Trains in Transition - Lucius Beebe

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Trains in Transition - Lucius Beebe 

 Pre owned paperback  1st Edition 1941 published in USA

Lucius Beebe, Boston aristocrat, prankster, scholar, and society columnist, was eventually to write many books about American railroads. But, when it was first published in 1941, Trains in Transition was billed as the third volume in a trilogy of such books (the others were High Iron [1938] and Highliners [1940]). Trains in Transition focuses on railroads as they were in the 1930s. The decades from 1920 through 1940 witnessed dramatic changes in the railroad industry. Track, locomotives, cars, traffic control, and equipment reliability were substantially improved. Average freight train speed increased by 45%; gross ton miles per train more than doubled; locomotives and cars traveled 350% further between maintenance operations. By the 1940s, railroads were recovering from the Depression. In 1932, railroads ordered only 12 locomotives and fewer than 2,500 freight cars; by the 1940s, they were ordering over a thousand locomotives and 150,000 freight cars each year.

But it was the arrival of diesel power, which had been "managed by its instigators with a maximum of dramatic overtones," with an impact on public consciousness that had been "immediate and considerable," that inspired the title of this book. Beebe was not persuaded that "universal change in styles of motive power is in immediate prospect," but he looked wistfully to the past: "It is not beyond the reach of imagination that competition and the mutations of time will make the bravest chapters in the legend of railroading those chapters which have already been written or which are even now blending into a heroic coda." Beebe, who took many of the photographs reproduced in this book, found some railroad officials cooperative, while others were "outraged" that an outsider should wish to learn about the technological aspects of their business, which they sought to conceal "in a manner positively Druidical." He observed that, "A menace to the safety of state and nation has been seen by many a special officer in a camera pointed at a peddler freight setting out cars of company coal on lonely sidings in Nebraska and Oklahoma." And a hint of his youthful rebelliousness appears in his remark, " It is a satisfaction to the author that several of his own shots in this book were made in defiance of such preposterous Dogberrys."

Trains in Transition is divided into four chapters:

Chapter One ("Hotshot") includes 21 pages of text describing how better equipment and technology increased the speed, capacity, efficiency, and reliability of railroad freight service. Beebe provides accounts of some fast freight trains. But he devotes rather more space than desirable to contemporary advertisements for railroad freight service. Interspersed with the text are 46 pages of captioned photographs of freight trains powered by engines from small 2-8-0 Consolidations to giant articulated steam engines that could consume as much as 12 tons of coal and 15,000 gallons of water per hour.

Chapter Two ("The Diesel Dream") offers 22 pages of text, in which Beebe recounts the development of diesel power, especially the work of Harold Hamilton, President of the Electro-Motive Corporation. Hamilton recognized early on that internal combustion provided power more efficiently than steam. But the earliest diesel engines were much too large for use in railroad engines; production of smaller engines enabled railroads to operate small streamliners. Beebe does not adequately describe the transition from straight diesel to diesel electric power, although it was this that made it possible to employ diesel engines on longer passenger trains and freight trains. A diesel engine was twice as costly to manufacture as a steam engine; but, in operation, it offered many advantages. It was faster, required fewer fuel stops, and much less maintenance. Diesel cabs were designed for comfort, and their controls were similar to those in steam engines, so that engineers could learn to operate them with little instruction. This chapter includes 37 pages of captioned photographs (some of the earliest diesels), mainly in passenger service. Somewhat curiously, it also includes pictures of steam engines.

Chapter Three ("Varnish Vignettes") allows Beebe to present 4 pages of brief phrases recalling his experiences on American railroads. These are accompanied by 15 pages of captioned photographs of old and new passenger and freight trains.

Chapter Four ("Super De Luxe") presents 6 pages of text describing the development of luxury passenger trains from 1910 to 1940. Beebe believed that the old upper-and-lower-berth sleeping cars, despite their inconveniences, were "too much of an American institution to be allowed altogether to vanish from the transportation scene in favor of all-room trains, roomettes, duplexes, and the super de luxe beauty of master suites." He regrets such modern innovations as chromium, pastel colors, photomurals, and fluorescent lights. But he admits that reclining seats, reading lights, improved food service, and enlarged washrooms had attracted more passengers to rail travel. This chapter is illustrated with 35 pages of captioned photographs.

This volume captures the revolution in railroading that occurred in the decades prior to 1940. In the following decades, it would experience another revolution.

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