Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Primary sources aren't always right

For background in a fiction story I was thinking about, I was reading some primary source material. In particular, I was reading scans of century old issues of Street Railway Journal, Street Railway Review, and their successors.  (Thank you, Google, for funding the scanning effort for many and making them available.  And to Internet Archive for the rest of them.  Now if only online copies of Transit Journal News was also to be found so easily.)  Anyhow, back to the point at hand.  The material is sometimes just plain wrong.  It may be a primary source, but it isn't always correct.

From Street Railway Journal Volume XXVIII, Number 26, page 1199:
INDIANAPOLIS, IND.—An Eastern syndicate has had representatives
in this city during the past week examining the Indianapolis, New Castle & Toledo Company's line, now building, and the Indianapolis, Crawfordsville & Western Company's line, almost completed, with the view of purchasing the said roads. These lines radiate from Indianapolis--one to the east, the other to the west—and stretch across the entire State, making convenient connection with Ohio and Illinois traction lines.
The western line mentioned, Indianapolis, Crawfordsville & Western, never did actually complete its line to Illinois. It wasn't even being actively constructed as far as I can tell.  There was no connection to the Illinois traction lines there.  Any modern reader with a little knowledge of the history of the electric interurban railways (the so-called "traction lines") knows that there was a gap there.  Prior and subsequent issues of Street Railway Journal itself mention various proposals and stalled plans for such a connection.

So, remember, just because it is primary source, doesn't mean it is correct.  Even with the best of intentions, mistakes happen.  Sometimes the facts as conveyed to the writer are wrong, or are misunderstood.  Sometimes those writing have an ulterior motive, or those supplying them with information do.  The old Russian proverb quoted so often by the late President Ronald Reagan, "trust, but verify," should be remembered.

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