Douglas H. Strong, Book Review Editor
History of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. By Keith L. Bryant, Jr. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1974. Bibliography. Illustrations. Index. Maps. 398 pages. $12.95.
Reviewed by Ira G. Clark, Professor Emeritus of History, New Mexico State University, author of Then Came the Railroads: The Century from Steam to Diesel in the Southwest (1958).
This story of the Santa Fe is one of a series which, in tracing the fortunes of specific lines, attempts to reflect the collective railroad impact in the United States and Canada. The author makes no claim to incorporating extensive new sources or revising the basic interpretations of three earlier full-scale studies of the Santa Fe. Since the most recent of these was published in 1950, Bryant has added the vital quarter-century which witnessed the abandonment of much unprofitable trackage and the demise of passenger traffic as a company activity. Quite appropriately, the concluding chapter discusses the creation of a holding company, Santa Fe Industries, to operate the various company enterprises of which rail transportation is a segment.
Unlike popularizers who rely heavily on anecdotal and isolated incidents at the expense of more substantial data, Bryant has written solid integrated history. He develops the railroad’s spectacular growth in terms of the accomplishments of a series of capable builders, each of whom was willing to deviate from the policies of his predecessors. As a result, the railroad’s physical expansion and financial policies were not constant but reflected individual wills restricted only by the growth pattern common to all western railroads: preemption of an area, control of its traffic by means of feeders, and racing competitors into the virgin territory beyond.
Southwestern railroads were somewhat delayed in completing their networks, and even before this was accomplished they were experiencing inroads into their monopoly by rival forms of transportation. This has been particularly evident since World War I, and the history of the past half-century has been the Santa Fe’s shifting strategies to meet competition by improving service, effecting economies, or abandoning lines as the situation demanded.
Bryant has not confined himself solely to finance and construction. He describes in considerable detail improvements in locomotive power and other rolling stock, terminal facilities, and operational technology. Railroad buffs particularly interested in this aspect of railroading will be pleased by the numerous illustrations heavily weighted in that direction. Some attention is given to the activities of colonization, agricultural, and industrial development departments, labor problems, and, of course, the impact of Fred Harvey and his waitresses in civilizing the West while furnishing it the best food available.
Minor factual errors which inevitably creep into this type of study have been held to a minimum. One, however, which could be the source of some confusion is the author’s relocation of the Continental Divide to the east of the Rio Grande. A more serious shortcoming, and one which possibly was beyond the author’s control, is the limitation on footnoting almost exclusively to direct quotations. The excellent critical bibliography does not compensate for the absence of footnotes which would pinpoint for the reader sources which he might choose to pursue in greater detail. Excepting this significant omission, Bryant has written a sound, readable account of the Santa Fe.