Thursday, August 04, 2005

Favorite Railroad Books

... subjectively ... the best books on railroading are fictional. Eddie Sands, the fictional train-order operator in Railroad Magazine, is my favorite rail persona.

Exactly which such books ... How about?

1. Frank H. Spearman, Held for Orders: Stories of Railroad Life. New York: Scribner's. 1920 [1900]. viii + 359 p.

2. Frank L. Packard, The Night Operator. New York: A. L. Burt. 1919. 320 p.

3. Herbert L. Pease, Singing Rails: The Story of a Railroad Man at the Turn of the Century. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell. 1948. vii + 304 p.

The personal appeal to me is that the oldest heads when I hired out were 1904 men. From the age of iron men and wooden cabooses and of lap (of authority) and "smoke" orders, the accounts they told in the register room and during layovers were compellingly fascinating. "You want to learn more?" I was asked. Read books such as the above and the early issues of Railroad (then, The Railroad Man's Magazine), I was advised.

My favorite nonfiction book on railroading is:

4. Chauncey Del French, Railroadman. New York Macmillan 1938. ix + 292 p.

The author worked in all the operating crafts from 1873 to 1930, booming on sixteen roads. I read the book while a graduate student at Berkeley and then looked for a copy across the country and over three decades. I finally found one, at $4.00, in a neighboring town.

—Fred Gamst

[from the R&LHS Newsgroup, March 13, 2003.]