Last night as I played a few songs by Phoebe Snow who passed away this week, I also included Bruce “Utah” Phillips singing his song about the train called Phoebe Snow. After I mentioned that I didn’t know whether it was the train that led Phoebe Laub from Teaneck, NJ to choose Snow for her performing name, I received the following interesting information from two listeners who, as it happens and I imagine unbeknownst to them, both worked at the NJ Department of Environmental Protection, though not at the same time:
Tom O’Neill writes: Phoebe Snow was a railroad poster girl. She was blonde and pretty and always dressed in white – and created to advertise that the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad used hard anthracite coal that emitted less ash and grit than the soft coal used by other lines. Phoebe could board the train in her white dress and white picture hat confident in the knowledge that she would step down from her Pullman car as fresh and clean as when she had boarded.
And from Rich Delgado: Phoebe Snow was a fictional New York socialite traveler invented to promote travel on the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railway (the Lackawanna). Trains at the beginning of the 20th Century were normally pulled by steam locomotives burning wood, lignite, or bituminous coal and often produced large amounts of soot and cinders which would enter any open windows and cover passenger’s clothing. The Lackawanna (as well as a few other New Jersey-Pennsylvania railroads) had vast anthracite mines and was trying to promote the use of anthracite fuel. The Lackawanna used anthracite as fuel for most of its locomotives and wanted to promote both use of anthracite and travel on the Lackawanna. Anthracite tends to have higher heat values per ton than the other fuels and to produce less soot and cinders than the other fuels.
The reduced soot and cinder production of anthracite was considered militarily important and the government purchased anthracite for fuel to keep Pennsylvania anthracite mines in operation. This was discontinued around 1980 and until recently anthracite mining suffered a steep decline. Use in steel production has led to a recent resurgence in Pennsylvania anthracite mining.
A well known Lackawanna ad featured an image of Phoebe and a poem:
Says Phoebe Snow
about to go
upon a trip to Buffalo
“My gown stays white
from morn till night
Upon the Road of Anthracite”
And another listener named “buffer” sent an IM noting that Phoebe as a young girl had seen the Phoebe Snow ad on the side of trains going by near her house.
Thanks to all.