Tag Archives: collecting

By: James F. O’Neil

“Hi!  I’m Jim.  I am a collecting addict.”   “Hi, Jim.”

My memories of collecting “stuff” include digging through garbage in the neighborhood alleys of Chicago to find used razor blades.  I had quite a collection of Gillette Blue Blades.  Of course, I had to wash off dried shaving cream and dead whiskers, usually doing this in my bathroom sink.  The hazards of washing used razor blades are obvious: cuts and blood.  I stored the blades in metal Band-Aid containers.  (My mother knew little of my secret stashes–though she later found out.) 

  razor blades

I was 7 or 8 years old, as I recall now.

I collected used medicine bottles of all sizes, shapes, and colors.  I had my own little pharmacy with my little brother, Tom.  What a bottle collection we had!  We played with pills, mixed colored water, and made prescriptions for hours and hours on end. 

medicine bottles

Picture credit:


(I used my A. C. Gilbert chemistry set for more sophisticated medications–even buying test tubes from the real local pharmacist.)



Photo: wikipedia




I was 9 or 10 years old then.

Then I had some electric trains, made model airplanes–plastic and even a few balsawood.

10th mountain

10th Mtn Div.

During high school I added to my Army and Air Force sleeve insignia (SSI) collection.  Earlier my grandfather had helped me with the original collection which I used for merit-badge-winning Boy Scout project.

stack of textbooks



In college, I collected textbooks…

When my sons were growing, one collected stamps (with me) and one collected coins (with me).  Who was really collecting?  Perhaps re-living my own childhood collecting days, still “addicted” after all those years?  (Baseball cards one son collected; I helped feed his addiction at Christmas time.)

And now, after so many years?  I am collecting again. 

Collecting, to me, is healthy.  I guarantee, it keeps me sane, makes me “whole.”  One hour’s visit to a psychiatrist used to cost me $160.  Now I have something physical to show for my “mental health” expenses. 

So I am back at it, since 2004.  Slowly I began to walk the path of addiction. 

Down that road I went.  What I have found is rewarding: reading and doing research while collecting  WWII model airplanes. 

Some LVR s Models

Diecast Model Airplanes


I enjoy reading: about pilots, planes, places; stories, anecdotes, interviews, memories, recollections. 

Thus, here is what I have learned: The more I learn about one little bit of this or that, the more I realize how impossible it is to really “know it all”–like trying to collect it all.

When it comes down to it, as all know, it’s “whatever turns your crank,” isn’t it?  What I collect, how I collect, why I collect makes me, me.  It is fun and enjoyable.  That works for me–and guides me.

 However, forget the old razor blades!

 “Collecting is the sort of thing that creeps up on you.”  –Paul Mellon

©  James F. O’Neil  2013

By: James F. O’Neil

When my boys were in high school, deciding on college life and careers, both chose to apply to military service academies.  The application process was rigorous and tiring.  One item on the initial application had to do with hobbies.  This small item on the long application fascinated me.  What importance was a hobby to a service academy appointment? 

West Point USMA

(West Point Photo: Wikipedia)

Admission to West Point is very competitive; candidates need to do their best in everything they do, including items counted in the “subscores,” or part of the whole score.

How far back in time is a candidate to “do best”?  Some hobbyists are “late collectors,” or come into a coin collection from a relative’s donation.  Others are Scouts from the very first, working on merit badges long before any thoughts of West Point or the Naval Academy [in Annapolis, Maryland].  Or what about having American Girl or Barbie collections, or miniature china tea sets, or even Cabbage Patch dolls piled neatly around a bedroom? 

And what about the young boy-child who collects paper bus and streetcar transfers?  Would he later be entitled to a “whole-man score”?

Recently, watching a city bus, I found myself wondering for a moment about all the bus transfers I collected from my days of boy-child.  I used to have piles of used transfers, punched and returned by a bus driver or motorman (on a trolley car or streetcar). 

Transfers back then were pieces of paper, the size of a narrow dollar bill, white, printed with a type of clock face at one end, and the route on the rest of the transfer.  It was to show with a few punches where a passenger got on and then how much time to get to another location. 

Garfield Blvd Transfer

(Photo: Chuckman’s Photos)

I lived but a few city blocks from a large streetcar, later bus, “barn,” as we used to call it.  This large interchange saw end-of-the-line tracks going in and coming out, streetcars lined up and put to sleep for the next day.  As buses replaced the trolley system, the buses found their spots to rest, interchange, or be repaired in “the barn.”

chicago-cta-bus-garage-5800-w-95th-street-interior-buses-parked-1953  chuckman's photos

(Photo: Chuckman’s)

 1973 Chicago Bus Barn

In late afternoons, I used to make my way through the parked trolleys or buses, sneaking along, looking inside for books of transfers, or single transfers.  Many an empty streetcar or silent open bus allowed me to rummage around, adding to my collections–and never being caught.

So this was a collection: paper transfers from all over the city, all organized into zones, dates, routes.  For what end?, I ask.  What I collected, how I collected, why I collected was for fun, and was enjoyable. 

Perhaps I gained some organizational skills, or some sense of what is “worth” something.  Perhaps this has all made me a “Whole Man.”

So, what’s my score?

 –“If something exists, somebody somewhere collects them.”

©  James F. O’Neil  2013

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