The Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR), By Brian Solomon And Mike Schafer

The Pennsylvania Railroad is a book written by two of the most well known railroad authors in the field, Mike Schafer and Brian Solomon. The title itself is released by MBI Publishing, widely regarded itself for putting out numerous railroad titles over the years featuring fabulous photography. As such, with the author and publisher putting together this book it is a real treat. The photos or second to none, of course, and come from a wide range of collections such as Robert Malinoski, John Dziobko (the "Godfather of Rails"), Richard Solomon (Brian's father), Mike Schafer, the late Jim Boyd, and many others. Given the PRR's immense size and long history a in-depth book on the company could span many books, of course. However, Schafer's and Solomon's look at the Pennsy is the nonetheless quite interesting and very well worth having in your collection (despite the fact that it's only a bit over 100 pages in length), just for the classic photos alone!

From a personal standpoint I have never been a great follower of the Pennsy from a historical standpoint. However, there is no denying that the Pennsylvania Railroad is a very good book on the company. It begins with an acknowledgements and introduction thanking those who helped put together the title and providing readers with brief glimpse of the PRR. Interestingly, much of the intro talks of the very thing I mentioned above, that there is absolutely no way the authors could provide a thorough, detailed history of the Pennsy in a book that is barely 100 pages in length! In any event, the book's opening chapter is entitled, "Dawn of the Pennsylvania Railroad" were the Penny's origins are discussed.

If you enjoy transportation history in general you should find this first chapter interesting as the authors discuss Pennsylvania's first transportation arteries as well as the creation of the National Road during the first decade of the 19th century. Other historical topics covered include the early canal systems, which leads up to the first railroads chartered in the 1820s. Reading on through the chapter you will learn about the state's early railroads and what actually prompted the creation and construction of the Pennsylvania Railroad, the Baltimore & Ohio's continued westward expansion with plans to connect to Pittsburgh by the early 1840s. This spurred state leaders, particularly the business community of Philadelphia to work in chartering their own railroad.

It is kind of interesting how such events change the course of history. As a result of the Pennsylvania Railroad's chartering on April 13, 1846 the B&O was denied entry into the state to construct its westbound main line which offered lower grades and an overall straighter route to the Ohio River. Instead, the PRR was given preferential treatment in building its main line to the river city, forever altering the futures of both companies. Throughout the rest of the first chapter and into the second you will read about the Pennsy's continued march westward including its major Pennsylvania engineering feats at Horseshoe Curve and Gallitzin. As the railroad continued to grow chapter two looks at the company's lines beyond Pittsburgh as it attempted to reach Chicago and St. Louis.

To do so the PRR primarily looked to take over other companies such as the Pittsburgh Fort Wayne & Chicago, Pittsburgh & Steubenville, Jefferson Madison & Indiana, and numerous other companies. By the 1870s the PRR had connections to the St. Louis and Chicago as well as Toledo and much of Ohio in general. Throughout the rest of the 19th century the company continued its expansion and in chapter three you can read about how it grew its operations in the east and reached Washington, D.C. and even Norfolk, Virginia via carfloat services. In chapter four Mr. Schafer and Solomon look into the particulars of PRR's further expansions after its major routes were opened, which occurred roughly from the 1880s through the 1930s (by that date it mostly involved improving infrastructure, such as the construction of its electrified lines).

And on this subject, chapter five looks at its lines reaching New York and electrified operations, which is only a few pages in length. Moving into chapter six of the Pennsylvania Railroad the book highlights the company's many and varied passenger operations from its legendary Broadway Limited to commuter and localized services. In contrast, chapter seven briefly covers freight operations particularly pointing out key terminals such as at Toledo, Chicago, and Fort Wayne. In chapters eight through ten you can learn more about some of the Pennsy's wide range of motive looking at steam, electric, and diesel respectively. It is somewhat interesting that for a railroad which thrived on redundancy and loudly proclaimed itself the "Standard Railroad Of The World" its fleet of diesels ranged wildly from EMDs and Alcos to Fairbanks Morse and Baldwin-Lima-Hamilton.

The final chapter is entitled, "Twilight of the Pennsylvania Railroad," and in just a few pages covers how the company slowly collapsed after World War II. As the PRR had a harder and harder time at remaining profitable it looked to merger to save the company. Interestingly, by the time the marriage with New York Central occurred in 1968 forming Penn Central the NYC was actually much better off financially and was continuing to improve operations (thanks to head man Alfred Perlman). The rest they say is, of course, history and the disaster of that union formed Conrail by the mid-1970s. In the book's epilogue you can read about what remains of the PRR today. Again, while the book offers just a brief history of the Pennsy I would strongly recommend adding it to your collection if you are a fan or historian of the company.