Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Ken Harrison’s marvelous addition to SP history

The immense labor of Ken Harrison to track down information on tens of thousands of pieces of Maintenance of Way (MOW) equipment of the Southern Pacific and subsidiaries, more than 20 years of work, has finally come to fruition in the form of a completed book. Just published by the Southern Pacific Historical & Technical Society, it’s a massive volume of 496 pages.

Ken has long recognized that even though this topic is for many people a tangential part of the SP’s history, in fact a huge amount of information and photography does exist. In a sense, only the highlights can be presented in the book (cover below). Attached inside the rear cover is a CD-ROM containing a enormous data collection in the form of car rosters. I have only sampled it, but there is really a lot of data here.

As is evident above, this is a horizontal-format book, with 8.5 x 11-inch pages. Price for this massive book is $149.95, which doubtless sounds huge to many, but if you have been paying attention to prices in general and books in particular, this is no longer a remarkable price for a book this size. You can purchase it directly from the SPH&TS at their website (see: https://sphts.org/product/pre-order-southern-pacific-maintenance-of-way-equipment/ ). The handsome layout of the book interior was created by John and Jonathan Signor.

The book contains hundreds of photos (I haven’t counted them), dating from the end of the 19th century to near the end of the SP in 1996, a substantial number of later ones in color. I know Ken tried to include as many unpublished photos as possible, so a few familiar images that one my recall are not present. Ken hopes to prepare a follow-up volume with some of the many photos omitted from the present book, along with a considerable number of the drawings which couldn’t be included here.

The list of chapter titles reveals the extent and sheer breadth of coverage. Rather than type those titles, I will just show the Contents page. (You can click on the image to enlarge it if you wish.) I suspect that most readers will not have envisioned all of these categories in their personal impression of MOW equipment. Note also the subsidiary railroads, and even Western Union in Chapter 20.

I mentioned the extensive photo coverage. There are any number of photos that really bring the nose right to the page. Here’s one I particularly liked, unloading kegs of spikes from a flat car (page 336: SP photo, Steve Peery collection). The flat car is a revenue-service car pressed into service for this job; note the Supply Car behind it.

Another one I liked, a really typical kind of track gang conversion of an old box car, is listed as a  “boarding bunk” car (“boarding” meant it was used to house or feed personnel; page 245: John Signor collection). The four paired over-under windows at each end, and the two in the middle around the door, were a common arrangement — the word “standard” should not enter your consciousness when thinking about MOW equipment. It’s shown below.

(Incidentally, the low car number has nothing to do with relative age; most MOW car numbers were re-used repeatedly over the decades. This was just an available car number at the time of conversion, and was the third car to carry this number.) There are a great many more photos as clear as this one in the book.

If I had any criticism of the book, it is that roster information is buried in text. If you want a quick way to find a particular car, it’s pretty time-consuming. Of course the information is also on the CD-ROM in tabular form, but even going back and forth is a little cumbersome. There is a nice table for flangers on page 14, and a list of fire train cars on page 279, then . . . nothing.

But the phenomenal depth and range of information that Harrison has collected here certainly overwhelms any criticism. It is worth mentioning that this book further extends the already remarkable scope of SP rolling stock documentation. It ranges from the extensive steam locomotive information from Bob Church and Joe Strapac, and the total coverage of diesel locomotives by Strapac, to the five-volume passenger car book series by the SPH&TS passenger car committee (chaired by Jeff Cauthen), and the five-volume series on freight cars that I authored for Signature Press. Harrison’s book is a worthy addition to the list.

I don’t merely recommend this book. I would say that anyone serious about the Southern Pacific needs to own (and use) this book. For nearly everyone, it will greatly expand your knowledge and understanding of the railroad. That’s something accomplished by very few books.

Tony Thompson

No comments:

Post a Comment