If you want to get hoity-toity about it, W.A. "Bill" Fawcett is a ferrophiliac with an emphasis in scripophily.
If you don't, he's a train buff who collects old stocks and bonds and such. And he doesn't dabble. Everything he has is top of the line. When librarians see his mint-condition railroad stocks and land grant deeds, they practically weep with envy."When I took this stuff up to the University of Utah they went bananas," he says with pride. "I've looked for Utah railroad stocks until I'm blue in the face. I've been through bookstores, second-hand stores. Anything west of the Mississippi is worth having as far as I'm concerned. The sad thing is that here in Utah, where everything got started, there's not a lot left."
One of the reasons may be that Fawcett has collected so much of it.
"Bill has the finest collection of this type that I've ever seen," says Sam Weller of Zion's Book. "And it's in good shape."
Apart from the autographs, lanterns and insulators in his collection, the heart of Fawcett's hobby is in railroad stocks - colorful, graphically elaborate sheets of paper that were given to people who invested money in the ever-expanding railroads of America. The 19th century was the era of "the capitalization of railroads," and many prominent easterners - including Nathan Hale - were speculating in railroad stock and encouraging others. J.P. Morgan soon got involved. In a sense, the expansion of the railroads drove the expanding American economy. Today, Fawcett has many stocks from many companies -including some local stocks signed by families that still have strong local ties. And needless to say, he keeps his collection safe and well-protected - away from all local traffic.
But what interests him most - and those who hear him - are the intriguing stories behind the stocks. Just as the story of Bill Fawcett's own venture into the world of railroads is worth hearing.
There are many avenues into the railroad hobby - model trains, Western Americana, an interest in history. Fawcett got involved the old-fashioned way, by working on the railroad. And in those days you worked all the live-long day.
"I went to work for the railroad when I was 21," he says. "I was a locomotive engineer. When you do that, a friend tells me you never forget a train whistle. Every one is different."
Years later Fawcett went into the linen supply business, but he took his love of railroading with him.
"Railroad memorabilia is becoming popular," he says. "A Union Pacific cup and saucer will sell for up to $250 today. And we're seeing more and more railroad buffs."
In Utah, that is indeed the case.
"There has been a recent push," says Randy Kane, chief ranger at the Golden Spike National Historic Site. "On May 10, for the driving of the golden spike, we usually get 5,000 people. This year we had 14,000."
More and more special events are also cropping up. The annual Railroaders Festival was just completed in Box Elder County last weekend, but another railroad event is already on track.
From Aug. 31 through Sept. 2, the National Park Service will sponsor a Railroad Heritage Symposium at Ogden's Union Station. The plan is to take a good look at restoration, tourism, preservation and other aspects of railroads in America.
"Space is still available," says Chris Marvel, co-chair for the event. "This is the third of three symposia held throughout the country."
For information call the Ogden Union Station at 629-8446.
As for Bill Fawcett, his plan is to keep on making those "ties that bind." In fact, he'd like to start a group of people who get together once in awhile to swap stories and railroad stocks. Weller Books has even agreed to help out where it can.
"I'm also working on a book about the subject," says Fawcett. "It's about 240 pages. I don't know if I'll get it finished, however."
If Bill Fawcett is as thorough with his prose as he is his collection, the book will take awhile to finish, but it will get finished. And finished with style.