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Tome of the Rural Trolley

July 7, 2011

The Interurban Era
by William D. Middleton
Kalmbach Publishing, 1961

Every once in a while, you go into a used bookstore and a book leaps off the shelf at you.

Or maybe that’s just me.

Whatever the case, The Interurban Era by William D. Middleton caught my eye with its bold font on the spine, and I knew it would be a good railroad book from a bygone era by the beautiful 1950s-style cover illustration. Inside, the book is divided into several introductory chapters about interurbans and their technological development, followed by the bulk of the book, providing a complete survey of interurban lines around the country, divided by region. This is where the book really shines, with photographs hard to find anywhere else. Although due to the book’s age they are all black and white, the photos give a thorough impression of the vast rural streetcar network that was lost to the age of the automobile.

This book is a valuable resource for anyone wishing to model interurbans, or for anyone wishing to see how the country once moved by rail and how we can once again achieve that goal. There are photos of interurban cars in every environment, from stations to bridges to rolling countryside to crowded city streets. Every photo is accompanied by ample descriptive text, and short descriptions and histories of the interurban lines featured in the photos are scattered throughout the regional chapters. The rear of the book contains a listing of all interurban lines, and an appendix of interurban diagrams and equipment explanations, helpful for modelers and those uninitiated into the language of trolleys.

In short, the book is 432 pages of railroad photographic history goodness.

When browsing through the scenes of hustle and bustle in small town America, and people enjoying a day out flying through the countryside, one can become lonesome for what once was, especially if born to late to experience the greatest era of rail transport. Middleton himself sums up the nostalgia best, only two decades after the close of the interurban era, when the country was first plunging headlong into the experiment of automobile-driven growth:

“To many adult Americans, now as much slave as they are master of their automobiles, the interurban railways linger among pleasant memories of an unhurried, less sophisticated time in the recent past.”

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