Wednesday, July 13, 2011

On the Passing of William D. Middleton, Who Taught Me All About Electric Railroads

William D. Middleton (Railway Age photo)
Railway Age reports that renowned railroad author William D. Middleton, photographer of trains and author of over twenty railroad books, including two of my favorites, South Shore: The Last Interurban, and When the Steam Railroads Electrified, died on Monday, 11 June 2011 in Livonia, NY, at the age of 83.

Middleton wrote about a wide range of railroad topics--including co-authoring a well-regarded railroad encyclopedia--but in my estimation his most notable contributions were his several authoritative books on electric railroads, trolleys, and interurbans. When the Steam Railroads Electrified is really the singular account of electrified mainline railroads in the U.S.  Originally published by Kalmbach in 1974 and then revised and reissued by Indiana University Press in 2002, When the Steam Railroads Electrified followed up on his earlier electric-focused encyclopedic works, The Interurban Era (Kalmbach, 1965) and The Time of the Trolley (Kalmbach, 1971). Middleton's books have gone in and out of print, but most can be found via Amazon's used book resellers.
1971 cover

1974 cover
The later versions of Middleton's South Shore and WTSRE featured new chapters and new covers reflecting the latest developments on their respective subjects.  I like the additional new material, but still like the old covers better.

Middleton's works were my entry point into historical narrative--I learned much from these books about telling the stories of places and things in words and pictures. They had a formative influence that is still with me today.
2002 cover

2002 cover
A family friend and model railroading mentor, Dr. Alan Roebuck, lent me his copy of WTRSE sometime in the late 70s and I think I kept it for ten or so years.  When I finally returned it to him, that beautiful dust jacket cover had been reduced to tatters because it was my constant companion for most of my middle school years--I must have taken it to school everyday for all of the 5th through 8th grades.

Meanwhile, I had that South Shore book checked out from the Lake County, Indiana, Public Library for something like a year straight during that time.  The glossy plastic cover applied by the library saved it from the weatherbeating taken by Dr. Roebuck's WTRSE.

Over the years since, my travels and experiences have brought me into contact with the subject matter of Middleton's books.  In addition to my childhood adventures on the South Shore (first train ride ever, got to hang out with the motorman between Ogden Dunes and Michigan City) I've been all up and down the Northeast Corridor under wire and on the third rail. And I've seen the Black Mesa and Lake Powell out west.  Through all of these experiences, I've thought of how Middleton introduced me to these great sights and magnificent machines.

Today, I own the Indiana University Press editions, as well a couple of other Middleton titles, such as The Pennsylvania Railroad Under Wire. I leaf through them all often to get ideas and inspiration for Dunes Junction.  And just because I like electric trains.

Bill Middleton will be missed, but his work will forever be a joy to me and many others who love trains.