Railroads Across America, By Mike Del Vecchio

Header Photo: Drew Jacksich

If you are interested in purchasing a railroad book tailor suited as a coffee table piece, Railroads Across America authored by Mike Del Vecchio another well known rail historian and published by MBI Publishing/Quadrillion Publishing Limited back in 1998 (the former company has released numerous railroad-related books over the years). The book is a massive hardcover that is more than 12 inches in length and quite heavy. As the name implies the title is meant to generally highlight America's railroad history since its inception in the early 20th century. While the book is filled with text and information this is primarily conveyed through wonderfully large, and vivid photographs, paintings, drawings, and such. Mike breaks down the book into three different parts with fourteen different chapters overall. Essentially, these chapters discuss the particularly geographical areas of the country with the first and last sections discussing the industry's beginnings and where it is headed today.

The first section of Railroads Across America is comprised of two chapters entitled "The Early Days" and "An Industry Is Born". As you can probably guess these two quick chapters (totaling less than twenty pages) covers the earliest days of the industry describing early engineering practices, locomotives, and companies. Included here are two of the pioneering companies in the field, the Baltimore & Ohio and Delaware & Hudson Canal Company (later the Delaware & Hudson Railway). Other topics Mr. Del Vecchio touches on include the development of standard gauge, automatic air brakes, the creation of standard time, and the building of the transcontinental railroad. While there are some excellent early photographs featured here most of the images depicted are of early paintings, drawing, and pamphlets.

Railroads Across America delve heavily into the historical side of the industry, mostly sticking with a very general overview and predominantly focusing on the images and photos featured. In part two it begins with the chapter entitled "The Golden Age & Beyond", which looks at the industry from the 1880s through just after World War I and the 1920s. Over the next seven chapters of this section Mr. Del Vecchio offers readers a fascinating gallery of photographs that are large enough to frame if one could so focusing on the different areas of North America. It begins with, "From The Sea To The Great Lakes" and moves on to "New England", "The Southeast", "The Midwest", "Everywhere West & Texas", and "California & The Pacific Coast".

Mike does not stop there, however, and also includes a chapter featuring Canadian railroads both during early years of operations as well present day services (which offers images of all of the country's major companies such as CP Rail, Canadian National, and so forth). Obviously, part two of the Railroads Across America comprises the bulk of the book as it makes up nearly 160 of the total 220 pages. Once again, if you love photographs (and, really, who doesn't?) you will very much enjoy Mike's book. Essentially all of the most well known classic railroads are featured at least once with images depicting large steam locomotives, famous streamliners like the Super Chief, and even rare photos of the Milwaukee Road's electrified operations out west.

The book concludes with the final section, part 3, which is also the shortest. In a few short chapters, entitled "The Present & The Future" and "Today & Tomorrow", Mike Del Vecchio discusses the impact railroads have had on society, their current role, and what they will look like in the future. Interestingly, at the time of the book's writing Conrail was still a major Class I system that soon after disappeared into CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern. In any event, perhaps the final chapter is the most interesting, at least if you are a railfan; entitled, "Railfans, Railroads & Preservation" this seven page section talks about the role of historians and those that enjoy railroads in keeping alive its long and storied history through the restoration of dated equipment and buildings.

Throughout this article I have spoken of the excellent photography featured in Railroads Across America. If you are not interested in a picture book then you may not want to buy Mr. Del Vecchio's publication. Most of the writing in the book occurs within the first few sections and the opening of each new chapter. Everything in between is almost entirely photographs, with accompanying captions describing location, railroad, and the year. It should be noted that the book is not only of Mike's photo collection but other well known historians in the field such as Jim Shaughnessy and the late Jim Boyd, as well as numerous historical society collections.

For myself, Mr. Del Vecchio's book has not been a great usefulness to me in regards to writing the website, mostly because there simply is not a lot of detailed information included within it for research purposes. However, if you especially have small children or loved ones who have an interest in trains they are sure to get a thrill of looking at all of the large, colorful, and detailed photographs featured throughout the book (my own nieces and nephews have certainly enjoyed looking through its pages!).