Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Book Review: Trains and Grains (Volumes 1 and 2)

Trains and Grains, at the La Salle, Manitoba grain elevator. Sadly no train came along to complete the picture.
This is a review of Trains and Grains Volumes 1 and 2 by Eric Gagnon. I've been eagerly awaiting these two books since Eric announced them back in September 2017. I love both trains and grain elevators, so it almost felt like these books were written for me... or at least people like me.

I'll put a few disclaimers here - I received these books for free as a "thank you" for writing the foreword for volume 2. I also consider Eric a friend. I wouldn't let either of these stop me from writing an honest review. Finally, I received no compensation for writing this review nor do I receive anything for recommending the books, and Eric didn't ask me to write a review. 

These two books are centered around Eric's visits to Manitoba and Saskatchewan between 1976 and 1986. Eric's aunt and uncle lived in Portage la Prairie and he did a lot of railfanning during the days he was in Portage. Later, he visited many of Saskatchewan's elevators, realizing that they were disappearing fast.

Eric had so many photos to share from that decade that he split them into two books!

Volume 1

Volume 1 is subtitled "Trackside Observations in Manitoba 1976-1986". The first half of the book features trains that Eric recorded in and near Portage la Prairie, Manitoba during that period while visiting his aunt and uncle. Eric is a meticulous record keeper and the captions of the many black and white photos are detailed, interesting and absolutely alliteral, again and again.

The train photos were shot from a variety of angles, most from the ground, with some overhead views from the Tupper Street overpass.

The second half features a variety of short articles, such as:
  • Grain car consists
  • Details on CN, CP, federal and provincial grain fleets
  • Several pages of colour photos
  • An article by Mark Perry on "Working CN Grain Wayfreights"
  • An article by Charles Bohi on Prairie train stations
The foreword is by Randy O'Brien.

This is a great book, chock full of interesting photos and interesting details. It took me a while to read due to the dense information content, and I plan to read it again to catch the things I missed the first time.

Volume 2

Volume 2 is subtitled "Grain Elevators in Manitoba and Saskatchewan 1976-1986". The first portion of the book talks about the history of the grain industry in Canada, and how grain elevators are built and operate. This section is relatively brief, and more than half of the book features black and white photos of grain elevators from Eric's trips to Manitoba and Saskatchewan to document many of the wooden elevators still standing.

The foreword is by yours truly.

I would honestly consider volume 2 a companion to volume 1. There is a lot less text in volume 2 and I read it much faster than volume 1 because of that. I don't consider it any less valuable, though!

Photography

The photographs in this book are what I would call "documentary". They were clearly taken with the intent of documenting the trains and grain elevators - and the scene around them. These are not "coffee table" picture books full of lovely sunset photos.

That doesn't make them any less valuable - in fact, I would argue they are more valuable than "arty" photos because they thoroughly document the trains and grain elevators of an era long past.

Reference

These books are fantastic reference materials for anyone interested in understanding the mid 1970s to mid 1980s railroad scene, and especially for the modeler (like me) who wants to run realistic trains. I was surprised by several photos - for example, a few stock cars were still in evidence, even though I had thought the railways were out of the livestock business by then.

The grain elevator photos are especially valuable as many of these elevators simply do not exist today, so there is no opportunity to see them in person. Volume 2 in particular provides a way to experience the elevators of the past.

Summary

Both of these books are well worth purchasing by anyone interested in Canadian railway history or Canadian grain elevators.

You can buy the books from Eric at https://trainsandgrains.blogspot.com/ - the order form is there, or you can email Eric using the email at top right of that page.

See my other book reviews

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