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Published on 09/24/06 in the Fostoria Focus
‘Fostoria RR Bulletin’ chugs back to town
Focus Correspondent

Back to Fostoria
Herm Vandekerkhoff stands next to the Fostoria RR Bulletin, an 80-year-old sign he discovered for sale on ebay and purchased at Garth’s Auction in Delaware. The sign once hung in the Interurban ticket office next the Hays Hotel (now the Park ‘N Shop Lot) and indicates the departures of the railroads and Interurban trolley lines serving Fostoria.
“I think this is where it belongs.”
“It” is a wooden sign, 74 inches tall and 40 inches wide. It’s painted gray with black trim and red and black lettering that reads “Fostoria RR Bulletin.”
Where it belongs is here in Fostoria and Herm Vandekerkhoff made sure the piece of local history found its way home.
In the 1920s, it hung on Main Street and told Fostorians when the local trains and interurbans departed for points north and south, east and west.
Thanks to Herm, the Fostoria Railroad Bulletin is back in Fostoria after an absence, a mysterious absence, of over 30 years.
Herm is an enthusiast for Fostoria memorabilia. Pictures, post cards, glass — you name it, Herm is probably interested in it.
Not long ago, Herm was on ebay, the Internet auction site, where he frequently searches for Fostoria items. He discovered that the Fostoria Railroad Bulletin was going to be auctioned at Garth’s Auctions in Delaware on Sept. 2.
As soon as Herm saw it, he knew he wanted it to return to Fostoria.
“I thought this is where it belongs,” said Herm. “It doesn’t belong hanging in someone else’s museum or on the wall of a restaurant someplace.”
So on Sept. 2, Herm was in Delaware waiting patiently for the bidding to commence on item No. 705 “Painted Railroad Schedule.”
Herm is well-acquainted with Garth’s.
“I’ve been going down there since the ‘60s,” he said. “They have high quality early American furniture and early American primitives, things I like.”
The bidding gave Herm just cause for anxiety. Garth’s catalog estimated the sign’s price at $200 to $400.
“I knew it would never sell for its pre-sale estimate,” he said. “I didn’t think $750 would touch it. Little did I know what it would take.”
Herm had just watched a folk art carving by noted carver Elijah Pierce sell for over $74,000.
“I hoped that didn’t carry over to the sign,” he said.
At auction houses like Garth’s, people can leave absentee bids or they can bid online via ebay and over the phone, as well as in person.
Some early absentee bids had already been received so the bidding started at $500 and swiftly passed Herm’s $750 plateau.
When it got to $1,100, Herm said to himself, “I hope this doesn’t keep going.”
Finally, the bidding came down to Herm and one telephone bidder.
“When it got to $1,400, I hesitated, but I didn’t let them cut it off,” he said.
Herm hesitated longer when the bid reached $1,600. Then he finally said $1,700.
“That’s where the other fellow quit,” he said.
The total cost, including auction fees, was $1,955.
Now that Herm has secured this piece of Fostoria’s railroad history, he intends to pay a call at the Toledo Museum of Art.
“I want to know what can be done to restore and preserve it,” he said.
The sign, probably used between 1922 and 1929, gives pertinent information for the Hocking Valley, Baltimore & Ohio, Nickle Plate (spelled “Nickle”), Lake Erie & Western, Toledo & Ohio Central and the Big Four (“On Hocking Valley Tracks”). The NKP, B&O and LE&W were east-west lines, the others ran north-south.
The sign indicates the railroad, train number and time of departure: “Hocking Valley RR, No. 31, 8:17 am.”
It also indicates departures of two of Fostoria’s interurban trolley lines, the Toledo, Fostoria & Findlay Electric Lines and the Tiffin, Fostoria & Eastern Electric Lines.
The TF&E had hourly service leaving the corner of Main and Tiffin Streets from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. The TF&F had hourly service to Findlay and service every two hours to Pemberville.
Hooks on the back indicate it was made to be hung and the weathered paint is a near certain clue the sign spent much of its useful life outside.
Herm is delighted that his trip to Delaware met with success. So is the Fostoria Rail Preservation Society.
Ellen Gatrell is the FRPS secretary-treasurer. She is especially glad the sign is back in Fostoria. The sign was once in her family.
Ellen’s grandmother was Pearl Peter who lived on West South Street near Harrold-Floriana Funeral Home. Pearl purchased the sign at an auction at the old Hays Hotel sometime before fire destroyed the Hays and the Alcott building (Park ‘N Shop Lot) in 1962.
Pearl’s husband Arthur was himself a railroader, a 25-year employee of the Chesapeake & Ohio.
“The sign hung on the building next to the Hays Hotel. It was the ticket office for all the interurbans,” Ellen said.
Pearl died in 1973. Sometime between then and 1975, her daughter, Marilyn Beers, discovered that the sign had somehow turned up missing. It was gone and unheard of until Herm found it on ebay.
The FRPS hopes to purchase the sign from Herm if it can raise the money.
“I know there is a grant out there somewhere. It’s fabulous that Herm caught onto this,” Ellen said. “I feel grateful to be involved in it.”
Herm is pleased, too.
“I think it’s a neat piece of Fostoria history,” he said.
A piece of Fostoria history that is back where it belongs.


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