September 13, 2009

Railroads Opened Our Country

Before the railroads came, travel was long and hard. The majority of people in the US lived in one place all their lives, only traveling a few miles in any direction.

In the middle 1800's, men started building railroads to connect much of our nation. Railroading became a decades-long developing industry. Thousands upon thousands of men worked on the railroads. Some almost like slave labor gangs. Many of the Chinese who emigrated to the US during that time period worked on the railroads.

In the plains, building railroads was a fairly simple endeavor, but crossing the mighty mountain ranges was complicated and dangerous.

Lives were lost. Fortunes were made by the railroads.

The major lines during the last half of the 19th century were: Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe; Great Northern; Northern Pacific; Southern Pacific; Union Pacific.

I'm always fascinated by the women affected by anything historical I study, and I've compiled a few from The Railroaders, from The Old West series by Time Life Books.

Farm buff Jim Hill sent a train of agronomists on tour to teach farming. In St. Paul, he left waitress Mary Mehegan a large tip. She used it to enter a Milwaukee school in 1863. Four years later, she graduated and returned to St. Paul. There she married Jim Hill and "lived happily ever after." (I do love a good romance.)

Railroad magnate Mark Hopkins' imposing mansion on Nob Hill inSan Francisco was completed after he died in 1878. The house was Mrs. Hopkins' pet project but he dismissed it as the "Hotel de Hopkins."

Dumpy and devout, Mrs. Leland Sanford (Jane) looked like Queen Victoria, and sometimes behaved like her. Widowed in 1893, she used her husband's millions to support Stanford University, which he founded.

Famboyantly sociable, Mrs. Charles Crocker (Mary) made herself San Francisco's premiere hostess by throwing posh parties ast the $2.3 millon Crocker mansion on Nob Hill, while smothered in satin, brocade, and jewelry.

Mrs. Collis Huntington (Arabella) pursuaded her frugal husband to build palatial houses and buy costly art works. Thirteen years after his death, she married his nephew, one of the other heirs to the Huntington fortune. (By the way, I love the name Arabella. It was my mother's middle name.)

Sometimes the trains were used to carry large parties on outings. But the greatest thing the railroads did was open up the country for more commerce. Not until the trains came, were those in the middle part of the old west able to get lemons, with which they quenched their thirst. Lemonade became an important part of most community socials and even in many homes. And the beef grown on the ranches in Texas could be slaughtered in Chicago and served in restaurants in New York City and Boston.
So may new opportunities were provided by rail travel, and although other forms of transport have come and gone in our country, railroads are still a valuable part of our economy.
Lots of info surrounding the railroads to produce fodder for novels.
You can get used copies of The Old West series at . I've ordered only the books I'm interested in.


Edna said...

Great story, I always enjoy a story about history, Wish you a great time if you are going to the conference every one is talking about.
May God be with you.


Edna said...

I just noticed the time you were on the internet doing your blog, 3:05AM. geeze I don't go to sleep until 1am I read "smile" but then I sleep until 10 AM.


Carrie Turansky said...

Hi Lena, Oh, we have to talk at ACFW! I found this same series of books at a yard sale this summer and they really got my creative juices flowing. I am bringing along ideas to pitch for a series based on the opening of the Transcontinental Railroad. I would love to run the ideas by you and see what you think. : )
carrie (at) turansky (dot) com