View single post by Widow
 Posted: Fri Dec 15th, 2006 04:54 am
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Joined: Tue Sep 19th, 2006
Location: Oakton, Fairfax County, VA
Posts: 321

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Two days ago I started Nothing Like It in the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-1869.  Written in 2000 by Stephen E. Ambrose, it has my full attention.  Another title could have been The Civil War: The Sequel.

In all my reading about the Civil War, the years preceding and following it, I have seen NO mention of the stupendous undertaking that went on while the war was being fought.  How could such an important topic be ignored when discussing the social and economic transformation of our nation during those years?

So many of the men involved in starting the project were of course caught up in the war.  The first on the list was Abraham Lincoln, an early and avid backer of "internal improvements" both in Illinois and later in the nation as a whole.  I think today we call them infrastructure.

On each page there are names whom I recognize from my Civil War reading, "I know who he was!  He did X or Y in the war!"

After the war, there were thousands of men who'd learned how to organize and manage huge projects, the finances, supplies, personnel, security, transportation, communication, medical care, everything that is needed to run an army is exactly what you need to build a railroad.

And there even more thousands of young veterans, blue and gray, who couldn't or wouldn't rebuild their lives back at home.  The railroad was eager to hire, and they were eager to work.  No marching, no camping in the snow, and plenty of good food, delivered on time.  Just a lot of really hard work.  Nobody shooting at you, either, except the Sioux and Cheyenne.

Another reason this book fascinates me: my home town, Laramie, was built in 1867 when the Union Pacific came through southeastern Wyoming.  Ambrose mentions places that I'm so very familiar with.  A tree that appears to grow out of solid rock - I've climbed the rock and put my hand on the tree.  Lodgepole Creek - Dad's house was right on the creek, we had to cross it to get to the road.

Dad was a switchman in the Laramie yards, back when steam locomotives were still used.  They were smelly and polluted the air, the cinders got in your eyes and the soot settled on everything, including your wash hanging on the line.  But we loved them.

When I was a little girl, Dad let me ride in the cab of a switch engine, and the engineer let me open the throttle to make it move.  I rang the bell and blew the whistle, too.  All in total violation of company rules.  Still one of the most thrilling moments of my life.

Nobody loved the diesels, they have no personality.  Those screaming turbines make you crazy.

Next on my list: The Battle of Spotsylvania and the Road to Yellow Tavern, the second of Gordon Rhea's quadrilogy about the Overland Campaign.



The whistle signal that the train is approaching a road crossing.  It's still used today.

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