A Locomotive Mystery: The Clues are in the Hats

A Locomotive Mystery: The Clues are in the Hats

In this multi-part blog post, Photo Detective Maureen A. Taylor is tackling a yard long picture that someone showed her at RootsTech. We're back with Part II!

photo detective maureen taylor identification mystery

Last week I wrote about the photographer that took a stunning picture of a crowd surrounding a locomotive. This week the focus is on the clothing.

photo detective maureen taylor identification mystery

The hats are the key. Starting in circa 1924, women began wearing brimless cloche style hats that hugged the head. In 1924, The Sears Roebuck And Co. catalog called them “Bob” hats especially “for women with bobbed hair or those that wanted a smaller head-sizes.” A few of the women are still in hats with narrow brims so that only the most stylish young women have the new style.

The men are in standard attire for the period—jackets, ties, vests, and hats. A few of them wear work shirts rather than vests and ties. Look closely and you’ll see a few bowties as well. Boys wear typical headgear for the time frame—caps.

It’s important when looking at large crowds to consider what all aged individuals. Young women generally dressed in the latest fashion. By the 1920s, there were distinct styles for children. There were a wide variety of clothing styles in every decade so when studying costume, look for the sometimes-minor variations that occurred year to year.

A good source for twentieth century fashion is the Historic Catalogs of the Sears, Roebuck and Co. on Ancestry.com.

Part I of this blog series can be viewed here. Join us next week for the Part III.

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  1. The biggest clue of all is the locomotive itself. A quick check on the web for Texas and Pacific Railroad number 600 shows the locomotive as the first in a new class of “10 wheelers” first delivered to Texas and Pacific Railroad, number 600 being the first in the series of 70 eventually built. The first 10 locomotives were built in 1925, dating this photo to that year. Texas and Pacific was given the honor of naming the new class, and subsequently called them “Texas class”. Lima Locomotive Works in Lima, Ohio built the locomotives between 1925 and 1929, and with their historical society in existence, should be able to give additional information regarding when the locomotive was delivered. The fact that the locomotive is still shiny black tells me that it has not been placed in mainline service yet, although the boiler is flat black from being heated, so it probably got to the railroad under its own steam.

    I find that in many instances, the object being photographed gives more specific clues than the people in the photo. Every situation is different though, so all the clues together should give someone a good idea as to at least the decade that someone was photographed.

    • Hi David,

      Thank you for sharing your findings! Maureen’s post that goes live at 8am EST on Monday is all about the locomotive itself, we hope you’ll come back and check it out.