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Railroad Atlas of 1946

Has anyone seen the newly published (by the JHU Press) Railroad Atlas of the United States in 1946 (first volume) by Richard Carpenter?

I read the Fast Company article (in their Feb04 issue and to be available online soon)--

Making Tracks Richard Carpenter is mapping every mile of America's railroad system as of 1946. By hand. "It's a story," he says, "that needs to be told." By Charles Fishman

It looks very interesting. It appears that Mr. Carpenter did the work from other works (i.e., he did not travel the lines) and moderated the differences between those primary works.

I saw one reader review that cited two possible complaints--no distinction in the drawings of the "importance" of the lines, that is how many lines a railroad operator had between points A and B; and no regional overview to connect the maps together.

I would be interested in a forum discussion of the book, its techniques, and the article (such as the contained quote from John C. Hudson, Northwestern U. professor of geography, that "Carpenter has invented his own style of cartography.")

The Common Sense Investor newsletter

-- Norman Umberger (email)

Needless to say, I am pleased to see my atlas mentioned on this website!

Over the last fifty years, I have ridden and personally mapped many of the lines in this atlas. Also, I have drawn on many varied source materials, some of which I have cited in the text of the atlas.

As for "creating my own style of cartography", I wanted to enable users of the atlas to easily relate to the USGS quadrangles, earlier Rand McNally and Hammond atlases, and the popular DeLorme atlases, which are published for each state. A 30 x 30 minute quadrangle, at a scale of 1" = just under 4 miles proved more than adequate to convey the level of detail for other than city centers. This ability to cross reference should help users find the many lines which have been abandoned since 1946. This creative effort was also necessary because, to my knowledge, this is the first such comprehensive historical rail atlas to be done in the U.S. (Whereas many such atlases have been drawn in the UK!)

Also, it was necessary to create symbolic graphic "language" to show the operating details which existed in 1946. Passenger stations, train order stations, signal towers, coaling stations, track pans, major yards, tunnels and viaducts.

Finally, a "linear measuring system" for each line was achieved by showing the mileposts at five mile intervals, with their origin and destination place names just otside the neat line of each map.

In response to the suggestion that an "overview map" showing the major lines and lines with two or more main tracks, just such a map has been prepared for Volume 2: New York and New England States.

Credit should be given to the book design and manuscript review staff at the Johns Hopkins University Press and to the Center for American Places for deciding to make this atlas part of their series on the American landscape.

I should be most happy to answer any questions or hear any comments about the atlas.

Dick Carpenter

-- richard c. carpenter (email)

I don't have access to the Railroad Atlas at this time, but I wonder if Mr. Carpenter was working with/from the traditionally used "Track Charts and Profiles" used by the various railroad companies.

These charts were produced in various formats, such as fan-fold and scroll, which allow the reader to "follow along" as the train travels. Each page could show milepost-by-milepost information covering rail grade, curves, crossings, proximate businesses (and their yard tracks), proximate geographic landmarks, telegraph/phone lines, ballast content, rail material, tie material, rail bed/tie maintenance information, signals, water tank locations, station/stop locations, and speed limits.

I've rarely seen such disparate information packed into so little space in such a clear way.

Dr. Tufte, have you seen these before?


Pamela Burghardt

-- Pamela Burghardt (email)

I am working on a narrative and analysis of the Transcontinental Excursion of 1912 of the American Geographical Society, a field trip or junket for 43 European geographers (and about 100 Americans) who traveled by private train following roughly this intinerary: New York-Seattle-San Francisco-Denver-Santa Fe-Grand Canyon-Phoenix-Washington D.C.

What I'm wondering is whether this atlas shows historical alignments, some of which may have moved enough to show at the atlas's scale; others of which may have been gone by 1946. (There was, for instance, a rail line from near Williams, AZ, to Phoenix, that is gone now.)

In other words, is the atlas synchronic for 1946, or is it to some degree diachronic as well?

-- Mark Hineline (email)

In response to Pamela Burghardt's question, I used railroad track charts extensively, since they have extraordinary detail.

In response to Mark Hineline's question, yes, I do show railroads abandoned before 1946.

Currently, I am working to complete Volume 3, which will cover Indiana, lower Michigan, and Ohio. It will also include detail maps of Chicago.

I am very pleased with the favorable attention which the atlas has recieved!

-- richard c. carpenter (email)

Would anyone know when volume 4 of The Railroad Atlas will be published? I have the first three volumes and they are very interesting and informative. They provide a very unique historical perspective. Thank you Mr. Carpenter!

Al Mathews

-- Allen Mathews (email)

Volume 4 - Illinois, Wisconsin and Upper Michigan was published in November, 2011.

Currently, I am working hard to complete volume 5 - Iowa and Minnesota. I hope to deliver it to the publisher by mid- 2012.

Official railroad track charts have been very helpful.

I do appreciate interest in and questions about, mr railroad atlas!

Dick Carpenter

-- richard c. carpenter (email)

I am a big fan of these map books and have them all. I am pleased to hear that Minnesota and Iowa will be next.

These books are a fantastic resource for someone planning a model railroad, even a fictional one. You can make up a logical railroad based on other roads to interchange traffic with. An old copy of an 'official railway guide' helps flesh out these maps with timetables of passenger trains that used to ply many of these roads that are gone today.

Thank you for your fine work!

-- Rich Sieben (email)

Does anyone know when Vol. 5, Minnesota and Iowa, will hit the streets? Iowa is an especially interesting railroad state; as I recall from a Trains magazine article many years ago, Iowa was once so thoroughly laced with rail lines that no place in the state was more than 12 miles from a railroad.

-- Drake Hokanson (email)

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