Full disclosure first, I met the author, Paul Strubeck, around 15 years ago, and he’s been working on this voluminous tome for almost a decade.  We met on a retired diesel railroad tugboat, of course, not either of the ones depicted below.  Over the years, Paul has shared photos and information on this blog.

I’ll tell you what I think about this book in a moment, but first, any guesses on the date, location, and info on the two tugboats depicted on this striking cover?

The rear cover has some Dave Boone art.  Anything look familiar in that painting?

Soon after Paul and I  met, we took this same WHC tour together.  I’m certainly not a packrat, but the fact that I still have the program attests to my sense that it was an extraordinary tour, much narration of which was prefaced “you can’t see any trace any more, but …” because rail marine in the sixth boro is mostly a thing of the past.  What’s not in the past but an immutable geographical fact is that the sixth boro surrounds an ever more densely-populated archipelago that still needs resupplying today, mostly provided by trucks and frustrated drivers clogging highways today, hence efforts like the recent beer run, to name but one.  

Contractors move carfloats today, but at one time rail lines built their own dedicated tugboats, steam and diesel, and the evolution of the latter type is what Paul’s book interprets for us.  These tugboats are mostly gone, and he tracks the disposition of each one, but a few still in use have been redesigned so successfully you might never guess their previous lives.

As I said earlier, Paul has worked on this book for the better part of a decade.  When he wasn’t employed on a  tugboat, he got jobs on the railroad, which employs him now fulltime.  But when he wasn’t scheduled by some employer, he traveled to places where he researched this book in harbors, photo archives, libraries, and museums.   To “unpack” this table of contents a bit, the “Oil-electrics” chapter focuses on  the railroads that switched from steam propulsion to diesel:  first in 1916 the Pennsylvania RR re-powering steam tug Media with a 4-cylinder Southwark-Harris heavy oil engine;  in 1926 NY Central RR built a pair of tugs on Staten Island and named NY Central’s No. 33 and No. 34, and Erie was next. 

Then next four chapters elaborate on the naval architects, the decisions they made, and the tugboats they built.

“What’s inside a tug?” includes nomenclature

 

and specialized information not commonly known to a layperson as well as to a mariner who works on non-railroad tugs.

Documents like this top one from August 1978 demystify the daily/hourly activity of tugboat crew, in this case,  the marine engineer.  Paul brings his tugboat/locomotive perspective to the page.

The book has 266 color photos and 131 black/white, for a total of 397, of which 342 have never been book/web published;  he scanned them from company records, trade literature, negatives, and slides.  Each photo has a detailed caption.  Further, the book has 4 original maps, 22 blueprints/drawings, and 17 documents/advertisements from vintage marine diesel magazines.

There are 11 appendices, including

 

17 pages of Appendix K listing all East Coast diesel railroad tugboats and their dimensions, designers and builders, engine specs, multiple names, and [what I find very helpful] their disposition, i.e., still in use, scrapped, reefed, or other.  A total of 23 railroad companies are mentioned.

On the last page, you learn a bit about the author.  He’s already working on a volume 2, focusing on railroad tugs of the Great Lakes and Inland Waterways.

To me, this book is a delight to read through and a reference for East Coast tugboats.  On my bookshelf, it goes next to Thomas R. Flagg’s book New York Harbor Railroads In Color, volumes 1 and 2, published in 2000 and 2002 but with most information cut off in 1976.  Paul’s book will be a delight for historians, aficionados of rail and marine technology, modelers, urban planners, and the general public with curiosity about how we get stuff from place of manufacture to place(s) of use.

As anyone who releases a book or other work knows, an author does not want to keep a pile of books like this at home.  For info on ordering your copy, click here.  This is not a “mainstream” book you’d see while browsing the all-too-few bookstores surviving these days.  Rather, it is published by an independent railroad-focused publisher called Garbely Publishing.

To answer the questions about cover “photo,” the front cover shows Erie tugs Elmira and Marion  in Hoboken in March 1975. Marion was launched at Jakobson’s  in Oyster Bay NY in 1953 and is being prepared for reefing at this very moment in 2022.  Anyone know details?  Elmira was launched the same year on Staten Island and was scrapped in 1984 after an engine room fire.  The Dave Boone painting shows New York Dock Railway tug Brooklyn southbound on the North River.  Notice the Colgate clock along the right side.  Brooklyn (now Florida) is currently a rebuilt but active boat in the Crescent fleet in Savannah GA.  My image of the boat as I saw it in 2014 is below;  that day I took another shot of the tugboat which appears on page 190 of Paul’s book.

Previous book reviews I’ve posted here can be found at these links.

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