The Handlan Buck Company's Final Days

The Handlan-Buck Company of St. Louis was one of the premier suppliers of railroad lamps, lanterns, and other hardware. Tracing a corporate history back to 1856, the company was both highly respected and patronized by railroad companies, with its strongest markets being the Midwest and West. The company was particularly known for lighting devices that used combustible fuels like kerosene. However, after World War Two, railroads increasingly phased out such kerosene-powered devices in favor of electrically-powered ones.

By the 1980's, with their market effectively dried up, Handlan turned to the hobbyist and collectors markets as a last-ditch effort to stay in business. Advertisements were run in hobbyist and railroad-related publications offering various types of traditional railroad lighting devices as well as various home-decor items based on such devices. This effort used the title "Railfinders", apparently a subsidiary operation. It didn't work, or at least not for long. Sometime in the early 1990's the Handlan-Buck Company went out of business, bringing to an end over 130 years of tradition and service to the railroad industry.

Today, railroadiana collectors routinely encounter Handlan products as they search for artifacts that were used on the railroads. They also encounter these latter-day hobbyist items, and therein lies the problem. Sometimes it is hard to tell if a given Handlan-Buck item actually saw railroad service or if it was manufactured for this after-market. No doubt some of these hobbyist items show up in internet auctions with the claim that they are really of railroad-origin. Paul Stevens kindly sent in some catalog pages received from Handlan-Buck in 1988 showing the kinds of items that were then being manufactured for the hobbyist market. We show these pages below, adapted for the web, as a reference for collectors. Note the pictures of employees hand-assembling lamps.

First, the text and pictures from a single advertisement page.....

Railroad lamps handmade the old Handlan way by craftsmen like Lou Wanner and Mrs. Nancy Torp.

1856 to hundred twenty years of uninterrupted railroad lamp manufacturing. Over the years, little has changed in the way Handlan-Buck produces kerosene, electric, and reflex switch lamps. Essentially, it's still a hand assembled, hand-crafted operation.

We invite you to examine our current lamps....they're produced from the original plans to railroad specifications, with the personal touch of veteran craftsmen like Lou Wanner and Nancy Torp.

Look for Handlan-Buck lamps in railroad museum gift shops....or wherever railroad memorabilia is sold.

Handlan-Buck Company
Manufacturers of Kerosene, Electric and Reflex Switch Lamps. Lighting the way since 1856. 4519 Ridgewood Avenue - St. Louis, Mo. 63116 [Address obsolete]


Below are thumbnails of some advertisements showing various lamps and decor items produced by the Handlan-Buck Company. Click on the thumbnail for an image that is large enough to read. Please note that download time may take be slow for modem-based internet connections.

In addition to these images, an image of a circa-1988 price list of Handlan-Buck lamps and other items is available.

Special thanks to Paul Stevens for supplying the images on this page.