Welcome to Shade Tree Books

Who We Are, What We Do and How We Got Here

Shade Tree Books is a sole proprietorship, owned by Joseph A. Strapac. Our mission is to publish reference books —not just picture books—that are affordable, approachable, well illustrated, definitive and trustworthy. Shade Tree Books is in the information business, delivering high-quality photo images, graphics and tabular material useful to serious rail enthusiasts and model railroaders. Photos used are of high technical quality and typically appear as the result of direct contact with the original photographer. Our relatively limited resources have limited us to black-and-white photo reproduction.

Our publications primarily address the subject of diesel locomotives—their history, engineering, operation and modification over the years. Occasionally a book on steam locomotives or electric trolleys creeps into the lineup, but each book displays a strong technical, factual approach. Count on accurate tabular data in our pages.

A Little History

In 1966, Joe met Karl Koenig, then the publisher of Pacific News magazine, who had the notion of publishing some sort of book on Southern Pacific diesel locomotives—an untried idea that many thought would never sell; “railfans wanted steam,” or so it was said. Karl visited Joe, who already had file cabinets full of diesel locomotive pictures and information, and offered him the task of writing what would become the Southern Pacific Motive Power Annual.  The first Annual appeared in January 1967—and immediately found a readership. Six more Annuals followed; Joe’s SP Column in Pacific News and its successors ran into the 1990s.

We are proud of the fact that the genre of “diesel annuals” had its beginnings in conversations between Karl Koenig and Joe Strapac. At about the same time, the first mainstream diesel book hit the market: the Diesel Spotter’s Guide from Kalmbach Publishing.

This business had its beginnings with the discovery that there was nothing in print available that discussed the St. Louis Southwestern Railway, the Cotton Belt. By the 1970s, the Cotton Belt had become, through decades of stock control, a smaller version of the Southern Pacific, but there was no convenient book that really grasped the history and development of the Cotton Belt’s locomotive fleet, much less its corporate history. Joe gathered the photos, wrote the text and captions, and manually laid out his first book: a 244-page hardcover. Cotton Belt Locomotives was published in October 1977 and became a critical and financial success—eventually selling more than 3,000 copies and going into reprint (still available) from Indiana University Press.

Officers of the Pacific Coast Chapter of the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society wished to expand their publications program, working with Joe to produce six consecutive volumes of the Southern Pacific Review between 1977 and 1982. This publication addressed the diesel locomotives of the SP in a somewhat larger format than the earlier Annuals. By this time, Shade Tree Books had broadened its focus from just the Southern Pacific to the locomotives of other western railroads. A popular volume on Western Pacific diesels was followed by a three-volume set discussing diesels of the Rio Grande. Scope broadened even more with publication of two definitive volumes on interurban electric locomotives, recently followed by a similar study of the General Electric 70-ton diesel locomotive. Traction subjects have included Pacific Electric, Sacramento Northern and Key System.

Our flagship publication, since 1992, has been Southern Pacific Historic Diesels, twenty volumes so far, beginning at 64 pages and now up to 176. If a reader owns all twenty volumes, that totals 2,368 pages of information, pictures, drawings and tables—certainly the comprehensive “go to” reference source addressing this diverse subject.


Shade Tree Books
Post Office Box 1539
Bellflower, CA 90707-1539
joestrapac@gmail.com