The American Train Depot And Roundhouse, By Hans And April Halberstadt

Header Photo: Drew Jacksich

Another book released by Motorbooks International Publishers (better known today as MBI Publishing), The American Train Depot And Roundhouse is written by Hans and April Halberstadt dating back to its first printing in 1995. As with most MBI books this title works just as well as a coffee table piece as it does covering the history of the classic American railroad station. Despite the fact that the book can only provide a general history of train depots its colorful photos and detailed information make it an interesting read for anyone interested in or curious about the subject. Overall, the book is nearly 200 pages in length with eight chapters highlighting the history of stations. It begins by discussing the earliest history of the buildings, how a culture developed around them, and the various types of designs in which they were constructed. Other topics covered in the book include union stations, related buildings (such as the roundhouse), and finally what efforts are ongoing to save remaining structures.

Even though The American Train Depot And Roundhouse is a book published by Motorbooks International its authors are not traditional railfans/historians (at least not who are well known). However, the pictures are large, vivid, and excellent a trademark that MBI's railroad titles are well known for. Incidentally, these photographs also are not from names you would likely recognize with many either the property of the Library of Congress or Robert Genat. The book opens with an acknowledgments section giving thanks to those who have helped bring it to life through their knowledge on the subject. In the preface the authors speak of the role the depot played in communities, particularly small towns where they were the lifeblood of the entire area and especially in the early days the only connection to the rest of the world.

Finally, the opening section of the book in the introduction looks at how the depot and railroad changed entire towns when they finally reached a particular community. For an intro it is quite lengthy covering more than fifteen pages. In chapter one, entitled "Life At The Depot," the authors discuss the intricacies of what a depot was, how it functioned, and its day-to-day operations. For instance, the book differentiates between what railroads actually considered a "station" (a physical location on a timetable that involved stopping for a particular purpose) and a "depot" (a building used for freight and passenger operations). Other topics highlighted include the job of the telegrapher, the daily mingling of local folks around the depot, and even a look at interlocking towers and roundhouses.

If you are interested in the architecture and designs of depots then you must read through chapter two entitled "A Short Course In Railroad Architecture". This section looks at some of the various layouts of the buildings and its most interesting area highlights several of the most popular types and what they looked including the Beaux Arts, Chateau, Colonial, Craftsman, Edwardian, Gothic, Greek Rival, Italianate, Mission/Mission Revival, Moderne, Queen Anne, Revival, Romanesque, Victorian, and even the modern-day "Amshacks." Also, the chapter gives an interesting list of some of the best known depot architects including Reed & Stern, E. Francis Baldwin, Frank Furness, and numerous others. Moving into chapter three this section is essentially a spinoff of the previous looking at why some building designs were more successful than others and/or more appealing. You can also read about economic events that played a role in design and construction from the mid-19th century through the 1950s.

In chapter four the book looks at one particular type of, those designed and built for the famed Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway (the "Santa Fe"). Albeit a quite short chapter it's nonetheless and interesting read, which also looks at the classic Harvey Houses and restaurants. If you interested in studying the large union terminals and related structures then chapter five is definitely a must read. Here you can learn about many of the best known buildings like St. Louis Union Station, Grand Central Terminal, Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal (today, known as Los Angeles Union Station), and a number of others. Interestingly, in chapter six the book deviates a bit from the topics of depots and stations as it looks at one railroad in particular, the Nevada Northern Railway.

This now museum is actually featured in the book for a reason, as it highlights the many historic structures (including the original Ely station) that still stand on the property. In chapter seven, The American Train Depot And Roundhouse covers the second part of its title in greater detail, roundhouses and related buildings. You might be surprised to learn that some of these secondary structures were designed by some well known architects and the authors mention this here. Additionally, you will learn more about the inner-workings of these buildings and daily life the transpired within their walls. It is only a general look at the subject but still nevertheless interesting.

The book concludes with chapter eight, entitled "Saving The Depots - A Short Course In Jams And Preserves." As it suggests the authors discuss here the efforts, that continue today, to not only restoring the remaining depots and other historic railroad structures but also preserving those in poor condition from being lost forever. I have used The American Train Depot And Roundhouse a bit while writing the depot section of this website. As mentioned above, while the book is predominantly filled with photographs it also features lots of interesting and historic information.