The river, the rails and the road: three R's that symbolize the American inclination to roam. If a real-life journey isn't part of your plan for spring, take a ride with three dazzling gift books that celebrate the pleasures of travel. In Live Steam: Paddlewheel Steamboats on the Mississippi System, photographer Jon Kral pays tribute to the behemoth boats that cruised the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers in the days before airplanes and automobiles changed the way Americans travel. Beautiful but impractical, these dinosaurs, now relegated to the tourist trade, are many-tiered, nearly gaudy, their names Delta Queen, Julia Belle Swain as prissy and genteel as the wrought-iron finery that lines their decks. Only six of the boats continue to operate on the Mississippi River system, and Kral has captured them all in stunning sepia duotone. Accompanied by text that blends steamboat history with salty, first-person accounts from the likes of musician and former riverboat captain John Hartford and Captain Clark C. "Doc" Hawley, a National Rivers Hall of Fame member, Kral's book is the first to go below decks for an inside look at the workings of these romantic vessels. More than 100 elegant photographs convey a sense of "boat life" the ornate dining areas, the infernal heat of the engine room, the fury of river water cut by the big wheel. We meet the people behind the boats porters and deckhands who live in dorm-sized quarters. From grand staircases to steam whistle stacks, Kral delivers the fancy flourishes, the details that comprise the whole of these elaborate crafts. This isn't travel for speed or expedience; it's travel for the sake of experience, lazy, picturesque and pleasing. With Live Steam, Kral reminds us that the journey itself is just as important as the destination.
They have names like California Zephyr and Coast Starlight, Hawkeye and Sunset. They cut through the night touching lonely lives with the sound of their wistful whistles. Possibly the most mythologized method of travel, the train is celebrated in Starlight on the Rails, a collection of duotone photographs taken by a skilled group of artists over the course of five decades. The focus here is on railroads at night, a visual paradigm that has produced startling combinations of darkness and light photographs that look like film noir stills, marked by sparks, stars and smoke. All the mystique of the locomotive is captured here: the great, greasy wheels and spumes of steam, the engines slick and sleek.
From freight yard to roundhouse, depot to mainline, Starlight takes in all the stops made on a typical 12-hour night of railroading. The book's broad route spans the country, taking a detour to Japan, where steam locomotion peaked in popularity in 1949. Evoking the smell of diesel, the rhythm of wheel on rail, the pictures deliver the barely bridled momentum of these brute machines. The text, written by photographer Jeff Brouws, provides fascinating information on the singular challenges and rewards of night photography, while delivering background on the trains themselves. Icons of Americana, locomotives never fail to awaken wanderlust in the hearts of humans. Starlight shows us why.
Along Route 66 by Quinta Scott is an intriguing testament to this country's sense of restlessness. Known as "the main street of America," Route 66 has provided the backdrop for a television show, been the subject of a song, and served as an emblem of the American experience for writers like John Steinbeck. Scott adds to the allure of the road with a book of black and white photographs documenting the architectural styles that sprang up along the route from the 1920s through the 1950s. There are roadhouses, tourist courts and diners, some of which have a touch of kitsch. A story lies behind every building. We learn about Frank Redford, the man who built the wonderfully whimsical Wigwam Motel, an eye-catching assemblage of tipis erected in Holbrook, Arizona. There are stops at the Regal Reptile Ranch in Alanreed, Texas, and the Cotton Boll Motel in Canute, Oklahoma (the motel's marquee tempted travelers: Come Sleep All Day Tub ∧ Shower.) The purpose of all this ingenuity on the part of proprietors was to make some fast cash by stopping tourists in their tracks, a gimmick that worked for a while. With Along Route 66, professional photographer Quinta Scott has compiled a fun and unforgettable collection of images that immortalizes the great American odyssey.