Sunday, January 12, 2014

The B&O Railroad in the Civil War

I am a frustrated reader and researcher. It's no secret that my personal favorite railroad is the Baltimore & Ohio. I grew up within 5 miles of the Old Main Line and a little further from the Metropolitan Branch in Maryland. I was and have now returned to being Archivist of the B&O Railroad Historical Society. I also grew up in the 1990s and caught the Civil War bug thanks to my great uncle and Ken Burns' documentary series. So why is it so hard for someone to write a good history of the B&O Railroad in the Civil War? I'm not sure, it kind of surprises me given the quality work that's been done on portions of the story. The military side has gotten some extensive research thanks to the presence of some A-List generals. But the social and political and economic side just hasn't gotten matched up. This needs to be fixed.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Chicago Resources from RPM 2013

During my talk on March 23, 2013 I mentioned that there were some resources available to those who wanted to learn more about Chicago area railroads AND get a feel for some of the items in Mr. Barriger's papers at the Barriger Library. Well, here are the links: Monon Railroad Report on Chicago ca 1951

PRR Report on Chicago ca 1941

Illinois Central Report on Chicago ca. 1937

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

What I've Read 1/22/13

It's pretty cold here in St. Louis and I opted to find something seasonally appropriate to read.

Thus my order of The White Cascade: The Great Northern Railway Disaster and America's Deadliest Avalanche by Gary Krist came to be.  The book is the story of the avalanche at Wellington, WA that smothered two trains of the Great Northern Railroad and resulted in dozens of fatalities. 

Krist wrote novels before he decided to jump into writing history and I'll admit, I was somewhat doubtful about how this book would agree with me.  I'm not a huge fan of disaster histories.  I find them too often to be sloppily researched and footnoted and really no better than an accumulation of newspaper accounts of the event.

The White Cascade does have many newspaper sources, but Krist's material mainly comes from the coroner's inquest and the lawsuit testimonies relating to the disaster.  He is also helped by documents that were collected by the railroad related to the event in case they were needed for legal reasons and the papers of James J. Hill that have survived to this day.  While written in a novelist's style, the book is heavily noted and sourced.

Another star for Krist is the pains he takes to describe snow-fighting methods in the Pacific Northwest's rail network, particularly those in the Cascades region of both the Great Northern and Northern Pacific.  Krist covers the methods, procedures and technologies available at the time of the disaster and how the Great Northern specifically worked to keep its tracks open during the winter months.  This provides the reader with helpful background information about how the disaster came to pass, even with the modern methods and technology employed by the railroad during that winter.

Krist then covers the events leading up to the disaster.  The weather system that hits the Cascades, the avalanches that block the trains in Wellington, WA and the efforts of the Great Northern snow-fighters to reopen the line and move the trains to their destination.  I found these parts of the book interesting and also a bit familiar since it almost reads like the early parts of an Airport-style disaster flick.  (Every minor character gets introduced and there's some back-story and problem that they're dealing with and they have to get to Seattle ASAP.)

After the actual avalanche takes place, Krist does a fair job of the recovery efforts, the inquest and the lawsuit that was brought three years after the event.  Here, he does let his bias towards the railroad show through.  Granted, it's easy to not like the GN officers in St. Paul.  You also feel badly for the GN officers who decided to leave the trains in Wellington in the first place but also wonder what they were thinking.  Krist tries to leave these men with an escape by repeatedly mentioning the fatigue they were dealing with in trying to reopen the line and how that COULD have clouded their judgement.  He gives the high-up GN leaders such as Hill no such escape route.

Overall, I liked the book.  It wasn't heavy reading, which was fine.  I wanted something to read during these cold nights after work and this fit the bill adequately.--Nick Fry

Saturday, September 15, 2012

What ever happened to the library of the Bureau of Railway Economics?

Disputes rail labor figures on employees' incomes. Washington, D.C., Oct. 4. Railroad management representatives today disputed before President Roosevelt's fact finding board figures presented by Labor as to the annual income of rail employees. J. Elmer Monroe, Statistician of the Bureau of Railway Economics, Association of American Railroads, asserted that the average earnings of railroad employees who worked at some time during each of the 12 months in 1937 was $1785. He challenged the claim advanced by the employees that the average was only $1,115, 10/4/38 (Library of Congress Photo)
Back in the day, the Association of American Railroads maintained an extensive library at its headquarters building in Washington, DC. Ostensibly this material was available to AAR members and employees and to the public at large to help promote railroading in the United States. The librarians supported AAR members and employees as they gave testimony before the Interstate Commerce Commission and the Congress. 

The AAR still exists today but it has evolved.  There's no ICC to deal with anymore since the passage of the Staggers Act.  There aren't as many hearings before congress either.  So the library of the BRE was not needed in Washington, DC any more.  However, it contained so many historic holdings, it just couldn't be thrown away.

Fortunately there were two world class libraries that agreed to take part of the collection.  The Northwestern University Library and the John W. Barriger III National Railroad Library.  Each institution accepted the items from the BRE Library into their holdings and added them to their library catalogs.  So now, even today, researchers can still access the contents of the library of the Bureau of Railway Economics.


Northwestern University Transportation Library

John W. Barriger III National Railroad Library

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The New Digs.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Big Chair...

Sometimes you get an opportunity that you just can't say no to. Hi, this is Nick writing again. First, please accept my apologies for the dearth of posts this year. Once you read further you may understand why things slowed down.

In June of 2011, Gregg Ames, the curator of the John W. Barriger III National Railroad Library at the University of Missouri, St. Louis, retired. The library began a search for the next curator (the 6th for you Dr. Who types.) In August an announcement appeared on the Railway and Locomotive Historical Society's chat group and this announcement was forwarded to me.

Honestly I was torn about applying. The job, if I got it, would involve a considerable move away from my family and friends. However, after passing on an announcement for an archivist at Norfolk Southern, and being told by several folks that "this is the perfect job for you," I decided to give it a go.

Applications were due by the end of September and in early October I received an email from the search committee asking for a phone interview. After the phone interview some time passed and then I got another email asking if I could come out to St. Louis for an in person interview. Now things were getting serious.

The in-person interview was actually a series of interviews with multiple communities of librarians at UMSL and was followed up by another phone interview with members of the Barriger Library's Board. This was my first experience with an academic interview process and I have to say, even if I hadn't gotten the job, the experience alone would have been worth the effort of applying.

A couple of weeks later, I got a call and was offered the job.

I said yes almost immediately.

I've told people it's like being offered the Captain's Chair on the Enterprise. Who'd dare say no?

So, starting in February 2012 I'll be in the thick of one of the best railroad research libraries in the world. I expect this blog will be moving with me, probably to a Barriger page.

Expect more posts, more research oriented work and perhaps notifications of publications and articles coming out. I've got a backlog of them still gestating in my office. I think I'll be pushing them out into the wide wide world soon.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Why you should be thinking about state and municipal archives

Many researchers of railroad history, particularly if they are new to the field of historical research may neglect certain resources that are available to them that could greatly enhance their work. Some of those resources are contained in the various state and municipal archives throughout the nation.

For the "pioneering railroads" public financing was critical to their construction. As part of the "Era of Good Feeling" under President Monroe, the United States Government began pushing resources and expertise, in most cases engineering expertise from the young United States Army Corps of Engineers, to various national and regional transportation improvement projects.

At the state and municipal level, this translated to more tangible financial investment in these transportation projects. For the purposes of this blog, we'll use the example of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. The B&O Railroad, while a public corporation, received a substantial amount of money from the State of Maryland and the City of Baltimore when it was created. Later more funds were provided by the State of Virginia when it was decided to use that State's shore of the Potomac River to go west.

The funds committed to purchase B&O bonds were not insubstantial and in some cases the stock also purchased gave certain governments the ability to put directors on the company's board. This in turn led to the creation of a paper trail for the city and state governments about the railroad's finances, decisions made by the board and the views of those who represented the public monies invested in these companies.

In Maryland, these documents can be accessed via the Maryland State Archives and the Baltimore City Archives. In Virginia, one can find these items at the Library of Virginia in Richmond.

Pennsylvania invested heavily in its "Main Line" of State Works that was a canal-railroad hybrid from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia. The project was funded entirely out of state funds and was eventually sold outright to the newly chartered Pennsylvania Railroad. The state's papers are held at the Pennsylvania State Archives in Harrisburg.