated in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Shown below these is a lantern with an "S Ry. Co." marking. The collector who sent these photos is not sure which line the initials stand for but thinks it may be a traction line, perhaps Scranton Railway Company. In favor of this hypothesis are the following points:

  • The lantern has a "trolley bracket", the arm that was used to attach the lantern to a carbody such as an interurban car or "streetcar". Traction operations were more likely than steam railroads to use lanterns as markers on rolling stock. Steam railroads were more likely to use marker lamps (see lamps page) because their operations were more "heavy duty" and required the more durable body of a metal lamp. Of course, steam railroads also operated lighter-duty rolling stock that may have used such lanterns as markers, so this is not a hard and fast rule. Nevertheless, these brackets are almost always found on lanterns from interurban or traction lines.
  • The lantern was found in a geographic area close to Northeastern Pennsylvania. Railroad artifacts are sometimes found far from the geographic areas of their original owners, but this is one more bit of evidence.
  • The marking has the word "Co." (Company) after it; whereas other "S Ry." candidates like the Southern Railway usually do not have these additional letters. Traction lines were somewhat more likely to use the word "Co." in their markings, although some large steam railroads also did. For example, the Southern Pacific [Railroad] Company used the marking "S.P Co." without the "R.R", since they did not use the word "Railroad" in the official corporate name since 1885.

Even narrowing the candidates to traction lines, there are still other possibilities in the same general geographic area of the country -- Schenectady, Schuylkill, and perhaps others. Ultimately the best (maybe only) way to solve this problem is to match the lantern with a similar known example. This is where there is no substitute for sharing knowledge among collectors. Few public forums exist for this to happen, and hopefully websites such as this can start to fill that gap.

Notes: Thanks to Tom Stranko for providing all images and the idea for this page and to Bart Nadeau for a textual correction.