Is what we're doing REAL history??


cvsne <mjmcguirk@...>
 

I am taking a class called Study and Writing of History as part of the
required coursework for a History MA/PhD program. While discussing
research and appropriate sources the professor made an interesting
statement about what can be considered "real" history - by that she
meant a valid source -- as opposed to a "popular" historian.

Which led to wonder if all the research we as a group do on freight
cars is real history or not. I don't know that any of us is working on
a PhD in Freightcarology . . . but I think the methodical approach some
apply to this research certainly qualifies as "history." The question
is does this type of research stand up to a citation in a scholarly
paper, or is it merely some offshoot of "popular" history.

For my money, a work like Tony's PFE book certainly qualifies -- a
short article with a drawing in a magazine does not. I think the use of
original sources and citations of same is likely the difference. John
White's books also pass muster.

Would like to use some sources in my research, but not sure where the
line should be drawn.

Would appreciate any thoughts.

Marty McGuirk


pierreoliver2003 <pierre.oliver@...>
 

Marty,
Rather than risk the wrath of the moderator and begin discussing a
subject that is not freight car related, I'll respond to your query
offlist. :-)
Pierre Oliver

--- In STMFC@yahoogroups.com, "cvsne" <mjmcguirk@...> wrote:

I am taking a class called Study and Writing of History as part of
the
required coursework for a History MA/PhD program. While discussing
research and appropriate sources the professor made an interesting
statement about what can be considered "real" history - by that
she
meant a valid source -- as opposed to a "popular" historian.

Which led to wonder if all the research we as a group do on
freight
cars is real history or not. I don't know that any of us is
working on
a PhD in Freightcarology . . . but I think the methodical approach
some
apply to this research certainly qualifies as "history." The
question
is does this type of research stand up to a citation in a
scholarly
paper, or is it merely some offshoot of "popular" history.

For my money, a work like Tony's PFE book certainly qualifies -- a
short article with a drawing in a magazine does not. I think the
use of
original sources and citations of same is likely the difference.
John
White's books also pass muster.

Would like to use some sources in my research, but not sure where
the
line should be drawn.

Would appreciate any thoughts.

Marty McGuirk


Dennis Storzek
 

--- In STMFC@yahoogroups.com, "cvsne" <mjmcguirk@...> wrote:

I am taking a class called Study and Writing of History as part of the
required coursework for a History MA/PhD program. While discussing
research and appropriate sources the professor made an interesting
statement about what can be considered "real" history - by that she
meant a valid source -- as opposed to a "popular" historian.

Marty,

I'll put my $.02 in. It's "real history" if the author can cite
primary sources, i.e. railroad or builder's records or articles in
contemporary trade press. If it's just a retelling of what the author
heard somewhere or surmises from known facts, it's popular history,
and must be viewed with an eye toward the fact that while the author
believes something is true, it may not be.

That's why I always try to cite sources in these web discussions. In a
recent post I cited an article by Lane in a 1973 issue of the R&LHS
publication "Railroad History". If one wants to explore the material
further, he can obtain the original article and find the source of
Lane's material, which are memoranda from the USRA files now in the
National Archives. Real history will have an unbroken thread of
provenance all the way back to the source.

I also try to indicate when I am stating MY INTERPERATATION of the
historical record. What I write I believe to be true, but that doesn't
mean it is, and I'm always willing to have someone prove me wrong by
citing a source. That way, we all learn something.

Dennis


Jack Burgess
 

Dennis wrote:
I'll put my $.02 in. It's "real history" if the author can cite
primary sources, i.e. railroad or builder's records or articles in
contemporary trade press. If it's just a retelling of what the author
heard somewhere or surmises from known facts, it's popular history,
and must be viewed with an eye toward the fact that while the author
believes something is true, it may not be.

That's why I always try to cite sources in these web discussions. In a
recent post I cited an article by Lane in a 1973 issue of the R&LHS
publication "Railroad History". If one wants to explore the material
further, he can obtain the original article and find the source of
Lane's material, which are memoranda from the USRA files now in the
National Archives. Real history will have an unbroken thread of
provenance all the way back to the source.
I generally agree with Dennis but not everything can be traced back primary
sources. But history can be very unenlightening is all that is written is
"what they did" and nothing about "why they did it". The "why" can be
understood and reported if those responsible for the "what" are still alive,
the reporter completely understands all of the factors that influenced the
"why", and accurately reports it. But if that information isn't available
from first-hand accounts, an author must try to understand things based on
combining known facts and information and then arriving at conclusions based
on that research. Is such reporting less than accurate? It could be if the
reporter is biased or doesn't carefully weigh all of the known information
before arriving at their conclusions. OTOH, the conclusions from such
research might be completely accurate. In my own research, I always use
terms such as "suggests" or "might be concluded" to show that a statement is
an assumption based on facts. But because I can't provide citations for the
statements, does that make it "popular history"?

Jack Burgess
www.yosemitevalleyrr.com


al_brown03
 

In scholarly work, interpretation is legitimate when done carefully.
It's OK to say "I believe this for reasons X and Y and Z" when the
reasons are well-supported; in general, leaps of logic should be
minimized, and the trail back to original sources should be kept as
short as possible. The foregoing is vague, I know, but every case is
different. If one couldn't interpret without talking to someone who'd
been there, anything beyond living memory would be unknowable. Some
knowledge is gone, but much isn't. The recent discussion about which
railroads got SS vs DS boxcars, and why, is an example (with freight
car content, no less). I think we wound up showing that we don't
really know; but the answers probably existed, at the time, in the
internal memos of railroad car departments. The trick is to find
them; many have been destroyed, but perhaps not all.

Al Brown, Melbourne, Fla.



--- In STMFC@yahoogroups.com, "Jack Burgess" <jack@...> wrote:

Dennis wrote:
I'll put my $.02 in. It's "real history" if the author can cite
primary sources, i.e. railroad or builder's records or articles in
contemporary trade press. If it's just a retelling of what the
author
heard somewhere or surmises from known facts, it's popular
history,
and must be viewed with an eye toward the fact that while the
author
believes something is true, it may not be.

That's why I always try to cite sources in these web discussions.
In a
recent post I cited an article by Lane in a 1973 issue of the
R&LHS
publication "Railroad History". If one wants to explore the
material
further, he can obtain the original article and find the source of
Lane's material, which are memoranda from the USRA files now in
the
National Archives. Real history will have an unbroken thread of
provenance all the way back to the source.
I generally agree with Dennis but not everything can be traced back
primary
sources. But history can be very unenlightening is all that is
written is
"what they did" and nothing about "why they did it". The "why" can
be
understood and reported if those responsible for the "what" are
still alive,
the reporter completely understands all of the factors that
influenced the
"why", and accurately reports it. But if that information isn't
available
from first-hand accounts, an author must try to understand things
based on
combining known facts and information and then arriving at
conclusions based
on that research. Is such reporting less than accurate? It could be
if the
reporter is biased or doesn't carefully weigh all of the known
information
before arriving at their conclusions. OTOH, the conclusions from
such
research might be completely accurate. In my own research, I always
use
terms such as "suggests" or "might be concluded" to show that a
statement is
an assumption based on facts. But because I can't provide citations
for the
statements, does that make it "popular history"?

Jack Burgess
www.yosemitevalleyrr.com


Thomas Baker
 

"Real" history, well, I don't know what they say in graduate school, but what the list members offer is encouragement for us to be more accurate--more "historical" if you will--in our modeling. Members of this group have brought us a significant distance from Athaern one-size-fits-all box cars. The group has encouraged modeling according to photographs and wherever possible from drawings or at least from car diagrams.

Although I doubt whether anyone will be doing a dissertation in history by showing a portfolio of freight car models, I think that knowledgeable individuals on this group have urged and--perhaps at times--dragged us into the realm of the historical. In this area of "history" one finds that not only are company memos, records, diagrams, and manufacturers' drawings primary sources but even an extant car itself is a primary source.

Thank you, gentlemen, for your efforts and keep it up.

Tom Baker, Eau Claire, Michigan

________________________________


Eric Hansmann
 

Marty McGuirk wrote:

I am taking a class called Study and Writing of History as part of
the required coursework for a History MA/PhD program. While
discussing research and appropriate sources the professor made an
interesting statement about what can be considered "real" history -
by that she meant a valid source -- as opposed to a "popular"
historian.

<snip>

Would appreciate any thoughts.

========================================


Several years ago a friend of mine invited me to a small regional
conference of the Society for Industrial Archeology that was held
here on the West Virginia University campus. He asked if I could make
a presentation on the magazines, books and resources I use for my
model railroading efforts. I took a handful of MRs, RMCs, Narrow
Gauge & Short Line Gazettes, Mainline Modelers, some books, and a few
of the society publications like the Blue Mountain Express (WMRHS),
the Sentinel (B&ORHS), and the Timber Transfer (FEBT).

After a twenty minute presentation I turned to the group for
questions. They were all pretty shocked at the quantity and quality
of material presented to them from sources that were completely
unknown to them. They understood that the prototype documentation was
not as comprehensive as other historical efforts, like the HABS/HAER
documents, but they were amazed at how well documented many railroad
aspects were from a hobby standpoint. The questions about the sources
and the hobby continued for another 30 minutes.

Eric Hansmann
Morgantown, W. Va.


Dennis Storzek
 

--- In STMFC@yahoogroups.com, "al_brown03" <abrown@...> wrote:

In scholarly work, interpretation is legitimate when done carefully.
It's OK to say "I believe this for reasons X and Y and Z" when the
reasons are well-supported; in general, leaps of logic should be
minimized, and the trail back to original sources should be kept as
short as possible...
That's pretty much what I said in my original message, "Real history
will have an unbroken thread of provenance all the way back to the
source." If I make an assumption based on information presented in
Lane's paper, I at least need to cite Lane. Anyone who disagrees with
my assumption is then free to go back to Lane and see if they
interpret the facts he presented the same as I do. If I based my
assumption on Lane's interpretation of the facts, one can go back to
his sources and see if the logic holds true.

The people who made the decisions may be gone, but the results of
their decisions are usually clearly evident. In addition, they may
have stated their reasons in contemporary literature, or in internal
memos; if these still exist, then at least the stated reasons for
their decisions will be known. By preserving the thread of logic all
the way back to these primary sources, if new material seems to
contradict accepted wisdom, one can go back and see where the logic
leading to the accepted wisdom made a wrong tern, and the accepted
wisdom will be revised.

Or, we can just keep repeating the same myths that trace their origins
to the fact that some magazine editor said it, so it must be true. :-)

Dennis


Anthony Thompson <thompson@...>
 

Marty McGuirk wrote:
Which led to wonder if all the research we as a group do on freight cars is real history or not. . . The question is does this type of research stand up to a citation in a scholarly paper, or is it merely some offshoot of "popular" history.
There's no general answer, Marty. Obviously one examines each document for its own content. Little of the magazine publishing in the hobby is scholarly, though some is.

For my money, a work like Tony's PFE book certainly qualifies -- a short article with a drawing in a magazine does not. I think the use of original sources and citations of same is likely the difference. John White's books also pass muster.
Thanks for the kind words. In the PFE book, we chose to present a quite complete bibliography but no numbered citations to those sources in the text. (My business partner hates "those little numbers"). In most cases the sources cited are readily connected to specifics in the text, but many scholarly critics would likely see the text as incompletely cited. As you mention, Marty, one criterion is whether the sources given, however connected to the text, are primary ones or not. If everything that is cited is Beebe or Ambrose or DeNevi (or most railfan magazines), you know what you are looking at. Conversely, citations to Railway Age, original railroad or government documents, or interviews with knowledgeable individuals tell quite a different story.
But sources alone don't make history. You also need to look carefully at how the sources are used: are some considered more authoritative than others, or are all of them "the final answer?" And I think you look for a careful tone and an absence of cheerleading.
I agree with Dennis that interpretation or conclusions should be separated from factual information, and Jack is right that the "real" historian is concerned with why and how, not just what. As the old historians' saying goes, a collection of facts is no more a history than a pile of bricks is a house.

Tony Thompson Editor, Signature Press, Berkeley, CA
2906 Forest Ave., Berkeley, CA 94705 www.signaturepress.com
(510) 540-6538; fax, (510) 540-1937; e-mail, thompson@signaturepress.com
Publishers of books on railroad history


Anthony Thompson <thompson@...>
 

Eric Hansmann wrote:
After a twenty minute presentation I turned to the group for questions. They were all pretty shocked at the quantity and quality of material presented to them from sources that were completely unknown to them.
I've also encountered this, Eric, when I used to run the "Railroad History" seminars at the NMRA National Conventions. Plenty of historians think railfans are all foamers, and modelers all a bunch of guys playing with trains. They are impressed that factual information DOES play a role in magazine and other publications. But since hobby publications rarely have citations to sources and are not peer reviewed, the historian tends to regard them as a quite feeble resource, really only a starting point to go after better information. I can't say I could disagree very strongly.

Tony Thompson Editor, Signature Press, Berkeley, CA
2906 Forest Ave., Berkeley, CA 94705 www.signaturepress.com
(510) 540-6538; fax, (510) 540-1937; e-mail, thompson@signaturepress.com
Publishers of books on railroad history


Rob Kirkham <rdkirkham@...>
 

I guess I'd say that the more hobby publications look like real history - with a defined focus for research, identification of the available sources, a logical approach to using the sources available, presentation of the material and a discussion of the issues it raises - with citation to references - the more I enjoy it. One of my hobbies has become the research.

But at the same time, while I appreciate reading someone else's research and following up the references they cite, I have to admit that very often that just seems like too much work for my hobby time. Instead, while I can identify my research theme generally, I do not impose any discipline on it - I read what I want, make notes that are only so good, obtain copies of documents or measurements of rolling stock as the opportunity arises, check out the resources I can get my hands on, etc. But I fail to identify potentially valuable resources; even those I know of do not always get my time or money; - I do not deliberately set out all of the directions I intend to go, and then methodically go through them. I let precious resources - folks with memories of how things were - pass in and out of my life without being diligent to capture their memories. I change sub-topics as the whim of the moment or week or month as something new strikes me, and often leave areas only partially researched. And I find it very enjoyable....

So while I value a true scholarly historical approach and can see pushing the hobby somewhat further in that direction, I don't.think we usually make the grade. And I doubt we will ever want to.

Rob Kirkham

----- Original Message -----
From: "Dennis Storzek" <destorzek@mchsi.com>
To: <STMFC@yahoogroups.com>
Sent: Tuesday, September 04, 2007 6:57 AM
Subject: [STMFC] Re: Is what we're doing REAL history??


--- In STMFC@yahoogroups.com, "cvsne" <mjmcguirk@...> wrote:

I am taking a class called Study and Writing of History as part of the
required coursework for a History MA/PhD program. While discussing
research and appropriate sources the professor made an interesting
statement about what can be considered "real" history - by that she
meant a valid source -- as opposed to a "popular" historian.

Marty,

I'll put my $.02 in. It's "real history" if the author can cite
primary sources, i.e. railroad or builder's records or articles in
contemporary trade press. If it's just a retelling of what the author
heard somewhere or surmises from known facts, it's popular history,
and must be viewed with an eye toward the fact that while the author
believes something is true, it may not be.

That's why I always try to cite sources in these web discussions. In a
recent post I cited an article by Lane in a 1973 issue of the R&LHS
publication "Railroad History". If one wants to explore the material
further, he can obtain the original article and find the source of
Lane's material, which are memoranda from the USRA files now in the
National Archives. Real history will have an unbroken thread of
provenance all the way back to the source.

I also try to indicate when I am stating MY INTERPERATATION of the
historical record. What I write I believe to be true, but that doesn't
mean it is, and I'm always willing to have someone prove me wrong by
citing a source. That way, we all learn something.

Dennis





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James Eckman
 

Posted by: "cvsne" Which led to wonder if all the research we as a group do on freight
cars is real history or not. I don't know that any of us is working on
a PhD in Freightcarology . . . but I think the methodical approach some
apply to this research certainly qualifies as "history." The question
is does this type of research stand up to a citation in a scholarly
paper, or is it merely some offshoot of "popular" history.
For my money, a work like Tony's PFE book certainly qualifies -- a
short article with a drawing in a magazine does not. I think the use of
original sources and citations of same is likely the difference. John
White's books also pass muster.
While the books you mentioned count as history, short well researched articles count as well. It is quality, not quantity. You can certainly have big, poorly researched books as well. In general the closer you get to primary sources, the better.

On the other hand dismissing some histories as 'popular history' is a bit of an academic snobbery in some cases. A well written popular history can be a good place to start when first researching a subject.

Would like to use some sources in my research, but not sure where the
line should be drawn.
You could follow in Barbara Tuchman's footsteps and only use primary sources.

Posted by: "Thomas Baker" Although I doubt whether anyone will be doing a dissertation in history by showing a portfolio of freight car models, I think that knowledgeable individuals on this group have urged and--perhaps at times--dragged us into the realm of the historical. In this area of "history" one finds that not only are company memos, records, diagrams, and manufacturers' drawings primary sources but even an extant car itself is a primary source.
I would say that there are some freight car books that are more worthy than many of the dissertations I've read.

Posted by: "Eric Hansmann" After a twenty minute presentation I turned to the group for
questions. They were all pretty shocked at the quantity and quality
of material presented to them from sources that were completely
unknown to them.
Some of the early MRs could be considered primary sources, we went and photographed freight car X, received plans from the manufacturer and took our own measurements as well! A very narrow form of history, but that's what I like!

Posted by: "gerard_fitzgerald" This group discussed a similar topic some time ago. My most vivid
memory of that exchange were the very critical responses my post
received off line. My short answer to you is to read Novick's "That
Noble Dream: The Objectivity Question and the American Historical
Profession," esp chapters 1-9 and 13-15. The footnotes are extremely
useful.
Sounds interesting.... luckily available through interlibrary loan!

Jim Eckman


gn3397 <heninger@...>
 

--- In STMFC@yahoogroups.com, "cvsne" <mjmcguirk@...> wrote:

I am taking a class called Study and Writing of History as part of the
required coursework for a History MA/PhD program. While discussing
research and appropriate sources the professor made an interesting
statement about what can be considered "real" history - by that she
meant a valid source -- as opposed to a "popular" historian.

Which led to wonder if all the research we as a group do on freight
cars is real history or not. I don't know that any of us is working on
a PhD in Freightcarology . . . but I think the methodical approach some
apply to this research certainly qualifies as "history." The question
is does this type of research stand up to a citation in a scholarly
paper, or is it merely some offshoot of "popular" history.
Mr. McGuirk,

Hmmm, interesting question. I certainly think that there are numerous examples of "real"
history in the freight car literature. You mentioned the PFE book by Thompson, et al. Dr.
Thompson's series on SP freight cars, Dr. Hendrickson's books on ATSF rolling stock, and
Mr. Welch's ongoing FGE/WFE/BRE articles count in my book as well. I also think much of
what is published in RP Cyc also qualifies, and especially Mr. Culotta's book on the 1932
ARA steel boxcar. I believe that much of what has been written has been researched to the
level of scholarly citation, but hasn' t been written in the appropriate format with
footnotes, etc. I think the key is the citation of primary literature. Without a reliance on
primary sources, you are essentially writing a book report. At least that is what was my
professors tried to hammer into me during my undergraduate studies.

My two cents, for what they are worth.

Sincerely,
Robert D. Heninger
Stanley, ND


Malcolm Laughlin <mlaughlinnyc@...>
 

I hope Mike doesn't take this as too far off topic, but it seems to me worth discussing because it is what we are doing.

Let's begin with the realization that "real" history isn't defined by the formality of the PhD's process, although many academics would like to think so. If history were to be defined by documentation, then much of the past would be lost, i.e., that part of it that is in the heads of those of us who were there and has not yet been put on paper (or CD's).

Some of these heated debates that we have are as much a part of developing valid history as the printed scholarly articles of the past. Every time that I make a statement and someone else corrects it and a third party gives anothe point of view on it and eventually we agree that we're as close to the truth as we can get, that is a contribution to "real" history.



Malcolm Laughlin, Editor 617-489-4383
New England Rail Shipper Directories
19 Holden Road, Belmont, MA 02478


Malcolm Laughlin <mlaughlinnyc@...>
 

My previous post was a quick response to the original question. Now, having read the other responses, a feww brief comments.

One ought to be very careful about using railfan publications as authentic history. Much of it is, but there is also much unverified personal recollection. I've seen enough statements in them that I've know to be wrong or misleading to make me very skeptical. I think the problem here is that publications like Trains, MR and RMC are not trying to meet the standards of professional historians. This is particularly true of statements that purport knowledge of the "why" of what happened. You need to ask if that person was really in a position to know.

On the other hand, I would think that model railroad publications, names escape me at the moment, that go into details of cars or equipment are probably more valid sources because thier authors follow a more rigorous process of verifying information. You might also say the same of discussions on this list that lead us closer to knowledge of "real history" than many of us had before the discussions.


Malcolm Laughlin, Editor 617-489-4383
New England Rail Shipper Directories
19 Holden Road, Belmont, MA 02478


Denny Anspach <danspach@...>
 

Dennis writes-

Real history will have an unbroken thread of provenance all the way back to the source.
Pretty good definition . I have long felt that a good deal of what so many on this list has done, largely without thinking about it, is to provide good evidence-and-data-based information that can be taken straight to the history bank. Those who decline to do so are rapidly called to account by those who do.

We do not often have this provenance at hand, however, and if we were required to do so, this List would have become intolerably dull years ago. It is simply knowing and acknowledging the difference, and in real time, if someone does not know the difference, others will call him to account.

Jack White's work has been cited as a fine example. Jack was also the first person who very gently publicly chided the authors of so much of body of printed (books, magazines) railroad "history" of the time for their dereliction of the principles that Dennis outlines so well, i.e. complete and often willful ignorance of primary sources .







--
Denny S. Anspach, MD
Sacramento


Eric
 

I'm associated with a military affairs symposium and come in contact
with a great many academics. It's been my experience that when a
professor refers to a colleague as a "popular" historian, it's a
euphemism for 'a historian whose work is more well regarded than mine
and I'm more than a little put out by that.'

There's a reason that a PhD is refered to piling it high and deep.


Eric Petersson



Marty McGuirk wrote:

I am taking a class called Study and Writing of History as part of
the required coursework for a History MA/PhD program. While
discussing research and appropriate sources the professor made an
interesting statement about what can be considered "real" history -
by that she meant a valid source -- as opposed to a "popular"
historian."




Which led to wonder if all the research we as a group do on freight
cars is real history or not. I don't know that any of us is working
on
a PhD in Freightcarology . . . but I think the methodical approach
some
apply to this research certainly qualifies as "history." The question
is does this type of research stand up to a citation in a scholarly
paper, or is it merely some offshoot of "popular" history.

For my money, a work like Tony's PFE book certainly qualifies -- a
short article with a drawing in a magazine does not. I think the use
of
original sources and citations of same is likely the difference. John
White's books also pass muster.

Would like to use some sources in my research, but not sure where the
line should be drawn.

Would appreciate any thoughts.


Anthony Thompson <thompson@...>
 

eric petersson wrote:
It's been my experience that when a professor refers to a colleague as a "popular" historian, it's a euphemism for 'a historian whose work is more well regarded than mine and I'm more than a little put out by that.'
Maybe; I'd say it usually means "someone who's less rigorous and serious than me, but whose books sell at an annoyingly high rate." Sometimes it means "someone who publishes a lot more than me and who MUST be cutting some corners somewhere."

There's a reason that a PhD is refered to piling it high and deep.
Get a grip, Eric. This remark is usually made by those who kinda wish THEY had one.

Tony Thompson Editor, Signature Press, Berkeley, CA
2906 Forest Ave., Berkeley, CA 94705 www.signaturepress.com
(510) 540-6538; fax, (510) 540-1937; e-mail, thompson@signaturepress.com
Publishers of books on railroad history


Thomas Baker
 

Some members of this group may be too young to know that at one time--when I began my college years back in 1959, for example--very few in the academic world wrote very much about railroads. Oh, yes, one could find dissertations on the economic aspects of railroads, on some of the better-known financial dealings of a Jay Gould perhaps, but very little on reliable and readable corporate history, such as one finds from Indiana University Press, Northern Illinois University Press, the University of Minnesota Press, and many more that I know little of.

Serious academics did not write about railroads and certainly not about freight car history or construction. If they did, their achievements must have been accomplished in the most obscure of circumstances or remained in dissertation form never to see a wider public. The matter appears to be quite different today. Whether the authors of the PFE book are academics I can't say, but their work--in my view--qualifies. Perhaps one can only say so much about Hitler or Jane Austen and in the search for topics, something interesting and relevant such as railroads in all their varied manifestations acquired respectability.

Tom Baker
Eau Calire, Michigan


Westerfield <westerfield@...>
 

Actually, I find White's work sterile. He mines the literature but little else. It's like reading a condensation of Railway Age. - Al Westerfield