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  • Smoke Over Oklahoma: The Railroad Photographs of Preston George by Augustus J. Veenendaal Jr.
  • Kurt Lively
Smoke Over Oklahoma: The Railroad Photographs of Preston George. By Augustus J. Veenendaal Jr. Foreword by Bob L. Blackburn. Afterword by Burnis George Argo. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2017. vii + 190 pp. Illustrations, suggestions for further reading, index. $29.95 cloth.

In Smoke Over Oklahoma, Augustus J. Veenendaal, Jr. presents the extensive collection of photographs from amateur Oklahoma train photographer Preston George. Though George contributed photographs to calendars, periodicals, and other collections, Smoke Over Oklahoma is the first published collection dedicated solely to his photographs. With over 150 images, Veenendaal and George guide the reader on an extensive tour of Oklahoma's railroad network and unique geography.

The collection focuses on steam engines between 1935 and 1950. Larger companies—the St. Louis-San Francisco (Frisco); the Atchison, Topeka, & Santa Fe (Santa Fe); the Chicago, Rock Island, & Pacific (Rock Island); Missouri, Kansas, and Texas (Katy)—receive the most attention, but there are pictures from lesser [End Page 322] known companies. By 1950, when diesels began to replace steam engines, George lost interest. Most of his pictures show trains racing across rural Oklahoma billowing black plumes that were visible for miles.

This book offers an excellent introduction for the locomotive novice. Each picture is meticulously researched and described. Veenendaal combines his own work into the history of each engine with the detailed notes from Preston George. The captions, for instance, explain wheel arrangements, number of engines, various cars, wheel configurations, and other fragments of information. The author also introduces the reader to train jargon by explaining terms like "helper engine" and "double heading"

Unfortunately, the author was not careful in providing historical background in the chapter "Railroads in Oklahoma: A Brief History." For example, when providing context for the slow growth of railroads in Oklahoma, Veenendaal writes that the Cherokee, Creek, and Seminole "leaned strongly toward the union" (4). At best, this is an oversimplification of a complex issue, as the Cherokee and Creek had factions representing both sides. Veenendaal also characterizes the West as "uncivilized" (12). He uses the lack of virtuous women and popularity of the Harvey girls as proof. Besides the scant evidence, the term "uncivilized" has too many traps, even for a book targeting the general public.

Overall, Smoke Over Oklahoma has the intended effect. Though there is no real scholarly thesis, Veenendaal has masterfully constructed a book that preserves primary sources while simultaneously making the sources interesting and accessible to the public. This book is an excellent source of images for scholars looking interested in the midcentury Oklahoma landscape. It also provides nostalgic images of the state's most important train companies for public consumption.

Kurt Lively
History Department
Tulsa Community College


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pp. 322-323
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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