Great Northern Condensed History

GN published this little booklet in 1958. Although the booklet is 16 pages (including the covers), the history itself fills just 10 double-spaced, typewritten pages and is only about 3,500 words long. It tells the story of James J. Hill, the railroad’s passenger trains, and other things that might be of interest to the public.

Click image to download an 8.7-MB PDF of this booklet.

The writer of this booklet relied on stream-of-consciousness as much as a chronological telling of history. The booklet first discusses the construction of the 7.9-mile Cascade Tunnel in 1929, then the 1893 switchbacks, then the 1900 2.6-mile tunnel. Similarly, a paragraph discusses the Empire Builder, followed by discussion of the railway’s California extension and World War II, then back to the streamlined Empire Builder and other streamliners, followed by a history of the Oriental Limited. The information is all there; it’s just not well organized.

An eleventh page lists the railway’s board of directors and officers. One director, Archibald Witherspoon, would have been 82 years old in 1958. As near as I can tell, Thomas Balmer, the company vice-president, was 70 years old, which is surprising because many railroads had a mandatory retirement age. Unlike the rest of the text in the booklet, which is written on a typewriter, this page is typeset, so it is possible that it was simply copied from the company’s 1957 or earlier annual report.

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