King of Portmanteau

On November 25, 2012 · 2 Comments

If Portmanteau was a nation, Albert J. Earling would have been its king.


Albert John Earling
Albert J. Earling (1848 – 1925)
SOURCE: Chicago Daily Tribune, November 11, 1925

By now most readers understand Twelve Mile Circle’s fascination with portmanteaus, a birth of creative new words resulting from the smashing together of two or more existing words. Previous articles dealing with this device included Mardela to Delmar and Dueling Portmanteau Placenames.

I am fascinated by Albert J. Earling at the moment although he’s hardly a household name. His primary achievement involved working his way through the ranks of railroading to become president of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad until his retirement in 1919. During his tenure he expanded his railroad from the upper Midwest to the Pacific Northwest, opening a corridor through the Dakotas, Montana, the Idaho panhandle, and through Washington state to terminate at Tacoma in 1909. It would be the last of the great transcontinental railroads constructed.

This route became known as the Milwaukee Road, an engineering achievement still celebrated by railfans such as the Milwaukee Road Historical Association and the Milwaukee Road Archive. Earling favored new technologies too. He electrified more than 500 miles of the line including the first such segment over the Rocky Mountains which allowed his trains to take steeper grades. Later the railroad would add the expansion to its official name by becoming the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad, continuing to operate in various forms until around 1980 until it was absorbed into other companies including the Soo Line.



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What does any of this have to do with portmanteaus, you may be wondering? Plenty. There was a reason why this was the last transcontinental route: almost nobody lived out there. The Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad wished to remain competitive, however the pickings were slim by the time the clock ticked into the Twentieth Century. This railroad didn’t connect a string of existing towns as much as it had to create them along the way and then vigorously promote homesteading in nearly empty quarters such as rural Montana.

All of those dozens of new towns had to be named. According to Earling’s obituary in the November 11, 1925 edition of the Chicago Daily Tribune (which is not available on a publicly-accessible website so you’ll have to take my word for it):

Even after he became its president, Mr. Earling continued to keep in touch with details of the road. It is said he would spends nights in the yards, riding switch engines and talking to the men. When the extension was being built Mr. Earling spent weeks on the construction, working night and day watching every detail of line work.

It’s reasonable to assume that Albert Earling had a personal involvement in naming towns along the line given his active role, some of which were portmanteaus influenced by various family members. An excellent map of the new transcontinental route and its various stops can be found on the Portal to Texas History, which seems odd because the railroad never serviced Texas. Whatever. There are several candidates to consider.


Ismay, Montana



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Remember Ismay? It was the town informally named "Joe, Montana" as a publicity stunt that 12MC featured recently. That’s how I discovered the Earling connection. Ismay was reputed to be a portmanteau of Isabella and May, two of Earling’s daughters. There’s only one problem and it’s huge: Albert Earling had only one daughter and her name was Harriet. Some sleuthing on my part did turn up a granddaughter, a child of Albert’s son George Peck Earling, who was named Isabel Mary. She was born in 1903 — a young child during the construction of the railroad expansion — and later living in Washington, DC under her married name Isabel Van Devanter as late as 1940.

Some sources note that Ismay might have been named for the daughters of another railroad official, George R. Peck, who also seemed to be a namesake for Albert’s son George Peck Earling. I did locate Peck in the 1900 Census in Chicago, IL, and he did have daughters named Isabel and Mary (listed as Minnie in other records). It’s even possible that Albert’s son George may have named his daughter for Peck’s two daughters. Given Earling’s personal involvement, and noting other examples, it seems likely that he created the portmanteau to honor both his own granddaughter as well as the two daughters of a close colleague and friend. I think this is why two separate yet plausible histories evolved.


Marmarth North Dakota



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The naming of Marmarth seems more definitive. As noted in Welcome to Historic Marmarth:

With the arrival of the railroad in the fall of 1907, the town of Marmarth was established. By 1908, structures were being built in what is now the City of Marmarth. Marmarth was named for Margaret Martha Fitch, granddaughter of Albert J. Earling, president of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad.

Margaret Martha Fitch, a daughter of Harriet Maud Earling and granddaughter of Albert Earling was born in 1902. She passed away in 1949 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

This is why I believe a granddaughter may have figured at least partially into the naming of Ismay too. It’s hard to imagine the President of the railroad naming a town for one granddaughter and not the other when they were both approximately the same age (Martha b. 1902, Isabel b. 1903) and both were young children during construction of the Pacific line.


Alberton, Montana



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Mr. Earling also honored himself with a weaker portmanteau, combining his given name with "town" to create Alberton. He also shared namesake credit here and thus gave credence to what may have been a similar situation in Ismay. As the Town of Alberton explains:

When the Milwaukee railroad established its trans-continental line to the pacific coast, Albert J. Earling chose the route on the north side of the river. The Milwaukee railroad was surveyed in 1907 and was built in 1908-09. The catchy name of the town at that time was Browntown. It was then changed to Alberton, after Alexander Albert who was one of first settlers in this valley. His homestead was south of the river across the natural pier bridge. It was also named after the railroad president, Albert J. Earling.


Earling, Iowa



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This last instance isn’t a portmanteau at all. I just wanted to note that Albert Earling wasn’t beyond having a town named in his personal honor. Earling, Iowa was founded in 1882 while he was still working his way up through the ranks of the railroad hierarchy. With that notch already attained, he had to get much more creative when he became President of the line and needed to craft names for all those other towns.

There might be a couple more Earling portmanteaus along the Milwaukee Road:

  • Maudlow, Montana: Perhaps Albert’s daughter Harriet Maud Earling figures into this?
  • Melstone, Montana: Mel Stone has to be someone?

I conducted a quick search and didn’t find any useful information on those final two possibilities.


Completely Unrelated

We visited the Garden Maze at Luray Caverns on the way back from Thanksgiving on Thursday. I mentioned that location in Hazy Hedge Maze Memories a few months ago. I posted a photo on findery if you’d like to see it from ground level.

First Name, Surname Symmetry

On April 22, 2012 · 6 Comments

I wondered recently about towns bearing someone’s first name combined with counties bearing the same person’s surname. This interest had been sparked by learning that Gail was the county seat of Borden County, Texas. Both were named for Gail Borden, the condensed milk guy (and so much more). The only other instance of this first name – surname symmetry I’d known about was Horace in Greeley County, Kansas, and Horace wasn’t even the seat of county government.

The ever-inquisitive readers of Twelve Mile Circle discovered several more examples. I enjoyed every one of them and I recommend that readers go back to that original article and review the comments. They provide quite a compendium, and perhaps the most complete set of this obscure geo-anomaly anywhere. A couple of comments fascinated me enough to investigate them a bit further. Credit should go to the people who first brought them to my attention, with my sincere thanks and appreciation.


"John Deeth" offered Schuyler, Nebraska. It’s the seat of government in Colfax County (map).



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I would never have discovered this combination on my own because I had no conceptualization of Schuyler Colfax, or why he should ever deserve the symmetry of a town-county combo named in his honor. I could have driven through Colfax County ad infinitum — and I have driven through Colfax County — and this never would have clicked. This also demonstrates rather clearly a truism in U.S. politics. Being elected the President of the United States is a magnificent event bringing instant fame and name recognition. Being Vice President on the other hand, in the famous words of John Nance Garner (VP to Franklin D. Roosevelt for two terms), is "not worth a bucket of warm piss."

It’s hopefully a safe assumption that most 12MC viewers, including those reading from outside of the United States, have at least heard of Ulysses S. Grant, General of the Union Army during the Civil War and 18th President of the United States. Now meet the guy who served as Grant’s VP during his first term (1869-1873): Schuyler Colfax.


Schuyler Colfax portrait
Wikimedia Commons, in the public domain

Schuyler Colfax isn’t exactly a household name, however he was quite accomplished during his lifetime. He rose to Speaker of the House of Representatives and then became Vice President when he was only 45 years old. There’s no telling how successful he may have become had he not been implicated in one of the many scandals of the Reconstruction era. His downfall came during the Crédit Mobilier of America scandal which involved gifts of stock to influential government officials from a construction company helping to build the transcontinental railroad. After his fall from grace, Colfax followed a well-worn path blazed by numerous failed politicians before and since: he became a lecturer and went on the speakers’ circuit, thus proving that political pundits are nothing new.

He was fortunate in a sense to have been Vice President during a period of homesteading and rapid territorial expansion. Colfax became a label applied to many locatons throughout the United States in his honor. Imagine if the same were true today. There would be a bunch of places called Quayle, Gore, Cheney and Biden actually named for the men themselves instead of simply coincidental.

Schuyler the town in Nebraska, was situated along the Transcontinental Railroad. I wonder if Schuyler the person might have begun to appreciate this delectable irony as the years passed by.

In a related tangent, "Mr. Burns" noted that the City of Ulysses is the seat of government in Grant County (map), Kansas. It’s nice to see that both sides of the Grant-Colfax ticket were favorably bestowed with similar geo-oddities. Grant is just two counties south and one east of Greeley County by the way, so this might be a nice little corner of the state to experience a couple of first name – surname combos in one swoop.


"Joe" offered McKinney, the seat of government for Collin County (map), Texas.



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I found this one remarkable for several reasons. Both locations are named for Collin McKinney who was an important figure in the Texas Revolution and in the early formation of the Republic of Texas. He was one of the principal authors of the Texas Declaration of Independence and its oldest signatory. Thus, his surname survives through the town name and his first through the county, which flips the order of precedence observed by other examples.

This might also be a first name – surname combination that contains the most residents. This rapidly-growing suburb of the larger Dallas metropolitan area recorded some of the greatest percentage population increases of the last decade. McKinney currently has about 130 thousand residents and Collin Co. about 780 thousand.

The Handbook of Texas contains a fascinating biography. One can thank Collin McKinney for all of the small, square counties in Texas. It was he who suggested their regular shape and arrangement (Wikipedia claims without attribution that he promoted areas of about 30 miles square so a rider to travel to the county seat and return in a single day, although I haven’t been able to corroborate that independently). Bottom line for all you County Counters out there who are trying to nail-down all 254 counties in Texas: you can either thank or curse Collin McKinney depending on your outlook.

As if that were not enough, Collin McKinney actually lived in the place named for him during the latter part of his life.




"Ian" postulated several combos based on U.S. Founding Fathers. I think my favorite instance was Jefferson County, Florida. It had a small unincorporated town called Thomas City although that’s not much more than a dot on a map. However the county seat is Monticello, which of course is named after Thomas Jefferson’s estate in Albemarle County, VA. Here’s where it gets even stranger: when looking at the map I discovered that it abuts a county in Georgia named Thomas. Thus, one can drive from Thomas in Georgia to Jefferson in Florida. It’s only coincidental, though. The county in Georgia was named for Jett Thomas (a War of 1812 veteran who was instrumental in the founding of the University of Georgia). I still found it amusing.

There were other honorable mentions: "Lindsay" suggested George, WA (which is one of my favorites) and "Greg" mentioned Hernando, in De Soto County, Mississippi (which I flew directly over on my last airline trip).

Thanks everyone. It was great fun!

Transcontinental Clip

On September 27, 2011 · 3 Comments

I like to photograph unusual signs as I travel, either for my personal amusement of for future reference. One such occasion presented itself at the Union Station train museum during my recent visit to Ogden, Utah. It displayed a large map of the original Overland Route, the one known better as the Transcontinental Railroad, stretching along an entire museum wall. Wait a second, I though, noticing an anomaly as I snapped a quick photo.


Colorado on the Overland Route

This implied two things: first, that I’m a lousy photographer and I shouldn’t quit my day job; and second, that the famous Transcontinental Railroad appeared to dip down ever-so-briefly into Colorado near the town of Julesburg. Both have been confirmed. From a quick calculation, it appears that Colorado’s portion of the Overland Route comprised 9 miles (14.5 km.) out of 1,776 mile (2,858 km), or about a half-percent of its length.



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Railroads continue to use this corridor, roughly following the same basic path as automobile Routes 138 and 385 running parallel with the tracks for quite a distance. It’s not surprising. From the west, they both follow the banks of Lodgepole Creek heading downstream from Nebraska into Colorado, which then flows into the South Platte River and back into Nebraska.

Much of the area can be described as semiarid high plains. There aren’t many distinguishing features to guide people through these lands other than a few creeks and rivers. Lodgepole Creek and the South Platter River would be logical choices here, and both figured prominently in emerging transportation networks. This little corner of Colorado may seem sparsely settled but it’s been an important corridor that has evolved with changes in technology:

  • Overland Trail stagecoach route
  • Pony Express mail service
  • Overland Route (Transcontinental) railroad line
  • Lincoln Highway
  • Interstates 76 and 80

These vast movements of people needed places to rest and resupply. Julesburg sat in a perfect spot to fill that vital niche, a service it still provides.

Julesburg is sometimes called the Town that Wouldn’t Die albeit its location certainly changed a number of times; four to be exact. It started as a trading post in the 1850’s until it was burned by Indians in 1865. The new location moved a few miles downstream until the Union Pacific Railroad bypassed it in 1867. Julesburg then moved to the temporary end of the route but faded away as the railroad continued further west. Finally it moved to another point along the railroad where a junction connected a branch heading towards Denver, where it remains today. All four Julesburgs were within a few miles of each other.

It was a wild, lawless place on the frontier, with a fearsome reputation;

Walking through this quiet town situated along the South Platte River, it’s hard to believe Julesburg was once the wickedest city in the West. It’s true though — the city got its start as a Pony Express stop and, by the time the Union Pacific Railroad laid tracks through town in 1867, Julesburg was sin city. Entirely burned to the ground two years earlier by American Indians in retaliation for the Sand Creek Massacre, the new town was anything but improved. Julesburg was home to horse thieves, gamblers and con artists attracted by an abundance of saloons, dance halls and a steady supply of naive travelers heading west along the Overland Trail. One saloon in town claimed to sell the vilest of liquor at two bits a glass.



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Such an important crossroads, in spite of its nasty reputation, required protection particularly from marauding Native Americans seeking retribution. Fort Sedgwick filled this need between 1864 and 1871. Nothing remains of the fort toady except an empty field, although it survives in a way by name in the 1990 movie "Dances with Wolves." This Google Satellite view shows its approximate location with a historical marker placed at the small bump on the north side of County Road 28, where the fort hospital once stood.

Julesburg has changed a lot since its early wild days. However, if I were to travel to Julesburg today, I’d make sure it coincided with the Drag Races that take place on the runway of the municipal airport! There may still be just a hint of that wildness in its descendents.

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