Baltimore's ties to the railroad Book traces early years of the B


James Dilts thought that when he began working on a history of the B&O; Railroad in 1976, it would take him a year to write the book.

"I thought I would write it and then wait for all the good reviews to come in," Mr. Dilts, 57, says ruefully.

"I wasn't off by too much -- only 16 years."

But he's not complaining.

His "The Great Road: The Building of the Baltimore & Ohio, the Nation's First Railroad, 1828-1853," was finally published this month by Stanford University Press.

Mr. Dilts, a low-key sort, admits, "This is the happiest I've ever been in my whole life."

Though "The Great Road" might have been late on arrival, it is one of the more noteworthy books of local history in recent years.

Mr. Dilts says he was determined to write more than a simple history of the railroad, and in "The Great Road" he details how the B&O; and other railroads changed America, and also Baltimore itself.

He points out that the new railroad brought thousands of jobs to the city as well as new industries such as iron and steel, and that Baltimore's political and financial leaders were closely involved with the B&O.;

In the 17 years it took to complete "The Great Road," he says, he learned a lot more than merely the history of the railroad.

Like many first-time authors, he underestimated the amount of research needed, and Mr. Dilts, a reporter at The Sun from 1965 to 1976, had to narrow his scope to the B&O;'s first 25 years "or I would never finish the book."

L There were other mundane factors to consider, such as money.

When funds ran low a few years ago, Mr. Dilts took out a second mortgage on a house he remodeled in Fells Point so he could finish the book.

He's done enough research to write another volume on the B&O;, but doesn't want to think about it right now.

"If I can get a contract to do another book, fine," he says, then points to a copy of "The Great Road."

"But this will keep me going for quite a while."

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