American Steam Locomotives: Design and Development, 1880-1960 (Railroads Past and Present)
For nearly half of the nation's history, the steam locomotive was the outstanding symbol for progress and power. It was the literal engine of the Industrial Revolution, and it played an instrumental role in putting the United States on the world stage. While the steam locomotive's basic principle of operation is simple, designers and engineers honed these concepts into 100-mph passenger trains and 600-ton behemoths capable of hauling mile-long freight at incredible speeds. American Steam Locomotives is a thorough and engaging history of the invention that captured public imagination like no other, and the people who brought it to life. Hardcover, 424 pages.
Now, with Withuhn, we have pretty much all we need: the details, the analysis, the scholarship, along with a wealth of supportive photography. But we also get something much more, and that’s Bill engaging prose. More than any reference book I’ve ever encountered, this one has wit and style. You can curl up with it and read it for pleasure. (Classic Trains)
"The book, which features one of the all-time great U.S. locomotives, a Nickel Plate Road Berkshire, on its cover, is a highly readable, entertaining, information packed volume."
American Steam Locomotives: Design and Development, 1880–1960 figures to be an authoritative reference for generations to come, written by that rarest of men who not only understand the engineering, but who have the writing skill to communicate it.
A unique book, filling a glaring void in the literature of an important transportation technology. It is comprehensive and covers 'all the bases' in the development of steam motive power from the latter decades of the 19th century to the end of steam innovation and production by 1960. Withuhn places his complex story into the larger context of railroading and national and international happenings.
(H. Roger Grant, author of Railroads and the American People)
About the Author
William L. Withuhn (1941–2017) was the long-time transportation curator at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History. He was a licensed locomotive engineer who ran dozens of steam engines, from saddle-tankers to Northerns. Withuhn was also the chairman of the Federal Railroad Administration's Engineering Standards Committee, which re-wrote regulations for the 21st century and thus helped ensure continued operation of heritage locomotives. He was author of The Spirit of Steam and Rails Across America.
It is amazing that within a year, two superb books about American steam locomotives have been published. – I reviewed The American Steam Locomotive in the Twentieth Century
by Tom Morrison a few weeks ago, and now I am talking to you about the book American Steam Locomotives – Design and Development, 1880-1960 by the late Bill Withuhn.
Bill was a friend of the C&OHS and me. In fact, we helped him with the Wright Brothers display in 2003 while he was still serving as Curator of Ground Transportation at the Smithsonian Institution. I began corresponding with Bill back in the mid-1970s. He was a source of information which I used in many of the articles I did on steam locomotives for the C&O Historical Magazine in the following decades. I have always considered him THE preeminent steam locomotive historian in America. His death in recent years has been a great loss.
We advertised his book (its publication apparently ensured by his wife) from the Indiana University Press some months ago, but haven’t been able to get copies for months since the first printing was quickly sold out. We have more now.
I told you in my review of Tom Morrison’s book that it was the best single volume recitation of locomotive history I had read. -- I now tell you that after going over Bill’s book, it must also have this SAME praise from me. – Together, these two books, both covering the same ground, but from differing approaches that result from the backgrounds of the two authors, will tell you EVERYTHING you need to know about American steam.
The Withuhn volume under consideration here is clearly written, well organized, and tells the story with a great deal of background that goes somewhat beyond Morrison’s book. It is easy to understand for the non-technical person such as I. Withuhn’s chapter on the coming of diesels is the best written explanation of this important event I have read by far. His analysis is cogent, understandable, well-thought-out, and incorporates all the elements that make this era so fascinating. I learned much from this chapter alone.
He also gives a whole chapter to UP’s 4-8-8-4 Big Boy and C&O’s 2-6-6-6 Allegheny, comparing them, and explaining background I have never read before, especially on the genesis of the Allegheny. It’s worth the price just to read this great explanation of C&O’s ultimate engine! He also treats the C&O’s T-1 Texas 2-10-4 with great praise and shows how it was the ultimate in what Lima’s designer Will Woodard meant with the term “Super Power.”
We are indebted to Bill for leaving us this legacy of information and analysis about not only the design and use of steam locomotives, but their effect on our civilization.
The photos are good, apparently almost all taken from the Kalmbach collection, the printing excellent, and the paper fine. If you love steam you will love this scholarly book that is written not just for the scholar but for people ordinary folks. I cannot give it enough praise in this short review. If you like steam, if you like railroading in the steam era, this book is a MUST.
Between Tom Morrison’s book and Bill’s you have everything you need to know about steam--period. Between them they are better than a whole library of books about steam engines. I STONGLY recommend you get the both while they’re in print!
See The American Steam Locomotive in the Twentieth Century BK-17-903