This Railroad ‘Junker’ Can’t Even Count Everything in His Collection
by Melinda Long | December 21, 2015
“I collect railroad junk. I study railroad junk and then write magazine articles about railroad junk,” says Raymond Brown, with a loving use of the term junk. “I’m a junker.”
Even as a kid, Raymond — or “Bo” to friends and family — seemed to have an affinity for the sort of things no one else would take the time to sort through.
Young Raymond and a friend pulled their wagon door to door, asking neighbors for trash. With their findings, they started their own landfill at the end of the street. Back then, Raymond aspired to become a garbage truck operator one day.
“Needless to say, when our mothers found out, it was not a good career move,” he admits.
During his childhood, Raymond would spend summers with his grandfather Brown, who had previously worked for the railroad. At the age of 12, he spent one of those summer afternoons helping his grandfather clean up.
As they sorted through things in the garage, his grandfather handed him a lantern, a long-neck steam engine oiler, and a silver thermos to keep for himself — all relics from the Southern Railroad.
Raymond was hooked.
Since then, Raymond has given his life to amassing an extensive collection of items from the Southern Railroad and other former railroad lines, too, some of which are the only ones of their kind still in existence.
Boarding stools. Dining car tables and chairs. Conductor hats. Silverware. Bells. Whistles. Headlamps. Station signage. Event posters. Uniform buttons. Lanterns.
He and his wife Brynda have collected them all “one piece at a time.”
Among the most interesting of his treasures is a five-piece dining car teapot set. He has also acquired a sampling of every silverware pattern from the Southern Railroad from 1897 until the line ceased passenger service in 1978.
Bells and whistles from the railroad are also a special part of his collection. The railroad often gave them to towns along its route, with the label “Gift of Southern Railroad.”
Just how many items does he have in his collection? No one knows. Not even him.
“It’s endless,” Raymond claims, smiling.
He owns more than 1,000 pieces of flatware alone.
Yet despite his love for “old and rusty,” Raymond never became a professional garbage collector. Instead, most folks in Travelers Rest, S.C., know him best as the funeral director at Howze Mortuary on State Park Road.
During a college break, Raymond started working part time at Howze Mortuary, because he thought it might be interesting. Raymond liked it so much that he eventually changed his major and went into funeral services.
Other than his time spent at Gupton-Jones College of Funeral Service in Atlanta, Raymond never worked at any other mortuary besides Howze. When owner Townes Howze died, he left instructions with his wife to offer the mortuary to Raymond. By then, Raymond considered Travelers Rest to be home. He accepted the offer and bought the mortuary in 2009.
“I love this town and the people,” he says fondly. “My personal reward of funeral service is knowing that in a family’s darkest hour, they have our mortuary to take care of the most precious thing they have on this earth: their loved one.”
In their spare time, Raymond and Brynda continue adding to their vast train memorabilia collection, which occupies space in almost every room of the house; the collection even extends out into the yard, the patio, and the garage.
They also participate in the Travelers Rest Historical Society. In fact, Raymond served on the committee formed to organize the opening of the History Museum of Travelers Rest just a few years ago.
He plans to give his collection — no doubt one of the largest and most complete of its kind — to Travelers Rest historians one day.
That is, if they can find a space big enough for it.
“Without museums of all kinds preserving items from the past, the future will not have knowledge of how the past actually was,” says Raymond. “I’m just a keeper of the past that will hand it down to another keeper when my time here is done and I’m using my own services.”
Writers: Melinda Long and Celeste Hawkins
Editor: Celeste Hawkins
Photographer: Celeste Hawkins