Cover image for American narrow gauge railroads
American narrow gauge railroads
Hilton, George W. (George Woodman)
Publication Information:
Stanford, Calif. : Stanford University Press, 1990.
Physical Description:
xiii, 580 pages : illustrations, maps ; 32 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
TF23 .H56 1990 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks-Oversize
TF23 .H56 1990 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks-Oversize

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This is the first comprehensive, extensively illustrated account, of the growth and decline of American narrow gauge railroading. 'A treat to browse through ... An authoritative documentation of a long-gone era, the book brings to life ancient steam locomotives, railroads, and rolling stock that have mostly disappeared without trace.' New York Times Book Review 'Every so often, a book is published that deserves to be called a landmark ... American Narrow Gauge Railroads is probably the first of such calibre for the '90's.' Railfan and Railroad 'This book, which is certainly large in a physical sense, more importantly looms large with respect to the depth and quality of research and the careful and readable way in which the information is presented to the reader ... It should be hailed as a classic ... A book that belongs on the shelves of any person who cares about railroad history.' National Railway Bulletin 'This is an excellent work, and the author and publisher both deserve accolades.' Railroad History

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

The ``narrow gauge fever'' that swept U.S. railroads in the 1870s and 1880s was based on economic error. The expected capital savings were not realized in prac tice and the cost of reloading freight at junctions with the standard gauge net work was excessive. By 1900 most of the lines had either been converted to stan dard gauge or abandoned. Today usually thought of as limited to mountain country (the Colorado network was the largest and longest-lived), narrow gauges once ran in 44 states: in 1885 it was possible to travel from Ohio to Texas by narrow gauge. UCLA economist Hilton's superb study documents the rise and fall of the industry in authoritative detail. Part 1 sur veys the economics and technology of the movement as a whole, and Part 2 offers individual histories of 350 companies. Highly recommended for informed lay persons and specialists.--Paul B. Cors, Univ. of Wyoming Lib., Laramie (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Hilton's remarkable book is the product of impressive research. He details how the narrow-gauge (3" 0 or 3" 6) craze swept the railroad world following the Civil War. By 1885, a narrow-gauge network of 11,699 miles (or approximately nine per cent of the national railroad mileage) laced large sections of the country. Hilton effectively argues that narrow-gauge enthusiasts used faulty logic. While these advocates ballyhooed cheap transport, they ignored the ever present problem of incompatibility with the vast majority of the US railroad system (standard gauge or 4" 8 1/2), which damaged their schemes, especially their plans for long-distance routes. The promoters' bad judgment was partially rectified when about two-thirds of this slim-gauge track was eventually widened. One of the most comprehensive and significant studies ever written on railroad history, Hilton's book is enhanced by a section that provides historical sketches of every narrow-gauge common carrier in the country. Scores of superb maps and photographs add considerably to this meticulously documented volume. All levels. -H. R. Grant, The University of Akron