Streamliners: Locomotives and trains in the age of speed and style

A book by Brian Solomon
Streamliners: Locomotives and trains in the age of speed and style
by Brian Solomon
Voyageur Press
Quarto Publishing Group
400 First Ave. North, Suite 400
Minneapolis MN 44501
208 pages, 8¾" x 11¼", hardbound, 115 color & 81 b/w photos
This book, Streamliners, is sure to interest enthusiasts of the streamlined era of American railroading. It’s a beautiful volume containing over 200 color and black-and-
white photographs of streamlined steam and diesel locomotives and their trains.

However, this is not just another coffee-table offering. Author Brian Solomon, in his usual clear and lucid way, explores the beginnings of streamlining (which actually originated around aerodynamic attempts to improve fuel efficiency), through its history, until its ultimate demise in the 1960s. The book does not cover the modern resurgence of interest in streamlining and high-speed trains.

The first chapter touches on aerodynamic experiments, with extensive information on the famous McKeen cars. This is followed by a discussion of new materials and thinking. Railroads wanted to present a new image to the world. Streamlining was applied to all forms of transportation, including railroads, road transport, aircraft, and boats. American efforts were influenced by work being done overseas, particularly in Germany. This period was especially personified by lightweight passenger trains like Union Pacific’s M10000 and Burlington’s Zephyr, which created huge public interest.

In an effort to keep up, railroads that were heavily invested in steam started dressing their locomotives in streamlined shrouds, often hiring top industrial designers to do the designs. All of this led to the development of the modern diesel locomotive in the late 1930s, when General Motors’ Electro-Motive Division (EMD), Alco, and other manufacturers jumped on the bandwagon.

Streamliners discusses the attempts by different railroads to upgrade their images via streamlining. Some of these include the SP, Santa Fe, New Haven, Milwaukee Road, Pennsylvania, New York Central, and others. Locomotive designs sometimes came from the same companies that were designing automobiles of the time. Also discussed are the actual designers of many of the classic-era streamliners, most of whose names won’t be known to the average enthusiast.

After WWII streamlined trains went through a brief renaissance, with companies like Baldwin and Fairbanks-Morse entering the field. However, it was to be a brief burst of glory, despite innovations like the Talgo train, GM’s Aerotrain, and others of the 1950s and ’60s. Passenger-hauling railroads were on the way out. The book finishes on an up note, with a chapter on the preservation movement in this country and all of the streamlined trains that still live in museums and in “heritage” fleets around the US.

The writing is well researched, interesting, and the style is engaging. Photo reproduction is top notch and the book is printed on heavy matte paper. If you like streamliners (and who doesn’t?), this book will occupy an important place on your shelf.


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