RollSign Through the Years

By Daniel T. Lenihan, Long-time RollSign Director

(Originally published in RollSign, March/April 2009 Issue)

RollSign began with a single sheet of mimeographed paper in June 1962. Vol. 1 No. 1 did not have a name or title at that time and William Grimes (the editor) was looking for a good title for this “newspaper.” Bill talked about a new mimeograph machine the Boston Street Railway Association acquired, the need for members to write articles, and an update on Type 5 No. 5706 at the Branford Trolley Museum.

Four early issues of RollSign Magazine.
From left to right: Volume 1, Number 1, June 1962 (“???”); Vol. 1, No. 3, Feb. 1964 (“BSRA Bulletin”); Vol. 1, No. 5, April 1964 (“Rollsign”); and Vol. 1, No. 8 (First issue with a photo).

By the time Vol. 1 No. 3 came along in February 1964, Bill had given the “newspaper” a temporary name, Boston Street Railway Assoc. Bulletin. It was not until Vol. 1 No. 5 in April 1964 did Bill mention himself as Editor.

The first photo that appeared in the magazine was a photographic print that was pasted on the first page. It was a photo of ex-Dallas Railway & Terminal double-ended PCC No. 3344 taken on May 29, 1964 by Edward A. Anderson.

In November 1965, Dan Lenihan was appointed Editor. He had previously assisted Bill Grimes as Associate Editor until Bill’s pressing work commitment prevented him from keeping a ten-issue per year schedule

From the beginning of the newsletter until November 1965, the price had been 10 cents. With the December 1965 issue the price was increased to 25 cents. At that time as well, Bradley H. Clarke was appointed Associate Editor and Robert Minichiello was appointed Current Events Research Manager.

In March 1966 a new RollSign masthead based on a Type 4 rollsign and trolley hook was designed by Branford Director, Paul Harling. In May 1966 RollSign went to offset printing for better reproduction. And, in November 1966, the BSRA Directors voted to appropriate $250.00 to cover the cost of printing 10 issues of Rollsign. In November 1967 the price of an issue of Rollsign increased from 25 to 30 cents and in April 1970 the price increased again to 50 cents.

From left to right: Volume 3, Number 3, March 1966; Vol. 5, No. 8-9, Aug./Sep. 1968; Vol. 13, No. 1-2, Jan./Feb. 1976; and Vol. 41, No. 1-2, Jan./Feb. 2004 (First color cover).

The June/July 1968 issue of RollSign introduced another change to the masthead (in the image at right is the August/September 1968 front cover with this masthead). We still produced 10 issues per year at that time. In December 1975 the price of RollSign increased to $1.00, in 1982 to $1.50, and 1987 to $2.00, in 1995 to $2.50, and in 2002 to $3.00.

Our annual listing of MBTA vehicles started with the November/December 1971 issue and gradually expanded. The first inventory listed only buses. George Chiasson and Jonathan Belcher have done all the inventories to date. With the November/December 1975 issue, Rollsign went from 10 times a year to bi-monthly.

The first color cover appeared in the January/February 2004 issue and color pages came in July/August 2005. Today, a copy of RollSign typically is produced by compiling and editing news articles and contributions from our readers and others. Photographs to support the resulting articles are processed in Adobe Photoshop and converted to CMYK images for printing. A final draft with photographs is composed and printed using Adobe InDesign, and the files are burned onto a CD and taken to our printer. Here, the photographs and text are merged and converted to plates, and the press runs are made. After a day of drying, the printed sheets are folded, cut, collated, stapled, boxed, and shipped directly to our mailing house.

Typically, an electronic address list with the latest changes is e-mailed to the mailing service. Here, the electronic copy is printed directly on the manila mailing envelopes by ZIP code. Employees stuff the inserts and the RollSign, tie and bundle the mailing, and then take it directly to the local USPS distribution center where the Association has an account.

Overall, production and mailing is fully electronic, with material handling done on a contract basis. This results in an extremely high efficiency operation, leaving more time for our volunteers to produce RollSign to focus their efforts on article writing and creative design.

On Thursday, October 18, 2012, the Association lost Dan Lenihan, Editor and RollSign Director. Dan had continuously produced RollSign since 1964, becoming Editor in November of that year. His tenure began when the RollSign was a mimeographed sheet, mailed by volunteers using an Addressograph machine. He left us today’s magazine of New England transit news, produced using the latest software for text and photo editing, commercially printed, and mailed using a computer-generated list by a mailing service. We at the BSRA miss him greatly.