This was originally written by our founder, Donald Duke, many years ago.
BOOKS ON TRAINS & RAILROADS began as an outgrowth of an interest in railroading and writing, and developed into a business. Prior to the establishment of BOOKS ON TRAINS & RAILROADS, I wrote Western stories. My father was a Western buff and always had a stack of pulp Westerns by his chair in the den. So my stories were generally based on a railroad theme. Pulp Westerns in the 1940s and 1950s sold for about 15 cents each. After college I returned home and found myself editor of the Pacific Railway Journal, a quarterly sponsored by three Southern California railroad clubs.
In the 1950s and 1960s I worked at General Petroleum (Mobil Oil) and worked up to assistant manager of Retail Sale Promotion. In early 1960 I was transferred to New York, and while getting triple salary, I would end up with less and no place to park my car. Being single, I decided to go for it and established BOOKS ON TRAINS & RAILROADS. The firm was incorporated February 2, 1960 while still working at GP. Two years later I began to spend full time at my craft.
The original intent was to write and publish my own books. At the time New York publishers were no longer interested in railroad books by an unknown author, and opted for Lucius Beebe and S. Kip Farrington. I was unable to produce books fast enough, so began to accept outside authors and before long the book list of BOOKS ON TRAINS & RAILROADS were varied authors. I joined the California Writers Guild, and turned some of my Western stories into TV scripts in order to eat. I knew Tommy Thompson, the producer of Bonanza and several of my stories became TV shows.
In the beginning, business was brisk. Manuscripts came pouring in. As the steam locomotive began to fade, so did the railroad book business. Chain stores developed in malls which cut deeply into sales, and nearly killed most small booksellers.
During the past 40 years I have published 140 books, Western stories, and Western history type articles. For 16 years I was editor of the Branding Iron, quarterly for the Los Angeles Corral of Westerners.
All my life I have been called a railroad pack rat. Meaning, I collect books, time tables, maps, and travel brochures about railroads. My collection of books total some 18,000 volumes of railroad trade journals and railroad books. My collection has been computerized so as to avoid duplicates.I also have a vast collection of time tables, maps, and brochures of transportation items. There are file drawers chock full of photographs, many from my own camera.
I do research in the Henry E. Huntington Library, San Marino, California each Saturday. I have read the Los Angeles Times from 1880 to 1939, and am presently working up a book on the railroad stations of Los Angeles. Things are slowing down now, as I am getting older, but still have my nose to the grindstone.
Donald Duke passed away September 27, 2010, at his home in San Marino, California. His legacy lives on through this site and the tens of thousands of dedicated readers who treasure his words and images that he committed to print over a publishing career than spanned more than 60 years.