Niche subject: freight cars seen in Los Angeles, Calif. in the late 1930s

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Niche subject: freight cars seen in Los Angeles, Calif. in the late 1930s

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Giu 13, 2017, 2:16pm

Some folks enjoy the broad topic of "railroading." For me, though, I'm concentrating on a relatively small area in southern California in the year 1939. Much to my surprise, someone was photographing a lot of freight cars. That was highly unusual because most rail fans were shooting locomotives and, to a lesser extent, passenger trains. Not only did the photos survive but a publisher printed them in a series of books. He's exhausted his source material so the upcoming Volume 11 will probably be the last.

You can see the Focus on Freight Cars books in my collection here:

Do you follow any tiny niche railroad interests that have been published?

Giu 13, 2017, 6:53pm

Well, i did produce the first bibliography of Austrian railway literature for something like a century a few years back. (I keep getting pressured for an update.) It sells well in Austria, not surprisingly...

Railways in Central and Eastern Europe are very much my thing, though UK railways still attract me somewhat, and the recent acquisition of a great book on the subject is making me think about the town of Burton upon Trent, famous for the many breweries and the maze of railways that connected them. My father worked in signalling back in the 1960s and one of his major resignalling projects was the rationalisation of the Burton railways, so this book has piqued my interest rather.

Giu 13, 2017, 7:45pm

I have 3 (well maybe 4) areas that keep me looking:

1. Railroad Advertising for the National Parks by the RR's prior to 1940.
2. Colorado Mountain RR's both standard and narrow gauge.
3. Electric RR's in the US since I live in the heart of PRR country.
4. A subset of 3 is trolleys and interurbans. William D. Middleton has to be my favorite writer in this area.

I somewhat pay attention to the UK a bit but the way things are structured these days leaves me scratching my head a LOT.

Giu 14, 2017, 8:07am

>3 ulmannc: "...the way things are structured these days leaves me scratching my head a LOT."

Same here, and we have to try and use the network on a daily basis.

Modificato: Giu 14, 2017, 10:00am

I suppose my main railway focus would be viewed as a niche subject by many, namely African railways. There is a fair bit of interest in southern African railways (particularly South Africa and Zimbabwe), but not much really in the rest of Africa. But I also still retain at least a passing interest in the railways of my native UK, and elsewhere in the world.

PS: Let me declare my affiliation with those scratching their heads over UK railways...

Giu 14, 2017, 2:23pm

>4 RobertDay: and >5 John5918: That is great to hear and understand that is not just my poor little brain!!

Modificato: Giu 16, 2017, 8:02am

>5 John5918: There's a (small) increase of interest in the UK about the role of Britain in promoting and developing railways around the world, with bodies like the North British Locomotive Preservation Group ( devoting themselves to the products of Springburn no matter where they may be; of course, many of the last survivors can be found in SA.

Looking for choice items to add to my library on some of the odder European railways has led to my acquiring some more general works which include reference to Africa, such as a history of articulated locomotives Engines that bend (I was surprised to find out that there was once a Shay working in Austria!) and some of the works of the late A.E. Durrant ('Dusty' to his friends). I also delighted in the late John Snell's autobiography, Mixed gauges. A friend passed on to me a copy of C.S.Small's Far wheels; and my recent trip to Hay-on-Wye (and the Gloucester Warwickshire Railway) yielded H.R.Stones' British Railways in Argentina and an Australian volume, Peter Clark's Locomotives in China, which is a useful guide to (some) Chinese locomotive classes, past and present (it dates from 1983 and so is not up to speed on the latest motive power), which expands my Chinese railways shelf by 50%!

I suppose the least niche of my interests is the railways of my native Derbyshire; my father was based at Derby, so that makes me some sort of "Midland man" (Derby being the HQ of the Midland Railway from 1845-1923), so pursuing an interest in a railway company and its locomotives, rolling stock and operations that ceased to exists 95 years ago is about as mainstream as I get (and the Midland was pretty idiosyncratic amongst the other British railway companies).

Derbyshire also had some more unusual railways in terms of narrow gauge (the lines at Ashover, Crich and the - only just over the border in Staffordshire - Leek & Manifold line, which was designed by E.R. Calthorpe, who had previously designed locomotives and stock for railways in India; hence the huge headlamps on the L&M engines, so essential for spotting elephants on the line at night, always a problem in deepest Staffordshire (!)); and perhaps my first fascination, the Cromford & High Peak Railway.

This was a very early railway scheme to link Derby with Manchester over the top of the High Peak District; it was originally projected in 1826 as a canal, but it soon became clear that the geological nature of the Peak - limestone - would cause major problems in retaining water. So William Jessop, the line's engineer, decided to adopt the new-fangled 'railway' instead; but he retained the route already surveyed, so the line was laid out as a canal, with long flat sections and inclined planes worked by stationery engines standing in for flights of locks. This remarkable line only closed in 1967, and I missed seeing it working by months. Perhaps the most spectacular section was the steepest adhesion-worked incline in the country, Hopton, with a gradient of 1 in 14; engines had to take a good run at it and could only take two or three wagons up it at a time, resulting in some truly remarkable scenes.

And I have a fascination for (almost) anything narrow gauge generally, though the quainter the better. I suppose that the range of my railway interests could be considered a collection of niches!

Giu 16, 2017, 7:00am

>7 RobertDay:

Thanks, Robert. I get the NBLPG newsletter every month. Like you, I have a number of books which are international rather than Africa-specific but which cover various aspects of African railways. At a certain point I stopped buying any more as my collection just seemed to be growing too much! I'm still always on the lookout for specifically African books, though.

On a trip to South Africa towards the end of last year acquisitions included The Splendid Book of Empire Railways by W.H. Boulton, Steam from Kenya to the Cape: An Enthusiast's Guide to the Steam Locomotives of East, Central and South Africa by E Talbot and a Locomotive Engineers' Pocket Book which I think is the 1939 edition.

Giu 16, 2017, 8:21am

Hmm. Judging by the railway books I own, you could probably just put me down as someone who simply likes books on niche topics, without much discrimination. There's something rather magnificent about people who invest years of their lives in documenting a topic that hardly anyone is ever going to take seriously. Like John Gillam's doorstep-sized Oakwood Press history of The Waterloo and City Railway, a tube line that even regular commuters would be hard-pressed to think about for more than the four minutes they spend riding between its two ends. Or J.I.C. Boyd and his adventures in dusty Welsh archives tracing the exact history of projected narrow-gauge lines that were never even built - there's something almost Borgesian about it. Or my sometime colleague at York, Bill Fawcett, who wrote detailed architectural studies of 19th century railway office buildings...