Sometimes a railroad history comes along that isn’t just a history. It’s not a lecture of facts, figures, and dates. But instead is a story of people, of power, and the great men that shaped the country.
In The Men Who Loved Trains Rush Loving Jr. takes the reader through the most tirmulous time in the history of the rail industry. Beginning with the merger-mania of the early 1960’s and ending with the Conrail split, quite a lot of railroad history is condensed into 345 pages. A more modern work, Loving provides additional perspective not seen in some of the earlier histories such as The Wreck of the Penn Central. He managed to research during that critical time when many of the players were still around but had the ability to be more honest and open about their decisions.
Told through the career of Jim McClellan, the self described “Forest-Gump of Railroading”, the reader gets a front road seat to the modern
If I had to find fault in Loving’s work, it would be his predisposition to focus on heroes and villians. It makes for a great story, but anyone who has studied history will realize that it is rarely cut and dried. His bias leans more towards those who were available to interview either during the creation of the book or during the author’s extensive career working as a journalist for Fortune. I have my doubts that Stuart Saunders was as incompetent or David Bevan
My other major complaint is the amount of Enron comparisons. It’s a salient point to make, but after two or three times the horse had been beat to death. This will only get worse over time, as it dates the work solidly into the second term of the George H.W. Bush administration. In today’s post-bailout world, the Penn Central comparisons could be taken even farther.
I don’t consider myself prone to hyperbole, but I consider this one of the most informative and useful railroad histories of the last 20 years.This book should be the cornerstone of any serious rail literature collection.