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The recordings you are about to listen to are very unique and equally rare. Beginning in 1948 and continuing into the early 1970s, a close friend of mine captured a piece of American history that neither he nor the rest of the world thought would ever disappear; the common presence of the railroad in American society.

Beginning in the late 20s, John M. Prophet had traversed the highways and byways of the country capturing steam locomotives and other railroad paraphernalia in action with his camera. He soon turned to using a 16mm movie camera to continue gathering footage for his love of trains which included a thorough documentation of the Pennsylvania Railroad.

In 1948, Prophet began what was considered to be his finest work but one that would remain hidden for many years; sound recordings of steam trains in Buffalo and Western New York. Prophet purchased a "portable" Webster-Chicago wire recorder and set out to capture what he thought was something would never go away. He wasn't making these recordings for prosperity. He was making them for his own enjoyment. Little did he know that in just a few short years, steam locomotives would be replaced by diesels and the railroads in Western New York as a whole would soon start to disappear themselves.

Before you listen, it is important to realize how difficult it was to capture these sounds. The wire recorder was a cutting-edge technology during this period of time yet it was very fragile. The recording medium was a microscopic steel thread that was pr one to constant jamming and snapping in the recorder. One false move and 1000 feet of this thread would fly off the take-up reel of the machine and get into a tangle closely resembling a bird's nest. The result of this common occurrence would be a complete loss of the recording because it was impossible to untangle the mess. Prophet lost several of his prime recordings by accidents such as these. Believe it or not, if the wire should snap, a "splice" was achieved by simply tying the wire in a knot.

Prophet tried very hard to make all of his recordings where there was some source of power for the recorder. However, some locations were very remote thus creating a need for an alternative power source. Prophet purchased a power "converter" in 1951 that took the 6 volts DC from his car battery (they were 6 volts at that time) and switched it to the AC voltage needed to power the recorder.

Prophet chose his sites carefully in that he always tried to find a place to "plug in". Using the converter was not at all in his best interest because the recorder itself weighed almost 60 pounds and the converter weighed in at close to 100 pounds. That, along with the heavy cable needed to connect the two units, made remote recordings an arduous task. The converter also introduced another problem that gave Prophet many headaches; any recording made with it introduced 60 cycle hum.

Due to the limits in the technology of the time when these recordings were made, they may contain hissing, audio dropouts, excessive wind noise as well as the 60 cycle hum. Please do not let these abnormalities interfere with you enjoying these bits of captured history.

Since many of the recordings were made in a particular location throughout the course of a day, several individual recordings have been edited together to create one continuous sequence. Also, due to the primitive microphone used for the recordings, it was necessary to boost the "natural sound" that existed in the area in which the recordings were made by adding overdubs. However, these overdubs do not obstruct the recordings as they were intended to be heard.

Finally, all of the recordings contained on this site are the property of John M. Prophet and Aaron T. Heverin and may not be copied or sold under and circumstances. Violation of this statement is an infringement of copyright laws. All of Mr. Prophet's recordings are used here with his kind permission.

Because of his dedication and perseverance, AND because he is such a good friend -- this site is dedicated to John M. Prophet. You have taught me well.



The Recordings

The Buffalo History Works

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