Ever heard of an actress named Betty White? Sure you have!
She starred in such immensely popular television shows as “The Mary Tyler Moore
Show,” “Golden Girls”, and “Hot in Cleveland.” Often referred to as “America’s
Sweetheart,” Betty White even at the age of 99 is still endearingly witty.
The adored and adorable Betty Marion White
Today is January 17, 2021. On this day, the one and only Betty White is celebrating her 99th birthday. A tip of the cap and a hearty HAPPY BIRTHDAY to "America's Sweetheart," Betty Marion White!
But there is a particular inaccuracy about Betty White that seems to be growing with time, the way that a lie, told often enough, becomes accepted as truth.
In 2012, a woman who posts articles online wrote a piece about Betty White (Betty MARION White) and incorrectly connected her with the Great Northern Railway’s Empire Builders radio series. This is an absolute falsehood. Betty Marion White never appeared on Empire Builders.
From a 2012 article posted online with false statement about Empire Builders
So why would this writer say such a thing? Was it a deliberate lie, made of whole cloth as they say, a complete and total fabrication just to make her article seem more interesting? No, that does not seem to be the case. Was it a false assumption based on some obscure and incomplete information? That is a definite possibility. A bit more serious research by that author might have kept this inaccuracy from emerging. Whatever the actual catalyst behind this error, it is unequivocally an error, and it’s beginning to spread like a virus by other writers who are simply grabbing onto this falsehood and repeating it.
From a 2020 article posted online, clearly copying the 2012 false statement about Empire Builders
The same incorrect claim of Betty Marion White appearing on Empire Builders was repeated in a 2020 article, and perhaps elsewhere. A website that offers copies of old-time radio recordings does not come right out and claim that Betty Marion White appeared on Empire Builders, but while noting that someone with the (rather common) name of “Betty White” was on the broadcast, they posted a misleading photograph of Betty Marion White – who never appeared on Empire Builders, and whose photo had nothing at all to do with the broadcast being highlighted.
So who was this “Betty White” who in 1930 appeared in not one, or two, but (at least) six broadcasts of Empire Builders? It was in fact a woman, an adult woman in 1930, named Betty White. Imagine that, more than one woman on this planet with the name “Betty White!” Only, this Betty White was born in 1904 as Elizabeth Reynolds. She took up acting and joined the travelling Redpath Chautauqua Circuit where she met Robert G. “Bob” White, also an actor. The two were married, and she became “Betty White.” Betty Reynolds White.
When the Great Northern’s Empire Builders relocated from New York to Chicago in the fall of 1930, Bob and Betty White were hired to join the radio program’s regular ensemble of players. The first broadcast of Empire Builders from the NBC studios at Chicago’s Merchandise Mart was on the evening of September 29, 1930. It was a play titled “The Phantom Trail.” Twenty-six-year-old Betty Reynolds White took the role of “Martha Blaine.” In another broadcast, a rough recording of which is still circulating on the internet, Betty White played the role of a very young girl. This was called “Attar of Roses.” On the internet, you will usually see this story incorrectly referred to as “Columbia River.” Betty Reynolds White played the part of Beatrice “Anne” Hyland, a very young girl.
THIS is Betty Reynolds White, an actress who performed on the Great Northern Railway's Empire Builders, circa 1930-31
A petite lady, standing only 4’ 11” tall, Betty Reynolds White performed very convincingly as a higher-pitched small child. This was a talent of hers that she continued to benefit from in other Empire Builders broadcasts, and later on other radio shows such as Rin-Tin-Tin.
When Betty Reynolds White passed away in 1988, her obituary said she was described as "radio's foremost child character actress," according to newspaper stories of the day. Jeanne DeVivier Brown, a past president of the Pacific Pioneer Broadcasters Club, added that Betty Reynolds White "did a lot of juvenile roles in the '30s and '40s, which was unusual because she was an adult at the time she did them."
So, the completely unfounded attribution of Betty Marion White being associated with Empire Builders is out there in the wild now, and probably will continue to fester as a falsehood that does all it can to morph into the realm of so-called fact. But it is not fact.
If you have an interest in the story of the Empire Builders radio series, please resist any temptation to accept a myth that someone other than Betty Reynolds White deserves acclaim for her performances on that program.
The Great Northern Railway goes on the air with “Empire
Builders,” a ground-breaking half-hour radio program that aired weekly on the
NBC coast-to-coast network until the final broadcast on June 22, 1931.
Originally aired from NBC studios in New York, the program shifted to the new
NBC studios in Chicago’s massive Merchandise Mart in the fall of 1930. This
final season of Empire Builders effectively launched the entertainment careers of
Don Ameche and Bernardine Flynn. Many voices heard on Empire Builders (often
for the first time) were also heard on dozens of popular radio programs in
Newspaper advertisement from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, January 14, 1929
I continue to plug away, as I can find time, on the Empire
Builders book project. While I think it’s fair to say the essential research is
now complete, I’m still ever on the lookout for other tidbits of detail related
to the story.
Just a matter of weeks ago, I came upon an old newspaper
article telling of a young woman who was a studio hostess for NBC in Chicago. The
article said she participated on multiple Empire Builders broadcasts. Regrettably,
I have not seen her name mentioned anywhere else. But one thing I’ve learned in
all this research is that many of the broadcasts utilized peripheral characters
who merely said a sentence or two, such as a random man in a crowd, or a train
conductor who affirmed to the Old Timer that he was boarding the correct
passenger car – that sort of thing. Very few of the many veteran performers
were given publicity in connection with the broadcasts, so it’s not at all
surprising that lesser voice talent would go unheralded.
One of the most rewarding aspects of conducting all this
intense research is that from time to time I’m able to connect with a living
descendant of one of the principals in the show. Take the young woman mentioned
above, the NBC studio hostess. I tracked down and contacted her son, and
although he did not have any new information for me regarding Empire Builders,
he did share some intriguing insights about the career of his remarkable mother
(who, by the way, lived to over 100 years old). He also graciously gave me his
vintage copy of the press release that formed the news article that led me to
my discovery of her participation on Empire Builders.
A good friend of mine is a self-taught wiz with Microsoft’s
Access database software. He is building a terrific database for me to help
organize all the details I’ve been gathering about the radio series. I have a
still-growing list of nearly 250 individuals who had some sort of connection
with the broadcasts. This includes executives and representatives of the Great
Northern Railway and NBC. It of course includes the names of every on-air
performer who ever appeared on the broadcasts. And that’s not merely actors and
actresses. It also includes all the singers, sound effects men, and guest
speakers (of which there were many). I’ve captured the names of all the writers,
editors, producers, and directors. Many of the radio stories were written by
professional authors not otherwise connected with the GN or NBC. Other stories came
from winners of the GN’s five radio story contests. I have the names of nearly all of
the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place finishers. I’ve
also located the life dates (dates of birth and death) of nearly all 250 of
these people. I know that probably sounds like going too far down a rabbit hole, but I
find it somewhat revealing to know where in life these people were while
associated with Empire Builders. This research has also revealed some
intriguing back-stories for many of them. There is richness to be found in all
our lives, though it can be more a matter of luck to find compelling details for someone
who is long since deceased, and who did not attain a significant degree of lasting
So, the project continues. I’d say it’s pretty much at a
snail’s pace right now, like a race where the snail is in the
lead. But the finish line is still off in the distance, and I’m hopeful I can
find that second wind (or even the first wind) and eventually surpass the snail
and be the one to break the tape at the finish line.
The Empire Builders
radio series continues to enjoy sporadic but ongoing attention. I’ll offer here
a couple of updates related to the series, and to my own research.
First, I want to call your
attention to a classic radio podcast prepared by the noted Old Time Radio
historian, Jerry Haendiges. His weekly “Old Time Radio Classics” podcasts are always a
well-prepared and thematically orchestrated treat of vintage and often obscure
In this month of July, 2018, Jerry has put together a couple
of podcasts on the theme of railroading. His offering of July 15, 2018,
included a broadcast of “Wheels A-Rolling”, which aired a live pageant from the
Chicago Railroad Fair of 1948. There is also a rare recording of a program
called “The Green Valley Line” from 1934, and a production of the CBS Radio
Workshop, which was called “Ballad of the Iron Horse,” originally airing on March
For July 22, 2018, Jerry Haendiges offers another
railroad-themed radio podcast, this time with a high degree of emphasis on the
Great Northern Railway, and some of its early radio presence. This program includes
THE RAILROAD (reprise) - Part 2
"The James J. Hill Story"
CASCADE TUNNEL DEDICATION PROGRAM
1-29-1929(about 66 minutes in duration)
Announcers: Graham McNamee and
Herbert Hoover, Madame Ernestine
Schumann-Heink, George Olsen and His Orchestra, J. B. Campbell (chairman of the
I. C. C., speaking from Washington, D. C.), W. W. Atterbury (president of the
Pennsylvania Railroad, speaking from Philadelphia), Ralph Budd (president of
the Great Northern Railway)
Episode 83:2-2-1931"James J. Hill: Background of Empire"(30 minutes in duration)
Announcer: Ted Pearson
Stars: Harvey Hays As "The Old
With: Don Ameche, Bernardine Flynn,
and Lucille Husting
NBC - Great Northern RailwayMondays 10:30 - 11:00 PM, Eastern time
CAVALCADE OF AMERICA
Episode 28:4-15-36"The Railroad Builders"
Stars: Parker Fennelly.
The story of the drilling of the
Hoosick tunnel and the first transcontinental railroad.
My research continues, with the hopeful notion of putting
this material together as a book on the topic. Where so few of the original
broadcasts exist in recorded form, even if poor quality, the best documentation
available to illuminate the content of the shows comes from the continuities
that were used. If you’re not familiar with the term continuity, it is
essentially the script of the show, but it typically includes numerous notes
and cues for music and sound effects, and other instructions from the Director
of the program. Continuities for Empire
Builders broadcasts are nearly as hard to find as recordings of the show.
However, every single broadcast had – somewhere, and at some point – its own
specific continuity (whereas only a handful of broadcasts were recorded in the first place). All of the continuities went through representatives of the
sponsor, the Great Northern Railway, for editing and insertion of advertising
copy. The advertising was usually included as brief comments at the beginning
(a so-called “opening credit”) and at the end (“closing credit”) of each
broadcast. The Great Northern Railway archived final submissions for most of
the programs in their corporate files. However, even up to the moment of the
live broadcasts (not to mention occasional ad libs during the broadcasts), last
minute changes often occurred. Thus, the continuities in the possession of NBC
typically represent the most accurate and complete documentation of the
material that went out on the air. Luckily, NBC also archived nearly all of
Using these two primary resources, I have succeeded in
obtaining copies of every one of the 103 weekly Empire Builders broadcasts. Sadly, quite a few of these
continuities are missing one or more vital pages, and it’s not at all certain
that I will ever locate those missing pages. However, the missing pages are
typically the ones containing the opening and/or closing credits, which are
effectively just the “commercials” tied to each show. From the perspective of
the ardent student of railroad advertising copy of this era, perhaps it would
be useful to have access to every one of those credits. On the other hand, they
were not particularly different from one broadcast to the next. The credits
were simply used like the advertising copy found in magazine or newspaper
advertisements, intended to coax people to patronize the Great Northern Railway
for freight shipping and for personal travel. That means most of the
continuities that I’ve located include complete dialog and similar content
associated with each program.
As always, please contact me, at the email posted in the
header of this page, if you have any information or questions about the Empire Builders radio series.
The folks who operate the “Blogger” web platform have
elected to retire the “poll widget” that I had been using to solicit
information from site visitors about the nature of their interest in this
topic. The poll feature has been removed, so I’d be very grateful if you use
the comments option, or again just send me an email, if you would be willing to
let me know what brought you to this blog (e.g., railroad history, radio
history, genealogy or related interest, etc.). If by chance you are related to
any of the personnel associated with the Empire
Builders series, I would especially like to hear from you.
This blog has been dormant for over a year now. It's not due to flagging interest on my part, quite the contrary. I've been sidetracked by some other priorities for many months, but hope to return to my effort to pull some of this material together into a book. It sounds a bit presumptuous to even write those words, since I've never attempted a book before. But I sincerely believe I have adequate material to do a thorough job of telling the story of this early and unusual radio series.
As I began this blog, I found a handy vehicle at my disposal - writing something to coincide with each of the 103 weekly episodes of the series. Of course, you have other options than blog-slogging from Post #1 to the final one. While that will allow you to follow the evolution of the series in chronological order, I've also provided a simple search tool so you can look up specific topics of interest.
Please drop me a line at the email address posted above in the blog's banner. I'd be happy to answer any (specific) questions you might have (something other than "tell me everything you know about this radio program" .... uh, no), and by all means, please let me know if you have any information about this series that you do not see mentioned in any of my blog entries.
Could a major railroad advertise itself advantageously via
the fledgling medium of commercial radio?
The radio series had been on the air for two full years.
Response seemed quite good: listener polls regularly showed Empire Builders in the top tier of
broadcasts aired on Monday evenings, and even appeared among the leaders across
all radio programming; unsolicited fan mail gave anecdotal evidence of a
sizable following of devoted listeners; and response was strong whenever a
special booklet or giveaway was offered during one of the Empire Builders programs.
Despite indications of the success of this radio advertising
campaign, Great Northern Railway management continued to speculate as to the
actual positive impact on revenues. Were freight receipts higher, and was there
any increase in passenger revenue? And if so, to what degree could such
successes be attributed to the singular impact of their radio campaign? After
all, while goodwill is an important asset for any company, ultimately they
wanted more businesses shipping goods and more people riding Great Northern
trains. Increased traffic to Glacier National Park was particularly desired,
what with the GN’s hotel subsidiary operating virtually all the lodging facilities
in or near the park. And so, as this grand experiment in radio advertising wound down to its conclusion, one last experiment was attempted. A new question emerged: Would radio listeners respond to an offer to tour Glacier National Park in the company of one of the stars of the Empire Builders radio show?
Passenger Traffic Manager of the Great Northern Railway, A. J. Dickinson.
On January 15, 1931, the GN’s Passenger Traffic Manager,
A.J. Dickinson, issued Passenger Traffic Department Circular #16-31. This
communique to all General, District, and Traveling Passenger Agents announced
that on the Empire Builders broadcast
of Monday, January 19th, plans would be unveiled for an “Old
Timer’s” Tour of Glacier National Park. The plan was to offer a deluxe 10-day
all-expense paid tour of the park, to be hosted by none other than actor Harvey
Hays – the “Old Timer.” At the outset, this plan was touted as an experiment to
find out what level of interest could be generated for such a tour among the
listeners of the weekly radio show. The tour was not advertised via any other
vehicle than the opening and/or closing announcements of this weekly 30-minute
broadcast. Once the responses to this announcement started coming in, Dickinson
and his staff would be able to decide how to proceed with the tour, whether
that meant one tour, many tours, or none at all.
The broadcast of January 19th was a drama titled
“Nan o’ the Northwest.” The story was set in Glacier National Park. As the
program opened, announcer Ted Pearson had an exchange with the Old Timer about
the idea of hosting a tour of the park in the summertime. Although Dickinson’s
passenger department circular was vague on the timing of any tours, the dialog
in the radio show immediately targeted the 4th of July.
For your listening and viewing pleasure, I have created a
couple of A/V clips using the original broadcast audio. The first clip has the opening,
and the second clip the closing, of the January 19, 1931, broadcast. I’ve paired this
audio with an appropriate collection of vintage film footage and associated
still images. Please note the audio is in poor shape in places. Also, a few of
the still images are not strictly of the same vintage as the broadcast, but
should at least provide a nice visual representation of the audio content.
The Old Timer’s invitation to join him on a ten-day trip
through Glacier Park proved to be an enticement that many found hard to resist.
For a variety of reasons, they picked up paper and pen and wrote to the Old
Timer, care of the Great Northern Railway, Chicago, Illinois. Such letters
arrived by the bushel. On January 22nd Harold Sims wired Ralph Budd,
the president of the Great Northern Railway, to report the early returns.Sims told Budd that the railroad had already
received 341 inquiries to date. During the broadcast of January 26th,
the Old Timer lamented he was receiving too many replies – he couldn’t take
Those who wrote to the GN asking about the Old Timer’s Tour
were sent a 6-page itinerary of the trip, along with a copy of a
comical map of
Glacier Park, illustrated by Joseph Scheuerle. The itinerary
laid out the details of what was in store for the tour’s participants from the
day they arrived at Glacier Park Station until they departed, ten days later.
Here is a synopsis of some of the activities planned:
The Empire Builder at Glacier Park Station. Photo by George Grant. Courtesy National Park Service, West Glacier, Montana.
Day 1 (July 1):Arrive Glacier Park Station at 12:15pm; eat lunch; drive
in tour coaches up to Two Medicine Chalets; ride across Upper Two Medicine Lake
on the launch “Rising Wolf” and take a short hike to see Twin Falls. On the
return drive, the coaches stop for another short hike to see Trick Falls.
Dinner at Glacier Park Hotel; evening entertainment by Two Guns White Calf and
fellow Blackfeet Indians (with a few ceremonial inductions into the Blackfeet
tribe); remainder of the evening at “Mike’s Place” in the town of Glacier Park
Day 2 (July 2):Breakfast at the hotel; depart at 8:15am for
a 55-mile tour coach trip to Many Glacier Hotel. Lunch at hotel; short saddle
horse trip to see Grinnell Lake; dinner back at Many Glacier Hotel; launch ride
across Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine; bonfire on the lakeshore with
wiener roast; return to hotel. Dancing at the hotel for those who aren’t yet
too sleepy or too tired.
Day 3 (July 3):Breakfast at the hotel; head out on 17-mile
saddle horse trip to Crossley Lake (aka Cosley Lake) Dude Ranch; horseback ride
through Ptarmigan Tunnel
(dedicated by the Old Timer); spend the night at the dude ranch.
Harvey Hays at the head of the pack train - on the trail in Glacier Park. T.J. Hileman photo. Courtesy National Park Service, West Glacier, Montana.
Day 4 (July 4):Breakfast at the dude ranch; ride saddle
horses over Indian Pass to Goat Haunt Camp (south end of Waterton Lake); ride
the launch “International” to the Prince of Wales Hotel at the far end of the
lake, in Canada. Dancing at the pavilion in the town of Waterton; more
entertainment and refreshments* at Prince of Wales Hotel before turning in.
Day 5 (July 5):Breakfast at Prince of Wales Hotel; motor car ride to Cameron
Lake; return to hotel for lunch; motor car ride to Cardston; motor south across
the international boundary to St. Mary’s Lake, a trip of 75 miles. Catch the
launch “St. Mary’s” for a 10-mile trip to the Going-to-the-Sun Chalets for
dinner; after-dinner boat ride up the lake to view mountains Red Eagle, Little
Chief, Almost-a-Dog, Reynolds, Going-to-the-Sun, etc. Return to
Going-to-the-Sun Chalets for a little entertainment and then turn in.
Day 6 (July 6):Breakfast at the chalets; pack lunches for
saddle horse ride up over Gunsight Pass to Sperry Chalets; lunch on the trail;
dinner at Sperry Chalets.
Day 7 (July 7):Hike out to Sperry Glacier; return to the
chalets for lunch; go on 7-mile saddle horse ride to Lake McDonald Hotel. After
dinner, take a moonlight cruise on the launch “De Smet” around upper end of
Lake McDonald; return to Lake McDonald Hotel for an evening party in the hotel
Day 8 (July 8):Breakfast at the hotel; auto coach ride up
to Logan Pass over “the new Inter-Mountain Highway.” Lunch at Logan Pass;
saddle horse ride across the Garden Wall to the Granite Park Chalet.
Day 9 (July 9):Morning hike to the top of the Garden Wall
and directly above Grinnell Glacier. Back to the chalets for lunch; saddle
horse ride to Many Glacier Hotel via Swift Current Pass. Dinner at Many
Glacier, and “a farewell party that will linger in your memories for a long,
Day 10 (July 10):Breakfast at Many Glacier Hotel; automobile
ride to Glacier Park Station; lunch at Glacier Park Hotel; depart on the Empire
Builder train, with Chief Two Guns White Calf and fellow Blackfeet, plus cowboy
guides, bidding the travelers farewell.
* The Fourth of July was to be spent at the Prince of Wales Hotel in
Canada – those “refreshments” undoubtedly included alcohol, which was still
prohibited in the U.S.
The entourage was to be accompanied by a chaperon-hostess, a
National Park Service Ranger and a nature guide, and at least one
representative of the Great Northern Railway. The trip proposal included this
wishful statement: “I’m hoping to have some of the folks you have heard on “Empire
Builders” with me, so you can meet them in person.” To my knowledge, the only
performers from the radio series who participated in any way were actor Harvey
Hays (the Old Timer) and Marc Williams (the “Cowboy Crooner”). Williams
appeared on a handful of Empire Builders
broadcasts in the final season, primarily to sing a few of his western songs.
Marc Williams, the "Cowboy Crooner," strums his guitar to the delight of the assembled members of the Old Timer's Tour. The group is gathered near the fireplace of the old Irvin Cobb cabin, not far from Lake McDonald Hotel.
Here is a sample of the singing of Marc Williams:
The team at the Great Northern Railway responsible for
organizing this massive undertaking was concerned about the size of the group.
They had to limit the participants to forty, at most. Any more than that would
be unwieldy, and delays along the trails would be inevitable. It was also
paramount that participants be reasonably fit, and capable of keeping up a
The cost of this ten-day tour of Glacier Park (all in, with
meals, lodging, transportation in the park, entertainment, etc.) came to $200.
Participants still had to get themselves to and from the park, and were of
course assisted with making reservations to ride round trip on the Empire
About two weeks after the tour was first publicized, Ralph Budd
was ready for an update. Sims wrote to Budd on February 7th and reported the
magnitude and tenor of the responses.
Answering your inquiry, I
estimate that about half of the inquiries that were received about the Old
Timer’s vacation were from children, persons who were actuated by no motive
other than curiosity, and persons who weren’t financially able to make a
The other half appear to be real
prospects for some sort of a trip over the Great Northern. Probably more than
half of such inquiries represent two or more persons.
There have been seven deposits
made already – and there are six or eight other tentative reservations.
A few respondents were employees of other railroads, and had
passes to ride for free. They were excluded from the early process of securing
participants, as it was preferred to include patrons who would be paying to
travel to and from Glacier Park on Great Northern trains.
Sims added that the GN Traffic Department staff were
“feeling our way along very carefully in this, and are not going to take it up
on the radio again until the week after next.”
At the beginning of the Empire
Builders program of February 16th, the Old Timer once again
commented on having “too many” people writing about the trip. Announcer Ted
Pearson declared this must be good news – the party of 40 was accounted for.
The Old Timer said “Forty? Forty, and then some I guess, Ted.” Pearson challenged
the Old Timer on this point, reminding him he said they could only take 40
participants on the tour. The Old Timer then asked, “I can take more
than one vacation, can’t I? I don’t aim to disappoint any of my friends, if I
can help it. But I tell you Ted, I guess we’ll just have to fix up more than
During the closing of the February 16th
broadcast, the size and number of Glacier Park trips was addressed once again.
ANNOUNCER:Say, Old Timer – have you got our vacation
all figured out yet?
PIONEER:(chuckles) Well, every one of the
days is all figured out in black and white, Ted, right here.
ANNOUNCER:And you’re going to take another party of
forty – that’s fine!And that means that
some of your radio friends that couldn’t have gone with you otherwise can go,
PIONEER:Yes, that’s the idea, Ted. So all of
my friends, who want to go, have to do to find out about this vacation trip is
to write me, care of the Great Northern Railway, a hundred and thirteen, south
Park Street, Chicago. Then I’ll write back and tell ‘em all about it
No promise was actually given to conduct more than one trip.
This was, in a way, a ploy to encourage people to continue writing to the
railroad. Even if participation of prospective tourists on this particular trip
fell through, the railroad felt it could reach out to them concerning other
visits to Glacier Park.
A new circular to the company’s travel representatives,
Circular 80-31, was issued on February 26th. In it, Passenger
Traffic Manager A.J. Dickinson reported nearly 2000 inquiries about the Old
Timer’s Tour had been received to date. He shared the tentative plan to arrange
two or three additional parties to accommodate this unexpectedly large amount
of interest. Tour dates were suggested as July 15, August 1, and August 15. Dickinson
acknowledged in this circular the awkwardness of how they must proceed. He
warned that this information was not to be divulged yet in any detail to the
traveling public. He outlined his concerns:
are several reasons for this:
1)We do not wish to commit ourselves for the
expense involved for less than a complete party
2)We think that the appeal of accompanying the Old
Timer on a vacation, to many people at least, is its novelty an exclusiveness,
and that it would be detrimental to say or do anything that would tend to
commercialize it, and
3)The advertising that has already been done has
been in conformity with this idea of exclusiveness, and it will be necessary to
make future radio announcements consistent with what has been said before.
One angle Dickinson proposed to the ticket agents was to
target the parents of recent college graduates. As Dickinson stated, “a trip to
the park with the Old Timer would appeal to many parents who wish to give their
children some kind of a graduation gift.” Dickinson added that if at least two
or three tour parties could be filled up, “we will probably keep the Old Timer
at the park all summer… and almost everybody who visits the park this summer…
would be likely to run into the Old Timer at one of the hotels.” Harvey Hays
suffered from hay fever. He most likely would have enjoyed an opportunity to
spend the entire summer in Glacier Park under some sort of employment contract.
However, it sounds like Dickinson was making plans for Hays that the actor was
not privy to at that point.
Harold Sims updated GN President Ralph Budd on February 28th,
outlining his thoughts about the Old Timer’s Tour, and general prospects for
increasing travel to Glacier Park. The Great Depression created hard economic
times, yet these businessmen were determined to scrap for every travel dollar
they could find and attract to their railroad. Remarkably, Sims was still
optimistic that the Old Timer’s Tour had ample interest to fill out multiple
tour groups. He wrote, “after getting sufficient reservations to feel assured
of three or four parties for the Old Timer, I want to push an eight-day tour of
the park, following the Old Timer’s itinerary except for omitting the last two
days.” Sims had the idea multiple tours could set out from Glacier Park Hotel
“shotgun” style, one group starting out a day after the group before.
Naturally, the Old Timer himself could not host all of them, but Sims argued
such tours had several advantages over other travel options. He asserted such
tours would be superior to the typical dude ranch experience; other tours of
national parks did not feature trail trips; exposing tourists to the wilds of
Glacier Parks mountain reaches would create perpetual boosters of them; and
that such well-organized tours were desirable to many tourists who would not
otherwise be compelled to get out to see and do so much.
Sims then pitched a “quota plan” to Budd. He said by using
available statistics from the 1925 summer tourist season, ratios could be
determined for the ridership numbers generated by each ticket office or other
sales point. He proposed that these railroad ticket agents be challenged to
meet or exceed the same numbers their offices produced six years earlier
(before the infamous 1929 stock market crash, and the subsequent onset of the
Great Depression). As if all the ground work and heavy lifting had already been
done for them, these ticket agents would be reminded of “the expensive
promotional work that has been done, including radio, and the necessity of
showing commensurate returns.” Sounds like he was proposing that the floggings
would continue until morale improved. It seems Ralph Budd recognized the folly
in setting such unrealistic goals. Still, it was among Sims’ duties to apply
the advertising of the company in a meaningful way, to produce tangible
results. You can’t fault the guy for trying.
As the weeks went by, the Empire Builders radio broadcast continued to provide updates about
the Old Timer’s Tour. Although it was reasoned that with enough response there
could be two or more tours over the summer, ultimately there was just enough
participation to conduct a single trip. Mr. Budd was notified on May 27th
that, to date, a total of 15 definite reservations had been made, with
deposits, and several others looked like strong prospects. The expectation at
that point was to have a party of about 20.
Over the last few weeks that Empire Builders remained on the air, brief reminders of the Old
Timer’s Tour were offered, usually within the closing announcements. In the
week following the final broadcast of Empire
Builders, a trio set out to Glacier Park to begin making last-minute
preparations. This group consisted of Harvey Hays, Marc Williams, and O.J.
McGillis. McGillis was the Great Northern Railway’s Manager of Advertising and
Publicity. Among other tasks, the three needed to get in a little trail riding,
so they might not be too saddle sore when the tourists arrived to join them.
In a Naturalist’s Monthly Report made in July, 1931, several
of the park rangers and naturalists who supported the Old Timer’s Tour were
identified by name. Among them were: Dr. J.V. Harvey, Stephen Thomas, Ranger
Naturalist Wilson, and Ranger Naturalist Bailey.
Press photo from 1931. Typed info on back on photo states "View taken from the tunnel shows member of the Old Timer Empire Builder party looking at Heaven's Peak."
One notable event that occurred during the Old Timer’s Tour
was the first passage through the new Ptarmigan Tunnel. The honor of being the
first rider through the tunnel went to the Old Timer himself, Harvey Hays. For
a number of years, the national park staff studied the area where the tunnel
was dug to find a way to shorten the route over the pass and provide a more
pleasing vista to hikers and trail riders. Thus, the 183-foot long Ptarmigan
Tunnel was dug, beginning in July of 1930. Winter weather set in and blocked
progress until the early Spring of 1931. When finished, the tunnel stretched
nine feet high and six feet in width. There was a three-foot treadway for the
horses with an 18-inch shoulder on each side to help prevent either a rider or
a pack from rubbing against the limestone walls of the tunnel. In a report
about the tunnel published in the Niagara Falls (NY) Gazette in December of 1931, Glacier National Park assistant
engineer George W. Reed stated that work on the tunnel “made a brilliant and
dazzling finish on July 3, 1931, just in time to allow the “Old Timer,” of Empire Builders radio fame, and his
party of twenty-six nature-loving companions to pass through the tunnel during
that afternoon, and thence slowly down the trail on the north face of the
vanquished wall, which, nevertheless, held itself lofty in defeat.”
Harvey Hays leads the Old Timer's Tour on a trail in Glacier Park. T.J. Hileman photo. Courtesy National Park Service, West Glacier, Montana.
It is unclear how many of the Old Timer’s reported “twenty-six
nature-loving companions” were paying participants, and how many of that number
were railroad or park service employees. One other source, an article from the
Lethbridge Herald of July, 1931, attempts to list the names of all the
participants as they approached Waterton and the Prince of Wales Hotel on July
4th. Unfortunately, the only copy of this information currently at my disposal
is one that appears to be an OCR rendering of the original news article. Some
of the text is garbled. However, the list includes O.J. McGillis of the Great
Northern Railway, Harvey Hays, Marc Williams, and an additional person, park
ranger Ross Jordan. There appear to be another 24 individuals accounted for.
Unless I find cause to write some more about the radio
series (and I certainly might, you never know…), this will probably be the last
of my blog entries about Empire Builders.
Please use the email address shown in the banner at the top of this page to
contact me about ANYTHING concerning the Empire
Builders radio program. Seriously. Write to me.
It was in January of
1929 that the Great Northern Railway began using a weekly coast-to-coast radio
broadcast as a new advertising program. Two and a half years later – on June
22, 1931 –Empire Builders went on the air for the last time.
As a mechanism to
draw positive attention to the railroad and to influence an increase in both
freight and passenger traffic, the radio advertising program was by all
accounts a terrific success. The original strategy was to simply try this new
advertising medium for an indefinite but limited time – probably no more than
six months. Early indications of the value of these efforts convinced the
railroad’s management team to continue well beyond that time limit. Although
the radio program went off the air for most of each summer, it was otherwise a
weekly Monday evening staple for what developed into a vast audience of loyal
The Empire Builders radio broadcasts
routinely faired very well in listener polls. Unsolicited feedback flooded in
to corporate offices every week. Most of the decision-makers at the Great
Northern Railway were inclined to continue with the program, based on its
popularity and proven advertising value. However, the nation’s economy slumped
into the Great Depression, and the significant expense associated with putting
on a high-class weekly radio program could not be justified. Other railroads
throughout the western states were facing similar belt-tightening cutbacks in
spending. In the fall of 1930, at a conference of representatives of all the western
railroads, an agreement was made that none of the railroad companies would
engage in expensive advertising as radio programming sponsors. They were all in
financial hard times, and they recognized that chasing each other’s advertising
outlays would be unproductive and prohibitively expensive. Still, an allowance
was made for existing contracts, such as the one NBC had with the Great
Northern Railway through June of 1931. But that was it. The railroad basically
decided to let the ad campaign terminate with the broadcast of June 22nd.
And yet, oddly, many indicators suggested the railroad was still focused on
listener feedback and the popularity of the radio show. Conversations at
corporate headquarters in St. Paul still involved the possibility that the
series might continue the following September. But sometime along the early
spring, it became clear that the show would have to be brought to an end.
The closing image from the final scene of M*A*S*H
In recent years, most
Americans have become accustomed to the impact of pop culture on their lives, and
it is a virtual given that the finale of a popular and long-running television
show will garner huge audiences. Just look at the final broadcasts of shows
such as M*A*S*H, Cheers, and Seinfeld.
But when you turn back the clock to the early 1930s, consider that the final
broadcast of a nearly 3-year series was a novel experience. How would the show
close for the last time? Would there be any overt acknowledgement of the show’s
relative longevity, its popularity, and its demise?
As I began to
research the topic of the Empire Builders
radio series, I knew of only nine surviving broadcasts in circulation. The
final show was not among them. I long ago located copies of the press release
and the continuity (well, most of it, anyway). The continuity was missing the
opening and closing credits, leaving me high and dry with regard to any
treatment or acknowledgement of the finality of that show. And then, just a few
years ago, an additional 13 broadcast recordings suddenly surfaced. They had
been transferred onto reel-to-reel tapes sometime back in the 1980s, and came
out of someone’s garage or attic or some such to be donated to the Great
Northern Railway Historical Society. It was still an agonizing wait until I
could access a digital copy of the recording of that last broadcast, but it
So the mystery is
solved. The curtain had been pulled back enough to expose the Wizard of Oz.
After tracking the radio series for 103 weekly presentations, I now know how
the finale was handled. And I will share that with you.
Let’s begin with the
press release. It clearly drew attention to the fact that many people in the
radio audience had come to know the “Old Timer,” and accepted that they might
just miss him when he was gone. Here is how Harold Sims of the Great Northern
previewed that final broadcast for the newspapers:
The Old Timer of Empire Builders
tells his last radio story Monday night, June 22, and bids a final adieu to the
unseen friends whom he has entertained with his stories of the west on the NBC
network during the last three years.
The concluding story of the Great
Northern’s radio series will be the “Seal of the Great Spirit,” depicting the
early days of Fort Benton, Mont., when it was the head of navigation on the
The story was written by Edward Hale
Bierstadt, author of the historical series which Empire Builders used three
years ago. “The Seal of the Great Spirit” is said to be one of the finest of
Mr. Bierstadt’s contributions to radio drama.
A young bride goes to Fort Benton to
join her husband, an army captain stationed there. Tragedy and mystery stalk
her life, until the Old Timer pieces things together by recalling a strange
tale told him by an Indian chief several years before.
The play affords Lucille Husting,
leading lady of the Empire Builders cast, roles with exceptional dramatic
possibilities. Miss Husting plays the young bride, who in the modern scenes is
the aged grandmother, and also takes the part of the mystery woman in the
dramatization of the Indian chieftain’s story. In the supporting cast are Don
Ameche, John Daly, and William Rath, all well-known to Empire Builders
Concluding the three-year series of
dramatic broadcasts, the Empire Builder will depart on its last radio journey,
with the Old Timer aboard, leaving behind only memories of the Old Timer’s
radio tales and the sensational train imitations which have been one of the
outstanding features of this series of programs.
Newspaper clipping showing script writer Edward Hale Bierstadt at work.
I know it’s a case of splitting hairs, but I’ve waffled a little when
it comes to stating the total number of broadcasts in the Empire Builders series. The Great Northern Railway went on the air
over the newly-created NBC coast-to-coast network on the night of Saturday,
January 12, 1929. The occasion was the opening and dedication of the GN’s new
Cascade Tunnel in the state of Washington. Two nights later, on Monday, January
14, 1929, the railroad’s weekly series of 30-minute radio presentations
commenced. So is the total number of broadcasts 103, or 104? I suppose if we
accept the Cascade Tunnel broadcast as akin to the television concept of a
pilot episode, then it might make sense to settle on 104. The opening
announcement of the final broadcast of Empire
Builders seems to support this notion. Here is how Ted Pearson opened the
show the last time Empire Builders
was ever heard over the radio:
the Great Northern Railway concludes its three-year series of radio playlets.
During these three years, and beginning with the dedication of the Great
Northern Railway’s great 8-mile tunnel under the Cascade Mountains, Empire
Builders has taken you from the sun-bathed shores of golden California to the
arctic regions; from the Orient to the storied plains and mountains of the old
west. And now tonight, its magic plane of the air takes you on its farewell
journey. In bidding its radio audience goodbye, the Great Northern Railway
wishes to express its gratitude for the many helpful and friendly comments it
has received on its efforts to present a radio program varied in character and
distinctly different from anything else on the air. It hopes that many of its
radio friends who have taken these weekly journeys on the Empire Builder of the
air will have the opportunity to take a trip someday on the real Empire
Builder – the Great Northern’s fast and luxurious passenger train between
Chicago and the cities of the Pacific Northwest.
Painting by Robert E. Sticker of the Far West paddlewheel steamer tied up at Fort Benton.
The final dramatic
presentation of Empire Builders was
set in Fort Benton in old Montana. The opening scene of the radio play
dramatized daily life at the fort in 1871. A steamboat had just made its way to
the fort up the Missouri River. The dialogue began between a man named Tim Hardy
and his friend, Pete. Hardy was revealed to be something of a hustler, and
eventually, worse. The first thing he did upon the arrival of the steamboat was
to set up a shell game on a small table.
to set up your board?
I might as well. Here goes!(CALLS
OUT)Now, folks, here’s your chance to
make some easy money! Three walnut shells – that’s all there are – just three –
and one little dried pea!Now, ladies
and gentlemen – which shell is the little pea under! Your money against mine!
I could guess! – Put away your money, Jake! - It’s a skin game – No, it ain’t.
Let’s try it once!
on, folks! Here’s my money in plain sight! Here are the shells, and here’s the
little pea! No deception! Examine ‘em if you want to. One – two – three –
presto! Now! Which shell is the little pea under?
Pete aided his pal by
boldly betting five dollars on the game. Naturally, Pete was a winner. Hardy
made a big deal about it to the gathering crowd, shouting out “your skill – my
money!” The implication was no doubt meant to suggest Hardy’s money was ready
for the taking, but the “my money” reference was really more of a prediction of
subsequent results. The first victim to step up was a Native American man named
Yellow Bear. He eagerly declared that he knew which shell the pea was under,
and he put down a two dollar bet – all the money he had. Hardy rolled over the
shell and, sure enough, there was no pea. As the crowd laughed and jeered,
Captain Jack Stanley of the 7th Infantry walked up. He put a quick
end to Hardy’s operation.
STANLEY:(APPROACHING)There’s enough of that, Hardy! You close up
that board of yours and get out of here! Don’t you take the money from that
HARDY:Captain Stanley, I won that money fair
and square. The hand is quicker than the eye!
STANLEY:Yes, and if you don’t vamoose in a hurry
you’ll find that my hand with a gun is quicker than yours with those walnut
shells! Come, sir! Colonel Gibbon has warned you before. Close that board and
HARDY:All right, Cap’n. What you say goes.
I’ll get out, but you – look out! … Come on, Pete.
Stanley was not
easily intimidated, but he knew Hardy was someone to keep an eye on. The
Captain and his wife, Lucy, talked briefly about how they had come out to Fort
Benton, and Stanley commented off-handedly that Benton was not considered a
military fort. Just then, Yellow Bear approached and said he wanted to speak
with Captain Stanley.
go to getting into any more shell games! I may not be here to help you the next
friend – to white man. Me friend – to you.
you are, Yellow Bear, and I’m glad of it.
man – try take Yellow Bear money . . .
Hardy, the gambler. He’s bad medicine, Yellow Bear.
thief. You hear, Cap’n! He, Hardy, sell guns to Indian.
(THIS BECOMES SOTTO AND CONFIDENTIAL)
Stanley rejoined his
wife, and Lucy wanted to know what that conversation had been about. The
captain explained that Yellow Bear told him Tim Hardy had been stealing rifles
from the soldiers and was selling them to the Indians. Since Fort Benton was
not a military post, Stanley explained, it was not possible to just run Hardy
off. And besides, he pointed out, the harm was already done. Yellow Bear
reported to Stanley that there was an uprising on the horizon. Lucy told her
husband he ought to go talk it over with Colonel Gibbon after supper.
With the sounds of a
military band providing a segue into an orchestra’s playing of a modern theme,
radio listeners next heard a present-day conversation between an elderly Lucy
Stanley, her granddaughter Alice, and the Old Timer.
was nearly sixty years ago, Old Timer, and now – I’m an old, old woman. I was
twenty then – the summer Jack and I came out here – just my granddaughter’s
age. Or are you only nineteen, dear?
grandmother. Twenty my last birthday. Don’t you think I look grown up, Old
Alice, you look too sweet to have any age! And so you’ve lived here in Fort
Benton ever since, Mrs. Stanley?
since. But – that’s another story. I’ve seen the Fort grow from what it was in
those days to the pretty place it is today – quiet and restful. You’ve looked
over the old fort itself, haven’t you?
I didn’t miss that! I don’t know whether you folks realize it or not, but this
year is the one hundredth anniversary of the foundin’ of Fort Benton here.
Are you sure?
I am sure. Yes, Fort Benton was founded by the American Fur Company in 1831 –
or was it the Hudson’s Bay Company? Drat my hide if I remember!
Never at a loss to invoke the name of the sponsor, or he who held the
title of Empire Builder, author Edward Hale Bierstadt had elderly Lucy Stanley
comment on how she had been at Fort Benton for more than half of its existence,
and therefore had witnessed much. The Old Timer remarked that she must have
seen the arrival of the Great Northern Railway when it pushed its rails
through. She confirmed that fact, and added that she had actually met Jim Hill.
She said there wasn’t much to it, only that Hill had heard about her husband
and wanted to meet her. The Old Timer asked her to explain. The radio story
then rolled back again to 1871, as Lucy told her tragic tale.
After the episode with Tim Hardy, the shell game trickster and gun
smuggler, the Stanley’s were in their home and chatting after supper. Lucy
asked her husband when he thought trouble might arise. He warned her that
trouble was probably imminent – it could come at any hour, at any moment. And
so it was.
(A BUGLE OFF BLOWS
ASSEMBLY.A VOICE OFF SHOUTS “FALL IN”.
A CONFUSION OF MEN IS HEARD. KEEP THIS ALL OFF)
STANLEY:Lucy! That’s Assembly they’re sounding!
STANLEY:The word must have come that the Indians
are on the warpath, and we’re going out after them! Where are my side-arms?
I’ve got to go!
In the excited
confusion that followed, Captain Stanley quickly prepped himself for battle,
bade his wife farewell, and then repeatedly (and unsuccessfully) tried to
explain to her where he had hidden a box containing vital papers, including his
will and the title-deed to their house. This grave discussion had poor Lucy
more anxious than ever. In his haste to report to duty, Captain Stanley ultimately
missed the opportunity to tell his wife where to find this vitally important
The next scene in the
radio play consisted almost entirely of sound effects. The audience was
transported to a battle scene, with a lot of chaotic yelling and firing of
guns, war whoops and cries of massacre. The cacophony faded to distant tom toms
and Indian victory cries. Soft music then segued to Lucy, in her home, singing
and playing her guitar. She stopped abruptly. Mandy, her house maid, came into
the room. Mandy’s husband was apparently off with the soldiers too. The two
women both fretted over their men, Lucy commenting that it had been three days
since they set out, and yet there was still no word of them.
Contemporary view of rail siding at Gibbon, Washington - one of a handful of geographic places named after Colonel Gibbon. Note the metaphorical end of track just beyond the sign.
There was a knock at
the door. It was Colonel Gibbon. The news was not good. The entire command was
wiped out. Not one man from the fort was found alive. Worse, Captain Stanley’s
body was not located. Lucy Stanley chose to cling to this chilling news with a
(SOFT MUSIC CUTS
IN DROWNING THE SOBBING AND BRINGING THE SCENE BACK TO THE PIONEER WITH MRS.
PIONEER:I – I’m
sorry, Mrs. Stanley. I shouldn’t have let you tell me that.
was all a long time ago – and I’m an old woman now.
never – found him?
never found him. No one knows. No one will ever know. All these years I’ve
lived here at Fort Benton – for sixty years – and now they’re going to take
away my home – this house that Jack and I bought together.
The Old Timer was
confused. He asked for an explanation as to why the house was in jeopardy.
Alice piped in. She explained that the night her grandfather left for battle,
he tried to share with his wife his hiding place for the deed to the house, but
“she wouldn’t listen.” The papers were never found, even after six decades of
searching the little house. “And now,” explained Alice, “there’s a man – who
disputes our title.” The man was a grandson of the same Tim Hardy who sold
rifles to the Indians. The Old Timer asked what became of Hardy.
hanged him! And now – because that grandson of his wanted to marry little Alice
here, and she refused him – he’ll try to take our home. Well, I – I didn’t mean
to make such a fuss. You must forgive me. I think I’ll go upstairs and rest
awhile before supper. Ah well, it was a long time ago …….. Alice, child, is the
kitchen fire lighted?
Mrs. Stanley left to
take a nap, and the Old Timer continued his conversation with Alice. The young
woman told the Old Timer that her grandmother hadn’t shared the whole story
with him. When the Old Timer suggested it was too painful for her, Alice
explained it wasn’t that – she just didn’t know the rest of the story herself.
This, too, the Old Timer found perplexing, until Alice began to clear things
heard about it from my father and he was told by the people who took care of
him until he was two years old.
you mean – took care of him?
see, it was this way. My father was born about six weeks after the troops that
were sent from the Fort here were wiped out. And then – after he was born –
granny put him out to nurse and – then she disappeared.
disappeared! That's amazing! For how long? Where did she go?
one ever knew where she went. After two years she came back and took up her
life again. That was all. She never seemed to know that she’d been away. Daddy
always thought that – she was looking for grandfather.
for your grandfather – Captain Stanley – whose body was never found …. I wonder
– now I wonder. . .
do you mean, Old Timer?
Yes, indeed, Old
Timer! Pray tell, what on earth do you mean?? Well… it’s like this, said the
Old Timer. He described to Alice how he was camping many years earlier with his
friend Fighting Elk, a Blackfeet chief, out at Glacier National Park. Just
before the orchestra came in again with transitional music (“WITH INDIAN
THEME”), the Old Timer said to Alice, “I’m going to tell it to you the same way
that Fighting Elk told it to me one night as we sat by the camp fire.”
[Curiously, the continuity and the recording of the actual broadcast both have
“Fighting Elk” as the Indian’s name, but then both sources switch to “Running
Elk” for the remainder of the dramatization.]
Running Elk (or
“Fighting Elk” – whatever) told the Old Timer that the Indians believed that “those
upon whose foreheads has been set the seal of heaven – you call them mad, my
brother – are often closer to the gods than those whom men call wise.” The Old
Timer offered up that he had heard the Indians believed those whose minds had
left them were sacred. Running Elk agreed, and added that, sometimes, “it has
come to pass that those who have been touched by the Great Spirit find in their
questing more than would the sane.” Running Elk underscored the veracity of his
assertions by sharing with the Old Timer a story his father had told him.
father has told me of one who came seeking, and who found that which she
sought. It was two moons ago after the battle between my people and yours near
the place called Fort Benton, that there came among the tribes a woman – a
white woman, oh my brother.
it was so. Not only was she white, but she was robed in white also. The Great
Spirit had set his seal upon her, and her mind was with him. For many moons
this woman wandered among the tribes, seeking, always seeking, and at last
there came a day when near the great shining mountains she came upon a lodge at
the door of which a drum was beating.
A fresh supply of transitional music was summoned up, which faded into
the slow beat of a drum. An Indian asked the woman what she sought, and Lucy
Stanley replied, in a trance-like state, “I seek him who was lost.”
The Indian asked her where she had looked, and she told him she had
looked “among the graves, on the field of battle – on the plains and between
the mountains; among all those who were unfriendly I have sought.” She claimed
to have been on her quest for the better part of two years. And now the search
quest has ended. I am an ensign of the magic clan, my sister. I drew your
footsteps hither. He whom you sought is here.
……… You stand beside his grave. He who was wounded – died – was buried – here;
a prisoner of my people. The Holder of the Heavens keeps his spirit.
that he be in peace – my quest is ended.
to your own people, my white sister. Behold – I lay my hand upon your forehead.
Within one moon your spirit shall return. Now go – in peace.
The audio recording of the broadcast appears to skip one last
interchange between Running Elk (or Fighting Elk – I swear, it changed again
here). So, from the continuity of the program, here is that brief exchange:
it was with that woman of your people, oh my brother, on whom the very heavens
had set their seal. The Hold of the Heavens took her mind, and in its place –
he gave her magic to guide her in her quest.
PIONEER:(PAUSE)That’s a might strange story, Fighting Elk.
….. I’d like to know the beginning of that – and the end.
At this, both the continuity and the audio recording advanced again to
the present day (1931), and the discussion between the Old Timer and Alice. The
Old Timer told Alice he was convinced the woman in white who wandered among the
Indians was none other than her grandmother, Lucy Stanley.
Just then, Lucy came in from her nap, and urgently called out to Alice.
She smelled smoke! “Have you been watching the kitchen fire?” she asked Alice.
The trio hurried into the kitchen, where they did indeed find there was a
chimney fire burning. The fire brigade was urgently summoned.
The gallant and dependable firefighters of Fort Benton charged to the
scene of the Stanley home, and quickly put out the chimney fire. One of the
firemen assured Mrs. Stanley that the house was spared, but the chimney had to
be sacrificed to smother the fire. But there was more …
we pulled the base of the chimney out, this brass box fell out.
must have hid it behind the bricks in the chimney.
guess – somebody did.
granny, what is it? What the matter? You’re crying!
you go to take on, Mrs. Stanley!
you understand?! It’s the box – the box we’ve looked for all these years. So
that was where Jack hid it – behind the bricks in the chimney. Oh, he tried –
so hard – to tell me.
Alice happily declared “we won’t lose the house – after all!”
To which the Old Timer chuckled and replied: “Only the chimney, I
reckon, Miss Lucy! Well, folks, we’ve tied up a lot of loose ends tonight, out
here in Fort Benton where it used to be – The End of the Track.”
Until I finally had the unexpected opportunity to listen to the audio
from this June 22, 1931, radio broadcast, I really didn’t know whether the
Great Northern Railway and the folks at NBC simply allowed the show to end on
some horribly anti-climactic, sterile note. I should not have had such a fear.
If the bulk of the 103 or so dramatic presentations could be so sentimental in
their telling, that should have been enough to assure me that the closing of
the final broadcast would similarly have its own dose of sentimentality. Rather
than simply offer my transcription of that audio, I think you should listen to
it for yourself.
The only audio I have of this broadcast originated with an off-the-air sound check recording on the night of the show, captured on aluminum discs. These discs languished for decades in some back storeroom of the Great Northern Railway corporate offices. They surfaced sometime in the 1980s, and were dubbed onto reel-to-reel tapes (used tapes, as I understand, which were erased after one or more prior uses). Those tapes, in turn, languished as well for a few more decades, and some of the audio migrated through the tape as it sat, somewhat unstably, on those wound tapes. Ergo, the sound quality of this clip is only fair at its best, and really poor at worst. Still, it's all we have, and all we may ever have. And that audio is still a real treasure.
The first several seconds are silent…
And so we’ve come to the “End of the Track.” Or have we? Remember, the
Old Timer’s all-expense, 10-day escorted tour of Glacier National Park begins
on July 1st! And yes, I have a bit more to report.
So until next time, thanks for keeping those dials tuned to Empire Builders!