According to the Wikipedia:
The term drumhead refers to a type of removable sign that was prevalent on North American railroads of the first half of the 20th century. The sign was mounted at the rear of passenger trains, and consisted of a box with internal illumination that shone through a tinted panel bearing the logo of the railroad or specific train. Since the box and the sign were usually circular in shape and resembled small drums, they came to be known as drumheads.
Drumheads were mainly associated with the steam railroads, and were often used on some of the “named” intercity routes. There is an excellent illuminated drumhead display at the National Railroad Museum in Green Bay, Wisconsin. You will find examples from this collection at the end of this post (photos taken by the author).
For many years, a CERA drumhead was used on many of our fantrips. Although not illuminated, the drumhead was often hung on the front of the car, not the back, as in the case of the steam railroads.
The CERA drumhead on a North Shore Line fantrip. (Author’s collection)
That got me to wondering whatever became of our drumhead, and I got the following response from John Marton:
J.M. Michaels was CERA’s first corporate sponsor. He was also Passenger Traffic Manager of the Chicago North Shore & Milwaukee Railroad.
The drum head was a gift to CERA from him to be used on fan trips, as well on the rear of Car 300, which he also provided for club use.
The drum head was made in the Highwood Illinois Shops under his direction and it bears chalk markings as to its origin and is dated 1939. While it was not in evidence for the first four fan trips, it was in existence by June 25, 1939 and it, or one similar to it, was displayed on Car 35 of the CSS&SB RR on Trip Number Nine.
Sometime in the mid-60’s, the drum head was damaged on a fan trip and retired. A director’s statement said it was “scrapped,” but it was stored instead and remains in the possession of longtime CERA member John Marton, where it remains today.
It’s good to know that the drumhead survives, even if somewhat worse for wear. It has outlasted many of the railroads it was used on, which are now “fallen flags.” We will display it at our 75th anniversary banquet in September.
Gary Railways car 19 at Indiana Harbor on an early CERA fantrip (March 19, 1939). Regular service here had ended the day before. Notice no CERA drumhead, however. (C. Edw. Hedstrom photo, Author’s collection)
Car #479 on Schreiber near Clark, CERA fantrip, May 16, 1954 (CTA Historical Collection)
CNS&M 150 at the head of a CERA fantrip on the Libertyville-Mundelein branch in late 1962. The drumhead still appears to be in good shape. (Author’s collection)
CRT/CTA 5004, shown here in 63rd St. Lower Yard, on a 1963 CERA fantrip (Author’s collection)
A newish 2000-series CTA “L” car leads the way on a mid-1960s fantrip. (Author’s collection)
NRHS drumhead at the rear of a 1955 Illinois Terminal fantrip. (Author’s collection)
Those aren’t drumheads on these 1950s Johnston PA streetcars, just advertising. “Pepsi-Cola hits the spot / Twelve full ounces, that’s a lot / Twice as much for a nickel, too / Pepsi-Cola is the drink for you” (Author’s collection)
The CERA drumhead today. (Photo by John Marton)