Steam & Cinders: The Advent of Railroads in Wisconsin

By Axel Lorenzsonn

Hardcover: $29.95

ISBN: 978-0-87020-385-5

352 pages, 75 b/w photos and illus., 8 x 9"; E-book also available


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From the railroad lines that traverse open prairie to the wrought iron rails embedded in their wooden ties, railroads have been written into the landscape - and shared history - of Wisconsin. Yet few of us have thought about how they developed in the towns and cities we call home. In "Steam & Cinders," author Axel Lorenzsonn brings the history of Wisconsin's earliest railroads to life, painting a vivid picture of the competition and risk that accompanied the building of Wisconsin's earliest statewide infrastructure during the years leading up to the Civil War.

From Janesville to Watertown, Milwaukee to Prairie du Chien, and all the towns in between, the promise of the railroad filled the imaginations of Wisconsin's early settlers, who lobbied Congress for memorials and mortgaged their own farms to fund risky ventures. This is the story of linemen who laid track through harsh winters; the story of railroad barons like Byron Kilbourn whose vision for economic expansion was matched by his strongarming tactics; the story of the glory days of the early rails, when the coming of the railroad would receive not only public notice but great fanfare and celebration in the small towns that lay along the line.

Based on the author's extensive research into the early history of Wisconsin's rails, "Steam & Cinders" chronicles the boom and bust of the first railroads in the state, from the charters of the 1830s to the farm mortgages of the 1850s and consolidation of the railroads on the eve of the Civil War. Featuring more than 75 period photographs, historic maps, and drawings, "Steam & Cinders" preserves the legacy of early Wisconsin railroading for railroad buffs and armchair historians alike.

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Axel Lorenzsonn has worked for Wisconsin's Department of Workforce Development for 26 years and is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A life-long history buff, he has delved into the history of Wisconsin's early railroads for the past fourteen years, and is an active member of several railroading associations including the Milwaukee Road Historical Society and the Chicago & North Western Historical Society. Axel currently lives in the village of Maple Bluff with his wife and has two grown children.

2009 ForeWordReviews' Book of the Year Award
Finalist in the Regional Category

2009 Midwest Independent Publishers Association Midwest Book Awards
Winner in the History/Current Events Category

2010 Independent Publisher Book Awards
Silver Medalist in the National Transportation (Auto/Aviation/Railroad) Category

2010 National Indie Excellence Awards
Finalist in the History Category

"Railroads have been around for so long that they seem like part of the landscape. But where, when, and how they developed was far from inevitable, as Axel Lorenzsonn shows in his thorough and superb study of the coming of the Iron Horse to Wisconsin. 'Steam & Cinders' should be required reading for any student of railroads or the development of the Upper Midwest." Robert S. McGonigal, Editor, "Classic Trains" magazine

"Axel Lorenzsonn provides a well-researched and engaging account ... of the coming of the railroads to Wisconsin." William D. Middleton, Editor, "Encyclopedia of North American Railroads"

"If 'Steam & Cinders' were a train, it would be one mighty locomotive a beautiful piece of intricate machinery chugging slowly but steadily through Wisconsin to drag its boxcars bulging with research to the promised destination." "Isthmus" newspaper