Remember when, around the mid-winter holidays, many stores would set up Christmas tree displays in their windows? Circling those trees would be electric trains, with lights blazing and wheels churning, miniature dervishes of motion going 'round and 'round. The trains with the most sparkle and flash were the silver, red and yellow Santa Fes.
For years I thought
that Santa Fe was the name of the engine; that was actually the name of the railroad. The engines that bore those striking colors were Electro Motive (a division of General Motors) F3s.
This book delves deeply into the world of those powerful and beautiful diesel engines.
Author Brian Solomon retells the story of the dramatic conversion of the American railroads from the smoky, noisy, dirty steam engines to sleek, clean diesels. The first of these E-units came to life in the late
Thirties while steam was still king. At that time, the railroads were looking for more efficient pulling power but also for designs that would strike a chord with their railroad-riding clientele.
This was the era before air travel, and having the fastest, best-looking, sleekest trains was what sold tickets and kept the lights on. These engines were at the forefront of the streamliner design craze, when everything from diesel engines to toasters were designed with a sleek, modern contemporary look, totally breaking with the more practical but less elegant industrial designs in place up to that time. These engines epitomized power and glamour, and the railroads that used them marketed those attributes to the fullest extent.
Solomon does go on to chronicle the replacement of these streamlined engines with the utilitarian but more practical General Purpose, GP engines that started
taking the place of the streamliners in the late Fifties and early Sixties. He describes some of the survivors of this class of motive power and where they are still being used. While this book is a deep dive for someone not
yet totally immersed in railroading, the background context of America at that key point in our history, just prior
to and immediately after World War II, is an interesting read for anyone with a curiosity about life in the US during that period.
This book is not an easy read and is filled with facts and data. But if
you've ever wondered about those Lionel trains circling Christmas trees in the windows of department stores, this will tell you exactly what they were--and
it will help you understand America's switch from steam to diesel power.