The following entries focus on railroad workers — their history, working experiences, labor organizing and strikes, and "boomers" — nomadic rail workers who move from town to town depending on the availability of work at different times. We are also including a few listings of "favorites" here that are of more general railroad interest.
Click on the alphabetical sections (by author's name) below to find listings from the author's name, the title, or a keyword used in the text:
Allen, Allan. 2005. Old Rails' Tales: Anecdotes, Stories & Memoirs - On the Road and in the Yard Trafford Publishing Victoria, BC.
A collection of on-the-job first hand accounts of four generations of railroaders - engineers, brakemen, switchmen, conductors, dispatchers, and yardmasters off the Santa Fe, Southern Pacific, Western Pacific and Amtrak.
Arnesen, Eric. 2002. Brotherhoods of Color: Black Workers and the Struggle for Equality Harvard University Press.
Historical account of African-American men and women efforts to obtain social equality and opportunity while constructing and working on America's railroads. Provides details of Black railroad workers' struggles to change the mindset of the railroad industry, mangers, and their fellow white workers.
Ball, Don Jr. and Rogers E. M. Whitaker. 1977. Decade of the Trains, the 1940s, Boston: Little, Brown & Co., New York Graphic Society, 287 pages with photographs. In library.
Contains narrative and photographs of steam locomotives, freight and passenger cars (some photographs of the typical caboose interior are included), yard, road, and maintenance operations, and the shipping of military supplies and personnel.
Barter, James. The Working Life - A Worker on the Transcontinental Railroad
The men who built the Transcontinental Railroad between 1863 and 1869 labored twelve hour days building bridges, blasting tunnels, and laying rail beds in the midst of freezing winters and hot summers while fighting Indians and dodging dynamite explosions. This book honors the tens of thousands of mostly immigrants by describing their day-to-day lives while constructing the greatest railroad of all time.
Bass, Charles. 2009. Life on the Shiny Iron: Memories of a Mid-century Brakeman, Middleton, WI. Falconart Media LLC.
A brakeman's recollections of working on the Chicago & Northwestern Railway in Wisconsin in the 1950s and 1960s.
Bedwell, Harry 1942. The Boomer: A Story of the Rails, Farrar and Rinehart, Inc. Republished by University of Minnesota Press, 2006. 332 pages.
This is an episodic fictional story about Eddie Sand, a skilled telegrapher who booms around the country working at various depots, towers and shanties plying his craft. Based on Bedford's experiences as a lifelong railroader. He wrote 60 short stories, many published in Railroad Magazine in the 1930s and some of which are incorporated into this book. U of M edition includes an introduction by James D Porterfield.
Beebe, Lucius. 1947. Mixed Train Daily: A Book of Short-Line Railroads, Berkeley, CA: Howell-North. Includes approximately 300 photographs, by Charles M. Clegg Jr., six color plates of original oil paintings by Howard Fogg, acknowledgments, index, railroad glossary and bibliography.
This book is focussed on the mixed train consists (passenger and freight) run by the 500 or more short-line railroads that were independently owned and/or operated in the U. S.
Botkin, Benjamin Albert, and F. F. Harlow. 1953. A Treasury of Railroad Folklore: The Stories, Tall Tales, Traditions, Ballads, and Songs of the American Railroad Man, New York: Crown Publishers, 530 pages. Includes illustrations and melodies with lyrics.
Boyer, Dennis. 2001. Prairie Whistles: Tales of Midwest Railroading Trails Books, Black Earth, Wisconsin.
A collection of oral reminiscences drawn from Midwest railroaders during the 20th century.
Brown, Charles P. and H. Roger Grant (editor) 1991. Brownie the Boomer - The Life of Charles P. Brown, An American Railroader, Northern Illinois University Press Dekalb, IL. 279 pages.
An itinerant railroad worker, or "boomer," Brown hopscotched across America between 1900 and 1913 seeking employment wherever opportunities arose. His wanderlust led him into a variety of jobs - including fireman, brakeman, switchman - for such railroads as the Santa Fe, Union Pacific, Wabash, and New York Central until he was disabled at age thirty-four in a railroad accident. In this sometimes tragic, frequently funny, behind-the-scenes account of railroading, Brownie reveals the reality of working conditions for the railroad laborer at the turn of the century as he relates his many adventures and misadventures. Brown's original rough autobiography from 1930 was edited by H. Roger Grant and finally published in 1991.
Brown, I.M. 1930. Boomer Bill: His Book. Von Hoffman Press. In library.
Stories of railroad workers written by a Missouri Pacific employee. Many of the stories focus on a fictional character, "Boomer Bill", a switchman, but are meant to illustrate the lives of rail workers at that time.
Cohen, Norm. 1981. Long Steel Rail: The Railroad in American Folksong, Urbana, Chicago and London: University of Illinois Press, 710 pages.
Includes illustrations, melodies with chord symbols, index, discography, and bibliography. A definitive work on the subject.
Complete Directory of Railroad Lingo. A definitive reference of the railroad parlance used in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 2,500 words, 143 pages with illustrations. Contact: H.A. Durfy, 1220 NE 1143rd G#15, Seattle, WA 98125.
Conlin, Joseph Robert. 1969. Big Bill Haywood and the Radical Union Movement, Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 244 pages. Includes portraits and bibliographical references.
Davis, Colin J. 1997. Power at Odds: The 1922 National Railroad Shopmen's Strike University of Illinois Press, Urbana and Chicago.
Outlines and describes the development of how a mass strike of nearly half a million railroad shopmen went on a generalized strike that had the potential to change the nature of rail labor relations in North America.
Debs, Eugene V. 1970. Eugene V. Debs Speaks Pathfinder Press New York.
Just one of many books available that contains a broad variety of the speeches given by Debs over the course of his life.
Ducker, James H. 1983. Men of the Steel Rail: Workers on the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad, 1869-1900, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 220 pages. Includes 10 pages of plates, illustrations, index, and bibliography.
Farrington, S. Kip. 1943. Railroading from the Head End. Doubleday, New York. In library.
Classic photos and stories of World War 2-era railroading.
Flimsies! Newsmagazine of Western Railroading. 1988-1995. In library.
Gamst, Frederick C. 1980. The Hoghead - An Industrial Ethnology of the Locomotive Engineer Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York.
"...the occupation and life of the locomotive engineer and his fellow workers in an exposition of the ethnological (social and cultural anthropological) study of industry."
Ginger, Ray. 1962. Eugene V. Debs: A Biography
One of a number of biographies available on the life of rail labor's most famous leader.
Gray, Carl Raymond. 1955. Railroading in Eighteen Countries; The Story of American Railroad Men Serving in the Military Railway Service, 1862 to 1953, New York: Scribner, 351 pages. Includes illustrations, portraits, and maps.
Hoekstra, Bud. 2012. The Life and Times of a Railroad Engineer, White Birch Press, Spooner, WI 320 pages.
A personal memoir of a hogger who put in 42 years of service on six upper midwestern railroads before retiring in 2001. A lot of the tales revolve around working for the Illinois Central and Soo Line in Illinois, Wisconsin, North Dakota and Minnesota.
Holbrook, Stewart. 1947. The Story of American Railroads, New York: Crown Publishers.
--- 1955. James Jerome Hill [1838-1916], A Great Life in Brief, New York: Knopf, 205 pages with bibliography.
--- 1948. Little Annie Oakley & Other Rugged People, New York, Macmillan, 238 pages.
--- 1946. Lost Men of American History, New York: The Macmillan Company.
--- 1962. The American Lumberjack, New York: Collier Books, 254 pages. Includes index and bibliography. Originally appeared under the title Holy Old Mackinaw: A Natural History of the American Lumberjack.
Hubbard, Margaret Ann. 1953. Halloran's Hill MacMillan, New York
A novel, set at the turn of the twentieth century in Proctor, Minnesota, about the adventures of a young crew caller working for the line that became the Duluth Missabe and Iron Range Railroad. Lots of good railroad imagery as much of the book takes place around the roundhouse where some of the largest steam locomotives in the US were based. The life of a crew caller was a lot different in those days, involving riding a bike or walking out to the isolated shacks in the woods where the booming hoggers would stay for the iron-ore shipping season - dodging wolves and other perils on the way and then trying to roust them in time for their calls.
Levinson, Nancy Smiler. 1997. She's Been Working on the Railroad Lodestar Books, New York.
A history of women workers on the railroad from its early days until the present.
Licht, Walter. 1983. Working for the Railroad: The Organization of Work in the Nineteenth Century, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 329 pages. Includes illustrations, photographs, tables, appendixes, index and bibliography.
Link, O Winston. 1987. Steam, Steel and Stars: America's Last Steam Railroad Harry N. Abrams, Inc.. New York.
O. Winston Link, is best known for his stunning night time images of the last days of steam on the Norfolk and Western. This volume is a collection of some of his best mid-20th Century photographs. As with some of the other great rail photographers of his era, Link includes many shots of those who work on the railroad, a sharp contrast to many modern rail photographers who just seem obsessed with three quarter angle shots of locomotives in scenic locations.
Loving Jr, Rush. 2006. The Men Who Loved Trains Indiana University Press. Bloomington, IN
Billed as "The Story of Men Who Battled Greed to Save an Ailing Industry," this book tells the story of the decline of railroading in the Northeast US following World War II, the Penn Central merger and bankruptcy, the formation of Conrail and its split up and merger into CSX and NS in 1999. The author contrasts the visionary rail executives who had a real love for railroading with the less successful managers for whom trains were just a business.
Morgan, David P. and Philip R Hastings. 1975. The Mohawk That Refused to Abdicate and Other Tales Kalmbach Publishing, Milwaukee.
Stunning photos and prose as the authors document the last years of steam locomotive operations in North America, with many good shots of the people who operated and maintained them. Widely considered one of the most classic books on railroading of its era.
Morganstern, Wes. 1999. Working on the Western Maryland - A Collection of Employee Interviews Western Maryland Historical Society.
Various accounts of work and life on the Western Maryland by a wide array of workers from various crafts. They recount their life through steam and diesel, Western Maryland, then Chessie System and finally CSX.
Niemann, Linda. 1990. Boomer - Railroad Memoirs University of California Press Berkley, CA
One woman's story of hiring out on the Southern Pacific in the late 1970s and holding a job as a switchman, brakeman and later conductor only by booming around the system in order to hold a job. (Issued four years later in 1994 as On the Rails - A Memoir).
--- with photos by Linda Bertucci. 1998. Railroad Voices Stanford University Press.
Two women rail workers collaborate together in this book of photos and written vignettes from railroading in the 80s and 90s. The worker accounts are largely from the SP while the photos are largely from the Milwaukee Road
--- with photos by Joel Jensen. 2010. Railroad Noir: The American West at the End of the Twentieth Century, Indiana University Press. Bloomington. 168p.
Culled from the 20 years she spent traveling the American West as a freight brakeman and conductor, Linda Grant Niemann's Railroad Noir delves into the darker side of railroading. The 1990s were a time of crisis for workers caught in the breakup of the Southern Pacific Railroad. Niemann's tales of exhaustion, alcoholism, homelessness, and corporate blundering present a revelatory account of railroading life. Photographer Joel Jensen realizes Niemann's vision of the working West with images of cowboy bars, blue motels, and railroaders working in electrical storms, white-outs, and desert heat waves. The result is an honest, gritty, and striking collaboration.
Papke, David Ray. 1999. The Pullman Case: The Clash of Labor and Capital in Industrial America University of Kansas, Lawrence.
Account of the great strike waged against the Pullman Company by the American Railway Union (ARU in 1894), led by Eugene V. Debs and others.
Picker, Fred W. 1996. Railroading in Texas - One Man's Memories Dorrance Publishing Company, Inc., Pittsburg.
Historical account of one man's experience of 36 years as a railroad conductor in Texas.
Poniatowska, Elena. El Tren Pasa Primero
(Spanish) A young man from Oaxaca, Mexico learned at an early age that he was gifted, not with beauty or physical strength, but with willpower, the force of the spoken word and a constant eagerness for knowledge. The story of his life is a journey that starts with the whistle of a train... It is also the place in which his ardent speech to his railroad brothers resulted in a fight that would upturn a country and a regime.
Reinhardt, Richard. 1970. Workin' on the Railroad - Reminiscences from the Age of Steam University of Oklahoma Press, Norman.
First hand accounts of work on the railroad in the 19th and 20th centuries when steam locomotives were the rule.
Riddell, Doug. 1999. View from the Cab - Stories from a Locomotive Engineer
The author takes the reader through his railroad career as fireman, brakeman, conductor, freight engineer and Amtrak engineer. He learns how the newly merged Seaboard Coast Line and Seaboard Air Lines operate, works as a brakeman, and enters engine service to become an engineer.
Salvatore, Nick. 1984. Eugene V. Debs: Citizen and Socialist University of Illinois Urbana.
"In this stunning book, Salvatore sets Debs firmly within the central traditions of United States political and social history and depicts, as never before, the triumph and tragedy that characterized the socialist leader's personal and public life." American Historical Review
Solomon, Brian. 2006. Working on the Railroad MBI Publishing, St. Paul.
An insiders look at work on the railroad. It's a collection of stories and pictures of men and machines from the later days of steam to today working at the various crafts.
Steinheimer, Richard and Jeff Brouws. 2004. A Passion for Trains: The Railroad Photography of Richard Steinheimer W.W. Norton & Co., New York.
A retrospective collection of the work of probably the most well respected and influential photographer of railroading in the western United States. Among his many creative approaches, "Stein" focused on capturing the human side of railroading. This book includes many great shots of the people who work on an around trains and even the occasional hobo.
Steffes, Charles F. 1998. The Life and Times of a Locomotive Engineer New Jersey, Carstens Publications, 305 pages plus short glossary. Steffes self-published this book in 1992.
A autobiographical account of Steffes experiences working for the Southern Pacific as a locomotive engineer from 1937 until his retirement in 1976.
Strongquist, Shelton. 1987. A Generation of Boomers: The Pattern of Railroad Labor Conflict in Nineteenth Century America, University of Illinois Press, Urbana.
Sturholm, Larry and Howard, J. 1976. All For Nothing: The True Story of the Last Great American Train Robbery, BLS Publishing Co. Portland.
In 1923 the DeAutremont Brothers bungled the last major American train robbery — southbound Train #13 at Tunnel 13 on the Southern Pacific Siskiyou Line (the line between Black Butte and Ashland, OR). In the process, four railroad workers, two of whom lived in Dunsmuir, were murdered. This book tells the story, including through the eyes of one of the brothers, Ray, after he was paroled in the 1960s. A true story that reads like a novel.
Swanson, Carl A. 2004. Faces of Railroading: Portraits of America's Greatest Industry Milwaukee, Kalbach Books.
Milwaukee Photo essay depicting numerous workers from the various crafts at work on the railroad in 20th century America.
Tye, Larry. 2004. Rising from the Rails: Pullman Porters and the Making of the Black Middle Class Holt, New York.
Chronicles the pioneering role that the sleeping car porters union and their leader, A. Philip Randolph, played in building America's union movement.