The Hocking Valley Railway

It’s been a while since I have done a book review. Luckily, I managed to pick up a copy of Edward H. Miller’s The Hocking Valley Railway. Published relatively recently (crica-2007), the book provides a detailed and nearly comprehensive look at Ohio’s largest intrastate railroad.

The Hocking Valley Railway began its corporate history as the Mineral Railroad Company in 1864. Chartered to carry coal from the Hocking River Valley to the markets of Columbus, the railroad soon underwent a name change and became the Columbus and Hocking Valley Railroad. After a number of mergers, buyouts, and receiverships, the railroad became the Hocking Valley Railway in 1899. It is under this name the railroad was most well known. The Hocking Valley became a fallen flag after being purchased by the C&O in 1930.

Miller goes through detailed histories of each predecessor railroad, its lines, and its relationship to the Hocking Valley. He also includes short biographies of each railway president, something I have not seen too often in these kind of works. In-between the larger themes of the narrative (ownership, presidents, and corporate games), he finds time to work in significant but smaller events from the time period discussed like wrecks, expansions, and the occasional disaster.

After the main narrative Miller goes through the entire line and lists every station and significant junction. This is a level of research scarcely seen in this kind of work, and I really appreciated the attention to detail. This section does focus just on the Athens-Toledo mainline, but even includes the lesser-known coal branches.

Each chapter of the main work also includes detailed statistics on operations and motive power. This corresponds well with the final chapter that includes a number of tables on rolling stock and equipment. Also included in the rear of the book are tables with passenger, freight revenues, and other financial data, as well as an extensive citations, a short bibliography, and a brief index.

The largest flaw of the book is that of its presentation. Published by Ohio University Press, it suffers from issues common to local-interest histories. Photos are generally of a low quality and maps border on unreadable. Thankfully, high-quality versions of the included maps are available to view on the web. Unless you have an intimate knowledge of Southwestern Ohio geography, I would recommend having a laptop handy in order to correlate the stations mentioned to their real-life equivalents.

There are also times when the narrative gets sidetracked into details about other railroads. There is nothing inheritenly wrong about this, but if you picked up the book to read about the Hocking Valley alone, you may find the entire background chapter on the C&O to be a bit boring.

In the grand scheme of things these flaws fail to significantly distract from the most well-researched and all inclusive look at the Hocking Valley ever undertaken. Books that follow local, independent railroads from birth to death are my favorite type of railroad history, and from this perspective this book does not disappoint.

Thanks to this book, I should have a page done on the Hocking Valley Railway in a few days. For the time being, I encourage anyone interested to check out this detailed section on the HVRR over at Columbus Railroads. If you would like your own copy of The Hocking Valley Railway there are currently a few copies still available at Amazon.

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