Marvel, Bill. The Rock Island Line. Indiana Univ. (Railroads Past & Present). 2013. 180p. illus. notes. index. ISBN 9780253011275. $50; ebk. ISBN 9780253011312. HIST
Newspaper and railroad writer Marvel’s illustrated history of the Rock Island Line spans the railroad’s existence from its planning in 1845 through its growth phase, financial upheavals, reorganizations, and finally to its 1980 liquidation. He concentrates on the railroad’s business developments as it adjusted routes, equipment, and services to compete. As Marvel says, “The Rock Island was usually not the shortest, nor the fastest, nor the most prosperous railroad between the cities it served. So it had to try harder.” He includes several interesting sidebars such as the railroad’s hiring of Abraham Lincoln as the attorney to defend it after a steamboat hit its bridge over the Mississippi River. There are 150 outstanding color and black-and-white photographs with many occupying full spreads. Although the photos don’t always relate to the surrounding text, the lengthy captions provide a wealth of supplementary information. VERDICT Marvel’s fine balance between photos and a concise telling of the Rock Island’s long history will strongly appeal to both rail fans and general readers interested in railroad history. Gregory Schneider’s in-depth business history, reviewed below, will be preferred by specialists and those seeking details on the Rock Island’s last years.
Schneider, Gregory L. Rock Island Requiem: The Collapse of a Mighty Fine Line. Univ. Pr. of Kansas. 2013. 392p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780700619184. $37.50. HIST
In this railroad business history, Schneider (history, Emporia State Univ.) chronicles the course of the Rock Island Line from 1948 to its liquidation as a railroad in 1980. Schneider says that after a few prosperous postwar years, competition from trucks, airlines, and barges, coupled with hobbling government regulation and tough labor unions, depleted the Rock Island and other railroads of the revenue they needed to survive. Having skimped on modernization and maintenance, the company needed to complete a merger with the stronger Union Pacific by the 1960s, but opposition from rival railroads and more than a decade of study by the Interstate Commerce Commission cut that lifeline. By 1975, the railroad was in bankruptcy and well on its way to being dismantled. Schneider says that the sad story of the Rock Island Line represents a microcosm of failed American railroads in the postwar era. VERDICT While Schneider’s clear and painstaking documentation of the Rock Island’s demise is essential reading for students of transportation and others specifically interested in the line, his detailed coverage of litigation and regulatory wrangling will lose readers interested primarily in railroad operations or train history.—