Observation Cars – Presidents and Grandfathers

Karen brought home a bag of old photographs that had belonged to her mother. Here is her grandfather; Karen’s mother’s father, Julius Slonim, standing on the platform with a snow covered observation car in the background. Looks like he’s about to leave on an adventure…

Julius was a successful business man in London. He ran an import and export business that specialised in Bohemian crystal. The family was named after a town in Belarus. We think he came to Britain at the end of the 19C and called himself after his home-town.

We never knew Julius and the facts about the older generation, their arrival in Britain and their struggle to get on are all a bit hazy. Anyway, it’s a good job he got out when he did. There won’t be many Jewish people left there now.

He travelled to the USA too. This picture looks like it could have been taken in America. The design of the observation car is typically American. The hat-and-coat combo is a little film-noirish, so the picture could be from the 1930s.

Julius played an prominent role in the Jewish community of the East End. He was active  in the London School Board. The LSB promoted, and provided, elementary education amongst the poorest communities in London. It’s efforts were later incorporated into the LCC.

Back to America…The open platform at each end of the US style passenger cars is typical. Nowadays, we only see it when Presidential candidates embark on whistle-stop tours in the run-up to an election. Here’s a picture of Barak Obama at the back of the train

The idea is that, before the age of air travel, the train could carry politicians to within reach of even the most isolated community. The whistle would blow, and people would gather around for a speech.

You can get a sense of what this was all about from this picture of Harry S Truman in 1948. In an age of blanket TV coverage, the Barak train was more a PR stunt.

Three cheers for Julius.

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