Seeing Things, Saying Things

Musings About Writing, Photography and Teaching

Limiteds, Locals and Expresses in Indiana, 1838-1971

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Summary:
Limiteds, Locals, and Expresses in Indiana, 1838-1971 is a comprehensive history of intercity passenger service in Indiana, from the time that railroads began to develop in the mid-19th century through May 1, 1971, when Amtrak began operations.

The 16 chapters summarize the history and development the passenger service of all of railroads that served Indiana, discusses the factors that shaped passenger service and provides a detailed account of that road’s passenger operations. Sixteen maps, 87 photographs, and other illustrations supplement the text.

Railroads covered include: Baltimore & Ohio, Chesapeake & Ohio, Chicago & Eastern Illinois, Erie and Erie Lackawanna, Grand Trunk Western, Illinois Central, Louisville & Nashville, Milwaukee Road, Monon, New York Central, Nickel Plate Road, Pennsylvania, Pere Marquette, Southern, Wabash, and several short-line railroads.

Published by: Indiana University Press (2003)

Photographs From:
John B. Corns, John Fuller, Dave Liljestrand, M.D. McCarter, Dave McKay, Richard S. Simons, Ron Stuckey and Jay Williams. Additional photograhs were provided by the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway Historical Society, the Indiana Historical Society and the Louisville, New Albany & Corydon Railroad.

Backstory:
In August 1998 I was driving to Indianapolis to ride a steam excursion that originated there and went to Worthington behind Nickel Plate Road No. 587. Normally, when I drive to Indy I go via Columbus and Interstate 70. But on this trip I wanted to take a different route, via the Ohio Turnpike and Interstate 69. If you’ve driven I-69 between Fort Wayne and Indianapolis you know that it helps to have a lot of CDs to listen to or an active imagination. There sure isn’t much to look at.

There was much to think about, though. Somewhere south of Fort Wayne I had an idea. The previous Christmas my wife had given me the book Railroads of Indiana, written by Richard S. Simons and Francis H. Parker. Chapter 8 of that book has histories of the major railroads that served Indiana.

My idea was to write a book of the history of intercity railroad passenger service in Indiana, organizing it much like Chapter 8 of Railroads of Indiana. The difference would be that I would devote a chapter to each railroad rather than lumping them together as Simons and Parker had done.

At the time, Indiana University Press, which had published Railroads of Indiana, had started a series titled Railroads Past and Present. Many of the early titles offered were reprints of previously published books. My proposed book would fit in well with that series and it would be an original work.

I didn’t approach IU Press right away. I wanted to write a prototype chapter, which I decided would be about the Monon. I chose the Monon because it had not been a large railroad and it had a uniquely Indiana identity. All of the track that it owned had been in Indiana and for many years the Monon described itself as “The Hoosier Line.”

I owned a couple of books about the Monon and during a December trip to Indianapolis I did some research at the Indianapolis Public Library. I finished the chapter and submitted it to Indiana University Press. I soon received a telephone call from John Gallman, then the director of IU Press. It would still be a while before the publisher accepted my idea and offered me a contract, but Gallman indicated that it was likely that IU Press would publish my book. That was one of the happiest days of my life.

Much of my research for this book involved using two sources. I was able to borrow books about individual railroads through an interlibrary loan program involving Ohio colleges and universities. Those books, some of which are rather obscure, provided the basic information about the histories of the railroad companies.

The bulk of the information for this book, though, came from old copies of The Official Guide of the Railways stored at the Mercantile Library at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. That meant making several trips to St. Louis and I wracked up a lot of miles on Southwest Airlines. Fortunately, Southwest flew non-stop between St. Louis and Cleveland, where I live, and the fares were low.

As useful as the Official Guide was in reconstructing the passenger service histories of the various railroads, digging out the information was laborious work. I would arrive at the library in the morning and not leave until late that night. I imagine that very few people would have the will to do this.

This being my first book, I told myself early on that it would be a learning experience. It was mostly a positive learning experience. I met several wonderful people, some of whom I am still in contract with. Their advice and assistance was invaluable.

Among those who helped were Simons and Parker. Although I never met professor Parker while working on this project, only communicating with him via e-mail and by telephone, I did meet Mr. Simons. I stopped at his home in Marion, Indiana, after having spent a few days at the Indiana Historical Society searching for photographs. He was a gracious host, showing me the railroads of Marion, taking me to lunch and allowing me to use photographs and artifacts from his collection.

As I write this in March 2009, it has been nearly six years since Limiteds, Locals and Expresses in Indiana, 1838-1971 came out. I had expected that this book would bring me recognition in the railroad journalism community as an “expert” on the history of passenger service and that I would be sought out for my expertise. But that has not happened.

I also had the naïve idea that I would be recognized for having pioneered a new genre of railroad history books because of this book’s comprehensive scope. That didn’t happen, either.

For a long time after the book came out, I would look at the book dealer advertisements in the railfan magazines to see if my book was listed. It was listed briefly by one merchant, but soon fell by the wayside. I seldom see my book for sale by book dealers at train shows, but I once saw it on the shelf at a Borders in downtown Indianapolis.

The book received a very favorable review in Trains magazine, but a more mixed review in the National Railway Historical Society Bulletin. Only one person ever wrote to me about the book and he lived in Illinois. I’ve met a few people who have the book and have said nice things about. Maybe that’s the best that I can expect.

If I had it to do over again would I? I’m not sure. It was a lot of work to gather all of that information. Knowing what I know now about the railroad history book-publishing world, I’m not sure if it would be worth it to do that. At the time that I was doing the research for this book, I was motivated by the belief that I was creating something big, something that many people would want to see, something unique. That was a powerful motivating force at the time. Maybe you need that kind of motivation to get through a project like this. I’m not sure that I would have that today.

When I look at this book I see where I was as an author more than a decade ago including how I thought about what it is like to be an author of a book written for a niche audience. I can see that the book is not necessarily compelling reading with its tightly written focus on facts. It takes a lot to get the attention of would-be book buyers and that involves a lot of factors beyond my control.

There is no doubt that I could do a better job better if I was starting this book from the beginning knowing what I do today. But this book was where I started. What I learned from doing this book not only made me a better author, it made me a wiser one.

Written by csanders429

March 3, 2009 at 8:02 pm

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