I love books.
I love train books in particular (and science fiction). I have a fairly large collection of train books and other train documentation and I’m always looking for more books, especially Canadian train books.
The C. Robert Craig Memorial Library in Ottawa is dedicated to “preserving yesterday’s railway history for tomorrow’s enthusiasts.” They have a large and growing collection, including important collections from people like Ken Chivers, F. Michael Kerr, David Othen and more. They have books, images and timetables available for reference.
They also have a surplus book sale where you can find books at very reasonable prices. I bought a couple of batches of books recently, and I realized a certain theme from my purchases – narrow gauge! (what is narrow gauge? find out!)
Here are my reviews of three books that I purchased from the library. Please chime in with your comments on narrow gauge railway books!
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In Search of the Narrow Gauge
The book “In Search of the Narrow Gauge” by Bob Whetham is an entertaining account of the author’s adventures across the world as he sought and rode some very obscure railways.
Each chapter describes a particular railway and the author’s interaction with the narrow gauge equipment. In most cases he rode the trains and honestly the stories are far better than the photographs. From being stranded in Zaire to riding a railbus at high altitude in Bolivia, the author experienced a lot of adventure, but faced it all with good humour and determination.
I enjoy books like this one. It’s not short on technical detail for the trains and the routes, but each story is entertaining and engaging. Highly recommended.
Narrow Gauge in the Rockies
Billed as “an elegant presentation of slim line railroading”, this baroque look at the narrow gauge lines in Colorado is an entertaining but dense book. This was the second Lucius Beebe book that I’ve read and it contains the same kind of overly fanciful text that “A Pageant of Trains” featured.
Here’s a random quote from page 95 of the book that typifies the type of language in the book:
Within a year of its incorporation, the Silverton Railroad was in business on a scale gratifying in the extreme to its promoters and arousing a mild degree of envy in Rio Grande breasts.“Narrow Gauge in the Rockies”, Lucius Beebe and Charles Clegg
It is entertaining to read but it’s not necessarily an easy book to read, featuring such obsolete words as “borrasca”, “dithyrambs” and “mortmain”. I digested the 224 pages in chunks over 12 days.
“Narrow Gauge in the Rockies” features a plethora of black and white photographs by Beebe and Clegg and many other photographers such as Jim Shaughnessy, Jackson C. Thode, Otto Perry and Johnny Krause. Several maps accompany the text but I confess that I was a little confused by some of the geography.
The White Pass and Yukon Route
The book “The White Pass and Yukon Route” by Stan Cohen is a pictorial look at the famed railway between Skagway, Alaska and Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. The first part of the book tells a linear story of the railroad and its relationship to the famed Klondike Gold Rush of 1897-1899. The railway was built too late for the rush, but it helped open up the area to mining and other resource development, and was a crucial transportation link in World War II. The book was published in 1980, so it doesn’t record the shutdown of the railway in 1982.
I’d say the best feature of this book is the collection of high quality black and white photographs of the early years of the railway. The railroad hired Harrie C. Barley to photograph the first two years of its construction and operation, and the author plumbed several archives to unearth many great photographs to include in the book.
Other Narrow Gauge Railway Books
What narrow gauge railway books do you like? Leave a comment!