PERSONALITIES OF INTEREST
Hidden among the stories of the development of the railroading industry, as well as among the stories of those individuals dedicated to the preservation of the history of railroading, are some fascinating characters. There was Ezra Miller, the first owner of the Best Friend, before she was sold to the City of Charleston and renamed the Best Friend of Charleston. He made many contributions to the railroading industry, but his suicide brought an end to a life that was poorly documented until many years later when a great niece began researching her family genealogy. There also are those characters who were larger than life, as were the Gray brothers (both 6’4” in stature and over 300 pounds in weight) who engineered the “steel fingers” of the industry in the 1830’s. When you add the colorful Colonel Elliott White Springs (1896-1959) into the story along with O. Winston Link (1914-2001), the renowned photographer of steam locomotives, you begin to come up with a collection of personalities that are among some of the most interesting in America’s recorded history. Another name well known to railroaders is Joshua Lionel Cohen (Cowen) (1877-1965) whose invention of the model train is far better know than is his part in the invention of the Eveready Flashlight.
Colonel Springs’ legacy within his family’s Springs Cotton Mills in Lancaster, SC raised many an eyebrow, considering his advertising tactics that bordered on the “off-color.” Add that to his love of trains and pretty women, and you come up with an interesting personality both in and out of the Springs Mills’ board room. The Colonel’s board room had a hidden desk that rose from the floor when the correct button was pushed and when another button was pushed a model train would circle the room at ceiling height. His interest in trains was well known and his appointment of stripper, Gypsy Rose Lee, to his board of directors caused his interest in women to become more well known.
O. Winston Link’s place in history as the photographer of steam locomotives is well documented in the many books that showcase his talent. His traveling display of photographs was a big success in Charleston in 1992 and his marital discord became front page news in 2000 when his wife was found to be keeping him locked in their basement, feeding him only when he handed out photographs she could sell. Link’s recording of the sounds of steam engines, with the ringing of church bells in the background, is a favorite among railfans.
The story of Lionel Trains shows how model trains became a popular consumer item after a department stores’ Christmas display of a model train running around a decorated Christmas tree created a booming market for the trains. Joshua Lionel Cohn also designed a light for illuminating house plants, but gave it to a friend because it proved to be a marketing failure, only to watch it become the Eveready Flashlight!