Marking Station Wagons?
May 11, 2016 10:21 PM   Subscribe

Amy Vanderbilt says you can do it...but what exactly is this?

I have a book of Amy Vanderbilt's New Complete Book of Etiquette copyright 1952. On the very last page on the chapter on travel etiquette she has a section called "Marking the Station Wagon". In this section, she writes:
Many estates have place names instead of street names. In that case it is perfectly proper to have the name of the estate and its address, if you wish, on the front doors of the wagon just below the windows or in the panel beneath them...

Then she goes on to talk about proper color coding and matching of the lettering...
and then finishes with: "Some marking of a station wagon, if only with the owner's initials, is useful when you direct people to it."

I'm picturing people driving around station wagon cars with big signs on them that say "Thompson's Estate" or "222 West Farm Road"...

Was this a thing? What was she talking about?
posted by Toddles to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: A station wagon was originally a car used to pick up guests at a railway station. Having some kind of identifying mark on your station wagon would help one's guests locate the correct vehicle to convey them to your country estate. By the mid-1950s, station wagons had become popular as a general family car, rather than being a special purpose vehicle, and the original meaning of the term is now largely forgotten.
posted by zombiedance at 10:45 PM on May 11, 2016 [29 favorites]

Small signs, painted on like you might see on the side of big rigs today, rather than large signs welded/glued/screwed on the sides.

The purpose of the station wagon in this era was to meet people travelling to a country estate at the train station and ferry them and their baggage out to the estate. By marking the station wagon with information that identified the estate it belonged to, it helped guests find the right vehicle, because your country driver likely did not yet know your city guests by sight.

It was essentially the opposite of a guy standing there with a sign with the guests' names on it. Instead, he stood by a car with the destination's name on it and the guests found him.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:48 PM on May 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

When arriving on Fire Island (an island off the coast of Long Island, no cars in summer) everyone had a Red Wagon to transport goods and luggage meet them at the ferry dock.

This is why people have children, in fact: so that when the ferry docks, you can send the kids racing up to the house to bring the wagon back down.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:54 AM on May 12, 2016

Was this a thing?

Boy howdy was it. I know I've seen it within the last ten years, not just on station wagons, either.

Another variety is to put one's initials in signal-flag: show's you're not just a touch wasp-y, but nautical-waspy.
posted by From Bklyn at 3:02 AM on May 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

It's a holdover from the depot hack, wooden bodied station wagons which carried people and their luggage from the railway station to their final destination. Now it's after WWII, that usage is mostly gone, but people still have station wagons and some actually still have wooden bodies. Here it's more like painting your initials in a little wreath on the driver and passenger door under the window.
posted by fixedgear at 3:48 AM on May 12, 2016

The station wagon from "White Christmas" (1954) with its marking.
posted by evilmomlady at 3:58 AM on May 12, 2016 [9 favorites]

It would be the name of the estate, eg "Spindrift", "Nonesuch Farm", not the owner's name or street address. Now I only see it on vehicles from posh hotels that supply a driver to take you shopping in town.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 4:51 AM on May 12, 2016

Here where I live there's a huge international equestrian community so we see a lot of trucks and horse trailers/ polo trailers with the farm name on it. I suppose it helps find your crowd when you're field-side.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 5:13 AM on May 12, 2016

Here in Montana (and other western states) it's common to see pickup trucks (cowboy equivalent of a station wagon) with the name and brand of a ranch (cowboy equivalent of an estate).

I'm guessing the reason it's in an etiquette book is so that your markings not (gasp!) appear too garish or tacky.
posted by The Deej at 5:30 AM on May 12, 2016

The Official Preppy Handbook (published c. 1982, I think?) makes reference to the use of nautical flag stickers for this. I have a set in my initials and still haven't figured out if they belong on the kayak or (very preppy-looking) station wagon...
posted by kmennie at 8:45 AM on May 12, 2016

The Deej: "Here in Montana (and other western states) it's common to see pickup trucks (cowboy equivalent of a station wagon) with the name and brand of a ranch (cowboy equivalent of an estate)."

I don't know about Montana but here in BC certain types of vehicle registration require either company or operator name to be prominently displayed on the vehicle.
posted by Mitheral at 9:53 AM on May 12, 2016

Wow. And now I know why they're called "estate" cars over here in the UK, too. Thanks!
posted by A Robot Ninja at 6:13 AM on May 13, 2016

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