Monday, September 6, 2010

White Gold Railroad: Plaster City Narrow Gauge

Charles M. O'Herin
Link Pen Publishing (2008)
ISBN 9780977627912
Reviewed by Marty Shaw for Reader Views


Providing an in-depth look at the Plaster City Railroad, "White Gold Railroad" is great for train aficionados, train model enthusiasts, and history buffs. The book provides an in-depth look at the narrow gauge railroad, complete with detailed histories and both black-and-white and color photos.


The Plaster City Railroad is an example of progress by necessity. When Samuel W. Dunaway envisioned the creation of Imperial Gypsum and Oil Company in the 1920s, a way to transport the products from the quarry to the production plant also had to be created. Unlike other railroads that have occasionally doubled as a public transportation system, the rails at Plaster City have always been dedicated to the sole purpose of moving gypsum, a soft mineral used to make plaster, Sheetrock®, agricultural soil conditioner, and some cements.


The layout of the book makes information easy to find by splitting the history into distinct categories – Historical Summary, Trains & Operations, Structures, and Flora & Fauna. Detailed indexes make easy work of locating a particular figure or photograph by providing easy-to-read lists that provide page numbers, figure/photo names, and brief summaries of each item.


I thought "White Gold Railroad" provided an interesting look into the past, providing some provocative insight into Sam Dunaway's efforts of transforming his vision into reality. Instances such as getting the attention of potential investors by including the word 'Oil' in the company name of Imperial Gypsum and Oil Company, although there was never any evidence of oil being found in the area, reveal how dedicated the man was to his idea…and how lucky he was that gypsum turned out to be such a profitable product that the lack of said oil never caused any investor relationships to turn sour. The fact that the Plaster City Railroad is still hauling loads of gypsum today is another testament to the vision of a man who saw potential where others did not.

I was also impressed by the work and the challenges faced by the engineers who were dedicated to making the railroad work. The terrain and weather of the Imperial Valley in California were not forgiving adversaries and a lot of work went into designing, and re-designing, a transportation system that could withstand the harsh environment.

With "White Gold Railroad," Mr. O'Herin set out to create a book that would "give railroad hobbyists, enthusiasts, and historians equal consideration of their interests" and I believe he did exactly that with this detailed look at the Plaster City Railroad from it's origins to it's present-day operations.

Read Interview with author Charles M. O'Herin