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Member: alco261

CollectionsYour library (1,554)

Reviews83 reviews

TagsNR (387), railroad history (285), cartoons (225), science fiction (152), War (141), first person account (127), working on the railroad (108), statistics (103), history (88), world history (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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URLs /profile/alco261 (profile)
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Member sinceAug 14, 2010

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