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Early American Railroad History: A New Source Within Grasp

A prime source for early American railroad history has long been the report of Franz Anton von Gerstner, access to which has been available in the German language for many years, and since 1995 in an English translation published by Stanford University Press. Less well-known, and virtually inaccessible, has been another report by two Russian engineers, Pavel Melnikov and Joseph Kraft. This report was presented about the same time as von Gerstner's, and was believed for some time to have existed only in the Russian language in an archive in St. Petersburg.

John Decker, an American researcher of railroad history with the ability to read the Russian language had an opportunity in 2005 to examine the Melnikov-Kraft report and to prepare a summary of its contents. This is believed to be the first time an American researcher with Russian language skills had seen the report. The indications are that this report could be a rich source forhitherto unknown facts about early American railroad history. The Sociey intends to pursue possibilties for eventually making this material accessible in English for American researchers.

A sample translation has been made by Mr. Decker of an interesting part of the Melnikov-Kraft report, in which Melnikov gives his technical analysis of the deficiencies of strap rail design. This provides good evidence that Melnikov's approach to describing American railroad technology had a much different thrust than did Von Gerstner's. Melnikov obviously placed much more emphasis on technical engineering analysis to evaluate the effectiveness of various design features being employed in early railroad construction. This material is believed to reveal insights into the deficiencies of strap rail design which have not been found in any other early literature.

This translation is The Track Structure of American Railways.

The summary report of Mr. Decker (who was also one of the translators from the German of von Gerstner) on the contents of the Melnikov-Kraft report is Russia and Our Early Railroads.