America's Fighting Railroads, By Don DeNevi

Header Photo: Drew Jacksich

In America's Fighting Railroads Don DeNevi looks at World War II from a different approach, the effort on the home-front and how trains helped win the conflict by moving indescribable amounts of freight as well as keeping the troops en route to their intended destinations. During World War I the United States government had taken over the industry via the United States Railroad Administration (USRA), which turned out to be somewhat of a disaster as the network was worn out and rundown by the time that conflict had ended. Learning from the mistakes of that logistical breakdown the railroads vowed not to let it happen again when the second war broke out, and while somewhat worn the industry was indeed much better prepared. Overall, Mr. DeNevi's book truly offers the greatest insight into the railroads' role during the second World War and he features some fabulous photography throughout its pages, albeit all of them are in color.

America's Fighting Railroads opens with a short introduction that offers you a glimpse of what's to come, which as you might expect is an overview of rail operations during the war. The book begins with a first chapter that looks at rail service directly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and how the industry was in a far better position to respond than in 1917. You will learn about Ralph Budd, noted president of the Burlington and Pioneer of diesel locomotives, who convinced President Roosevelt to engage in a plan that saw coordinated services amongst the Shippers' Advisory Boards, Interstate Commerce Commission, and Association of American Railroads. Budd's efforts during the war helped oversee an efficient transportation system for the country amongst most major modes of travel; rail, highway, and waterway.

During chapter one you will get an idea for how the book is presented. While there is plenty of information offered, Mr. DeNevi also offers plenty of historic photos from the period, albeit not in color. Interestingly, there several images of early streamliners featured. In chapter two, America's Fighting Railroads looks at how the industry began planning for war as early as 1940 with the build of rolling stock and improved infrastructure. One page 35 of this section the author offers statistics and graphs that show just how efficient the industry was during the early years of the war such as grow revenues, net earnings, and other factors like maintenance, freight car demand, etc. The rest of this section discusses how the railroad prepared for war following December 7th and the record traffic year of 1942.

In chapter three the author begins by highlighting the Military Railway Service, an organization quite similar to the U.S. Military Railroads of the Civil War. In reality, in virtually every major war up to World War II the United States had a similar outfit. The MRS was a well organized and structured operation, as is to be expected of anything involving the military. While the MRS during WWII was mostly confined to individual bases around the country it also was provided support by the private railroads in some capacities, such as through military Railway Shop Battalions (or RSBs). The rest of the third chapter looks at the operations of the Alaska Railroad and White Pass & Yukon Route. It should be pointed out that the state was of great concern to the military during the conflict as for some time after the start of the war the Japanese occupied the extreme western Aleutian Islands.

Into chapter four, America's Fighting Railroads looks at railroad services as the war pressed on into 1943 and 1944. Just as had been the case in 1942 the industry continued amass staggering numbers of freight traffic tonnage, which increased through 1944, and the author once again offers plenty of statistics and figures (on page 75 a nice table is presented showing many of these hard numbers showing such things as revenue ton-miles, gross earnings, net operating income, rolling stock, etc.). The photographs presented in this section are just fascinating as in other areas of the book with scenes of military equipment on flatcars (tanks and small boats), troop trains, and even several streamliners (notably of the Union Pacific including early views of the City of San Francisco, steam powered Challenger, and City Of Denver).

The final pages of this chapter offers several more tables and statistics regarding rail movements and equipment in the later years of the war. In chapter five America's Fighting Railroads looks at the last weeks and months of the war and summarizes the critical role the railroads played in the conflict as a whole. One of the more interesting photos in the entire book is presented here, a view of the "Spirit of the Union Pacific" which was a B-17 flying fortress bomber named after the railroad (the company had "purchased" it through a war bond campaign). Unfortunately, the caption never provides information regarding the plane's ultimate fate. The book concludes with a chapter six looking at how the railroad industry planned to continue pushing passenger services after the war. Unfortunately, as we now know those ideas failed in favor of highways and air travel.

Finally, the last pages of America's Fighting Railroads features just a general collection of photos from the period as well as advertisements and posters. You can see scenes of the old Sacramento Northern interurban pulling freight duties in California with boxcab electrics, other interurban lines, scenes from inside large terminals, more images of military equipment moving by train, as well as additional graphs and statistics. Again, if you were interested in the subject of railroad operations during World War II this book is a great book to have in your collection.