Throwbacklist Thursday: Workin’ on the Railroad

Though another state calls itself the Crossroads of America, Illinois deserves the title as much as any of the Lower 48, for here the prairie gathers the railroads and interstates to itself before the American transportation flares out onto the Plains and points west. The UIP has published on trains for a long time. With us as your guide you can transport yourself into the history and cultural significance of the rails with a cross-section of titles covering that hobo highway known as the American railroad system.

jacksonRails across the Mississippi: A History of the St. Louis Bridge, by Robert W. Jackson

An absorbing tale of grand dreams, shady politics, daring engineering experiments, greed, ambition, and westward expansion, Rails across the Mississippi documents the planning, financing, and construction of the first bridge across the Mississippi River at St. Louis, a national engineering landmark completed in 1874 that is now known as the Eads Bridge.

James B. Eads was not even a trained engineer. But he proposed and got someone to build a radical arch bridge longer than any in existence using steel, a material thought unsuitable for long-span bridges by virtually every engineer in America and Europe. Robert W. Jackson takes a fresh look at Eads’ monumental brainchild, dispelling the myths, filling in the gaps left by earlier scholarship, and detailing how Eads tenaciously overcame the many obstacles he faced to realize his unique vision.

cohenLong Steel Rail: The Railroad in American Folksong, second edition, by Norm Cohen

Winner of an ASCAP Deems Taylor Award, Long Steel Rail remains the largest and most authoritative source on railroad folksong. Combining impeccable scholarship with lavish illustration, Norm Cohen‘s landmark study provides a sweeping discussion of the human aspects of railroad history, railroad folklore, and the evolution of the American folksong.

The heart of the book is a detailed analysis of eighty-five songs, from “John Henry” and “The Wabash Cannonball” to “Hell-Bound Train” and “Casey Jones.” Cohen also includes the songs’ music, sources, history, and variations, and discographies.

taylor and neuThe American Railroad Network, 1861–1890, by George Rogers Taylor and Irene D. Neu

Rapid population growth in the Great Plains and the American West after the Civil War was the result not only of railroad expansion but of a collaboration among competing railroads to adopt a uniform width for track. George Rogers Taylor and Irene D. Neu shows how the consolidation of smaller railroads and the growth of capitalism worked to unify the fragmented railroad industry through standardization. A pioneering work, The American Railroad Network, 1861–1890 covers the emergence of railroads before and during the Civil War, their expansions westward, the gradual adoption of a national rail gauge, and the development of standardized equipment and car interchange rules that set examples for American industry in general.

taillonGood, Reliable, White Men: Railroad Brotherhoods, 1877–1917, by Paul Michael Taillon

Railroad brotherhoods had an immense impact on American labor relations and national politics. This engaging study provides an account of the independent railroad brotherhoods from the period of their formation in the 1860s and 1870s to the consolidation of their power on the eve of World War I. By commanding the attention of U.S. presidents and establishing the eight-hour workday, railroad brotherhoods employed responsible trade unionism to their advantage. Paul Michel Taillon focuses on the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, the Order of Railway Conductors, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen, and the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen to investigate the impact of these unions on early twentieth-century politics and society.