Gerald M. Best

gmb photo

Growing up in Port Jervis, New York, a division point on the Erie, Gerald M. Best became a lifelong railroad enthusiast and photographer.

A Cornell graduate in electrical engineering, he took a job with AT&T after serving with the Army Signal Corps. in France. In 1928, his knowledge of sound technology brought him to a new job with Warner Brothers just as talking pictures began. He moved to Walt Disney in 1958, with responsibility for two amusement-park railways. He retired in 1962, and served as a consultant to the National Park Service in constructing the two Golden Spike locomotives.

In the 1930s he had begun to write short histories of various railroads. He became particularly known for his numerous and very accurate locomotive rosters. As his publication list lengthened, his place among the deans of American railroad historians became secure.

He collected more than 40,000 negatives and 125,000 prints, mostly of steam and narrow gauge railroad subjects in North America, but with a good coverage of Central America and New Zealand also. This photographic collection was donated to the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento, Calif.

In addition to The Pacific Coast Company: Ships and Narrow Gauge Rails, Mr. Best wrote ten other railroad books, including Snowplow: Clearing Mountain Rails, Mexican Narrow Gauge, Nevada County Narrow Gauge, Railroads of Hawaii, and Iron Horses to Promontory.

Mr. Best died in 1985 at the age of 90, and is survived by his daughter Virginia Best Norton of Houston, Texas, as well as a number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.