North American Locomotives, By Brian Solomon

Header Photo: Drew Jacksich

North American Locomotives:  A Railroad By Railroad Photohistory is a book written by Brian Solomon and published by Voyageur Press in late 2012, which highlights the American railroad industry through photographs.  The hardback cover is essentially a coffee-table title with large and detailed images (a Solomon trademark).  However, in doing so it also provides a look at dozens of railroads from classic names like the Baltimore & Ohio and Santa Fe to today's systems such as Amtrak, CSX, BNSF Railway, and others.  If you are looking for a piece to either display in your home, learn a little about many of the fallen flags, or just want a new railroad book that features fabulous photographs (which really are quite impressive) North American Locomotives is definitely one you will want in your collection.

One important point to note about North American Locomotives: while the book highlights 90 different current and fallen flag railroads it does not offer a historical overview of them such as with Mike Schafer's Classic American Railroads series.  Instead, as Mr. Solomon's title suggests the pages look at the actual locomotives each company operated including steam, diesels, and even electrics.  Most roads are only covered in a few pages especially smaller lines like the Lehigh & Hudson River, Virginian, Pittsburgh & West Virginia, and others.  However, the author does spend more time on the larger systems such as the Pennsylvania, New York Central, and Milwaukee Road which operated all three types of motive power (in this case he tends to highlight the most well-known locomotives each company used). 

The book begins with a lengthy, four page introduction which provides a historical overview of motive power.  Naturally, it begins by looking at steam but very quickly Mr. Solomon talks about when railroads first experimented with other types, such as the electric during the late 19th century.  Additionally, if you are unfamiliar with how steam locomotives are classified there is an inset article that covers the Whyte Notation, the common system for describing the motive power by wheel arrangement that was first developed by Frederick M. Whyte during the very early 20th century.  The idea is quite simple: a locomotive's wheel base is broken down into three segments; the lead pilot, main drivers, and trailing axle.  Depending on how many of each there were, sometimes none aside from the main drivers, would determine its arrangement.  To learn more about the notation please visit the site's steam section.

During the second-half of the introduction of North American Locomotives Mr. Solomon discusses diesels, their entry into the industry, and how they eventually went on replace steam.  Here the author provides another inset article which details how diesel wheel arrangements are classed, similar to steam locomotives but somewhat different featuring both letters and numbers.  He also highlights the latest diesel designs and finally concludes by letting readers know what they can expect to see in the succeeding pages.  The book's opening "chapter" (which are more or less short sections) highlights Amtrak and a history of its motive power from early, handed down FL9s, E8s, and even GG1s to more modern power such as the electrically-operated Acela trainsets.

As an owner of many railroad books and several of Mr. Solomon's titles I was immediately struck at the incredible level of photography presented in North American Locomotives.  As a coffee-table book the images are, of course, large and crisp (as they are meant to be).  However, I caught myself several times believing I was observing a newer photo of a restored locomotive when in fact it dated to the 1970s or earlier!  For instance, in the Erie Lackawanna section the author has featured an incredible scene of a set of PAs, sparkling in the sunlight during the summer of 1968 that looks as if it could have been taken yesterday.  You can find photos like this featuring other classic lines from the Rock Island and Illinois Central to the Norfolk & Western and New Haven.

It's not just about the photos, however.  Mr Solomon offers some excellent information on the various motive power each railroad operates/d.  Throughout each section there are fact boxes giving more information about a particular locomotive featured. For instance, within the Delaware & Hudson chapter is a wonderful scene of two of its former Alco PAs, #17 and #19, crossing the Mohawk River Bridge at Cohoes, New York with Amtrak's Adirondack.  Below this photo you can learn more about the PA model including its wheel arrangement, engine, horsepower, tractive effort, years in production, and how many units were produced at the company's plant in Schenectady.  These fact boxes not only cover diesels, though, as similar insets can be found on steam and electrics as well.

While North American Locomotives focuses almost exclusively on U.S. railroads it also highlights a number of Canadian systems including the Canadian National, Canadian Pacific, GO Transit, and VIA Rail.  Additionally, it also goes out of the way to feature several short lines and commuter agencies like Metra, Metrolink, Huron & Western, Genesee & Wyoming, New England Central, and Sound Transit.  In closing I would very much recommend this title of Mr. Solomon's.  As mentioned in the opening it provides a little bit of everything whether you are a railfan or would simply like to learn more about North American railroads and their history of locomotives.