Go check out the fruits of what I was working on a couple years ago.
Here is the APS’s first fully digitized collection: The Anathan-Jacobs Grand Trunk Pacific Railway Collection. I worked on the processing and did a bit of the digitization, and the letters and photos have now all been added to the repository.
I never got around to putting up a link to the online exhibit, which is silly since Norman Jacobs ate a chunk of my life. He’s the object of my first archival crush. And three people working part time on processing, research, writing, and exhibit design meant things got a little bit drawn out. But it was a fantastic experience and I’m pleased with the result. From my perspective, it was the collaborative aspects of public history at their best, working primarily with Bayard and Tracey to process and write, but also getting the fun of things like conservators geeking out about the variety of paper Norman scrounged for his letters. So please do check out “”Quite a Little Way from Civilization”: The Anathan-Jacobs Grand Trunk Pacific Railway Collection.”
Sadly, I also didn’t think to take pictures of the physical exhibit we did for the the lobby, though the “Shaping North America: Politics & Exploration” page functions as an archive. (In the sense of this representation of Case IV being a consciously-selected sampling: in addition to our text, the lobby exhibit incorporated a map, two photobooks, five letters, and a dozen photographs, versus the three images and the letter excerpts we used online.)
During the summer, Grand Trunk Pacific surveyors rubbed bacon rind on their faces, necks, and hands to keep the bugs off. But that wasn’t their only culinary defense:
They [insects] also have a great aversion to acids thus giving the humble pickle a very high position in our scheme of things. A string of ordinary pickles hung across the bed makes sleep possible & as for the 57 varieties no self respecting skeeter will go within a mile of one…Not being quite satisfied however with the effect of an unbroken line of cucumber I hung my bed with a “sweetly pretty chain” having a small onion after every third cucumber. The result was charming. I heartily commend this scheme of decoration to society hostesses in search of some relief from the sameness of roses & ferns.
Writing 27 May 1906, Norman Jacobs chronicled his acclimation to Canadian wildlife:
The wolves are an awful nuisance at night & even in the daytime we see them though they keep their distance. Strange to say the coyote the coward & most harmless of the wolf family makes the most unearthly noise. The sensation of waking at 2 in the morning to hear a score or more howling round you must be felt to be appreciated. I think the first week I put my head under the blanket & promised to be good the second week I turned out with a rifle & the third week disdaining to waste ammunition I drove them off with a tin pail & a hair brush.
Norman Jacobs, in the field surveying for the Grand Trunk Pacific circa 1906:
Personally, I hate darning. First you loose the needle & then you sit on it & find it & by that time the dog has the sock. You sew the sock onto your finger & prick yourself & swear & wish you were a girl but even darning must come to an end…
The 1905 impressions of Norman Jacobs, most recently of Pittsburgh:
This city is a revelation to me!…Every thing seems to breathe of that largness & Breadth which is the spirit of the West. Everything takes up as much room as it can….Men on shaggy horses or behind half broken teams electric cars automobiles mounted men & vehicles of all kinds careen wildly up & down & some times they warn you & most often they don’t but everything is drunk with the joy of life.
En route to Winnipeg—and the hope of a position with the railroad—in 1905, Norman Jacobs ruminated on the drive to explore:
Methinks the East India Company, The Hudsons Bay Co & the South African Co were some thing more than mere gigantic mercantile enterprises. A nation’s mission. Greater by far [the?] the mere preaching to the world of dreamy religious theories send out your sons Mother England. Send them out willingly & with rejoicings to death by sea & plains jungles & swamps! Go forth & colonize. Assuredly Allah is Allah & it is good to be an Englishman.
Norman Jacobs’s assessment of his skills and an explanation for his desire to specialize in exploration work, in a 14 November 1908 letter. At that point he had already been doing survey work for the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway for a couple of years; his proposal to the letter’s recipient was still a couple years in the future.
Starting last fall, a few of us worked on processing the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway collection. More will be available digitally in the near future, but in the meantime I wanted to share some quotes. Norman Jacobs is an entertaining writer; it’s fun to be on a first name basis with him.