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SMOKE, SOOT, AND STEAM by Michael L. Greer

SMOKE, SOOT, AND STEAM

Galt’s Railroad History 1869-1960

by Michael L. Greer

Pub Date: July 11th, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-72831-501-0
Publisher: AuthorHouse

A debut history book details the enormous impact of the Central Pacific Railroad Company on a California town.

Before the arrival of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, Greer tells readers, “California was almost completely cut off from the east coast.…There was no economy to speak of…and very little agriculture.” The railroad’s arrival in Galt kick-started an economic boom that lasted for decades. By selling and leasing “cheap land to farmers and merchants along…their extensive rights-of-way,” the railroad made it possible for businesses to get their products to high-density population centers, such as Sacramento and San Francisco, and eventually across the country to the East Coast. The author notes that Galt became the home of two iconic brands: the Diamond Match Lumber Company and the Utah Condensed Milk Company, aka Sego Milk (eventually, the Pet Milk Products Company). The railroad also brought a revolution in communications when Western Union “strung its…lines from east to west” along the railroad’s “right-of-way.” Greer’s interviews with locals who were children in the early 20th century, circa the 1920s and ’30s, provide vivid glimpses of the era. Louise Loll Dowdell was 5 years old when she took her first train trip with her mother “from the Herald Stop all the way to Peltier Road to see” her aunt. The cost? Ten cents. She remembered her father telling the story of taking the electric train to Stockton to get his new car: “He didn’t know how to make it stop and ran into a tree stump.” Eugenia Olson recalled taking the “overnight ‘Owl,’ ” sleeping “in starched white sheets,” and eating in the dining car “with waiters, white tablecloths, silver service and a bouquet of flowers on the table.” While the writing is plainspoken, readers may find themselves skimming over the minutiae of railroad line growth in Galt: “On the east from ‘B’ Street north, there were three lighter rail sidings…there was a heavy rail passing track on the far west side.” Regardless, there are plenty of captivating nuggets of information here as well as an extensive bibliography and many historical photographs.

This intriguing look at a railroad expansion should appeal to train aficionados and history buffs.