Southern Pacific's Shasta Division

by John R. Signor

Full Text of Some Reviews:

Review from Model Railroad News, March, 2001, p. 24

"Signature Press has done it again, with the release of a much improved edition of John Signor's earlier work, Rails in the Shadow of Mt. Shasta (originally from another publisher in the early 1980s). While some might think it is merely a reprint or rehashing of the earlier work, this is really an all new title in that it has been expanded by some 70 pages. In addition, the photo count has been nearly doubled, and the research and data are up-to-date after another 20 years of research.

"This book is a great addition to the history of the Southern Pacific, showing its not quite H-shaped mainline in the mountains of northern California among the forests and rocky crags. As with every single one of John Signor's previous works on western railroading, it is a very well done piece of railroad history; and I for one cannot see any serious student of such being without a copy.

"The book is in Quarto format, which now seems to be the standard for almost all railroad books; and like all the Signature books I have seen, it is excellently printed and bound. The photo reproduction is very nice, and the new color photographs are a welcome addition to the book.

"Several of the maps are done in the unique and unmistakable style Signor has come to typify--a 3/4 aerial viewpoint that makes a map look its very best. There are many more smaller maps inside the book, and I will freely admit to being a sucker for any book that features maps drawn by Signor. There are also archival images of company brochures, timetables, and advertising broadsides, which add a touch of each image's particular era to the book. The book closes with a feature that first appeared in Signor's earlier Rails in the Shadow of Mt. Shasta; a complete station-by-station listing, showing what years each location was in use, with a few having depot photos included.

"The photos range from old shots taken when the line was built in the late 19th century, right up to current day operations. Before Signor retired from the SP, much of his working duty was spent on this line, and he still lives along it; so it is natural that he has an affinity and an understanding for it.

"As noted, photo reproduction is generally great overall, but there are the occasional poor pictures, and these are the typical historical shots where they are the sole example to be found; and we all know that any photo is better than no photo, especially when it is an interesting scene. The newly added photos in this revised edition represent obscure locations, connecting feeder lines and their industries, and a plethora of previously unseen images -- and all are worthwhile.

"The feeder lines I mention hold the greatest amount of interest for me, as these were very odd logging and mining lines, which have never really been covered anywhere before; except for the LaMoine, McCloud, or Fruit Grower's Supply lumbering operations, which each have been featured in their own publications. From the extensive, environmentally ruinous operations such as the various copper mining and smelting concerns, to the large standard gauge logging railroads, to the short narrow gauge loggers, these railroads are all unique and interesting--and now all long gone to progress. Most of these lines were only lightly touched upon in the earlier book, and for me, make this new book worth the purchase price alone just for their inclusion.

"The photos of small geared locomotives, mining and logging scenes, and other details all beg to be modeled. The maps showing where and when these operations were in business are quite welcome, as all of this is new, and represents the only source of published information available on most of these companies.

"There is also a bit of coverage on the Modoc line that connected the SP mainline to the one-time narrow gauge Nevada-California-Oregon railroad, which ran through Alturas, to the east of the main area covered in this book. Here the terrain changes from mountains to high desert, and the character and flavor of the scenes show this. This area is as barren, desolate, and windswept as you can imagine, more so in winter. One story tells how the crewmen from a train, coming back to their three hot steam locomotives after dinner one frigid day, found their piping so frozen solid they could not be used!

"That the line was always an important link in the Southern Pacific system is shown in one table; a listing of all train movements on the Division on July 20th, 1904. With 20 regularly scheduled train movements, and no fewer than 17 Extras, each train averaging six hours on the line, it was a very busy and well utilized section of the railroad. With this in mind, one section deals with the subsequent and continued upgrades to the railroad throughout the 20th century. Line changes to reduce curvature, dam construction that forced relocations, and general upgrades for service are all outlined; and leading the book all the time are great shots of SP trains and locomotives in service. Cab Forwards, Daylights, Black Widow diesels--they are all here in their glory.

"I am certainly not disappointed with this new book, and just like its predecessor, I have found myself coming back to it after I had finished reading it for this review. I know it will find a welcome place on my burgeoning bookshelves, as it likely will on any Southern Pacific fan's. The quality pairing of Signature Press and John Signor is one that I hope does not end anytime soon."

-- Jeff Saxton


Review from The Lexington Quarterly,June, 2001, p. 3.

"Southern Pacific sprawled across the West from Portland to New Orleans--with Cotton Belt a 13,000-mile crescent-shaped system that featured operational or maintenance challenges from the Louisiana bayous to Donner Pass in the high Sierra. Some of the toughest challenges, however, were found on the Shasta Division, spliced between the Portland Division on the north and the Sacramento Division on the south--essentially from Crescent Lake, Oregon through Klamath Falls to south of Red Bluff, California, with the Siskiyou line from Ashland to Black Butte, the Modoc from near Klamath Falls to Alturas, and the Lakeview Branch thrown in as garnish.

"John Signor has assigned himself the task of doing "posthole" studies of line segments that made up Southern Pacific's Pacific Lines; he already has a number of them to his credit. The formula is a modest-length narrative that sketches in the history of a particular part of SP's domain (heavy in operating detail) supplemented with abundant illustrations including artwork and cartography by the author. Shasta is no exception. Signor is an unmatched champion in locating marvelous photographs which in this volume are crisply reproduced. Equally fine is the mapwork which is generous throughout. Added benefits include a chapter on logging railroads that fed SP and an appendix of Shasta Division stations. Historical context is skimpy, so is analysis; endnotes are phantom.

"Southern Pacific devotees will want [this book], but Shasta will appeal to a somewhat broader range of readers."

-- Don Hofsommer