"... For anyone whose life is touched by the railroads—from engineers, scholars, transport professionals, and enthusiasts to model railroaders and the general public—this work should become the basic research tool.... Essential. All collections; all levels." —Choice
Encyclopedia of North American Railroadsby William D. Middleton, George M. Smerk, Roberta L. Diehl
Lavishly illustrated and a joy to read, this authoritative reference work on the North American continent’s railroads covers the U.S., Canadian, Mexican, Central American, and Cuban systems. The encyclopedia’s over-arching theme is the evolution of the railroad industry and the historical impact of its progress on the North American continent. This
Lavishly illustrated and a joy to read, this authoritative reference work on the North American continent’s railroads covers the U.S., Canadian, Mexican, Central American, and Cuban systems. The encyclopedia’s over-arching theme is the evolution of the railroad industry and the historical impact of its progress on the North American continent. This thoroughly researched work examines the various aspects of the industry’s development: technology, operations, cultural impact, the evolution of public policy regarding the industry, and the structural functioning of modern railroads. More than 500 alphabetical entries cover a myriad of subjects, including numerous entries profiling the principal companies, suppliers, manufacturers, and individuals influencing the history of the rails. Extensive appendices provide data regarding weight, fuel, statistical trends, and more, as well as a list of 130 vital railroad books. Railfans will treasure this indispensable work.
Indiana University Press
"To distill all of North American railroading into 1,312 pages is a feat in itself; that Encyclopedia of North American Railroads does it so remarkably well is nothing short of phenomenal. This could be the most ambitious railroad book to appear in 100 years! And that's just what the editors wanted." —Trains
Kevin P. Keefe, publisher
"The book, a rich resource for the casual rail enthusiast and the professional scholar of transportation, would be an excellent addition to a public library's reference collection, especially in communities with active model railway groups and/or railway historical societies." —Reference Reviews, March 2009
"This encyclopedia is a monumental work documenting railroad history and is a critical addition for any library collection of railroads, transportation, or North American history. The appendixes alone are worth the purchase price." —Kathleen Weessies, American Reference Books Annual
"This landmark book will immediately become essential reading for anyone with an interest in railroading. Whether you're a professional railroader or a dyed-in-the wool enthusiast you're sure to find the answer in this encyclopedia." —Kevin P. Keefe, publisher, Trains magazine
"This landmark book will immediately become essential reading for anyone with an interest in railroading. Whether you're a professional railroader or a dyed-in-the wool enthusiast you're sure to find the answer in this encyclopedia." Kevin P. Keefe, publisher, Trains magazine
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Encyclopedia of North American Railroads
By William D. Middleton, George M. Smerk, Roberta L. Diehl
Indiana University PressCopyright © 2007 Indiana University Press
All rights reserved.
Development of North American Railroads
Keith L. Bryant, Jr.
The railroad revolutionized transportation around the world, but nowhere was the impact so widely felt as in North America. Occupying nearly 17 percent of the world's landmass, the continent featured vast, inaccessible interior areas divided by three major mountain ranges. Until iron rails penetrated the interior, it remained largely uninhabited save for nomads and small groups of farmers. Although Euro-American settlers brought wheeled vehicles, horses, cattle, and other domestic animals, they followed trails long established by Native Americans. The indigenous people had discovered passes through the mountains and portages between rivers and lakes, and they navigated the treeless plains guided by the stars, creating pathways followed by Europeans at only an slightly higher rate of speed. Roads for wagons and canals for barges enhanced the movement of people and goods by the early nineteenth century, but residents of the United States, the Republic of Mexico, and the Dominion of Canada traveled no more rapidly or more efficiently than those who had traversed the roads of ancient Rome or the canals of imperial China. The coming of the "iron horse" brought about massive changes in the society and the economy of North America.
From the late 1840s until World War I railroads dominated the transportation of people and goods in most of North America. They opened vast reaches of land to the farmer, and bountiful crops generated food and fiber for domestic consumption and export. The railroad industry also generated demand for iron and steel, wood products, and a host of other manufactured goods. Production of freight and passenger cars and locomotives created major new industries. Small cities became metropolitan giants, and interior crossroad villages became large centers of trade and commerce as the railway enhanced the mobility of people and resources. Low freight rates and passenger fares and ease of access brought immigrants into the interior of the continent. The U.S. population center moved from a point on the Potomac River near Washington, D.C., in 1800 to a site near Athens, Ohio, by 1860. Mining, metalworking, food processing, textile manufacturing, and other industries followed the rail routes, creating employment opportunities for millions. By 1914, with 250,000 miles of railroad, the United States had become the industrial leader of the world as a consequence of this transportation revolution. Much of Canada and portions of Mexico witnessed similar, if less spectacular, transformation. The railroads emerged as the nation's first big businesses and served as models for the organization of other large-scale enterprises. The inherent efficiency of flanged metal wheels rolling on metal rails allowed the railways to displace ox teams, stagecoaches, and river and canal boats to become the premier mode of transportation across the vast reaches of North America.
The Spanish, English, and French explorers and settlers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries discovered a continent with narrow coastal plains; high, seemingly impenetrable mountain ranges; vast open plains and arid steppes; widespread forests of huge trees; and a few broad river valleys in portions of the interior. The absence of navigable waterways in many areas, mountain barriers, and waterless wastelands forced settlers to rely on modes of transportation little changed since ancient times. Nevertheless, intrepid colonists established settlements in Mexico, the American Southwest, along the Atlantic Coast, and in the St. Lawrence River valley. These early colonies gave rise to Spanish, French, and English empires in North America. The settlements of the latter grew and expanded at a greater rate, and by the end of the seventeenth century England controlled a territory extending from Canada to the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. English settlers determined to establish a society replicating that of their homeland, but as in all the colonies, distance from the mother country gave rise to an economy at once decentralized and individualistic.
The British policy of mercantilism and the entrepreneurial spirit of the colonists produced an economy that expanded rapidly from New England south to the coast of Georgia. By the time of the American Revolution in 1776, the colonists exported manufactured goods and agricultural products in large quantities, the latter a primary goal of the mercantile philosophy, but the former anathema to the concept. Restrictions on economic endeavors by the mother country, seemingly high taxes, and limitations on western expansion gave rise to a rebellion that led to the creation of the United States of America. A new nation emerged determined to expand to the west and to do so with the support of both the central and state governments.
The Constitution of the new republic organized the 13 states into the largest free-trade zone in the world, but geographic constraints limited economic growth. Historian Henry Adams declared, "No civilized country had yet been required to deal with physical difficulties so serious, nor did experience warrant conviction that such difficulties could be overcome." Nevertheless, coastal commerce linked the major ports of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Charleston, and Savannah to smaller trading centers, and primitive roads, traversed by pack trains and drovers, reached into the interior. Navigable waterways, notably the Hudson River, provided alternative routes, but the cost of transportation often exceeded the value of the goods, and movement was very slow. A journey north from Philadelphia to Connecticut took five days in good weather, for example, and high stagecoach fares excluded all but the wealthy. Internal improvement schemes won the enthusiastic support of shippers, travelers, and politicians. In 1808 Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin issued a report on roads and canals that called for federal involvement in the creation of a transportation system, but his voice went unheeded.
In the three decades that followed, the federal government completed the Cumberland (National) Road westward to Wheeling, Virginia, and purchased securities in only four canal companies, thus leaving major internal improvement efforts to the states and the cities. Direct subsidies, purchases of securities, donations of rights-of-way, and other benefits led to the construction of primitive roads and turnpikes, short canals around waterfalls, and improved port facilities. In 1817 political leader John C. Calhoun cried out for binding "the Republic together with a perfect system of roads and canals," but alas, nationalists such as Gallatin and Calhoun could not persuade their colleagues in Washington to finance a systematic internal improvements plan. Rather, the states and the port cities embarked on independent projects to bring trade from their hinterlands to the Atlantic Ocean.
States chartered turnpikes and canals to reach from ports westward across coastal plains to the first range of mountains. Between the War of 1812 and the mid-1830s states authorized many such projects; Pennsylvania alone issued charters for 150 turnpikes extending nearly 2,000 miles. Some states owned the roads, and others purchased securities to support the schemes. Urban rivalries led to projects that could not be sustained at profitable levels, and many turnpikes failed. Transporting goods in wagons over plank or log roads proved slow and expensive. The National Road reached Columbus, Ohio, from Cumberland, Maryland, in 1833, but clearly these primitive highways could not sustain a growing economy. As midwestern farmers chanted:
The roads are impassable
I think those that travel 'em
Should turn out and gravel 'em.
Emulating the canal booms that had swept Great Britain and western Europe after the end of the Napoleonic Wars, state and local governments turned to waterways to penetrate their hinterlands. Benjamin Franklin and George Washington advocated canals even before the Revolution, and Thomas Jefferson endorsed a canal across New York to link the Hudson River and Lake Erie. Jefferson wrote in 1808: "It is a splendid project and may be executed a century hence. ... It is a little short of madness to think of it at this day!" Jefferson failed to see the ardor of New Yorkers who spent $8 million to make New York City America's premier port. The opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 prompted other cities along the Atlantic Coast to promote similar projects, but results were mixed.
Canal projects launched by commercial interests in Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Charleston did not match the success of the Erie Canal. Waterways penetrated the Pennsylvania anthracite coalfields and linked Philadelphia to Pittsburgh with inclined planes used to cross the Allegheny Mountains. The new midwestern states embraced canal transportation, and Ohio and Indiana sank deeply into debt to construct waterways from the Great Lakes to the Ohio River. By 1840, 20 states had spent over $125 million to build 3,000 miles of canals. The canal era brought virtual bankruptcy to Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana. Although canal boats moved slowly and winter saw the waterways frozen and closed, freight rates nonetheless declined and stimulated eastwest traffic via the canals and the Great Lakes. Northsouth traffic on the Ohio and Mississippi river systems remained important, however, until the Civil War.
Even as the canals improved the transit of people and goods, the coming of the steamboat enhanced river traffic on the Hudson, Ohio, and Mississippi rivers. Faster than canal boats or keelboats and with established schedules, the steamboats accelerated the transit of people and freight, but the movement of bulk commodities remained expensive, and the steamboats proved dangerous, with explosions and wrecks commonplace.
By the end of the 1820s American farmers, merchants, industrialists, and travelers sought a safe, fast, efficient, and reliable mode of transportation. The nation's poor roads lacked the sophisticated engineering of the great Roman network, and the Chinese would have ridiculed the crudeness of the country's canals. Once again the United States turned to England for a model, the steam-powered railroad.
The Industrial Revolution in Great Britain generated far more traffic than that nation's road and canal systems could support. British railroads emerged to serve existing markets, particularly to enhance the production of coal and iron ore. Manufacturers in interior trading towns sought outlets to nearby ports and a cheap means to move raw materials from the coast to the rising industrial centers in the Midlands and elsewhere. The steam engine had been fully developed by the early nineteenth century when engineers and investors began to apply the power of that device to move goods over plateways of wooden timbers or rails. George Stephenson and others perfected steam locomotives designed to pull larger loads over "railways" that used wooden rails covered with iron. The application of steam power and the highly efficient use of iron wheels on iron rails led to a rapid expansion of short, unconnected industrial lines into longer and more useful routes 30 or 40 miles in length. Stephenson's engines found their way to numerous lines as he constantly improved the locomotives' power and ability to operate over longer distances. The Stockton & Darlington Railway opened on September 27,1825, and became the basis for similar lines throughout Great Britain. The era of the modern railway had arrived. British railways by the end of the 1830s operated trunk lines linking mines, factories, ports, trading centers, and cities. Engineers laid out routes that avoided steep grades and designed bridges and viaducts requiring substantial capital expenditures. From the outset, British railways emphasized low operating costs gained by a sophisticated and expensive infrastructure. The Americans familiar with this new transportation system and hugely enthusiastic for its adoption saw the railway as a means to create new markets and open new territories. They emphasized speed of construction with lines built at the lowest possible cost. Perhaps future profits could be reinvested to fully emulate the British carriers, but initial capital outlays had to be kept low.
Americans embraced the railway with an almost unbounded enthusiasm. By 1840 Europe had 1,818 miles of track; the United States had almost 3,000 miles. The North American upstart became the leader in the development of the railway because of the vast distances to be overcome, the ease of incorporation, and the absence of the vested interests and customs that retarded European rail expansion. Although some opposition arose — an Ohio school board proclaimed that the steam railroad was "a device of Satan to lead immortal souls to Hell" — most Americans welcomed the railways, and many invested their savings and supported the promoters of early rail schemes.
Baltimore, Charleston, and Boston envied the rise of the port of New York after the completion of the Erie Canal. Not situated at the mouth of a great river like the Hudson, they turned to the railroad to advance trade into their hinterlands. Pioneering in advocating lengthy railways to the west, Baltimore capitalists constructed the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, chartered in 1828, across the Alleghenies to tap markets in the Ohio River valley. Charlestonians built a railway west to the Savannah River, hoping to divert traffic from its archrival, Savannah, Georgia. Bostonians constructed a railway westward to Albany, New York, on the Hudson River to attract freight bound eastward from the Great Lakes via the Erie Canal. These cities initiated the railroad era.
Beginning of the Railroads
On July 4,1828, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, Charles Carroll, turned the first earth to initiate the Baltimore & Ohio. Later that summer Peter Cooper's Tom Thumb experimental steam locomotive lost a race with a horse-powered vehicle, but the iron horse eventually prevailed on the B&O. Construction advanced the Baltimore & Ohio across Maryland and the mountains to Wheeling, Virginia, in 1852. Freight from the Ohio River valley began to flow eastward to the port of Baltimore. In South Carolina, on Christmas Day 1830, the first locomotive built for sale in the United States, the Best Friend of Charleston, carried 140 passengers on the first scheduled steam railroad in the country. The 136-mile line from Charleston to Hamburg, South Carolina, opposite Augusta, Georgia, opened in 1833, making it the longest railroad in the world. The success of these pioneer lines produced a boisterous railway fever as every town and city sought to emulate the success of Baltimore, Charleston, and Boston.
Throughout the 1830s railway expansion became a predominant economic pursuit. Of the 26 states in 1840, only 4 lacked railroads. A through route from New York City to Philadelphia opened in 1833, with the English-built locomotive John Bull making the trip in seven hours. Carriers quickly penetrated the regions beyond the Allegheny and Appalachian mountains. Initially most of the mileage could be found in New England and the midatlantic states, but not even the panic of 1837 could stop the inexorable growth of this new transportation artery into the Midwest and the Southeast. Though several midwestern states and many European investors lost money when some railroads entered bankruptcy after 1837, construction continued to expand the burgeoning rail system.
With expansion came technological improvements that led to even greater efficiencies. Americans followed English practices, such as using iron straps or bars fastened to wooden rails that were attached to blocks of stone embedded in the earth. Only 20 to 25 feet long, the iron straps frequently broke loose, curled, and impaled cars as they passed over the break. Robert L. Stevens, an engineer and railroad president, designed an iron T-rail that when spiked to wooden ties or "sleepers" formed a smooth, safe track. The rails and ties rested on crushed stone or gravel that drained moisture from the roadbed. Stevens's design did not deal with the problem of multiplicity of track gauges, that is, the distance between the rails. Gauges varied from carrier to carrier, ranging from a narrow gauge of 3 feet to a wide gauge of 6 feet. While many railroads opted for what became "standard gauge," that is, 4 feet 8½ inches, as in England, most of the longer lines in the South were 5-foot gauge. The absence of uniformity prevented the exchange of cars, resulting in time-consuming transshipments. Individual carriers were still not seen as part of a railroad system.
Excerpted from Encyclopedia of North American Railroads by William D. Middleton, George M. Smerk, Roberta L. Diehl. Copyright © 2007 Indiana University Press. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
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Meet the Author
William D. Middleton is the author of more than 20 books and many hundreds of articles on rail transportation, engineering, and travel topics. He lives in Charlottsville, Virginia.
George M. Smerk taught transportation at Indiana University for more than 40 years. He has written extensively on urban transportation. The most recent of his five books is The Federal Role in Urban Mass Transportation. He lives in Bloomington, Indiana.
Roberta L. Diehl was a sponsoring editor at Indiana University Press until her retirement. She lives in Bloomington, Indiana.
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