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The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 91, July 1987 - April, 1988

Book Reviews

The Southern Pacific, z9or-1985. By Don L. Hofsommer. (College Sta-
tion, Tex.: Texas A&M University Press, 1986. Pp. xviii+373. Fore-
word, preface, maps, illustrations, photographs, notes, bibliogra-
phy, index. $44.50.)
Don Hofsommer's thorough, but very readable, history of the South-
ern Pacific Company since 1901 truly fills a void. Most studies of this
company stop with the completion of the Sunset Route in 1883, or even
earlier. The only other available work that purports to cover the period
since 1900oo is inescapably sycophantic (Neill C. Wilson and Frank J. Tay-
lor, Southern Pacific: The Roaring Story of a Fighting Railroad [New York:
McGraw-Hill, 1952]). While Hofsommer appears to have been selected
and supported by the SP to do this work, he is an established and re-
spected transportation historian and was given unprecedented access
to company records, employees, and officials. The SP reserved only the
right to read the final draft and add explanatory notes where it dis-
agreed. None appear in the book, and Hofsommer has depicted the
company warts and all, albeit with reasonable discretion and tact.
This corporate history is much more than a discussion of a railroad
that became a conglomerate. The Southern Pacific was, from the begin-
ning, deeply involved in other transportation ventures, from wagon
roads to steamships and finally to truck lines, real estate, and a common
carrier microwave transmission subsidiary. Hofsommer outlines all of
these efforts, but he maintains the railroad as the centerpiece because,
as he makes abundantly clear, it was all done, from the days of the Big
Four on, to support and enhance business for the railroad. Hofsommer
takes as his theme the operational history of the company rather than
its corporate history. His treatment of the almost byzantine series of
leases, acquisitions, mergers, and attempted mergers involving other
railroads, construction projects, and abandonments is especially clear
and informative and is supported by perspective maps illustrating the
geographic factors involved. Interwoven with the railroad story is that
of the SP as a sometimes bad, but often generous, corporate citizen. In
particular, the company's nearly heedless efforts in the 1940s to sup-
port the war effort have never before been detailed. The SP was the
mainstay of railroading on the Pacific coast and operated two of the
principal main lines to the coast from the central and southern states.
That effort left the SP, with its depleted physical plant and worn out
rolling-stock inventory, at a serious competitive disadvantage with the
Santa Fe, its traditional rival, and the northern transcontinentals, and
cash poor to boot. Hofsommer also tells the story of the SP's postwar

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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 91, July 1987 - April, 1988. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101211/. Accessed September 30, 2014.