Poor began publishing a manual on railroads in 1868, which was geared toward investors at the time, and included information railroad companies and their capital, rolling stock, expenditures, and other financial information on any particular railroad in the United States. The Poor Manuals remained in annual publication until 1924.
|A 1909 Volume I own, in relatively bad shape, but as old and large as the book is, I'll take it!|
Most of the editions include over 2,000 pages of information, and not just of financial documents, but sometimes maps and descriptions of the routes as well, which is invaluable for the preservation of railroad history. In spite of the amazing and hard work by railroad museums, historic preservation groups, railroad historical societies, and just plain railfans, nonetheless, there's work to be done to preserve the history of the railroad industry on the internet. Indeed, books and non-digital photographs are a large part of our historical record, even if they are harder to access.
So with that in mind, let's take a look at this behemoth of a railroad book!
|Like I said, huge.|
The first few pages are your typical acknowledgements and introductions, followed a few ads for banks and railroad companies, and then comes an index of all the railroads covered in the book, which is extremely helpful, as again, this is a huge reference, and looking for info on one railroad would take forever otherwise. The index itself is over 100 pages long!
|Looking at one page of the index, you can see many of these were very obscure. It also shows street and interurbans railways as well.|
Needless to say, there is a fantastic amount of information that can be gleamed from this book. My copy has several pull out maps, including one of the entire Pennsylvania Railroad system, which was nearing its peak in 1909.
|New York State map. (Poor's Manual of Railroads, 1909)|
One of the most interesting things about the book is that, as a corporate reference, it makes reference to many railroad proposals and startup companies, many of which never got off the ground. One particular example is the Alva, Buffalo & Colorado Railroad, who's charter was revoked in 1915 without ever building a connection between Buffalo and Rosston, OK, as was proposed. It's thus probably the best resource for unbuilt railroads, which usually do not attract much interest from railroad historians or fans.
|Alva Buffalo & Colorado in 1921, out of existence from the 1921 Manual.|
This list is also great for finding the predecessor railroads of larger companies, as railroads have continuously consolidated themselves over time.
|The unbuilt route in black on my abandoned railroads map.|
While the book is obviously a tough read and has very dry subject matter, it's not a novel, and it's not to be judged as such. It may not be everyone's cup of tea, but it has information that you're going to get in almost no other place. I'm still poring through the obsolete companies list to find more obscure railroads to add to my map!
As always, thanks for reading!