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Member: alco261

CollectionsYour library (1,545)

Reviews82 reviews

TagsNR (381), railroad history (282), cartoons (225), science fiction (151), War (141), first person account (121), working on the railroad (107), statistics (102), world history (87), statistical methods (87) — see all tags

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Recommendations36 recommendations

About my libraryThis pile of books, like most, represents nothing more than books that are on my library shelf. They are there and they remain there because I have found what they have to say to be informative, entertaining, and thought provoking (hence the inordinate number of books with ratings of 4-5). They cover the usual range of human interest and, with one possible exception, there isn't much to differentiate my collection from dozens of others.

The one exception is the large number of books which focus on first person accounts of working for/on the railroads. Most people with an interest in books about railroading generally acquire books that are of two types: financial/corporate histories and heavily annotated coffee table picture books of photographs of locomotives, rolling stock, and infrastructure of specific railroads. Sandwiched in among these technical works one may find specific histories of certain aspects of railroading - in the US this would include at least one of the histories of the building of the first transcontinental (Nothing Like it in the World, Empire Express, A Great and Shining Road, etc.), perhaps one about the impact of the railroads on the US or the world (All Aboard, the Railroad in American Life, The World the Railroads Made, Blood, Iron, and Gold, Hear that Lonesome Whistle Blow, This Fascinating Railroad Business, etc.) and, in the U.S., maybe a copy of one of the two best known post World War II books on railroad stories (A Treasury of Railroad Folklore and Railroad Avenue).

What is missing from these libraries is any word by or mention of people who did the day-to-day work of the railroad. The world of first person accounts of railroad life is a literary backwater. If you doubt this just look through the library and note the number of people on this site who have one of these books in their library list - most of them are listed in my library and perhaps one or two others. The men and women in these books worked in almost every capacity for the railroads and I've noted their occupations in the book tags. The only major group of railroad workers not represented in this collection are the Chinese who built the western half of the first transcontinental railroad. Unfortunately, they will probably never be heard from for the simple reason that records and letters that may have been preserved were most likely destroyed in the San Francisco quake and fire of 1906.

Unlike the polished corporate histories and books about the impact of the railroads on life as we know it, first person accounts of working for the railroad are very uneven with respect to quality of writing and content. Many, if not the majority, are/were self published so many had no editorial help with respect to writing quality. In spite of this there are numerous gems and, of course, there are some real duds. Another aspect of these books is their length. What the book cover photographs do not convey is book thickness. Many of these "books" are really no longer than a science fiction novella or a very long magazine article. What I intend to do, as time permits, is write a series of short reviews of these books and add, in the comments section, notes concerning such things as book length and book dimensions.

As far as I know, this collection encompasses most of the first person accounts that were written from the earliest days of U.S. railroading up to around 1980 (I'm still looking for Along the Lines by Swan, The Fast Men of American, and Adventures of a Boomer Op). Since 1980 there has been a spate of books by railroaders about their experiences in the post steam era. I've acquired a number of these but, admittedly, I haven't collected all of them. If you have read some of this more recent work and if you think what you have read might interest me I'd appreciate your comments.

If you've read this far and would like a recommended short reading list I would offer the following:
1. Brownie the Boomer - a boomer was the 19th and early 20th Century equivalent of a temp. Brown writes the book probably the same way he spoke. As a result the book, like Shakespeare, get a little getting used to. I found it took a reading of the first chapter before I finally got my mind adjusted to his style and cadence. Once you are accustomed to his style the book gives one the feeling of sitting down in Brown's living room and chatting.
2. Railroadman - I rate this 1938 publication second only to Browns book. There is a third book of this proportion, "Set Up Running" by Orr which many people on this site and elsewhere have read. It is a good book and it is well written but, in my opinion, it does not measure up to my first two choices.
3. Forty Years a Locomotive Engineer - Reed - This 19th century account is a very short book and it has been reprinted several times.
4. Little Engines and Big Men - Lathrop - an account of railroading on the Colorado narrow gauge railroads.
5. We Took the Train - Grant -passenger accounts of railroad travel from the first days of train travel in the 19th century to the present.
6. Boomer - Linda Neimann - Linda was one of the first women to work for the railroads in a capacity other than that of station agent or telegrapher. Her account is about her experiences in the final third of the 20th Century. Her book is in the same vein as #1 and #2.
7. Working on the Western Maryland Railroad - Morgenstern - I think this series of collected accounts about railroad work as told by individuals working at all levels of the WM is the workers counterpart to #5.
8. Railroad Avenue - I think Hubbard's book is just slightly better than A Treasury of Railroad Folklore and since I'm giving you the short list I'll pick it over the latter.
I would also recommend reading at least one account of the impact of the railroads on the U.S, one account of the construction of the first transcontinental railroad, and one book of railroad fiction. My picks for these subjects would be:
1. All Aboard: The Railroad in American Life - Douglas
2. A Great and Shining Road - Williams
3. Held For Orders - Spearman
As for duds - the one to avoid at all costs would be 1909-1914 Diaries of Ray Lewis. It is, thankfully, a very thin book (20 pages) and I have to wonder why anyone would find the book at all interesting.

GroupsA Quieter LibraryThing, George Macy devotees, History Fans, Librarything Railroad (The LTR), Progressive & Liberal!, Reading Globally, Science Fiction Fans, Skywatchers, Tattered but still lovely

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Account typepublic, lifetime

URLs /profile/alco261 (profile)
/catalog/alco261 (library)

Member sinceAug 14, 2010

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Thanks, nice of you to say so. I don't know whether or not I'll convince rrp of anything, but it's nice to have an excuse to take on this sort of false equivalence - it's a very lazy position in my view, that is usually adopted in advance of and in place of serious thought, so a serious attempt to address the issues it raises might jar some reader out of the complacent view and into something more sensible. If that reader isn't rrp, I'm okay with that - they just give me a frame for discussing the ideas, that's all.
I expect there are some weak spots in my argument. It'll be interesting to see if rrp (or anyone else) can find them and make me work a little. So far, all I've done is a pretty simple analysis of behavior. I expect it's also pretty simplistic. We'll see.
Thanks very much for the comment and recommendation. I'll look it up.

I live surrounded by corn fields in an area where John Deere is very popular yet I don't think I've ever seen anything that looks like the Bi-Rotor combine. Sad, really. He had quite a machine. I, too, am a big fan of The Atlantic and have been reading it since high school (class of '65) when they gave away issues.
A tidbit that might interest you...

I'm really fond of The Atlantic magazine. It's constantly feeding me stuff that I didn't know I wanted to know, if that makes sense. They have an offshoot called Atlantic Cities which is on the web and also comes by email and it's interesting.

A recent article had a discussion of the relationship between travel time and the effect of the coming of the US rail system that I thought was interesting. It had a number of maps showing how long it took you could go from New York City west into the wilds with (1800, 1830, 1857, 1930 and, in an interesting way to make a point, 2013) maps for comparison of time elapsed at various geographic reaches. Part of the point was how little the time elapsed changed from 1930 to 2013. How little we have spent in this country on infrastructure, rail or highway or otherwise, especially compared to other developed countries.

As an aside, I was raised as a kid on Chicago's south side. Any time you went south from our apartment, you risked interminable waits at freight crossings. We had friends near Blue Island then and the same applied. Now we live just about a half mile north of the Union Pacific west commuter line (that's good!) which also carries freight, including coal for Commonwealth Edison generating plants. The CE coal trains are very long and heavy and sometimes start in RR yards just west of us. The main street in town is one of the grade level crossings and just north of the tracks is a major hospital. Sometimes you see ambulances waiting for a really slow moving freight train and you have to imagine someone in bad shape in the ambulance waiting and waiting...
"One of the executives took his then new 1909 Buick over to the backshop and had the shop forces rework it to resemble a locomotive."

My 5 year old grandson is a train fan. We went to the Illinois Railroad Museum in Union, IL last year and, lo and behold, there was a kind of hybrid old car/locomotive. I can't swear it was based on the 1909 Buick. I went on their web site and didn't see any photos of the car/locomotive (should be Locomobile, although the name is already taken).
Thanks for stopping by and the suggestion on the railroad map atlas, All Aboard.... Actually, a couple of atlases do have some rail maps in them and I have many maps on my computer that I've down loaded from online, including some additional rail maps. I also have some fondness for rapid transit line maps. I'll have to take a look at All Aboard... Actually, if it's a map, I'm interested in it.

I assume that "alco" in your LT name refers to the American Locomotive Company, the former steam locomotive producer. After a little sleuthing, I found that 261 may refer to a Milwaukee Road locomotive number 261 produced by ALCO (I think???).

Actually, your profile "About My Library" is a good example of an interesting profile with considerable detail. If I could, I'd like to include it in the discussion group, Profiles Profiled or Reviewed with your okay. I'd like to generate some activity there.

I appear to have two print obsessions. One, which you now know about now, is maps/atlases. The other is photographs of cars and trucks (a lot less expensive than collecting the real thing); particularly pre 1950. I have three - count 'em - photos on my computer of ALCO automobiles from the early 1900s and now I apparently know what that name stands for. I never thought about the locomotive builder and hadn't gotten far enough there to research it.

Nice "talking" to you.

Munn a/k/a bookblotter
Thank you for the suggestion. Will keep Clifford Simak in mind...
Again, it was nice to have a perspective that stems from experience rather than conjecture. I don't believe, when it comes to war, that there are any "good" choices but I do think we should make choices that are "fair". This past conflict was anything but. Believe as citizens we were purposely deflected from what was happening....personally I find this offensive. If it is worth fighting for it is certainly worth everyone doing their part. Also feel that in order to feel invested in something it takes a bit of self sacrifice. Pretty radical thoughts in today's world I guess.

Anyway....thanks again for both the comment and the post. I do enjoy Sci Fi/Fantasy now and again.
I presume that you don't do a lot of posting to Librarything political or religious groups? I ask because I have not heard your screen name being cursed in those groups, which it certainly would be if you tried to make points about statistics, scientific methodology, evidence or inferential reasoning in any of those groups. You see, it is important to have earnestly held opinions derived from right intuition and to flame those with different intuitions, but demands for evidence or logical argument result in tremendous resentment. (Usually beginning with "I have a right to...." or "My opinion is as good as....".)

I see that Tim let you off with a "well, that's interesting, but we can now proceed to ignore it" response to your comments on statistics and the organic food article he referenced. That was generous of him, given the tone that is encouraged in those groups.
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