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Little history books

Posted by Justin Franz
on Monday, July 17, 2017

Photo by Justin Franz.
This weekend, a friend and I headed to one of my favorite railfan haunts: British Columbia’s East Kootenay. After chasing a few trains, we decided to finish the day with a beer in Kimberley. Neither one of us had been to Kimberley before and as we circled downtown looking for the local brewery, we saw a sign pointing to the Kimberley Underground Mining Railway. Taking a quick break from our search for suds, we followed the signs and came upon a stretch of tiny narrow gauge tracks.

I knew that Kimberley had a narrow gauge railroad and that you could still ride a section of it, but other than that, my knowledge of our discovery was limited. Thankfully, there was a book in the backseat that had all of the answers: Roger Burrow’s Railway Mileposts: British Columbia. Inside the weathered and yellowed pages of the book, we learned that the Sullivan mine’s 36-inch gauge railroad once boasted 40 miles of track, 90 percent of which was underground.

Volumes like the one authored by Burrow are invaluable to recording railroad history. Even in an era when almost every question can be answered by Google, you would be hard pressed to find online when the Canadian Pacific built its line to Kimberley. Or when the Belfast and Moosehead Lake purchased its first 70-toner. Or when passenger service ended on the Nevada Northern. But the answers to all those questions can be found in little paperback books that sit on my shelf. Along the way, I’ve picked up a lot of little books that tell the story of a certain short line or specific route and I find them to be invaluable resources. More often than not, these little books are the creation of dedicated enthusiasts and historians who spend years trying to track down photos and turn tireless research into text. Recently, a friend of mine, Joey Kelley, completed a book about Maine’s Belfast & Moosehead Lake, which turns 150 this year.

Despite the railroad being 150 years old, Joey’s book is the first one entirely dedicated to the B&ML. Sure the B&ML isn’t the Union Pacific or Baltimore & Ohio, companies that can fill an endless number of pages, but that doesn’t mean the “Bull Moose” doesn’t deserve to have its story told.

Thanks to people like Roger and Joey, the next time someone finds a mysterious stretch of track, the story of where the rails went and what they carried will mostly likely be found in a little paperback book.

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