National Archives & Records Administration
ICC Records of the Bureau of Valuation
The National Archives and Records Administration II at College Park, MD has the records of the Interstate Commerce Commission. (Record Group 134 1887-1991)
This includes the records of the ICC Valuation of U.S. common carrier railroads completed between ~1915 and 1920. For modeling and researching right of way history, these records are invaluable. Although the NARA staff will answer some questions via email, in most cases you will need to visit the archives in person or hire someone to do research for you. The NARA website includes an introduction to research and services. The R&LHS has organized NARA Archivist David Pfeiffer's Guide to Records Relating to North American Railroads for viewing on the web. Using the advanced search of the online catalog, you can limit your search to Record Group 134.
What follows are tips based on my 3 day visit in the Spring of 2015.
On your first visit to the Archives, you will need to view a short introduction and apply for a researcher ID card. Arrive early the first day to do this. You can bring a laptop, camera and an approved scanner. No bags, backpacks or paper (except if stamped) can be brought into the reseach area. There are lockers in the basement (requires a quarter, returned when you are finished) for anything you cannot bring into the research areas.
You can request items at specific pull times. The carts the items are placed on can be held for multple days while you are doing your research. On your first day, you will not be able to start research until your first set has been pulled, usually within an hour of your pull request. Thus, planning a mulitple day research trip allows you to start work on the second day as soon as NARA opens.
After approval, you can make copies using a scanner or camera, but you cannot place anything on top of the artifact - prohibiting the scanning of books or single sheets larger than your scanner glass.
Maps are found in the Cartographic Division on the second floor. You will find valuation maps that were drawn with track, property and railroad structure details at a scale of between 100' and 400' to the inch. Elevation profiles of the right of way were also drawn at the time, but are not usually stored with the maps. You will need to know the railroad name, valuation section, State, map sheet numbers and the NARA bundle # to create a pull request. The revised maps are in separate bundles from the original maps. Each bundle has multiple large folders holding the 24" x 56" flattened maps. There may be aproximately 50 maps in a folder, possibly spanning multiple sections or even railroads. Occaisionally you will find related non valuation maps in the folder. Folders will be brought to you on a cart holding 10 folders, but you can only move one folder at a time to your table for viewing.
The cartography department has a large format scanner. Map scans can be purchased for $3.50@ (as of April 2015) with a limit of 10 per day. Be sure to confirm they have been copied correctly to your flash drive or hard drive immediately, as the files will be deleted from the scanner storage area. If a map scans crooked or slips and distort some of the content, you can request a rescan. Scanned filename serial numbers are reused throughout the day. Always move them to new folder so the next scan request does not ovewrite the older files. A camera can be used to take photos of sections of the maps. Handheld photography is quick and readable, provided you hold the camera steady. View example from B&O.v96.1.PA-24 St. Petersburg. There is a display board you can place a map on for easier photography with a tripod. Some maps are encased in plastic, making them difficult to photograph without reflections, although scans turn out well.
Information on using a spreadsheet finding aid and index maps to create pull slips is detailed on the Val Maps Finding Aids page.
Textual Records are located on the 3rd floor. Engineering Notes from the initial valuation, sometimes with structure photos and some diagrams are available. There are a number of note types, the building notes usually contain photos. View a sample from P&LE v6 Building Notes: 9MB or 24MB shot using the reservable copystand and a Canon ELPH340HS camera.
The notes are in post binders and are stored in archival boxes, with a couple of binders per box. Only one binder can be removed from the box at a time. Unless the photo or page is loose, you will only be able take a photo image of it. You are not allowed to place anything on top of the page/photo. Depending on the condition of the notes, it may be possible to get permission to remove the sheets from the post binder.
The railroad lines covered by the engineering notes are based on the ICC valuation section numbering explained on the Val Maps Finding Aids page. A separate page details the Engineering Notes Finding Aids.
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