Top ten (actually 12) railroad books

This post is about my favorite railroad books and the ones I reference frequently.  I have about 60 railroad photography books, but really only a few of my books get much traffic.

For regular readers of Rails West it is obvious that my primary modeling interest is the West in 1981, particularly the Burlington Northern and Southern Pacific. However, I am seeking to feature a lot of rolling stock from a number of other roads with operations in the West, such as BN predecessors (including the Frisco) and the Rio Grande, Milwaukee Road, Santa Fe, Western Pacific, Chicago and Northwestern and Missouri Pacific and a few favorites from other regions, such the Norfolk and Western, Seaboard Coast Line, Illinois Central Gulf and Louisville and Nashville.

All right, here is the list (kind of but not necessarily in order)–


  1. Southern Pacific in Oregon — I love this book.  The photography is stunning and it really focuses on my era, the late 1970s-early 1980s.  The pictures are crystal clear and very vivid.  This has to be one of the best pictorial railroad books ever produced.14929
  2. Northwest Passage is almost as good.  Again excellent coverage of the Burlington Northern (late-1970s-1980s), but a little more 1990s coverage snuck in.  Still a really outstanding book–very high-quality photo production.71pqwdioswl
  3. Awesome new book released this year!  Outstanding pictures, mostly 1970s and the production is mostly high quality.  A few of the pictures are just a bit faded out, but all in all, an excellent work.5e009b2d4c42124f9c08ea479ec0b2c6
  4. A must for true modelers of the BN.  This is one of the best color guide books that Morningsun has produced.  Extensive coverage.  Don’t buy unless you want to model the BN.  If you see this book, you’ll be tempted to switch the railroad you model.s-l500
  5. I love the Milwaukee.  By 1981, sadly, it had abandoned its Pacific Extention west of Miles City, MT, but in my eyes, it was still a true western road.  Miles City is still pretty far west!  Excellent coverage of a railroad that had a very charismatic freight car fleet.51sc5znqkrl
  6. Another railroad that had a charismatic freight car fleet.  I have studied this book for hours, wishing an HO producer would run some of the special cars of the CB&Q. Below is an example of one of the more attractive cars of the fleet and an example of the kinds of interesting schemes the CB&Q offered.cbq-49437-cicero-il-nov-1-1979-chuck-zeilerBonus — click here to see (courtesy of RR Pictures Archives) the outstanding CB&Q work of Chuck Zeiler.  He is one of my rail photographer heros!9781878887498-us-300
  7. Right behind the CB&Q was the Northern Pacific for a very attractive and interesting freight car fleet.  This color guide does a great job reflecting the diversity of the fleet.riograndecolorguidefrtpax
  8. The Rio Grande Color Guide is very good.  Unfortunately, the DRGW did not own an extremely large and diverse fleet, but this book does a great job of capturing much of the roster.61og9uqpsel
  9. This book has a lot of interesting photos and does a solid job of capturing SP operations in NoCal.  The time span is a little wide for me, but most of the photos would be of interest to a 1970-1980 modeler.  A few of the photos are a bit flat, but the subject material is usually quite good.drgw
  10. This book features many great shots of DRGW actions in desolate corners of the line–lot’s of 1970s and 1980s action.  Most pictures are very clear and vivid.  This is one of the better DRGW books I have seen.frisco_katy_color_guide
  11. I love the rolling stock of the Frisco (and Katy for that matter).  Like the Milwaukee and other roads I mentioned above, the Frisco fleet had a lot of charisma also.  I really like this book since I want a fair amount of Frisco rolling stock on the railroad since the layout depicts the era right after the BN-Frisco merger.  Loads of great Frisco pictures.shortlines-of-the-pacific-northwest
  12. I like this book because it is just plain interesting.  Some of the photos are flat, but most of them depict interesting shortline operations.  Coverage is from the 1970s to the early 2000s.  It’s tempting to model a small logging operation after one reads this book.

OK, so that is the top dozen.  Of course, I like a lot of other books such as the color guides for the Western Pacific, Louisville and Nashville, Norfolk and Western and a number of other pictorial books such as the recent publication by the Santa Fe Railway Historical & Modelling Society, Santa Fe on the Great Plains.

There are a couple of books missing in my eyes.  I would like to see the following books–

  1. Milwaukee Road in the West, the final decade of the Pacific Extention
  2. Burlington Northern across the Intermountain West (Love to see a great BN book in more arid areas, such as eastern Washington, parts of Wyoming, etc.)
  3. Seaboard Coast Line Color Guide to Freight Equipment
  4. Southern Pacific across the Desert, SP action (late 1970s-early 1980s) across Nevada, etc.
  5. Union Pacific Color Guide to Freight Equipment (1970s and early 1980s)

Doesn’t hurt to dream I guess.

In case you want any of these books, many are still in print.  My two favorite books sources are–

Overland Hobbies


Arizona Hobbies

There are many other good sources, but these guys always have great prices and services.  I recommend them both.


Dear Readers:

Please share in the comments your favorite Railroad book(s) and maybe one you’d like to see produced. I’d like to know some of your favorites, especially if you know any that feature great late 1970-to early 1980 western railroading!


6 thoughts on “Top ten (actually 12) railroad books

  1. Nice list there Chuck! The MILW book you seek is this one:
    This is The Milwaukee Road by Fred Hyde. Out of print since 1989, this is the gold standard for a look at the Milwaukee Road. Not all Pacific Coast Extension specifically, it is about 75% west coverage in the last 10 years. It is what you want. It is pricey these days but it is worth the money, and it is the same awesome Dale Sanders editing and layout as other books at the top of your list.


  2. Chuck,

    I enjoy your site. Our modeling interests are similar. I’m working on a switching layout as well, but set in the 80’s and in S scale. It’s a free lanced road interchanging with the Katy and the Santa Fe somewhere on the coastal plain in Texas.

    Books on my list are McMillan’s “Tumbleweeds and Fast Freights” and “Warbonnets and Bluebonnets”, about the Santa Fe in New Mexico and Texas respectively. I also have the Katy/Frisco freight car guide, but primarily for the first half that details the MKT! Another one of my favorites is the Katy in the green era by Darryl McGee. I guess my favorite that doesn’t really mesh with the railroads I model is Frailey’s book about SP/Cotton Belt’s Blue Streak Merchandise. I’m always rereading the chapters about his ride on the BSM from Pine Bluff to El Paso. The route west of Del Rio has always fascinated me as it is quintessential Texas wild west, desolate and rugged. When driving to El Paso, I always try to take alt 90 instead of I-10, just so I can follow the tracks.

    I’m surprised that no one has produced a picture book focusing on the railroads of Houston TX. Even in the 80’s, the BN, UP, SP, ATSF, and MKT still served the city. The Port Terminal used all of those roads cast off locos, too. Of course, even in the 70’s, the Rock Island and MP still had a presence in the city. Not much in the way of spectacular scenery, but lots of junctions, towers and the port itself.



    • Thanks for the great information. I have heard those two ATSF books were great. The SSW book sounds great too! I love that country west of Del Rio as well. I have a lot of photos in Houston from the late 1970s. They could make a good book. Meanwhile, I enjoy sharing a few now and then.


  3. Sorry for the late reply. If you like the MSB Color Guide format, then you will love the three volumes on GN freight cars that Scott Thompson compiled for Four Ways West. The MSB GN Color Guide is pretty good too, actually.


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