The Suburbs

Today more Americans live in them than in city and country combined. How did we get there?

ABOUT SUBURBS, ONLY COMMUTERS know for sure. For single-family houses, lawns, off-street parking, and gardens they endure harrowing round trips by train, bus, and automobile, certain that life in the suburbs amply repays the time and money lost in transit. And they endure the smug jibes of residents of city and country, jibes as old as commuting.Read more »

Mr. Harriman Requests The Pleasure Of Your Company

Was it science, sport, or the prospect of a round-the-world railroad that sent the tycoon off on his costly Alaskan excursion?

The railroad tycoon Edward Harriman was a man of large vision and mysterious ways. When, on a day in March of 1899, he strode into the Washington office of Dr. C. Hart Merriam, chief of the U.S. Biological Survey, and proposed sponsoring a grand scientific exploring expedition to Alaska, Merriam thought he was just another lunatic. He put his strange visitor off until the next day while he checked him out. To his surprise Merriam found the man to be exactly what he said he was—president of the Union Pacific Railroad.Read more »

Merci, America

How a Whole Nation Said Thank You

They arrived in America chocked and chained, deep in the hold of a French merchant ship early in February of 1949. During two wars they had served France as dual-purpose railroad boxcars hauling the military cargoes stenciled on their sides: “ Hommes 40—Chevaux 8 .” But now the cars held neither men nor horses. All had been repaired, freshly painted, and decorated with plaques bearing the coats of arms of the forty provinces of France.Read more »

Resurrection

The John Bull Steams Again

In early September of 1831, Isaac Dripps, master mechanic of the nascent Camden and I Amboy Railroad, stood staring at a miscellaneous assortment of bolts, levers, and pipes I that he was expected to assemble into a working locomotive. The engine had been ordered by the New Jersey line from Robert Stephenson of Newcastle, England, then the world’s leading locomotive builder, who had shipped it across the Atlantic in parts, accompanied by nothing much in the way of instructions.Read more »

The Transcontinental Railroad

What it was like for the first travelers

I see over my own continent the Pacific railroad surmounting every barrier, I see continual trains of cars winding along the Platte carrying freight and passengers, I hear the locomotives rushing and roaring, and the shrill steamwhistle, I hear the echoes reverberate through the grandest scenery in the world… BridginRead more »

Steam Road To El Dorado

Mile for mile, it cost more in dollars—and lives—than any railroad ever built

It was not long after the completion of the Panama Railroad in 1855 that Bedford Clapperton Pirn declared with perfect composure that of all the world’s wonders none could surpass this one as a demonstration of man’s capacity to do great things against impossible odds. Read more »

Artists Of The Santa Fe

 

The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway grew in a cloud of violence that quickly became legendary. Wherever the fledgling railroad went in the 1870’s, it left a raw and brawling cow town in its wake. At the Colorado ranges gunplay broke out between the work crews of the Santa Fe and the rival Denver & Rio Grande.Read more »

Wood To Burn

No chapter in railroad history can rival the popular appeal of the wood-burning era. Its great funnel-shaped smokestack, gallant red paint, and polished brass have endeared the wood burner to generations of Americans. Its appearance during a western film raises an excitement second only to that caused by the nick-of-time arrival of the cavalry. Ah, but those imperial clouds of heavy black smoke pouring from Hollywood’s iron horses are as phony as the wagon master’s peril.Read more »

Death Stalked The Grand Reconnaissance

Our half-known new western empire was mapped, in a great mass exploration, by the Army’s Pacific Railroad Surveys of 1853

The Pacific Railroad Surveys of 1853 —a grand national reconnaissance extending over half a continent and led by men who would later be counted among the most prominent soldiers and scientists of the Republic Read more »

Whistle Talk

Locomotive whistles had a language all their own

The switchmen knew by the whistle’s moans That the man at the throttle was Casey Jones.

As the ballad says, Casey Jones was a famous hand at the whistle. His was homemade, with six cylinders banded together, and he could make it cry like a plaintive whippoorwill, say prayers, or scream like a banshee. Read more »