Classic American Railroads, By Mike Schafer

One of the most interesting books in my collection as been the Classic American Railroads series written by Mike Schafer. The first of these is entitled simply Classic American Railroads and was first released way back in 1996, published by Motorbooks International. In this first book Schafer details fifteen of the largest, and best remembered fallen flag railroads to operate around the country with names like the Baltimore & Ohio, Great Northern, New York Central, Southern Pacific, and numerous others. I have used all three of his books extensively as research material in helping to write this website, particularly regarding the fallen flag section, and they have been an invaluable tool. Not only does Mr. Schafer provide nicely written histories of each company but he also presents fine historic photography throughout the book, some of which is his own work as well as that of other noted rail historians/photographers such as Mel Patrick, Steve Smedley and the late Jim Boyd.

Classic American Railroads is not so much broken down into chapters as it highlighting the railroads themselves (which I suppose could be considered chapters). Mr. Schafer opens the book with a brief Acknowledgements segment describing how it all came together and what you can expect to find within its pages (such as noting that the bulk of the book is comprised of large, colorful photographs). Here the author discusses the intricacies of the book's development and is keen to point out that without the help of several individuals he could not have published such a title. It should also be noted that because of the size of Classic American Railroads it makes for a wonderful addition to one's coffee table, as much as it does in regards to research use). In the next few pages, Schafer provides a brief Foreword and Introduction, which are definitely worth taking the time to read.

It should be noted, however, that the Foreword itself is written by another noted rail historian, Steve Glischinski who, in about four paragraphs gives a ever-so-brief overview of the American railroad industry. In the intro, Mike Schafer discusses what it means to be a "classic railroad", although his writing is more rhetorical in nature considering that it is a topic with somewhat differing views and opinions. Mike also offers readers a glimpse of how the book is broken down. For instance, while there are technically no chapters comprising Classic American Railroads he made sure to include railroads from all of the different geographical areas of the country, something that holds true in More Classic American Railroads and Classic American Railroads, Volume III.

By page eight Mr. Schafer gets into the "meat" of the book, opening with the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway. While this railroad is alphabetically the first its also quite poetic that it begins the book (and the series in general) considering the great importance the AT&SF played in so many aspects of the American public. The railroad was, and remains, the most well known world-wide and it lefts its mark in many ways from the beautiful scenic views of the American Southwest to its legendarySuper Chief streamliner and the fabled Warbonnet livery. Perhaps more than any other company across the country the Santa Fe helped tell the history of the Native American culture in the region and the railroad went to great lengths molding itself after such.

The Santa Fe is provided coverage over about twelve pages with each following railroad given about the same amount. It should be noted that beginning with the AT&SF article, and included with every railroad, Mr. Schafer provides two additional bits of information; first, he provides an original Rand McNally & Company map (usually dated to around 1950 or before) as well as an "At A Glance" table which provides such details as the size of the railroad, its fleet of locomotives and rolling stock, principle routes, and notable passenger trains. Even today, I continue to come back to these sections of his books for reference purposes, as it's been another great tool.

The "second chapter" of the book highlights the history of the Baltimore & Ohio with subsequent coverage given to the Boston & Maine, Chicago & North Western, Chicago Burlington & Quincy, Milwaukee Road, Chicago Rock Island & Pacific (Rock Island), Denver & Rio Grande Western, Great Northern, Illinois Central, Louisville & Nashville, New York Central, Pennsylvania Railroad, Southern Pacific, and Union Pacific. Another important note is that Schafer also gives a brief glimpse into the railroads' passenger fleets although for a more detailed history of each you need to pick up a book highlighting either that particular company or a title such as Streamliners: History Of A Railroad Icon (also written by Mike Schafer, this is another excellent book that I would highly recommend purchasing if you are interested in the subject). As I mentioned above all three of Mike Schafer's books covering fallen flags and other classic railroads remains an important resource tool within my collection. Whether you are interested in the history of the railroads themselves or just want a book of interesting photographs of the nostalgic days of the industry Classic American Railroads is a great title. Also, if you have a young child, family member, or loved one with an interest in trains they are sure to enjoy the book (for instance, I was given this one as a Christmas gift before I was even a teenager and still love it!).

Classic American Railroads Volume III, By Mike Schafer

In Classic American Railroads Volume III Mike Schafer continues his coverage of well known fallen flag systems just as he did in the earlier Classic American Railroadsand More Classic American Railroads. The latest in the series was released in 2003 by MBI Publishing (who also released the previous two versions) and to date there have been no follow-up books written. In some ways this is too bad as all three are excellent, which I highly recommend purchasing for either yourself or a loved one (especially if you have a child with an interest in trains). This last book features several of the smaller lines and even covers one of the most well known interurbans that survived all of the way through the early 1980s. In any event, for history's sake there were more than 100 classic lines once operating in this country and Mr. Schafer's series has only highlighted less than 40% of these. So, if he has the time, interest, and energy Mike could probably write three more books if he so chose.

In Classic American Railroads Volume III, Mike Schafer introduces thirteen more companies including (in alphabetical order as they are presented in the book) the Atlantic Coast Line, Canadian National, Clinchfield Railroad, Delaware Lackawanna & Western (Lackawanna), Duluth Missabe & Iron Range (Missabe Road), Illinois Terminal, Maine Central, Monon Route (the Chicago, Indianapolis & Louisville Railway), Norfolk & Western, Reading, St. Louis-San Francisco Railway (Frisco), Soo Line (the Minneapolis, St. Paul & Sault Ste. Marie Railway), and the Spokane Portland & Seattle. For those with more knowledge on the industry's history you can probably tell that several smaller and/or less well-known lines are covered in the latest, which first began with the second book More Classic American Railroads.

Perhaps more than any book in the series Mr. Schafer gives especial notable recognition within the acknowledgements section of those who not only helped him put together the title but also wrote some of the articles directly. Of the six authors that contributed their work to Classic American Railroads Volume III, five are rather well known rail historians; Kevin Holland (wrote the articles highlighting the Canadian National and Maine Central); Jim Boyd (covered the Clinchfield and Spokane, Portland & Seattle); Joe Welsh (featured the Atlantic Coast Line and Norfolk & Western); Mike Del Vecchio (wrote the history of the Lackawanna along with Tom Taber and Mr. Schafer); Steve Glishinski (highlighted the Missabe Road, Soo, and Frisco); and Tracy Antz (featured the Reading). It should also be mentioned that a number of these individuals also contributed their photographic collections to the book.

The book's foreword and introduction are also the most extensive in the series. The former is provided by Kevin Keefe, one-time editor of Trains magazine, discussing not just the history of classic railroads but those which you will read about in the book. Additionally, he gives mention to all of the historians that helped bring the book together and their contributions, in general, to telling the history of the industry. Finally, in the latter Mr. Schafer discusses what it has been like to write all three books. He also talks about what is in the book and how he went about choosing particular companies with some of the criteria being their time in business, how well they were known, their impact on the industry and the public, and finally location (all three books feature lines that served all of the different regions of the country).

Of all the lines covered in Classic American Railroads Volume III perhaps the most interesting is one of the smallest, the Illinois Terminal a company that began life as a Midwestern interurban serving central Illinois. The history of the IT dates back to a line with the same initials, the Illinois Traction owned and operated by William McKinley. While interurbans by their nature were not very successful McKinley was a visionary that expanded his system across Illinois and concentrated heavily on freight operations. Schafer's overview of the IT is quite interesting providing a look at the lines making up the IT as well as its contemporary operations as a main line railroad after it abandoned electrified operations for diesel locomotives.

In the article, Mr. Schafer provides a section including a table that lists the IT's mileage, locomotive/rolling stock fleet, main lines, and primary passenger trains as well as an original system. This is one of the true gems of the entire series, every railroad includes such information and it for myself, it has been a valuable resource when doing research, even today. While it is probably an unlikely idea to believe Mike will put together any further books highlighting fallen flags considering it has been several years now since the last title was released hopefully one day he will given how wonderful the first three have been. As I mentioned above all three of Mike Schafer's books covering fallen flags and other classic railroads remains an important resource tool within my collection. Whether you are interested in the history of the railroads themselves or just want a book of interesting photographs of the nostalgic days of the industry Classic American Railroads Volume III is a great title. Also, if you have a young child, family member, or loved one with an interest in trains they are sure to enjoy either this particular title or the entire series. In any event, if you're interested in perhaps purchasing this book please visit the link below which will take you to ordering information through Amazon.com, the trusted online shopping network.

More Classic American Railroads (Volume II), By Mike Schafer

Whether Mike Schafer had planned on turning his "Classic American Railroads" into a series or the success of the first volume prompted doing so about four years later he released More Classic American Railroads in 2000. This second book follows up the first, released in 1995, and is also published by MBI Publishing. Just as in Classic American Railroads, Mr. Schafer continues his look at several of the best known historical lines to once operate in this country. In some ways the second title surpasses the first. While both are roughly the same length in size the second title highlights more lines, sixteen altogether (the first covered about a dozen). Just as with the other two titles I use this book extensively for research and reference purposes and certainly recommend anyone with an interest in trains to pick up a copy.

As in the Acknowledgements section of the first title, inMore Classic American Railroads Mr. Schafer discusses those whom helped the author put together book including well known historians/photographers like Ron Flanary, Jim Shaughnessy, Dave Ingles, and the late Jim Boyd. Some of these individuals also contributed photographs to this title as well as others. The foreword was written by Mr. Boyd himself, as he goes into the particulars of helping put the book together as well as discussing what it was like to live through the "classic" era of the 1950s and 1960s. Finally, in the introduction Mr. Schafer talks about what it was like to write the first book as well as what you can except to read about in More Classic American Railroads. Once again, he looks to give equal coverage to different areas of the country.

As I mentioned in the discussion of Mike's first book, the entire series is filled with not only wonderful color photographs of classic railroads but which are also quite large, sharp and vivid. In some cases pamphlets or advertisements are also presented although most of these are in the form of original timetable covers. The first railroad highlighted in the second book is the Bangor & Aroostook and this sort of carries a theme throughout the rest of the title, which carries on into a volume three, a look at some of the smaller classic systems. Other smaller lines featured in the More Classic American Railroads includes the the Wabash, Erie, Nickel Plate Road (the New York, Chicago & St. Louis), Chicago Great Western, Delaware & Hudson, and Lehigh Valley.

Some of the larger and more prominent systems given mention include southern lines Chesapeake & Ohio, Seaboard Air Line, and Southern Railway. While all three of these railroads played an important role in the South, of especial note is the Southern. The highlight of the company in More Classic American Railroads is particularly interesting as especial interest in paid to the railroad's incredibly impeccable financial situation. During the darkest days of the industry between the late 1960s and early 1980s the Southern was actually a shining light earning monster profits and income during this period. Statistics are provided of just how much money the railroad made and it is quite startling. Perhaps even more interesting is that the management practices of both Southern and partner Norfolk & Western carried on today under Norfolk Southern.

Other large, notable lines covered in the book include the Missouri Pacific and Northern Pacific. In regards to the MoPac the book does a fine job of breaking down its complicated history as the railroad was not only comprised of numerous smaller companies (which is why it was often referred to as "Missouri Pacific Lines") but also dealt with a number of reorganizations over the years. The article discusses the role Jay Gould played in molding the MP as well as its final years until Union Pacific ownership. One particular point that is made vividly clear, although not perhaps intentionally, is the the overall size of the railroad. It was one of the largest in the west, making it somewhat ironic the company had such financial problems. As with Mike Schafer's other books in the series More Classic American Railroads has an invaluable table within each article highlighting a number of important statistics about every railroad such as its route mileage, peak mileage, rolling stock/locomotive fleets, principle routes, and primary passenger trains. Additionally, every line includes an historic Rand McNally & Company period system map. 



Also, it is important to note, as Mr. Schafer points out himself in the book, that not every railroad's article was written by himself as he called upon help from others like Jim Boyd. And finally, every railroad throughout the three-book series is generally covered also discusses other aspects such as its passenger and motive power fleets. If you are interested in learning more about these specific areas please look into picking up a book on the subject or about the railroad itself. As I mentioned above all three of Mike Schafer's books covering fallen flags and other classic railroads remains an important resource tool within my collection. Whether you are interested in the history of the railroads themselves or just want a book of interesting photographs of the nostalgic days of the industry More Classic American Railroads is a great title. Also, if you have a young child, family member, or loved one with an interest in trains they are sure to enjoy either this particular title or the entire series. In any event, if you're interested in perhaps purchasing this book please visit the link below which will take you to ordering information through Amazon.com, the trusted online shopping network.




Header Photo: Drew Jacksich




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