The B&O Railroad, By Kirk Reynolds And Dave Oroszi

Header Photo: Drew Jacksich

Over the past several several years publisher MBI Publishing of Osceola, Wisconsin has released several books highlighting the history of individual classic railroads as part of their "Railroad, Color, History" series. Not only do the titles offer rich histories of these companies but also includes excellent, historic photographs many of which are in color. Baltimore And Ohio Railroad, by Kirk Reynolds and Dave Oroszi is another in the series. As with most, however, you will find noted rail historians have helped in some way to bring the books to life and this title is no different with names like Mike Schafer and the late Jim Boyd contributing in some manner. Overall, Baltimore And Ohio Railroad offers eight different chapters highlighting the railroad from its earliest beginnings to its high speed freight and passenger services. If you enjoy studying the history of the company, like I do, then I would certainly recommend picking up a copy of this book.

B&O Railroad begins with an Acknowledgements and Foreword. The former is written by author Mr. Oroszi describing how the book came together and giving especial notice to the historians who helped bring the book together. Along with the two individuals mentioned above it includes noted B&O historian Herb H. Harwood, Jr., Dave Ori, Dave Ingles, Stephen Salamon, Mark Perri, and numerous other photographs. The latter is a full page piece put together by Mr. Perri aforementioned and essentially gives you a brief background and history of the Baltimore & Ohio. While you may already know part or much of the company's history the reading here is interesting as it is taken from a "railfan's" perspective.

The opening chapter of the book, as you might expect, discusses the birth of the Baltimore & Ohio and how the company was started by a group of Baltimore businessmen wishing to see their city's port remain a vital establishment. Other discussions within the chapter speak of the B&O's early and crude technologies such as dealing with strap rail, understanding the importance of what would become this country's standard railroad gauge (4 feet, 8 1/2 inches) after taking a trip to England, and some of the first steam locomotives. From an historical perspective the first chapter also describes the difficulties of the B&O building westward, reaching Washington, D.C. and its struggles during the Civil War. In many ways it is a fascinating first chapter as you will learn how the B&O pioneered several concepts that later became industry standards.

The second chapter continues discussing the Baltimore & Ohio's journey westward especially focusing on how the company's two primary main lines were formed; for instance, noting how it reached Pittsburgh and Chicago, and then later purchasing or building new railroad directly west of then Grafton, Virginia to Parkersburg, Cincinnati (Ohio) and other points towards St. Louis. One of the fascinating aspects of this chapter describes how the B&O looked to reach deep into Virginia, south of Harrisonburg but management was too focused on other endeavors. The rest of this chapter highlights the B&O's famed "Royal Blue Line", its electrified operations around Baltimore, and its financial struggles of the late 19th century.

B&O Railroad's third chapter describes the B&O during the first half of the 20th century, its takeover by the Pennsylvania Railroad, and its most influential and important president, Daniel Willard. This section, however, is rather short and soon moves into chapter four that highlights the B&O post-World War II and no longer with Willard as its leader. In "The Modern B&O" the authors speak of the company as it falls again into financial difficulty and is eventually taken over by its stronger neighbor, the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway. Here the company's history moves quickly through the book as it the chapter ends by describing how it came to be in today's CSX Transportation system.

However, this is not the end of Baltimore And Ohio Railroad. In chapter five Dave Oroszi and Kirk Reynolds talk about the B&O's interesting passenger fleet, especially during the streamliner era where trains were adorned in a beautiful deep blue and grey with gold trim. In chapter six the B&O's fast freights are highlighted such as Timesavers and Trailer Jets between Baltimore and Chicago/St. Louis. Finally, the book concludes by giving mention to the B&O's steam, diesel, and electric locomotives and ends with an epilogue describing the importance the company's legacy continues to play within the industry today.

Overall, the history within the book is, of course, quite fascinating. However, just as interesting is the excellent photography of the B&O. I have one of the more dated writings of the book although I'm sure nothing, or very little, has changed with it over the years. Featured throughout the title are rare, black and white photos of the B&O during its early years and throughout the Civil War. Additionally, its early streamliners are featured as well as color photos of its massive steam locomotives. Finally, the company is featured during its final years in Chessie System paint.