• Great Railway Reads

  • Discussion related to railroads/trains that show up in TV shows, commercials, movies, literature (books, poems and more), songs, the Internet, and more... Also includes discussion of well-known figures in the railroad industry or the rail enthusiast hobby.
Discussion related to railroads/trains that show up in TV shows, commercials, movies, literature (books, poems and more), songs, the Internet, and more... Also includes discussion of well-known figures in the railroad industry or the rail enthusiast hobby.

Moderator: Aa3rt

  by 3rdrail
My friend Art put upan interesting post in this forum regarding a favorite book of his. This got me to thinking that perhaps a thread devoted to books which have been enjoyed that either contain railways as the primary subject or as background would be a nice list to compile. So, with that in mind, here is a book that I treasure that I read many years ago. It's Labyrinths of Iron - A History of the World's Subways by Benson Bobrick, 1981, Newsweek Books, NY, ISBN 0-88225-299-2.

This book is a history of the building of the worlds major subway tunnels, written in a style that is vivid, with a lot of detail that would be otherwise be difficult to find. It's a history, adventure, biography, action, technical, and science book- all wrapped into one tremendous read. If you are a subway buff like myself, you won't be able to put this one down !
  by Aa3rt
Thanks for initiating this thread Paul! I've been doing a lot of railroad reading this winter.

The first book I'm going to review is Set Up Running-The Life Of A Pennsylvania Railroad Engineman 1904-1949 by John W. Orr, copyright 2001, The Pennsylvania State University Press.

If you're a fan of the Pennsylvania Railroad, railroading in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania or interested in steam locomotive development this is a great read! The author has done a masterful job of chronicling the life of his father, Oscar P. (Referred to as "OP" in the text) Orr, beginning with when he left the family farm in 1902 at age 19 to tend to stationary boilers at Bellefonte's Central Steam Heating Plant. At age 21 he hired on as a fireman with the Pennsylvania Railroad working out of Sunbury on the Williamsport Division of the former Philadelphia & Erie Railroad. OP quickly graduated to engineer, "Set up running" as the promotion was referred to at the time.

Despite the fact that the PRR was a far-flung system, OP spent his entire career working in Pennsylvania with the exception of forays to Southport, a division point in southern New York State on the PRR's Williamsport-Elmira line.

OP was very conscientious in keeping the locomotives assigned to him clean and in good mechanical order, back in the days when a specific locomotive was assigned to an engineer. OP's reputation spread and he was often given locomotives that had been upgraded in Altoona with the mechanical engineers always looking for feedback on any modifications they had introduced. OP began his career on H-3 Consolidations and ended on I-1 Decapods, working on almost every other class of locomotive the PRR had, aside from the Duplexes and J-1 2-10-4's.

In addition to the career of OP, the author, who was born in 1924, details the family's life in the railroad town of Ralston, PA. Ralston was also served by the shortlived (1903-1942) Susquehanna & New York Railway and a logging line.

Of course there are other vignettes in the book-the author details a trip to Philadelphia and the railroads encountered there, a visit to the 1939 World's Fair and the railroad displays and gives details of encountering Reading steam locomotives in Williamsport and discussing the differences in Reading and PRR power and details both New York Central and Erie trains detouring over PRR's Elmira Branch.

If you're looking for color roster shots of PRR power this is not the book for you-there are only 12 photos in the book (The author does explain that his photo collection was lost in a house fire) of different classes of PRR steam. However, if you'd like to read about railroading in the first half of the last century and the development of steam power, when the mighty PRR was still running passenger trains on almost every branch and held the title of "Standard Railroad of the World", I think you'll find this book well worth searching out. There are about 350 pages of engrossing text in this volume-once I started reading this one I couldn't put it down!

Moderator's note: I am not selling or shilling anything, however I am providing a link to Amazon.com for anyone who would like to read further reviews or possibly purchase a copy of this book.

http://www.amazon.com/Set-Running-Penns ... 027102741X
  by Aa3rt
Slow Train to Yesterday-A Last Glance at the Local by Archie Robertson, copyright 1945, Houghton Mifflin Company.

I read about this little tome at a model railroad forum I visit occasionally. It sounded intriguing enough that I ordered it and was not disappointed!

This book is different from any other railroad book that I've ever read: The author freely admits that he wasn't a "railroad buff" (The term given railfans decades ago) when he first started writing the book. A writer and schoolteacher, headed south to do some research on the developing Tennessee Valley Authority during the Depression, he sold his ailing convertible for enough money to purchase a train ticket to his destination. Engrossed by the view from the Southern Railway's two-car Murphy Local, passing through the Nantahala Gorge he becomes enamored with the slower pace of local trains, the trackside hotels and eateries catering to the railroad trade.

As his fascination grows, he uses the Official Guide of the Railways, plotting out trips on shortlines, sometimes on mixed trains, through various parts of the country.

We're introduced to many long forgotten shortlines like the Nelson & Albemarle (Virginia), Aberdeen & Rockfish (North Carolina), Louisville, New Albany & Corydon (Indiana) and the Norwood & Saint Lawrence (New York).

Here's one of the more intriguing trips detailed in the book: April 1942 Suncook Valley R.R. Concord to Epsom, NH; Maine Central R.R., Portland, Me to St. Johnsbury, Vt.;St. Johnsbury & Lake Champlain R.R., St. Johnsbury to Hardwicke, Vt.; Montpelier & Wells River R.R.., Montpelier to Woodsville, Vt.

As noted above this book was printed in 1945 and work on it had begun much earlier. Many shortlines had already suspended passenger service prior to World War II, however rationing of gasoline, tires and the fact that no new autos were produced during the war prolonged passenger service on a number of lines.

The visits to small towns, trackside hotels and dining rooms are all detailed, giving the reader a glimpse of what railroading, and life, was like in the days before interstate highways and fast food. These descriptive vignettes had me wishing that I could have experienced some of the travels the author outlines in this book. If you'd like a taste of shortline passenger service and the accompanying amenities from a bygone era, this book is worth searching out.

Once again: I'm not selling or shilling anything, however I found my copy of this out of print book at Alibris Books. There are a number of copies available at varying prices: http://www.alibris.com/booksearch?mtype ... 14&hs.y=22
  by Aa3rt
The Electric Interurban Railways In America by George W. Hilton and John F. Due, copyright 1960, reprinted 2000, Stanford University Press.

Unlike the first two volumes I've detailed, this is a much more scholarly work, detailing the history of interurbans in North America. The book is divided into two sections:

The first covers the history of the entire interurban industry, beginning with the rise of the industry, the technology, passenger and freight traffic, government regulation, finance, the decline and eventual abandonment of interurban railways.

The interurban railway probably qualifies as one of America's shortest lived transportation revolutions, ranking with the Erie Canal and the monorail craze. We do need to differentiate between interurban railways and short distance city streetcar systems, some of which still exist with other metropolitan areas reintroducing "light rail" to their downtown areas.

The second section covers individual lines by state, starting in the midwest states of Ohio, Indiana and Michigan which probably had the highest density of lines in the country. The authors have done a good job of searching out many long gone and little documented lines and provided a brief history of each and included maps showing rights of way.

There is a small photo section depicting a representative sampling of interurban cars, including a freight motor and trailer, and some lineside and terminal scenes.

If you have an interest in traction and the rise and fall of interurban railways, including the conditions that brought them about and ultimately lead to their demise, you should find this book of interest. The histories of some of the obscure lines detailed in the second section is a valuable reference.

I must confess that unlike the first two books I've discussed, I didn't immediately read this book "cover to cover". However, it's been within easy reach for a couple of months now and I find myself picking it up repeatedly and seem to uncover something new everytime I open the book.

Obligatory note: Once again, I have no pecuinary interest in this book. However, if you'd like to read more about it, or perhaps order a copy, more information can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Electric-Interurb ... 0804740143
  by 3rdrail
I have a pretty good selection of railway oriented books, probably a predominance of which are electric railways. As a teenager, my first book on the subject was one that I treasure. It's not as slick nor as thorough as say, the Middleton series, but there is just a certain charm about it. It is very readible and quite informative. I see it on Ebay regularly, priced extremely low. I've seen it for less than $10 and I was almost tempted to buy it as I like the book so much ! But alas, nothing can compare to my dust-jacket bare, dog-eared old friend who, to this day, provides me with hours of enjoyment as well as considerable reference. It is;
Trolley Car Treasury by Frank Rowsome, Jr., 1956, Bonanza Books, NY. Library of Congress Cat.Card # 56-11054

I very highly recommend this book for anyone interested in streetcars and interurbans, beginner or scholar. It is also a wonderful introduction to the field for a young person.
  by Aa3rt
Paul, My father is a Brooklyn, NY native and has always had an interest in trolleys, subways and elevated railroads. However, growing up in rural northwestern Pennsylvania, I wasn't exposed to trolleys as he was and didn't take my first trolley ride until I was about 15 years old while on a trip to Pittsburgh.

I remembered my father having a copy of Trolley Car Treasury but hadn't looked at it in years. However, based on your recommendation, I picked up a copy from eBay at a very reasonable price. It just arrived in the mail two days ago and I've had a delightful time reviewing the history of trolleys in the US & Canada. My interest in trolleys has grown over the years and and I have a much better appreciation of the historical aspects presented, starting with some of the earliest trolley lines in the country and the development of the technology that supported the industry.

The individual that I purchased the book from was located in Missouri and an added surprise was a newspaper article tucked in the back cover of the book from the "Chicago Daily Tribune", dated March 22, 1962 regarding the preservation of trolleys in Chicago.

Thanks for reminding me of this publication, it was definitely money well spent!
  by 3rdrail
That pleases me greatly Art, that I was able to suggest this book to you, as it has given me many hours of enjoyment, and I'm pleased that you are finding the same. Mr. Rowsome produced a fantastic book, not because of it's encyclopedic referencing, but because of his first person narrative style and the photos which he found for his book that I have never seen anyplace else. A classic example is the Frank Sprague chapter which shows the recreation of Spragues famous "simultaneous-start" demonstration (p.90) as well as a photograph of the dashing Mr. Sprague himself (p.94). Considering it's content, availability, and price, no traction-buff should be without this book.

While I'm posting, a slightly different, but other interesting book that I would recommend is Brian Cudahy's "Change at Park Street Under", 1972, Vermont Printing Company, ISBN 0-8289-0173-2. Mr. Cudahy has the same nack as Mr. Rowsome in telling a story by not only the official version, but by anecdote and first-person relaying as well. It's the story of the Boston subway system, including it's streetcars and rapid transit lines, complete with their tunnels, stations, etc. A very interesting book including the first electric subway in America, the Tremont Street Subway as well as the second underwater railway tunnel, the East Boston Tunnel. Another big thumbs up ! Amazon has this one still, amazingly enough, hardcover, used, for $13.00. It's the best $13 that a traction fan could spend. :-)
  by Aa3rt
Moderator's Note: Folks, this thread has had a number of views and I'm sure some of the rest of you are purchasing and reading railway themed material. We're interested in what you're reading as well, this thread isn't exclusively for Paul and me.

Input from other Railroad.Net forum members is both welcomed and encouraged!
  by 3rdrail
This weeks entry is a book that's different than what's been featured. This is technically a book for kids, but I think that I would be hard pressed to find a kid that has had more fun with this book than I have ! It's Beneath the Streets of Boston by Joe McKendry. Joe is a first class illustrator who lives in Boston who has supplemented his story of the building of the tunnels, subways, and el with first class, detailed, sepia colored "in your face" illustrations that put you in the middle of it's planning and construction. It's illustrations alone are the closest thing to a time tunnel, giving one perspective of a subway system that's about 96 % percent intact from it's original configuration. The text is written in clear style, suitable for kiddos or grown-ups alike. Ever wonder how they got those big bolts in the wooden planking on the El ties ? How they built the East Boston Tunnel underneath the Boston Harbor ? How the center span of the Charlestown Bridge rotated so that ships coming through the Charles River could pass by ? These questions and many more are answered in this book. A great read. Amazon has it (hardcover-used) for $9.54. I believe that it's rapidly becoming a collectors item as new editions are selling for near $50. 2005, David R. Godine, Publisher, ISBN 1-56792-284-8.
  by oldrow51
Well, it's been a little while since anyone's posted anything and I just finished a pretty good read on railroad ferryboats. Railroad Ferries of the Hudson and the stories of a deckhand is a thorough description of the all aspects of the ferryboats that were once operated across the Hudson River to Manhattan from New Jersey by the various railroad companies in conjunction with their commuter and long-distance passenger trains. The work also covers the Staten Island Ferry (formerly operated by the B&O Railroad) and New York Waterway's present-day revival of services connecting with New Jersey Transit commuter-train services. Raymond J. Baxter worked on the New York Harbor waterfront for almost forty years, serving first as a railroad deckhand and then as a railroad police officer. Arthur G. Adams is founding president of the Hudson River Maritime Center at Roundabout Landing in Kingston. In 1981, he was given a special award of merit for outstanding achievement in Regional Studies by the State University of New York. He is Executive Vice President of the Hudson River Navigation Company is trustee of the Victor Herbert Performance Trust Fund. Each chapter goes into detail about each of the railroad companies that occupied the Jersey waterfront and their various boats, and what eventually happened to the boats. The books does not go into any great detail about rail service but once you put the book down you'll feel as if you actually worked on the boats yourself. I really enjoyed this book.
  by Aa3rt
oldrow51 wrote:Well, it's been a little while since anyone's posted anything and I just finished a pretty good read on railroad ferryboats. Railroad Ferries of the Hudson and the stories of a deckhand is a thorough description of the all aspects of the ferryboats that were once operated across the Hudson River to Manhattan from New Jersey by the various railroad companies in conjunction with their commuter and long-distance passenger trains.
oldrow51-Many thanks for your input! I spent 3 years assigned to a Coast Guard cutter homeported at Governor's Island in New York Harbor. Alas, this was a number of years after the railroad ferries stopped running and I've always found this topic of interest.

Here's a link to the book at Amazon.com for a little more information:

http://www.amazon.com/Railroad-Ferries- ... 0910389012

Thanks again for the post.
  by oldrow51
Thanks! I grew uo in Jersey City and had the chance to see some of this activity before it vanished. This book brings back some good memories and made me wish I was old enough at the time to work on one of the boats.
  by Ken W2KB
I grew up in Bayonne. In in 1967 when a freshman in college, I was a passenger on the last run of the CNJ steam ferry Elizabeth on Friday of Aldene Plan weekend, the last ferry to Jersey City Terminal and the last EL ferry that fall to Hoboken. Those wide and 200 foot long boats were impressive to watch and ride. Staten Island Ferry is essentially the same experience, minus the steam whistle.
  by charlie6017
This past week I finally read Erie Lackawanna: Death of an American Railroad 1938-1992 by H. Roger Grant. I highly
recommend this to anyone with an interest of how railroads work from the "Boardroom." It gives a history of the Erie and the
Lackawanna railroads prior to merger between the two roads and extensively covers the merger years until Conrail and then
covers how everything that wasn't conveyed to Conrail and was thus liquidated.

This book was extremely well done. I could see myself reading this multiple times!

  by Aa3rt

Many thanks for checking in and reviving this moribund thread! I have this book as well and have read it at least 3 times. I concur with your assessment-it is a well researched and written tome. Having been born in Jamestown, NY and growing up just across the state line in northwestern Pennsylvania the Erie was my "home" railroad. Jamestown was once a major point on the Erie with many businesses both sending and receiving freight shipments via the Erie.

Having been in grade school when the merger was consumated, there were a lot of factors in play that I was too young to comprehend. Mr. Grant has done a masterful job of covering not only the railroad but the economic conditions that affected the many trials the Erie, and later EL, had to endure.

Thanks again for the input!