American Narrow Gauge Railroads

George M. Hilton, Author Stanford University Press $95 (600p) ISBN 978-0-8047-1731-1
Die-hard railroad buffs will delight in this painstakingly detailed account of the narrow gauge railroad movement, but more casual devotees, while finding the 400-plus drawings, maps and black-and-white photographs in this handsome volume appealing, will likely be baffled by the text. Hilton's ( The Cable Car in America ) exhaustive research covers the British origins of the narrow gauge railroad--with rails placed three to three-and-a-half feet apart instead of the standard four feet, eight-and-a-half inches--its period of rapid expansion in the U.S. during the last three decades of the 19th century, and its equally rapid demise. The author maintains that the narrow gauge concept was essentially a bad idea seized upon by opportunists who saw it as a low-cost way of competing with major rail companies. A large portion of the book is devoted to a state-by-state catalogue of narrow gauge companies and their histories. Charts of gradients used in design of the lines, costs per mile and locomotive construction statistics provide more information than most readers will want to know about this curious technological dead end. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 10/01/1990
Release date: 10/01/1990
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