If you ever wondered why the Twin Cities are covered with train tracks, you will want to check out Milwaukee Road Remembered. Milwaukee Road was the name given to the Midwestern network of trains originating out of Milwaukee and spreading through the Twin Cities, bringing plenty of travelers and freight. The black-and-white cover features an old viewing car and snow-covered train-tracks trailing out into the distance. Captivating to any train lover, the inside pages are covered with early pictures and many, many details.
|milwaukee road remembered by jim scribbins. published by the university of minnesota press (2008). $29.95.|
“North of Milwaukee, class A 4-4-2s worked briefly to Green Bay, until they were found too heavy for the track. Then F3 Pacifics, at first brightly painted, then in 1941 shrouded 4-6-4 style, handled the train…The Chip was dieselized in December 1950 with Fairbanks-Morse Erie-builts bumped from main line Hiawathas by new FP7s. Later E7s, FP7s, and yellow-painted GP9s took their turns.”
This book is clearly pitched at the train connoisseur, and it may be a little overwhelming for anyone who’s not. Although there is a glossary, it doesn’t explain the numbering of cars or why a 4-4-2 is different than a 4-6-4. Probably due in part to this complicated language, some basic copyediting is lacking, with words like “conventional” and “Atlantic” split apart with hyphens in the middle of lines. Despite these flaws, the book is still interesting.
Lounges, observation cars, telephones, air conditioning, private sleeper, and electric lighting were all exciting innovations featured on the Milwaukee Road. These innovations got a great deal of attention, but didn’t necessarily result in monetary success, since train companies were constantly going broke. Milwaukee Road experimented with steam power, diesel power, coal power, and even electric trains, which brought international attention from as far away as Japan.
Train ticket offices became a link to what each city had to offer. Ticket agents would promote entertainment venues or other local organizations and also sold guided tours offered by firms like American Express and Thomas Cook.
“Downtown or city ticket offices, situated as close as possible to their clients, were introduced to reduce the time needed to arrange a trip…Since such offices were not racing the clock by selling tickets for departing trains, the atmosphere was more leisurely than at a station. Clerks could take the time to thoroughly plan an itinerary and explain the intricacies of coupon tickets.”
There were a lot of factors working against the trains. The bitter cold and snowy winters presented problems. Diesel froze if left sitting or idling too long, and snow plows needed to be fitted on the front of the trains to make any travel possible when it snowed. In the 1940s and 1950s, passenger trains started to suffer from air travel and automobile competition. Some held up until the 1970s, but most slowly dropped off.
Author Jim Scribbins is obviously a train expert and doesn’t hold back as he enthusiastically describes, say, differences between the 4000 and 4400 Hiawatha coaches. The book is grouped by train lines and topics, which leads to a lot of jumping around in time and makes it hard to see the big picture of train travel. As with many University of Minnesota Press books, this is a highly academic read—but even for the casual reader, the pictures alone are worth paging through Milwaukee Road.
Melissa Slachetka (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freelance writer and photographer who lives in Minneapolis and contributes regularly to the Daily Planet.