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Book Review
Historical Guide N American RR
The Historical Guide to North American Railroads, Third Edition
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by: Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]

Originally published on:
RailRoad Modeling

This is one of those books for which I have been waiting a long time! The Historical Guide to North American Railroads may now be edition three but it is the first for me. And well worth the wait. Did you know there was a 93-mile railroad on Oahu? The book Forward conveys my though better than I could;
    When I was young, I was captivated by the familiar: Great Northern, Pennsylvania, Wabash, Baltimore & Ohio. Or mesmerized by the exotic: Pere Marquette, Bangor & Aroostook, or Quanah, Acme & Pacific. Together they implied something romantic and far-flung, a national railroad empire, all of it linked to the very track I could see merely 25 feet away.*

I wish I had this book years ago when I researched and tried to reconstruct my favorite railroads through corporate histories, enthusiast books, and old maps.

Cracking the cover
Kalmbach Publsihing Co. has been a stalwart of railroad subjects for generations, publishing books and magazines spanning prototype railroading and the modeling thereof. Through 320 pages this book presents a concise history of more than 170 railroads in the United States, Canada and Mexico. Kalmbach publishes this volume in a larger format. It features a comprehensive index to ease searching for information.

Happily, Kalmbach does not ignore flashy interurbans or quaint 2-footers, many of which we now only read about in “ghost railroad” books. Oddly, considering the book’s Forward page, Quanah, Acme & Pacific is not profiled. If you are looking for a full history of a company, this book does not deliver it. What this book delivers is an expanded vignette of a railroad. Birth (and death, or merger) dates are included, as are milestones of a route. Abandonments and spin-off railroads are chronicled. Founders and significant people are listed, including “eras” for lines, i.e., Deramus of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, as are the controlling syndicates and holding companies organized to control a railroad. Fortunes and failures of companies are recounted, with comments concerning how they prospered or floundered. Those circumstances are often just in passing, such as to remark that Collis Huntington’s Atlantic to Pacific line fell apart in 1888. Some railroads include judgments, e.g., “Fort Smith & Western…went nowhere. Should not have been built”, which reminds me of the wag who contrasted the Burlington’s slogan Everywhere West with a Rock Island satire of Everywhere Worse.

Rolling stock is not neglected. Significant equipment rosters are listed (EMD or ALCo, etc. power) and mention is made of liveries and appliances: every NC&StL F unit had steam generators and all road-switchers were maroon and yellow.

Who are the authors of this work? This book profits from the David P. Morgan Library and also resources a compilation of articles including Trains magazine’s Map of the Month, route maps from Classic Trains’ feature Fallen Flags, and other features.
    This book has been a labor of love for two generations of railroad editors at Kalmbach Publishing Co. To begin with, it never would have been possible without the company library that was first organized by founder Al Kalmbach and expanded by former Trains magazine Editor David P. Morgan, for whom the library is named. And the book is a monument to the man who plowed through thousands of books and documents to create the first edition, George H. Drury, longtime company librarian. Today’s editors at Kalmbach Books can be credited with taking the Historical Guide to a new, contemporary level.*

Photographs, art, graphics
This is not a picture book - hard to believe considering there are hundreds of photos. Each railroad does have at least one photograph, be it present or from the days gone by. I am satisfied with each image as they are sharp, clear, well lighted, and present a personality of the subject railroad

Almost every railroad has its own route map. Those without a map on the subject page are not neglected: Mobile & Ohio does not have a map yet its route is included it the system map of the railroad which acquired M&O, Gulf Mobile & Ohio. While that map is simple black-and-white line art, other maps are more elaborate. Many color-code the lines and even key important points and terminals.

Every railroad that had a logo has it emblazoned on the title page next to the name. My main ding against the book is merely that some emblems are not printed in color, i.e., Frisco. Each company’s size is summed up with tables delivering Facts & Figures for two representative years (usually late 1920s and a significant later year):
* Miles operated
* Locomotives (quantity)
* Passenger cars (quantity)
* Freight cars (quantity)
* Reporting marks
* Historical society address or website.

For instance, Illinois Central has two tables: IC, years 1929 and 1971; post-merger Illinois Central Gulf, years 1972 and 1987.

I am stoked for this book! Those maps and statistics alone are worth the price of the book to me. As would be the concise corporate histories even if the book were devoid of any images.

Perhaps it is the limitation of format size (My notes gleaned from specific railroad history books on a very few railroads fills almost 100 pages in a word document.) but I am dissatisfied that at least one interesting railroad, Quanah, Acme & Pacific, is not included. Also, printing some colorful railroad emblems in black-and-white is a disappointment.

Accuse me of being a cheerleader yet I am completely and intensely enthusiastic about The Historical Guide to North American Railroads, Third Edition and believe that even casual fans of railroads to hard-core historians will benefit from adding this book to their library. Highball for Kalmbach Publishing - absolutely recommended!

We thank Kalmbach Books for providing this book for review. Please tell vendors and retailers that you saw it here - on RailRoadModeling.


* Kevin P. Keefe. Pg.6, The Historical Guide to North American Railroads. Kalmbach Books. 2014.

Highs: Maps and statistics alone are worth the price of the book to me. As would merely be the concise corporate histories and personalities.
Lows: I am dissatisfied that at least one interesting railroad is not included. Also, some colorful railroad emblems are printed in black-and-white.
Verdict: Everyone from casual fans of railroads to hard-core historians will benefit from adding this book to their library.
  Scale: N/A
  Mfg. ID: ISBN: 9780890249703
  Suggested Retail: $24.99
  Related Link: 
  PUBLISHED: Apr 10, 2014
  NATIONALITY: United States

Our Thanks to Kalmbach Publishing Co.!
This item was provided by them for the purpose of having it reviewed on this KitMaker Network site. If you would like your kit, book, or product reviewed, please contact us.

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About Frederick Boucher (JPTRR)

I'm a professional pilot with a degree in art. My first model was an AMT semi dump truck. Then Monogram's Lunar Lander right after the lunar landing. Next, Revell's 1/32 Bf-109G...cried havoc and released the dogs of modeling! My interests--if built before 1900, or after 1955, then I proba...

Copyright ©2020 text by Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]. All rights reserved.


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