1. Home
  2.  ›
  3. Reviews
  4.  ›
  5. Go West! North America By Railroad

Go West!  North America By Railroad, By Pascal Blanchet

Last revised: February 24, 2023

"Go West!  North America By Railroad" is a children's title written by Pascal Blanchet first released by a French-Canadian publisher La Pastèque in 2016. 

An English version was later released in April, 2018 by The Quarto Group.  While it is tailored towards kids, any adult with an interest in trains would also enjoy it! 

The book features illustrations throughout, with many fascinating factual tidbits included here and there. 

For instance, during a journey where the reader travels from New York to Los Angeles and parts of Canada, the author highlights Canada's first steam locomotive, the first built and operated in the United States, how the West was settled, where the term "iron horse" is derived, several notable streamliners, an overview of the once-common Pullman porter, and much more. 

The book is very engaging and highly recommended.  If your child has any interest in trains they will surely love it!

Go West! opens by highlighting the "Tom Thumb," the first steam locomotive constructed and operated in America on a common-carrier railroad, the Baltimore & Ohio.  

During its first eight months in service the B&O (and most other railroads at that time) relied primarily on horse or mule power.

Shortly after this time, a man by the name of Peter Cooper approached B&O officials stating he had built a small, experimental steam locomotive, which he believed could vastly improve operations. 

He wished to test the design on the railroad, a request eventually granted.

By trade Cooper was a businessman, real estate developer (following the B&O's creation he had the foresight of acquiring land near the railroad in anticipation its value would greatly increase), and inventor. 

He firmly believed that steam-driven locomotives would, in time, replace horses and mules. 

The technology was not new even at that time, as Richard Trevithick of England was the first to successfully develop such when he showcased the technology along the Merthyr-Tydfil Railway in South Whales on February 21, 1804, where it pulled loads of iron ore along a tramway

However, American-built designs were an entirely novel concept.  After Cooper convinced B&O officials to test his locomotive the date of August 28, 1830 was set for its trial run. 

The locomotive, named the "Tom Thumb," would carry B&O directors during the trip, and race a horsepowered train (also carrying passengers). 

The point, of course, was to gain an understanding of the locomotive's effectiveness against the day's proven technology. 

As legend goes, the "Tom Thumb" almost immediately began outpacing its live counterpart, eventually reaching a top speed of 10 to 15 mph.

However, as the race continued the locomotive's blower belt slipped off its pulley, causing a loss of steam pressure. 

With no propulsion, the horse caught up, passed the locomotive, and won the contest. 

Despite the setback, B&O officials were extremely impressed and realized the incredible advantages steam-power offered. 

Afterwards, the locomotive took railroad dignitaries across the entire main line to Ellicott Mills and back.

It went on to operate in non-revenue service capacities for the B&O for nearly a year until around March, 1831 (it was eventually scrapped although a replica is housed at the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum today).

Immediately following the "Tom Thumb," Mr. Blanchet's book highlights Canada's first steam locomotive, the "Dorchester," a British design built by Robert Stephenson. 

Carrying an 0-4-0 wheel arrangement it was placed into service on the Champlain & St. Lawrence Railroad on July 21, 1836 along a stretch of track in what is today Montreal, Quebec. 

As the book continues you will read more about other steam locomotives, such as the Pennsylvania Railroad's incredible 4-4-4-4 "Duplex Drive," and the roll engineers and firemen played in the cab. 

The Duplex was a late-era design that likely would have been the next advancement in steam technology had it not been for the diesel.  

The history of Duplex Drive technology can be traced back to France in the 1860s although its use in the United States did not occur until May, 1937 when the Baltimore & Ohio's own shop forces out-shopped the railroad's one and only, example, Class N-1 #5600. 

Later, the PRR perfected the design by working with Baldwin; several were built although the most famous were the Class T-1's.

  You will also read about the 4-4-0 "American Type," a mid-19th century locomotive that was widely used throughout that century.  

As the book moves forward you will read about famous terminals in both the U.S. and Canada, as well as several popular streamliners like the 20th Century Limited and Mercury

Union Pacific's M-10000 kicked off this new type of travel on February 25, 1934.  As Mike Schafer and Joe Welsh note in their book, "Streamliners: History Of A Railroad Icon," the trainset had been ordered a year earlier from Pullman-Standard.

For that time, it was unlike anything the public had ever seen.  Its sleek, and colorful. ("Canary Yellow" and "Golden Brown," the former hue chosen specifically for safety reasons. A similar version of this same livery still adorns UP equipment today.

The trainset topped out at 204 feet and weighed just 124 tons.  It was powered by a 600 horsepower distillate engine designed by the Winton Engine Company with speeds capable of 110 mph.  

The articulated, three-car consist included the combined power car/Railway Post Office/baggage compartment, a 60-seat coach, and a buffet-kitchen-observation with seating for 54.  

In total, the train could hold 116 patrons.  The M-10000 was a publicity success although its engine proved unsatisfactory.

Only shortly after its debut, the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy placed an order for its own streamliner.  It was also a three-car articulated design, the work of the Budd Company.  

Its prime mover was a Winton 8-201-A diesel engine capable of 660 horsepower.  

The train was given the name, Zephyr 9900, later renamed the Pioneer Zephyr. It equally impressed the public following its unveiling at Philadelphia's Broad Street Station on April 18, 1934.  

The 197-foot train featured a simple, yet elegant, sloped nose to enhance its streamlining features with accommodations including the combined power car/Railway Post Office/mail-storage area, a baggage/coach, and a coach-parlor-observation.  

The Zephyr held less seating, just 72 paying customers.  However, the CB&Q arguably boasted the much more reliable train since its diesel engine had fewer mechanical issues.

It also earned great publicity when it made its historic initial run on May 26, 1934. That day the trainset left Denver at 5:05 AM in anticipation of reaching Chicago later that evening.  

With an average speed of 78 mph it completed the 1,015-mile trip in just 14 hours, arriving in the Windy City at 7:10 PM.

Go West! concludes by highlighting the west coast from Vancouver, British Columbia to Los Angeles, California.  The Golden State was served by several systems but perhaps the Southern Pacific (SP) is the most famous. 

Its popular Daylight streamliners are featured in the book while the SP was an American corporate icon; it helped establish the Transcontinental Railroad and later served much of the west and southwest, reaching as far east as New Orleans, Louisiana. 

In addition, a multitude of celebrated subsidiaries comprised SP's network like the Texas & New Orleans, Cotton Belt, and the great Pacific Electric Railway. 

Over time, it blossomed into the most far-reaching of all the classic American railroads with a network totaling 17,000 miles after its 1988 merger with the Denver & Rio Grande Western. 

Alas, poor management in the decades following World War II greatly weakened this proud carrier as neglect and failed mergers saw its acquisition by Union Pacific in 1996. 

Today, given Southern Pacific's impressive size and scope most of its principal lines remain in regular service.  


Wes Barris's SteamLocomotive.com is simply the best web resource on the study of steam locomotives. 

It is difficult to truly articulate just how much material can be found at this website. 

It is quite staggering and a must visit!