Iron Horse at War by James Valle Dust Jacket SECOND EDITION 256 Pages
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Iron Horse at War by James Valle Dust Jacket SECOND EDITION 256 Pages
The Iron Horse at War by James Valle Dust Jacket 1977 256 Pages SECOND EDITION 1978 272 Photographs by Jack Delano
The four years of American participation in the Second World War wrote a unique and dramatic chapter in the history of railroading. After long years of Depression-bred neglect and stagnation, the railroad industry was suddenly confronted with a task of heroic proportions. A vast flood of traffic, raw materials, fuels, munitions, weapons, and an enormous quantity of foodstuffs and manufactured items of every size and description had to be moved quickly and efficiently so that a global war effort could be nourished and sustained. In addition to the crushing volume of freight there was also an enormous increase in passenger traffic. Troop trains crammed with fresh-faced inductees shared the main lines with commuter runs, accommodations, and name trains running in multiple sections as a public suddenly flush with defense plant prosperity sought to preserve cherished American mobility in the face of gasoline and tire rationing.
This tremendous surge of traffic coincided with the final years of the long kingship of steam traction in the United States. Although a few road Diesels were slowly being introduced into mainline service and the ubiquitous internal combustion switch engine was increasingly in evidence, whole divisions and even entire railroads were still purely steam operations. Old but reliable Consolidations and Mikados shared honors with some of the most modern and impressive examples of the locomotive builder's art, for this was the prime of life for the fleets of Hudson, Texas, and Northern types that would one day close out the steam era. Hugeboilered and long-gutted behemoths incorporating every refinement known to internal expansion, these locomotives performed prodigies of useful labor and, together with their lesser brethren, created a vast panorama of smoke-erupting, earsplitting action.
It was a Golden Age for the afficionados of the Iron Horse and many of them haunted the track-sides and depots, camera in hand, to record the scene for posterity. Of this legion of shutterbugs, perhaps none was granted the opportunity to make such a complete and definitive study as Jack Delano, a young lensman working on assignment for the United States Office of War Information ( OWI ). Utilizing his official credentials to their fullest extent, Delano haunted roundhouses, freight yards, passenger depots, dispatchers' offices, repair shops, engine cabs, cabooses, and interlocking towers with complete freedom to record everything visible, and at government expense! It was the opportunity of a lifetime and it was not wasted for Delano brought to his task the skills and traditions of the great age of governmental documentary photography and combined them with his own keen interest in all phases of workaday life. The result was a fine collection of prints that captures the full scope and drama of the apogee of American railroading.
The core of Delano's work falls into two distinct phases. He began his assignment in and around Chicago in November 1942, recording the vast variety and enormous amount of railroad activity of this largest and busiest of the nation's transportation hubs with particular emphasis on the Chicago and North Western Railway and the Indiana Harbor Belt Line. When he had covered the Chicago scene to his satisfaction, he next embarked on a 2000-mile journey across the Midwest, Southwest, and Far West as a guest of the Santa Fe Railroad. During this trip, Delano made every effort to record the essence of railroading as it was experienced by the men who operated the trains, depots, towers, and servicing facilities. When he concluded his trip in Los Angeles he had among his rolls of exposed film, sequences of railroad action such as an ordinary fan might not capture in a lifetime of dedicated effort. Above all, he had recorded the human element of railroading in the candid, naturalistic style that was the hallmark of the OWI project and its great predecessor, the Farm Services Administration documentaries of the 1930s.
Since so much of the action captured by Delano's camera takes place on the Santa Fe, a few remarks concerning this legendary system are in order. Originally organized in 1868, the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad had grown from a few score miles of unballasted light iron spiked down on dry Kansas prairie to a transcontinental giant. By 1943 it was a railroad of considerable diversity and character, possessed of a vast stable of motive power and a wide variety of operating conditions, deserts, mountains, flatlands, and big city terminals. Its locomotive roster was populated by some of the oldest as well as some of the newest engines to be found in mainline service, sprightly Atlantics and Prairies that had helped pull Death Valley Scotty's Coyote Special back in 1905 working in tandem with enormous 3750 class Northerns and F T units doled out to the road by a tight-fisted War Production Board. Unlike most Western roads, the Santa Fe had no indigenous Mallets on its roster although a few Norfolk and Western Giants were borrowed at the height of the wartime emergency together with some Boston and Maine Berkshires looking very out of place under the hot Southwestern sun. Diesel switchers were much in evidence on the Santa Fe's property and Mikados dominated the freight power pools east of New Mexico.
To the motive power esthete Santa Fe steam was made distinctive by the road's preference for very large-diameter boilers which, especially with the newer engines, stretched bridge and tunnel clearances to the limits and even required the fitting of retractable smokestacks. Also noteworthy were the large square tenders and double sandboxes which, together with engine number boards mounted just behind the stack, were a common feature of the road's power and created a massive, bulky effect that did little justice to the great resources of speed and endurance possessed by the newest Santa Fe steamers. Seventy-four-inch drivers enabled Texas-type freight hogs to maintain express schedules while the Northerns were renowned for their ability to wheel solid strings of all-steel coaches across 1700 miles of mountain and desert, changing crews eight times between engine terminals.
The Santa Fe's contribution to the war effort was fully in keeping with its massive locomotives and far-flung trackage. Revenue train miles, which had stood at 40.9 million in 1938 spiraled to 70.7 million by 1945. Since this vast traffic had to be moved in the face of one of the worst manpower shortages in American history, hundreds of youths and women were hired to do light work around the shops and roundhouses and to fill in as brakemen and firemen on the much expanded extra boards. Heavy track repairs were handled by gangs of Mexican nationals and Indians drawn from the many reservations located in the Santa Fe's bailiwick. That these improbable railroaders, together with the older, experienced "rails" who formed the hard core of the company's manpower, contrived to deliver the goods, represents a dramatic tour de force in the annals of American Railroading.
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