Thursday, December 29, 2005

19th Century Locomotive Engineer Autobiographies

What detailed 19th century memoirs or autobiographies by American locomotive engineers (any railroad) exist to describe first hand their personal experiences and what operating a steam engine/train was really like in those early days? Are there any?


Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...


Fowler Pope's diary, one year (1876) in the life of a narrow gauge engineer working in Santa Cruz County, California, was reprinted in Birth of California Narrow Gauge (Stanford University Press, 2003).

—Bruce MacGregor

12/29/2005 1:57 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

... John Decker a while back highly recommended a book by the title Set Up Running: [The Life of a Pennsylvania Railroad Engineman 1904-1949 by John W. Orr, James D. Porterfield, a fascinating account of the life and career of a Pennsylvania Railroad locomotive engineer as told by his son].

— Adrian Ettlinger

[from the R&LHS Newsgroup.]

12/29/2005 5:00 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: Tom De Fazio

A couple years ago, Gene Lewis and I agreed on the evocative quality of Richard Reinhardt's (editor) "Workin' On the Railroad." Admittedly, only two or three of the stories address the engineer, operating a steam engine, but all of the stories address men operating American railroads. Below is our exchange from the past.


Gene Lewis wrote:

Quite by chance I came across Richard Reinhardt's Workin' On the Railroad, Reminiscenses from the Age of Steam 1970 (ISBN 910118-17-7). He draws his material from contemporary writing (as early as the 1840s) which brings a rich flavor of the early days of iron men and wooden cars into our age. A recommended reading for those of the group nostalgic about the "good old days".

—Gene Lewis


Yes indeed, Gene, I heartily agree.

That book has long been one of my favorites. The stories are non-fiction, of course, though some read like the railroad fiction that Freeman Hubbard used to re-publish during the late days of Railroad Magazine. Two of the editor's chosen stories come immediately to mind.

One, written by a working associate of Samuel M. Vauclain, addresses a time late in the development of the Vauclain compound system, trial runs on the B&O southwest of Philadelphia, and SMV's making the acquaintance of a B&O engineer that SMV would recruit as Baldwin's traveling engineer. It is a wonderful story of that late 1880's era. The intensity of the development work that the author describes is wholly evocative of recent engineering development environments that I have been personally involved with. Vauclain's own ancestors might have simply characterized my equation across time by "plus ca change, plus ca la meme chose."

Another story describes (as I recall) an eastbound working ride on a PRR freight, coming down off the Alleghenies and towards Altoona and the Juniata Valley, out of control. The hairs on the back of a reader's neck will surely rise.

[from the R&LHS Newsgroup.]

12/30/2005 6:36 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: George Kennedy

In Railroad History 146 (spring 1991) I published an article entitled "Running a Locomotive in 1856: The Log of H. S. Haines." At the time, Haines was about 20 years old, running an engine on the Wilmington and Manchester RR in South Carolina. He describes in some detail the mechnical and operational problems he encountered. There are also parts of a later log about working on a railroad in Georgia. The original, of which only excerpts and a summary are in my article, is in Wilson Library at the Univiversity of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Haines went on to a fine career on the Plant System and elsewhere (Haines City FL is named for him), lectured on railroad matters at Cornell and Boston University, served as a consultant in France and Japan, and published a series of excellent books on efficient railroad operations published in the early years of the 20th century. I had once hoped to write an article about him and collected some information, which I would be willing to share if someone wanted to take up the matter as it deserves. Unfortunately, his personal papers do not seem to have survived except for those mentioned above.

—George Kennedy

[from the R&LHS Newsgroup.]

12/30/2005 6:41 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: Walter Rich

My favorite nineteenth century engineer book is "Clear the Tracks," the story of an old time locomotive engineer, by Joseph Bromley, Whittlesey House {Mcgraw-Hill} 1943. Bromley started on woodburners about 1880 and ended as an ICC inspector.

[from the R&LHS Newsgroup.]

12/31/2005 10:57 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: Schuyler Larrabee
Subject: 19th Century book recommendation

"Clear the Tracks" ... is a terrific book ... and only "Set Up Running" comes close to it for stories from The Real Thing, real railroaders in the 20th Century.


[from the R&LHS Newsgroup.]

12/31/2005 11:06 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "D.E. Allen"

I collect biographies and auto-biographies of people that worked for the railroads, from Presidents to engine watchmen, and made up this list from books I have in my collection:

Adams – Life on the Head End, 1956 (Canada)

Gould – My Life on Mountain Railroads, 1995

Lathrop – Little Engines and Big Men, 1954 (D & RG)

" " – Rio Grande Glory Days, 1976

Leu – A Hoghead's Random Railroad Reminiscences, 1995

Murphy – The Fun and Work of Railroading, 1968 (he worked for the N & W in Western Va.)

Reed – Forty Years a Locomotive Engineer, 1913

Stitt – I Remember, 1983 (CPR)

Unk – Trips in the Life of a Locomotive Engineer, 1863 (Probably the first locomotive engineer book ever written, extremely hard to locate today. The author worked for the Hudson River RR)

Some of these guys started in the 19th century but most of these books deal with the early to mid 20th century.

I buy and sell RR books and have some of these titles available for sale if anyone is interested. I also have books about station agents / telegraphers, brakemen / conductors, etc. I have a nice selection of original RR fiction available as well. Drop me a line if there are any titles you are looking for.

[from the R&LHS Newsgroup.]

1/02/2006 8:30 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

See related discussion

10/23/2011 12:11 PM  

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