It took me a little while to remember how to use a library -- I tried looking for books in the catalog. Duh! Stupid! Of course, I found an unbelievably cool book about every urban rail transit system in the world (with maps, a little bit of history, etc.), which I _would not_ have found had I done the research the way I should have. Which is to go find the appropriate call letters in the reference section, track down a good bibliography and use that to find the Excellent Books.
In this particular case, the Encyclopedia of North American Railroads (at Acton in ref, but available through the Minuteman system to check out -- yum! Saving me $70, or at least delaying the purchase until I'm really sure I want to own it forever) had an _awesome_ bibliography, wonderfully brief and only including really great stuff. I had truly, truly, truly forgotten how wonderful a good bibliography is for getting a handle on a large topic.
Even better, Acton itself has a great non-fiction section -- most of the railroad stuff appeared in that bibliography (they had Stilgoe's _Metropolitan Corridors_, which I had been delaying buying, so I checked that out), altho not in the subtopics I was interested in (please, do I _have_ to read about building transcontinental lines? No? Thank you, goddess!). Best of all, the Minuteman system had several of the books from the bibliography that I _did_ want (including one by Middleton, and the more relevant Saunders book, and Vance's book) -- so they'll all be winging my way via the magic of ILL and living in Massachusetts instead of in New Hampshire. (Altho to be fair, _exactly_ the same list of books is available via NHU-PAC, including only the more relevant of the two by Saunders. Hunh.)
I'm particularly excited, tho, about the _Encyclopedia of North American Railroads_, because looking through the essays in the front matter, I noticed that they covered all of the things that I had laboriously figured out that I needed to know about the history (complete with illustrations), in approximately the order I had arranged the information in my head. This is encouraging: it implies that I have a handle on how people are thinking about this topic, which means it is time to fill in with whomping great gobs of detail.