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Great Northern Books

Part 2

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The Great Northern Railway

A History


by Ralph W. Hidy, Muriel E. Hidy, Roy V. Scott and Don L. Hofsommer

University of Minnesota Press, 2004 (First UMN Edition)

111 Third Avenue South - Suite 290, Minneapolis, MN 55401-2520

ISBN: 0-8166-4429-2


    In the sprawling Northwest, from the upper Mississippi River valley to Puget Sound, no railroad shaped the landscape and society like the Great Northern Railway Company. This is the complete history of that enterprise, from 1856, when the first charter was granted, through the era of James J. Hill - known as the Empire Builder - to its maturation and eventual merger in 1970, when the eight-thousand-mile Great Northern was incorporated into the massive Burlington Northern. The Great Northern Railway highlights the changes brought on by economic, political, social, and technological advances, including world wars, increased competition from other modes of transportation, and tighter government restrictions. The first part of the book (1856–1916) examines the railway’s early strategies and philosophy, relations with employees, and vigorous campaigns to develop the service area. The second part of the history (1916–1970) offers an assessment of a dramatic period of transition for the railroad—international conflicts, the Great Depression, the rise of motor vehicles, increasing labor costs, and stronger unions. Illustrated with more than two hundred maps, period photographs, and drawings, the volume also includes appendixes listing the original track-laying history, track removals, ruling grades on main freight routes, and main line ruling grades from Minneapolis to Seattle.


The Great Northern Railway

A Pictorial Study


by Charles & Dorothy Wood

Pacific Fast Mail, 1979

Edmonds, WA

Library of Congress: 77-91780


    Off all America's transcontinental railroads, none was more colorful then the Great Northern. Today, more than eight years after its merger into the sprawling Burlington Northern system, the "Big G" is still fondly remembered by railfans and model builders alike...and there is much to remember! The Steam Locomotives with their green jacketed boilers, the huge "Goat" heralds that adorned tender sides and rolling stock, the bright vermillion cabooses and the beautiful orange and green paint scheme that typified the streamline era are just a few of the GN's never-to-be-forgotten trademarks. The Great Northern was the brain child of James J. Hill, a man considered to be the arch-typical railroad tycoon of the late 19th century. Hill was a larger-than-life figure whose mere presence inspired respect, awe and fear! Even today, while viewing his photographs, one gets the impression that he's about to leap out of the picture and grab hold of the viewer. He tolerated nonsense from no one and pushed the railroad west against all odds...and without the benefit of government land grants. His dynamic energy helped the Great Northern grow through its difficult early years. Authors Charles & Dorothy Wood have tackled the writing of this book with the same determination and energy as its founder. Ever since the success of their early book on the road, "Lines West", the Woods have wanted to do an expanded version, one which would do further justice to this great railroad. Over seven years were spent in research and included trips to libraries, historical societies, interviewing former GN employees and current personnel of the BN, as well as corresponding with a large number of knowledgeable GN fans.


Great Northern Railway 1945-1970 Photo Archive

Volume 1


by Byron D. Olson

Iconografix, 1996

Hudson, WI

ISBN: 1-882256-56-5


    Ride the rails from the post-war years to the 1970 merger that created Burlington Northern. This exceptional photographic collection portrays passenger, freight, trucking, and Glacier Park hotel operations. Featured are the Great Northern shops, yards, port facilities, depots, operation centers and more - from the Midwest to the Northwest.


Great Northern Railway 1945-1970 Photo Archive

Volume 2


by Byron D. Olson

Iconografix, 1998

Hudson, WI

ISBN: 1-882256-79-4


    The Great Northern Railway prospered in post-WWII America, as its rail, trucking, and hotel operations thrived. In this nostalgic volume you'll find superb archive photographs of passenger and freight operations, engine terminals, ore docks, Great Northern shops, yards, depots, operations centers, and more from the Midwest to the Northwest.


Great Northern Railway in the Pacific Northwest


by Jeff Wilson

Kalmbach Publishing, 2000

Waukesha, WI

ISBN: 0-89024-420-0


    Travel the Great Northern Railway through its operations in the Pacific Northwest. Large unpublished photos of trains pushing through rugged mountain passes and Big Sky scenery will take your breath away! Includes views of the Empire Builder, plus track map and schematics.



Great Northern Railway Main Line

Northwestern Montana 1890-1904


by Frank C. Gregg

Stumptown Historical Society, 2002

500 Depot St, Whitefish, MT 59937


    The highlights of what was finally called the Great Northern Railway from the summit of the Rocky Mountains through the Flathead Valley and on to the Kootenai River have been documented. This is the story that the newspapers of that time period revealed, just as it was printed.


Great Northern Railway Ore Docks of Lake Superior Photo Archive

by Douglass D. Addison, Sr.

Iconografix, 2002

Hudson, WI

ISBN: 1-58388-073-9


    The Great Northern Iron Ore Docks were the largest iron ore docks in the world. Now railfans and history buffs can see how these ore docks were constructed and operated through the historic photographs and illustrations in this book. Detailed photos show these fascinating docks in operation (trains loading ships) as well as accurate drawings made from original Great Northern blueprints; perfect for railroad modelers! The majority of the photos cover the 1920s-1970s, which includes the Golden Age of railroading. These docks and the stories they contain are a unique piece of Americana. The remaining docks are falling apart and partially stripped. But through this book, railfans, modelers and history buffs can continue to appreciate the Great Northern Iron Ore Docks.


Great Northern - Steam & Electric In Color


by David H. Hickcox

Morning Sun Books, Inc., 1999

9 Pheasant Lane, Scotch Plains, NJ 07076

ISBN: 1-58248-012-5

    The development of the Great Northern's steam locomotives and the construction of the Cascade Tunnel and electrification of the GN's route through the Cascade Range are two subjects of special interest to Great Northern fans. This book provides a review of Great Northern's steam locomotives and electric operations during the age of the color photograph. Covering the years from 1949 to 1957, and focusing on the 1950's, a representative view of Great Northern's steam and electric operations before dieselization is provided.


Izaak Walton Inn

A History of the Izaak Walton Inn and Essex, Montana


by Gail Shay Atkinson & Jim Atkinson

Larry and Lynda Vielleux, Izaak Walton Inn, 1995

290 Izaak Walton Inn Rd, Essex, MT 59916



    The Izaak Walton Inn was built for the use of railroad personnel in 1939 next to the Great Northern yard in Essex, MT. It was also intended to serve as a middle entrance to Glacier National Park between East Glacier and West Glacier, MT, but this plan never materialized. After changing ownership several times, it was bought in 1973 by Sid and Millie Goodrich, who have turned it, together with present day operators Larry and Lynda Vielleux, into the mountain resort and railfan heaven it is today. Read all about the history of the Izaak Walton Inn and the town of Essex in this interesting little book. Includes many historical photos and a 1942 map of the area around the Inn.


James J. Hill and the Opening of the Northwest


by Albro Martin

Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1991

345 Kellogg Blvd. W, St. Paul, MN 55102-1906

ISBN: 0873512618

    James J. Hill (1838-1916), the Empire Builder, created a vast railroad network across the northwestern United States. In this splendid biography, Martin, the first researcher to have access to Hill's voluminous correspondence, richly portrays a man of many parts: an entrepreneur, a family man, a collector of notable French paintings, a promoter of scientific agriculture, and a booster for the Northwest.


Locomotives of the Upper Midwest - Photo Archive

Diesel Power in the 1960s & 1970s


by Marvin Nielsen

Iconografix, 2004

Hudson, WI

ISBN: 1-58388-113-1


    Marvin Nielsen presents a personal look at diesel locomotives at work in the Upper Midwest in the 1960s and 1970s with a hand-picked selection of his finest photographs. Featured are various makes and models of diesels used by the Great Northern, Soo Line, Chicago & North Western, Burlington Northern, Milwaukee Rood, Wisconsin Central, Green Bay & Western and other railroads operating in the Upper Midwest.


Montana's Marias Pass

Early GN Mileposts and BNSF Guide


by John R. Coy & Robert C. Del Grosso

Great Northern Pacific Publications, 1996

Route 4, Box 627A, Bonners Ferry, ID 83805


    A detailed historical study of early GN mileposts from Shelby to Whitefish, MT, from 1889 onwards and a detailed contemporary railfan guide. 


The Passenger Car Library - Volume 3

Western Railroads GN, NP, CP, CRI&P, D&RGW, KCS


by W. David Randall

RPC Publications Inc., 2000

Alton, IL



    Volume 3 of the Passenger Car Library includes all cars built by The Budd Company and American Car & Foundry (ACF) after 1930. The first 60 pages of this book are dedicated to passenger cars of the Great Northern presented by exterior and interior pictures and drawings.


Profiting from the Plains


by Claire Strom

University of Washington Press, 2003

1326 Fifth Avenue, Suite 555, Seattle, WA 98101-2604
ISBN: 0295983485


    Profiting from the Plains looks at two inextricably linked historical movements in the United States: the westward expansion of the great Northern Railway and the agricultural development of the northern plains. Claire Strom explores the persistent, idiosyncratic attempts by the Great Northern to boost agricultural production along its rail routes from St. Paul to Seattle between 1878 and 1917. Lacking a federal land grant, the Great Northern could not make money through land sales like other railways. It had to rely on haulage to make a profit, and the greatest potential for increasing haulage lay in farming.


    The energetic and charismatic owner of the Great Northern Railway, James J. Hill, spearheaded most of the initiatives undertaken by his corporation to boost agricultural production. He tried, often unsuccessfully, to persuade farmers of the profitability of his methods, which were largely based on his personal farming experience. When Hill’s initial efforts to increase haulage failed, he shifted his focus to working with outside agencies and institutions, often providing them with the funding to pursue projects he hoped would profit his railroad. At the time, state and federal agencies were also promoting agricultural development through irrigation, conservation, and dryland farming, but their agendas often clashed with those of the Great Northern Railway. Because Hill failed to grasp the extent to which politicians’ goals differed from those of the railroad, his use of federal expertise to promote agricultural change often backfired. But despite these obstacles, the railroad magnate ironically remained among the last defenders of the small-scale farmer modeled on Jeffersonian idealism.


    This fascinating story of railroad politics and development ties into themes of corporate and federal sponsorship, which are increasingly recognized as fundamental to western history. As the first scholarly examination of James J. Hill’s agricultural enterprises, Profiting from the Plains makes an important contribution to the biography of the popular and controversial Hill, as well as to western and environmental history.


Railfan's Guide To Stampede And Stevens Passes


by Robert C. Del Grosso

Great Northern Pacific Publications, 1997

Route 4, Box 627A, Bonners Ferry, ID 83805


    A detailed historical study of GN's Stevens Pass and NP's Stampede Pass and a detailed contemporary railfan guide to these passes.


Railroad History 143

The Great Northern Railway Company


by H. Roger Grant, Editor

The Railway & Locomotive Historical Society, Inc., 1980

(Reprinted by the GNRHS in 1989)

Westford, MA



    The ultimate source on locomotive rosters of the Great Northern Railway. Includes all steam, diesel, electrics and gas-electrics owned by the GN and predecessor roads. Also includes a listing of GN predecessor roads and fully controlled subsidiaries.


Railway Mileposts: British Columbia - Volume II

The Southern Routes From the Crowsnest to the Coquihalla. Including the Great Northern and Kettle Valley Routes


by Roger G. Burrows

Railway Milepost Books, 1984

Vancouver, B.C. Canada

ISBN: 0-9690617-1-4 (v. 2)


    From Crowsnest Pass in the Rockies to Coquihalla Pass in the Cascades; from diminutive mining railways to massive robot-powered unit trains, Railway Mileposts is the definitive reference to the fascinating routes across southern British Columbia. Across high bridges, through dark tunnels, into precipitous canyons, beside magnificent lakes, up steep grades and over awesome mountain passes, the text follows the present and the historical mileposts of British Columbia's most interesting railway region. Subdivision by subdivision, and mile by mile, the book accurately describes the remarkable engineering feats of yesterday and today.  Whether your journey is by auto, on foot, or into history this well-researched and amply illustrated volume will enhance the trip. It is a must for anyone interested in railways and the history of British Columbia.


The Saint Paul & Pacific Railroad

An Empire in the Making, 1862-1879

by A. J. Veenendaal

Northern Illinois University Press, 1999

310 North Fifth St, DeKalb, IL 60115

ISBN: 0875802524


    Founded in 1862 as a small carrier connecting St. Paul and Minneapolis with outlying towns, the SP&P became the nucleus of the vast rail system that would open the entire Northwest. When railroad tycoon James J. Hill took over the railroad in 1879, it was absorbed into lines that eventually, as the Great Northern Railway, reached the Pacific Ocean. Enhanced by rare photographs, The Saint Paul & Pacific Railroad will appeal to all who are interested in Minnesota, the Northwest, and the saga of railroading.


Steam Railroading

A View from the Roundhouse Window


by Paul Wolfgram

Paul Wolfgram, 1999

912 Fourth Street North, Grand Forks, ND 58203

ISBN: 0-911007-36-9


    Railroading has always been part of author Paul Wolfgram's life. He was raised with the sound of a whistle in his ears and the smoke of a train on his horizon along the Great Northern Railway line near Niagara, North Dakota. He went to work for the railroad, first at the famous roundhouse in Grand Forks, then as a locomotive fireman and powerplant engineer. In this book, Wolfgram shares his love of the powerful steam locomotives as well as railroading itself. He explores the facilities, the engines and railroad operations, and recounts days both difficult and fun. For anyone who still remembers the echo of train whistles and smoke raising to the sky... this authentic and affectionate account is for you!


Trains of the Twin Ports - Photo Archive

Duluth-Superior in the 1950s 


by Marvin Nielsen

Iconografix, 1999

Hudson, WI

ISBN: 1-58388-003-8


    The Twin Ports were served by many popular railroads such as Soo Line, Northern Pacific, Great Northern, Chicago & North Western and more. Includes photos of locos and trains that operated in the Twin Ports in the 1950s era.






The West The Railroads Made

by Carlos A. Schwantes and James P. Ronda

University of Washington Press, 2008

P.O. Box 50096, Seattle, WA 98145

ISBN: 978-0-295-98769-9


    America's Railroad Age was little more than a decade old when Ralph Waldo Emerson uttered these prophetic words: "Railroad iron is a magician's rod in its power to evoke the sleeping energies of land and water." Railroads exercised a remarkable hold on the imagination. The railroad was not merely transportation; it was a technology that promised to transform the world. Railroads were second only to the federal government in shaping the West, and nowhere was that shaping more visible than on the Great Plains and in large parts of the Pacific Northwest.

    The West the Railroads Made recounts the stories of visionaries such as Henry Harmon Spalding, Samuel Parker, and Asa Whitney, who imagined the railroad as a new Northwest Passage, an iron road through the West to the Orient. As the idea of a Pacific Railroad grew in the 1840s and 1850s, many Americans imagined the West as a fertile garden or a treasure chest of priceless minerals. Railroads could deliver the riches of that West into the hands and pockets of the modern world. These two compelling ideas - the railroad and the West - came together to create an irresistible dream. Filled with contemporary accounts, illustrations, and photographs, The West the Railroads Made offers a fresh look at what the iron road created.

    If railroads brought the West into the world, they also brought the world to the West. In less than half a century, railroads made the West a permanent extension of the modern, capitalist world. Washington Territory governor Marshall F. Moore got it right when he described railroads as the "vast machinery for the building up of empires." The West the Railroads Made portrays the size and complexity of that railroad empire. Railroads brought immigrants by the thousands, forever changing the character of the West's human population. Railroads also promoted agriculture, ranching, and mining on a grand scale. They constructed their own landscapes filled with depots, roundhouses, bridges, and tunnels. Through the depot came mail-order treasures, the latest newspapers, and letters from distant friends. Beyond the right-of-way, the presence of the railroad was felt every day in hundreds of small towns.

    The railroad West sprang to life with amazing speed. Overnight a windswept stretch of Wyoming became Cheyenne. Prairies were fenced or plowed to make rangeland or farmland. New plants and animals shoved aside those that did not fit marketplace needs. All of this was touted as the new West, the railroad West. But all too often, the railroad West promised prosperity and security but delivered hard times and bitterness. By the middle of the twentieth century, many parts of the West were filled with empty farmhouses, nearly abandoned towns, and boarded-up stations.

    For more than a century the American West was the Railroad West. While the railroad's influence was challenged in the twentieth century by automobiles and the interstate highway system, railroads did not vanish from the landscape. Instead, they reinvented themselves. Companies merged to create superrailroads, service on unprofitable routes was ended, and trademark passenger trains vanished. In their place came mile-long trains hauling coal, grain, and lumber. Containers stacked with consumer goods from Asia rode on tracks that were the modern version of the Northwest Passage. The iron road had once defined the West; now it was part of a larger landscape.


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