Thursday, January 29, 2015

Song-inspired Rails & Sails train customs

Two of the most famous trains of the last half of the 20th Century achieved their renown based on popular recordings.

The song Orange Blossom Special was written by Floridian Ervin T. Rouse in 1938 and recorded the next year with his brother. Since then it has been covered by every male country performer of note.

My favorite version is Johnny Cash's, recorded in 1965, which reached No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 Country Music Charts. While OBS has been called the "fiddle players' national anthem," The Man in Black took it in a different direction, substituting two harmonicas and a saxophone for the fiddle parts.

The 1955 Rails and Sails-style custom card I created is based on circa 1940s linen postcards, of which there are several types. Such cards were sold on the train itself and at every station stop along the route. I did a little cutting and pasting to get the final image for my card.

I don't remember when I've had as much fun doing the research for a card back. I lost myself for most of a day googling the internet and exploring the many tangents. I'd forgotten how much I love mid-century trains. (See my blog post of Oct. 29 for my first R&S train card and background of my personal interest in 1950s streamliners.)

My follow-up R&S train custom card was inspired by the 1972 Arlo Guthrie folk song City of New Orleans. The song went to No. 18 on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles Charts.

It has been reported that Guthrie first heard the song when he was approached by its writer, Steve Goodman, in a Chicago bar in 1971. Guthrie said he'd listen if Goodman would buy him a beer. He agreed to record it on the spot.

After the release of Willie Nelson's version in 1984, Goodman was posthumously awarded the 1985 Grammy for Best Country Song. 

I've been an Arlo Guthrie fan since my college days, based on his 1967 hit ballad Alice's Restaurant Massacree. (The 1969 movie . . . not so much.)

Again, a gloomy winter Sunday spent researching the City of New Orleans (the train and the song) was a high point in the creation process.

As long as I am on a train "kick," I've got a couple more Rails and Sails additions in the works. Watch this blog for the revelation in a week or two.

You can purchase these cards. You can obtain a copy of these custom cards for $12.50 each, postpaid, or $9.95 each for three or more. E-mail me at for ordering details. Illustrated lists of all my available custom baseball, football and non-sports cards can be found on my blog posts of Jan. 18, 2015.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Johnny Cooney's unlikely homer history

Uncommon commons: In more than 30 years in sportscards publishing I have thrown hundreds of notes into files about the players – usually non-star players – who made up the majority of the baseball and football cards I collected as a kid. Today, I keep adding to those files as I peruse microfilms of The Sporting News from the 1880s through the 1960s. I found these tidbits brought some life to the player pictures on those cards. I figure that if I enjoyed them, you might too.

One of my favorite cards from the 1955 Johnston Cookies Braves regional issue was that of coach Johnny Cooney. He just looked like such a pleasant fellow. Heck, the write-up on back said he was "Known for courtesy and understanding . . . a real credit to the game." With that big smile he kind of reminded me of my Uncle John.

While poring over the 1943 microfilm of The Sporting News, I learned that Cooney had an unusual major league home run history. 

Cooney made his professional debut in 1921 with the Boston Braves as a 20-year-old pitcher. He spent 20 seasons in the bigs, He was with the Braves into 1930, then spent the 1930-35 seasons in the high minors. He returned to the National League with the Dodgers from 1935-37, returned to Boston 1938-42, then had a second stay with Brooklyn 1943-44 before ending his major league days with the Yankees in mid-1944, at the age of 43.

He ended his playing days with Kansas City in the American Association in 1945.

He returned to the Boston Braves as a coach in 1946, moving with the team to Milwaukee in 1953. He left the Braves in 1955 and after a year off he coached for the Chicago White Sox 1957-64.

Now for Johnny Cooney's home run story . . . 

From the time of his debut in 1921, almost through the end of 1939, in a total of about 2,300 at-bats in the major leagues, Cooney never hit a home run,

His first big league circuit clout came near the end of his 15th season.

On Sept. 24, 1939, playing in the Polo Grounds, Cooney connected for a home run off Giants pitcher Harry Gumbert. The following day, with Bill Lohrman on the mound, Cooney hit another home run.

Then he never hit another.

He played five more seasons in the majors, about 1,050 at-bats, without another home run.

In his nine seasons in the minors, Cooney had a total of 12 home runs in nearly 2,600 at-bats.

You can read a full account of Johnny Cooney's career on the SABR website, penned by Ray Birch: .

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

New to World on Wheels: VW Microbus

In my "what if . . . " musings after I buy a Powerball or Mega Millions lottery ticket I sometmes get to daydreaming about the first vehicle I would buy.

Lately, the answer is a 1960s Volkswagen Samba, more often known as the Microbus.

I was recently surprised to see on an episode of Pawn Stars that a really nice restored example can be a $100,000 car in today's market. Oh well, when you win $100MM, what's $100K?

Sometimes I think I'd hunt down the white-over-green microbus that was featured on several episodes of That '70s Show near the end of its run.

But if I had cash in hand, my real first choice would be a white-over-light blue example like the one that sticks in my memory from my early college days.

As a freshman at the University of Wisconsin Fond du Lac, a branch commuter campus, my English professor was Dr. Michael Pikulef -- "pronounce it 'pickle-ef'" he'd said on the first day of class. 

Mike, as he insisted we call him, was almost the stereotypical liberal college instructor of the early 1970s, but that meshed well with my own philosophy at the time. 

I realized that I was really in college at my first party not long after school started. Besides the usual hippie chicks, pot- and pillheads and artistic poseurs, Mike was at the party.
Partying with the prof! I wasn't a high school kid any longer.

When booze ran low, a collection was taken up and Mike said he'd drive. Heck, he may have been the only one over 21 in attendance. I volunteered to go along. We got into his blue VW microbus and headed to a nearby bowling alley where we bought a case of beer, and to some other place I no longer remember for a gallon jug of cheap sangria.

I was really taken with that VW. You sat way up near the windshield and it had a tall stick shift lever. The bus had a particular engine sound that I can still hear today.

Some day I'd like to have me one of those.

That's why my latest World on Wheels custom card honors the venerable hippie wagon.

It's interesting that Mike Pikulef has almost no internet presence. I've found a couple of 10-year-old mentions of a Michael Pikulef in connection with the Village Playhouse in Wauwatosa, Wis., but that's it. I wonder what became of him?

You can purchase this card. You can obtain a copy of this custom card for $12.50, postpaid. E-mail me at for ordering details. Illustrated lists of all my available custom baseball, football and non-sports cards can be found on my blog posts of Jan. 18, 2015.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

So, what's the deal with "so"?


It's really started to grind my gears when people begin a statement, orally or in writing, with "So, . . ."

When did this become a meme?

This meaningless introduction has become epidemic in some of the internet forums I look in on.

So . . . give it a rest.

While I'm ranting . . . 

I believe the baseball card forums in which I participate would lose half their postings if the word "cool" was banned.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

1943 Sunday Cubs concession sales detailed

In the "Bouncing Around With Ed Burns" column in the July 29, 1943, issue of The Sporting News, the Chicago baseball writer provided details of concession sales for a Sunday doubleheader at Wrigley Field between the Cubs and the Cardinals.

The date was June 27, and Burns said the crowd was just over 38,000. According to Wrigley Field concessions manager Ray Kneips, unit sales that day. 

  • Red Hots                 35,600
  • Peanuts, Bags           5,500
  • Popcorn, Bags           3.020
  • Soda Pop, Bottles    30,200
  • Lemonade, Glasses   5,420
  • Ice Cream, Cups      25,700
  • Beer, Bottles             32,000
  • Scorecards               11,724
  • Player Photographs   1,000 

What effect, if any, the fact that the Cubs lost both ends of the doubleheader by one run, dropping them back to last place in the National League, had on concession sales was not speculated upon.

The concessions chief reported that he employed 150 vendors to service the crowd, and went through 22,000 pounds of ice to cool the beer and soda.

As a collector, I wonder if the 1,000 "Player Photographs" sold meant a thousand 25-piece picture packs, or 40 sets of 25? I'm guessing the former. Ballpark picture packs back then sold for 50 cents per set.

Other collectible souvenirs such as pinback buttons, yearbooks and pennants weren't mentioned.

In the Aug. 19 issue of TSN, Burns followed up his original piece with some details about the vendors at Wrigley. He said that while the average vendor made $12 or so on a well-attended Sunday doubleheader, one lemonade seller's commission on the day was $50, which he said was more than the club's vice president made that day.

Burns said the successful lemonade vendor at the ballpark must have "a strong and persuasive voice, a keen eye for detecting an upraised finger, and agility in moving rapidly over the feet of the assembled patrons."

He also noted that the lemonade at Wrigley was real hand-squeezed product, "no synthetics, no bottled stuff." It sold for 20 cents a glass. Other ballpark prices were 15 cents for a hot dog (up from a dime the year before), 25 cents for a bottle of beer and 15 cents for a bottle of soda.

Note was also made of the wartime exigencies at the Wrigley concession stands. Rationing of sugar and beef had led to the suspension of sales of candy, hamburgers and roast beef sandwiches.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Wyatt Earp customs added to TV Westerns

I've just completed a major addition to my recent work on custom cards done in the style of Topps' 1958 TV Westerns bubblegum cards.

Presented here is my quartet of cards based on the long-running (1955-61) series The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, starring Hugh O'Brian.

The show was more "legend" than "life," but that's been the case for the past 140 years. I spent a lot of time on the internet researching Wyatt Earp and have come to conclude that much of what we have seen from Hollywood about the frontier lawman has been, shall we say, embellished. Even the first comprehensive biography, 1931's Wyatt Earp Frontier Marshal, by Stuart N. Lake, was largely made up of whole cloth. His fictionalized accounts have been picked up and reworked time and again ever since in movies and films.

The Wyatt Earp TV show drew heavily upon Lake's book. I've chosen to base my cards on the show, rather than strictly historical fact.

Fortunately for my process, there are lots of great color photos of Hugh O'Brian as the title character, so I had no trouble coming up with four cards.

Here they are . . .

While it is not at all pertinent to my TV Westerns Wyatt Earp custom cards, I want to put in a plug for the Hugh O'Brian Youth Leadership programs.

Inspired by meetings in Africa with Dr. Albert Schweitzer, O'Brian in 1958 founded an organization to inspire youth to take leadership roles locally and thereby positively affect the global future. You can read about it here: .

I became aware of HOBY when my daughter was a high school sophomore in the mid-1990s and was selected (heck, she may have been the only kid in her school interested) to attand a stateside HOBY conference.

That weekend seminar inspired many of the subsequent educational and career choices that have brought her to where she is today.

For that, I have to thank Hugh O'Brian.

You can purchase these cards. You can obtain a copy of any or all of these custom cards. One or two cards are $12.50 each, postpaid; three or more cards are $9.95 each. E-mail me at for ordering details. Illustrated lists of all my available custom baseball, football and non-sports cards can be found in my blog posts of Jan. 18, 2015, with newer cards presented in subsequent posts of the past few months.