Column #300  –  August 21, 2004


Monongahela Railway Book

Encountered Unexpected Hurdle

by Glenn Tunney



        Who knew it would be this difficult?

        When Terry Arbogast of Fairmont, West Virginia contacted Brownsville’s Dave Gratz in 1995 to ask him to write a history of the Monongahela Railway, the plan that evolved during discussions between the two men was simple.  The new book would include Dave’s detailed history of the Monongahela Railway illustrated with several hundred photographs from two rich sources:  the 11,000-negative photographic library of the Monongahela Railway that Dave had purchased in 1990, and the thousands of contemporary railroad pictures that Terry, who is a rail buff, has personally photographed over the past forty years.   

        Their task -- to produce a comprehensive history of the Monongahela Railway that would be packed with hundreds of photographs – was a daunting but straightforward one, a labor of love that would be their nostalgic tribute to a lost railroad.  Dave began writing the text in 1995, while Terry worked in his darkroom producing high quality prints, many from glass plate negatives that were as much as one hundred years old. 

        Dave Gratz had worked for the Monongahela Railway for most of his adult life, so his reason for wanting to produce the definitive history of the Monongahela Railway is more easily discerned than that of his co-author, Terry Arbogast.

        “Did you work for the railroad at any time in your life?” I asked Terry, who spoke with me by telephone from his home in Fairmont.

        “No one in my family ever worked for the railroad,” Terry chuckled ironically, “but my uncle Jack Smith was always interested in trains, and on weekends he would take me to see them at a rail yard near my home.  I grew up walking the Monongahela Railway tracks here in Fairmont, became interested in trains, and in the early 1960s took a lot of snapshot pictures, particularly of steam engines.” 

        “So you have been taking rail pictures most of your life?”

        “I estimate that I have taken over 40,000 slides and 20,000 negatives,” Terry said.  “I’m 58, so that represents about forty years of photographic work.” 

        “You prepared most of the photographs for the book that you and Dave Gratz have co-authored,” I said.  “What background do you have in that area?”

        “For eighteen months in the late 1960s and early 1970s, before I began my 25-year career as a science teacher in the Monongalia County schools in Morgantown, I worked for the Fairmont Times and the West Virginian.  While working there I gained valuable experience in the layout of text and illustrations, photography, and the publishing business.”

         “I am curious,” I said, “as to what led you to contact Dave Gratz with the idea of producing a history of the Monongahela Railway.”

        “I knew Dave Gratz long before we collaborated on this book,” Terry revealed.  “Back in the 1970s, I visited him at the Monongahela Railway offices in the Union Station building in Brownsville, and he permitted me to examine the railroad’s photographic files and use the darkroom facilities there to print some of them, with a copy for the railroad.”

        “Are the glass negatives difficult to work with?”

        “You just have to be more careful with them.  They are very fragile.”

        “So by 1995 you had known Dave for quite some time, and you knew that he had purchased the railroad’s photographic records.  When Dave agreed to write the railroad’s history, what was to be your role in co-authoring the book?”

        “I printed about 85% of the pictures that are in the book.  Dave had a lot of prints in addition to the negatives, but some of them were printed decades ago and were yellowing.  I reprinted them for the book.  I also drew the 26 maps that are found throughout the book, maps which show the sidings, railroad structures and mines, and also contain other information based upon my examination of Monongahela Railway documents, timetables and siding diagram books that Dave supplied.  I drew the maps back in the mid-1990s, and then I wasn’t satisfied with them, so I re-did all of them.”

        Terry wrote some of the book’s text too.  “I wrote the chapter on the Scotts Run Railway,” he said, “and Dave wrote the other chapters and all of the captions for the pictures.” 

        Dave Gratz worked for three years writing the history of the Monongahela Railroad and during that time Terry worked in his home in West Virginia, creating the maps and preparing the photographs they had selected for publication.  By all reasonable expectations, they had hoped to have the book on the market by 1997 or 1998.  The book was finally published last month.

        I asked Dave Gratz what caused the delay.  The story he told me was replete with unfulfilled good intentions, disappointing setbacks, and plenty of frustration.

        “The first publisher we worked with,” Dave said, “did really nice books, and he agreed to do our book.  It was his custom to do one book at a time, working out of his house, where he had a nice working lab.  He usually published three books a year.”

        “You wrote the text,” I reviewed, “and Terry prepared the photographs, drew the maps and wrote one chapter.  What was the publisher supposed to do?”

        “His job was to lay out each page on his computer,” Dave explained, “arrange to have the book printed, and market it.  He would scan each photograph into the computer, which is a time-consuming process, create the layout of each page, position each captioned photograph in the appropriate place to match the text, get the book printed and help us sell it.  He intended to put together several chapters every three or four months, so I was captioning all of these pictures and sending them to him to be scanned.” 

        “Sounds like a good plan.  When did you hire this fellow to do your book?” 

        “Terry and I signed our contract with him on June 4, 1995.  We were hoping that the book would be done by 1996 or 1997.

        “But then the publisher got sick, so he was not able to keep working on our book.  By 1998 he had recovered from his illness, but we saw that he had other books going, and I started wondering what was going to happen with ours.  I was frequently in touch with him about it, but it became clear he was not going to be able to get our book done in a timely fashion.  We tried to be patient with him, but we eventually had to ask him to return our pictures and materials.  He was reluctant to do that, so then we had to hire an attorney and get a court order in order to get our materials back from him.  I finally got them back in September 1999.  We lost several years there.”

        “Not to mention that you were back to square one in your search for a publisher.”

        “That’s right. After we had the materials back, I searched around for some other way to get the book printed.  I was able to make arrangements to meet with another publisher, and I took my stuff out to him.  He looked it over, agreed to do the book, and after a couple of years of working with him, we finally have it finished.”

        “It can now be purchased?”

        “Yes.  I received the first hardbound copy from the printer about three weeks ago.  We had 2,000 copies printed, and most of them are now at my house.  Some have been placed at the Flatiron building for sale, and we hope to market it through rail fan magazines and web sites and at other venues as well.”

        Next week, our series will conclude with a detailed look at the contents of this impressive new book, “The Monongahela Railway:  Its History and Operation, 1903-1993,” by David E. Gratz and Terry Arbogast.  We will also learn about the Monongahela Railway photographer who took many of the historic pictures that appear in the book, and I will provide details on how interested readers may order this book by mail.


    These articles appear weekly in the Saturday Uniontown HERALD-STANDARD.  If you enjoy reading them, please let the editor know.  You may e-mail your comments to editor Mark O'Keefe at mo' 

    Readers may contact Glenn Tunney at 724-785-3201, at 6068 National Pike East, Grindstone, PA   15442, or by e-mail by clicking here.

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