Wednesday, March 21, 2018


Obscurity of the Day: Open Throttle and Heavy Grade

We last discussed Beaumont Fairbank here at Stripper's Guide waaaaay back in 2007. At the time, I said that Railroad Red, his 1941 series, was one of only two strips about railroading. At the time I said that there's "...not too many train strips out there. Only other one that comes to mind that's not super-obscure is Spur Line. And it's pretty darn obscure."

So today, let's discuss that super-obscure train strip I had in mind, Open Throttle and Heavy Grade, which was penned by none other than Beaumont Fairbank, close to thirty years before he would do Railroad Red.

Open Throttle and Heavy Grade is more of a picture story than a true comic strip, but it is so picture-heavy that I think it more than qualifies for Stripper's Guide -- if Tarzan qualifies, so does this strip. It ran in the Brooklyn Eagle, which offered a rich vein of oddball and interesting comic strips in the 1910s. Beaumont Fairbank produced a number of those series for them, in addition to other miscellaneous art. He could do humor stuff as well as this more serious illustration style, making him a valuable commodity at the Eagle. 

This strip is typical of the Horatio Alger 'boy meets world, makes good' story that had been popularized in 19th century dime novels, and still had its fans in the first quarter or so of the 20th century: young Jack Cartwright starts out as a newsboy, selling papers on a train. When he finds a wallet full of cash and turns it in rather than pocketing it, he's offered a job with the railroad by the impressed official. (Practically every one of these Alger-esque stories start out with this or a very similar incident). By the end of the story, Jack has become a railroad draftsman, designing rail lines at a salary of $8,000 per year. Fairbank's story is very simplistic, but that's because he was much more interested in drawing lovingly detailed full page pictures of trains than he was of telling this tale.

Open Throttle and Heavy Grade ran in the Sunday tabloid magazine section of the Eagle in twelve installments, from October 4 to December 20 1914. Be with us here on Monday when Alex Jay will tell us more about Fairbank's railroad-centric life.


My grandma had a huge stash of Horatio Alger novels and I read all of them while visiting her as a kid. Even as a youth I noticed that the heroes became wealthy less by "Pluck" than by "Luck." Our protagonist is having a bad time when he bumps into some kindly rich guy who opens all the doors for him. Not quite giving him a million bucks and saying, "Go make something of yourself," but similar.
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