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Ralph of the Round House (1906*)
Ralph on the Overland Express (1910*)
By Allen Chapman
DESCRIPTION: As any book fan can tell you, it's the endless amount of hardback "juvenilia" titles (now called Young Adult or Chapterbooks) from the 1900s to 1950s that is one of the most fun things for a beginning collector to acquire; since there were so many to begin with, and so many still survive, and were often printed so cheaply, they're extremely affordable still to this day, yet most of them had beautifully detailed covers to attract their target audience of eight- to eighteen-year-olds, and the kind of wonderfully anachronistic titles that look so great when sitting on a shelf in a contemporary living space. Here, for example, are volumes one and four of the now largely forgotten "Ralph of the Railroad" ten-book series, respectively from 1906 and 1910 (full series 1906-1928); yet another franchise from the hugely successful Stratemeyer Syndicate (the publisher that brought us the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Tom Swift, the Bobbsey Twins, and a lot more), they were written by the infamous "Allen Chapman," not a real person at all but a general pseudonym for the interchangeable rotation of anonymous authors they had on staff, churning out these 150-page quickies by the pound as fast as they could.
In classic style for these types of books, the "Ralph" series follows the ever-escalating adventures of our titular hero, who joins the Great Northern Railway line as a child to help make ends meet, after his railroad-obsessed father died under mysterious circumstances while being pushed out of the company he co-founded with the evil millionaire Gasper (SPOILER: Gasper might've had something to do with it!); as the titles continue, we watch Ralph rise through the ranks of the industry through his industriousness and honesty, each volume a step along the way and featuring a daring action adventure that he must make his way through to rise to the next level. As is often the case with these kinds of books, they're still fascinating for modern eyes to read, now more for the sense of bygone technology and lifestyle they detail in a fascinatingly microcosmic way; written by Stratemeyer staffers who obviously had a real and passionate love for railroading, they display a century-plus-old disregard for safety standards and child labor that is breathless to see today, and a remarkably cogent step-by-step overview of the hundreds of details that make a 20th-century railroad be able to get from destination A to B to C. A particularly good series to collect because of its brevity, it's absolutely an attainable goal to eventually acquire all ten volumes of the Ralph saga; and at their ultra-inexpensive price today, this is a great place to start, the kind of wonderfully whimsical and historical-feeling volumes just perfect for a young but serious collector to show off to company.
CONDITION: Text: Good Minus (G-). The reason these books are going so cheaply today is that they are frankly in rough condition, including multiple fabric tears, broken interior cover flaps, and ink writing and embossing impressions on the inside covers. See photos for more. Issued without dust jackets.
PROVENANCE: Acquired by CCLaP on September 2, 2013, at the Oak Park Book Fair.
*And a special note on determining the printing dates of these particular copies. Since it wasn't considered important at the time to keep track of the individual printing dates of juvenilia books, no such information was usually included on the copyright page, making it nearly impossible to determine the exact date any particular copy was actually printed; for example, although this copy of Ralph of the Round House (book #1 of the series) has a stated copyright date of 1906, note that in the box above it listing all the books in the series, they're already all the way up to book #3, which means that this particular copy is likely a reprint from the year volume #3 came out, 1909. This makes even more sense when looking at the other book, Ralph on the Overland Express, book #4 of the series, and seeing on its copyright page that it's the newest book in the series listed; that means this copy was likely part of the first printing in 1910, and that the previous owner originally acquired both this and the older book at the same time.