Book Review - The Southern Pacific's Los Angeles Division

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Book Review - The Southern Pacific's Los Angeles Division

Post by mec_alf »

This book was written by John Signor, arguably the finest author on the late Southern Pacific, and was published last year by the Southern Pacific Historic and Technical Society. The change of imprint has had a number of adverse effects upon the book's presentation: those produced by Signature Press were better proof-read, with none of the annoying little grammatical mistakes and styling annoyances that infest this book and consequently distracted from my enjoyment of it. And that is a shame, for Signor is an author who can write well and fluently but has been let down at some stage in the production of this volume. A further disadvantage of the change of publisher concerns acquisition of a copy; I had to buy mine from Arizona Hobbies as the usual U.K. suppliers advised me that they could not obtain copies from the SPH&TS.

That said, this is a worthwhile addition to the canon of literature on the Friendly. Like all of Signor's previous volumes it covers the division from its start, in the 1860s as the Los Angeles and San Pedro Railroad Co., through to the Espee's disappearance into the maws of the Yellow Peril (aka the Union Pacific Railroad and, yes, I am biased against both Omaha's own and the Absolutely and Totally Stupid Fools).

The chapters deal with the history in 5 sections - pre-1901, then the years of growth to 1929, depression and war through 1945, the postwar period to 1970 and the decline from 1970 until the Espee's takeover by UP. Each is well written, albeit with the proviso noted above about grammar and style changes which most people probably would not notice but those with experience of Signor's previous books will.

Each chapter is lavishly illustrated with maps, timetables and photographs, most of which are adjacent to the section being discussed so you are not having to flick through several pages to find the diagram or map you need to complete the picture being described. The trials and tribulations of railroading in the Southlands are described - floods taking out rail bridges, 3.5" of rain in one day, 16" of rainfall in December 1889, proving that it pace Albert Hammond DOES rain in Southern California.

The book also covers the railroad politics of the area with locales proposing railroads to challenge the Espee; the Yucaipa Valley for example warrants two pages, as the local business people sought to have their town put on the main line.

Signor covers the Pacific Electric's operations in L.A. in reasonable depth, as that company was comprehensively interlocked with the Espee for almost its entire life. He also discusses Pacific Motor Transport and the various non-railroad activities such as the Colorado River Aqueduct.

Movie stills show an SP-3 in San Quentin and shots at Alhambra Avenue roundhouse and other L.A. locations for The Phantom Express and Other Men's Women.

Overall, in my opinion, this is a very good book that could, with better proof-reading/editing, have been an excellent one. I hope that either Mr. Signor returns to Signature Press for future books or the SPH&TS improves its editing.
From Rigby Yard to the Hill - MEC and SP live on.
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