Magnificent Book

Rods Down and Dropped Fires: Illinois Central and the Steam Age in Perspective - Richard P. Bessette

This is a magnificent book.  Firstly, a disclaimer.  The author sent me a free copy knowing of my interest in railroads, but I would not have reviewed it had I not liked it.  I liked it so much, in fact, I am sending him a check for the book.


What Bassette has done is to collect a comprehensive set of photographs relating to the history of the Illinois Central.  He worked for the IC for about 20 years and had access to their large library of archival photographs.  He decided to focus on the period from 1850 to 1950, roughly the rise and fall of the steam locomotive.   The book is divided into yearly chapters with a brief description of what was going on in the rest of the world during that year, particularly as it relates to the U.S. railroad industry.  That's followed by pictures of a locomotive or an IC yard, each with a lengthy description.  So, for example, in 1896 there are photographs of engines 376, 2003, 488,499, 495 (plowing through flooded tracks) as well as work being done on the "Lake Front Improvement Ordinance in which the IC agreed to build a retaining wall and backfill the park area between the retaining wall and Michigan Avenue."


Obviously, this book had a limited appeal for publishers, so the author, no doubt at great personal expense, published it himself using only the highest quality printing and on the best paper.


I cannot recommend this book highly enough for railroad aficionados.  It belongs in every library with any interest in railroading and certainly those covered by the Illinois Central.  It's truly a labor of love and will provide many hours for me to peruse at my leisure.  Six stars.


Examples from the book: