Fisher, Leonard Everett. Tracks Across America: The Story of the American Railroad 1825-1900 with photographs, maps, and drawings. New York: Holiday House, 1992.
My father-in-law has a love affair with trains. He can’t wait for me to move out of his house so he can set up his ultimate railroad village complete with snow covered trees and a ski loving community. I can’t say I blame him. There is a romance associated with the railroad whether it’s the real deal or in miniature.
I think Fisher’s title would have been only slightly more accurate if he had added the word quotations to “with photographs, maps, and drawings” because that’s all that was missing. In addition to an informative narrative and the before mentioned photos, maps, and drawings Fisher includes fitting quotes from Charles Dickens, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Woodrow Wilson as well as song lyrics and poetry fitting of the railroad era. While Tracks Across America is a condensed version of the story of the American railroad Fisher makes an effort to include all aspects of the history including life before the railroads, the building period, the Civil War, Native American “resistance” (really hard to read), famous robberies and disasters, and progress with bigger and faster engines.
One of the best discoveries was learning the origin of the phrase “wrong side of the tracks.” You were on the wrong side if the wind blew the soot and dirt from the trains in your direction. It was considered in poor taste to have a church or home “on the wrong side” but my question is this, what happened when the wind changed direction?
Favorite quote: “…that rails were to a train what water was to a boat; and that if a bridge was necessary to take a train over a river, then that bridge had a perfect right to be there” (p 47). This was Abraham Lincoln’s argument during his 1856 trial defending the railroad against a steamboat’s claim of damage.
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called, “Riding the Rails: Railroad History” (p 200).