Friday, October 23, 2020

David Leider’s new book on B&OCT

A brand-new book of impressive heft and depth has been published without much fanfare. It is David J. Leider’s history of the Baltimore & Ohio Chicago Terminal (B&OCT). The B&OCT was one of the largest switching and terminal railroads in Chicago, the hub of American railroading. I show the cover below, but let me begin by saying that this is an excellent book. I go into more detail below. (The cover painting is by C.L. Smith.)

The book, designed as well as written by David Leider, is self-published and can be purchased from the author at: for a price of $50.00, which includes shipping. It is a 324-page softbound book with 8.5 x 11-inch pages, nicely printed on glossy paper. It contains over 280 photos, 128 maps, and more than 20 other drawings. 

Probably in an effort to keep down the page count, the author has chosen to use narrow page margins and fit text tightly against illustrations, but the book is quite readable and easy to appreciate — with one caveat: it’s heavy! a little over two and a half pounds. You’ll need to get comfortable to read it.

The immense infrastructure of this (and other) Chicago connecting railroads is most impressive to a non-Chicagoan like myself. And this book describes (and better yet, portrays) a great deal of this landscape. The author has done an excellent job of acquiring photos and drawings from a great variety of sources, including old newspapers and magazines, and as I know well myself, getting a decent-quality image in many such cases is most difficult. Author Leider has done a great job. Here’s one example, having to do with the new railroad bridge across the Sanitary Canal, from page 148. It’s an advertisement from the Chicago Record Herald of May 22, 1906. You can click on the image to enlarge it, if you wish.

The book’s history begins with early Chicago railroads, but concentrates on the role of the Baltimore & Ohio, from its entry into Chicago in 1873, to the formation of CSX in 1980. One might expect a book with this title to address only this one Chicago-area terminal and transfer railroad. But it is far more than that. It not only addresses (relevant) railroad history of many connecting railroads, but contains a great deal of history of the city of Chicago and environs. It is generously illustrated, including a number of interesting maps. I reproduce just one of them below (its caption is at the bottom), from page 209.

For the many of us not intimately familiar with the Chicago area, the maps are absolutely essential in understanding the descriptions of lines and connections.

I continue to really enjoy browsing the book and finding nuggets (of my own). This is definitely one of those books that repeatedly brings the eye down to the page. Many of the images repay careful study, whatever one’s own interests. To show a single example, this 1957 Burt Mall photo shows an 0-8-0 switcher, lettered with the complete company name, switching at Barr Yard. The view is from the Halsted Street overpass, which crosses the east end of the yard.

I highly recommend this book to any railroad enthusiast, even if you aren’t personally interested in Chicago or its railroads. It’s an impressively rich and thorough history, and I am sure almost anyone will learn interesting things, whatever their interests.

Tony Thompson

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