Railroad Noir

Railroad Noir

The American West at the End of the Twentieth Century
Narratives by Linda Grant Niemann
Photographs by Joel Jensen
Distribution: World
Publication date: 4/16/2010
Format: cloth 168 pages, 23 color illus., 17 b&w illus., 1 map
11 x 9
ISBN: 978-0-253-35446-4
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Culled from the 20 years she spent traveling the American West as a freight brakeman and conductor, Linda Grant Niemann's Railroad Noir delves into the darker side of railroading. The 1990s were a time of crisis for workers caught in the breakup of the Southern Pacific Railroad. Niemann's tales of exhaustion, alcoholism, homelessness, and corporate blundering present a revelatory account of railroading life. Photographer Joel Jensen realizes Niemann’s vision of the working West with images of cowboy bars, blue motels, and railroaders working in electrical storms, white-outs, and desert heat waves. The result is an honest, gritty, and striking collaboration.

Author Bio

Linda Grant Niemann teaches creative nonfiction at Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Georgia. She is author of Boomer: Railroad Memoirs and Railroad Voices.

Joel Jensen is a freelance photographer whose work has been featured in various publications.


"[T]his is a real coffee table book, with beautiful photos by Joel Jensen interspersed between Linda's stories. . . . I'ts a book that should be read by a bigger public than the world of rail." —mrzine.monthlyreview.org , May 2010

"When you open this book, prepare to be challenged. Get involved in the words, linger over the photos and when you're done you'll come away with a far greater appreciation of what life on the railroad is all about." —
Railfan & Railroad

"There are tons of railroad books, pictorial volumes of raging locomotives and corporate histories. There are very few books like Railroad Noir. Linda not only captures working on the railroad, but simply working." —Grand Prairie Union News , Vol. 31, no. 3, July 2010

Railroad Noir is a complex and beautiful book—part memoir as told in a series of essays, part coffee table photography book with pictures that tell a visual narrative of their own. Long after you close this book, the stories and images will linger in your brain like an afterimage and may even haunt your dreams." —www.doryadams.com , September 2010

"Niemann dispenses with the romanticized mythology of railroad life, and evokes the kind of beauty that only reality, warts and all, can beget." —
High Country News , August 16, 2010

"[Niemann] offers an important glimpse into the workaday life of railroaders in the operating crafts as the industry, especially Southern Pacific, shuddered through greatly changed and changing times during the late twentieth century. And her perspective is drawn through a feminine lens—a distinct scarcity in the literature." —
The Lexington Quarterly , January 2011

"Niemann's tales of exhaustion, alcoholism, homelessness, and corporate oversight—subjects often omitted in railroad literature—present a revelatory account of life on the rails. Photographer Joel Jensen realizes Niemann's vision of the working West with images of cowboy bars, blue motels, and railroaders working in electrical storms, white-outs and desert heat waves. The result is an honest, gritty, and striking collaboration." —
NMRA Magazine , April 2011

"Scholars who seek to understand the realities of skilled industrial labor and the lived experience of workers in the world of deregulation, Title IX, union-busting, and head-spinning corporate mergers will be nothing but pleased with this book. It should simultaneously disabuse almost anyone from seeking out this line of work while leaving them yearning for its odd poetic beauty." —
Technology and Culture , July 2011, Vol. 52

"Niemann's . . . writing style is excellent and it leads the reader to want to read on. . . . She has clearly conveyed her experiences as a railroad worker." —William D. Middleton, co-editor of
The Encyclopedia of North American Railroads

"I've read many books on railroading and none of them have moved me in the way this book has. The photography is stunning, along the lines of Delano's work of the ’30s and ’40s." —Mitch Markovitz, veteran railroader, illustrator

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Table of Contents

Boomer in a Boom Town
Breaking in Blues
Blues for Ron
Beet Inspector
The Blue Motel
The Big Four Bar
Learning Spanish
Organized Booming
The Border
On the Road Again
A Starry Night
Train to the Underworld
Back to Work
The Hospital Yard
The Hopper at Granite Rock
The Lawrence Switcher
The Lord of the Night
Midnight Train to Georgia
The Spiritual Beauty of the Rails
Old Head, New Hire
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