Railroads go everywhere

Soon railways stretched across Great Britain, Europe, the Americas, India, Russia, Africa, Australia—the whole world. Travel became safe and affordable. You didn’t have to be an explorer or spice trader or soldier to wander to a new country. You could travel as a ‘tourist,’ just for fun. Railway lines from neighboring countries linked up with each other. Land-locked areas were connected with port cities. And the father of all science-fiction writers asked himself, “With all these improvements in travel, exactly how long would it take for someone to circle the globe?”—but in French.

History of the railroad in Europe—https://europeanrailroads.blogs.wm.edu/briefhistory-of-railroads-in-europe/

And Canada—https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/railway-history

Here is the fascinating story of railroads in India. Their railway system began in the days of the British Empire (the Raj). The railroad changed the country and saved many lives in areas struck by famine and drought. Food and water could be brought quickly to remote parts of India.

Timeline: 165 years of history on Indian Railways

History of the railroad in Russia—https://www.railstaff.co.uk/2015/09/25/history-of-russian-railways-part-1-the-tsars/
George Whistler, the American engineer brought in as consultant to the Tsar’s project, was James’ dad (James the guy who famously painted his mother. That James Whistler).

In both Africa—https://utahrails.net/articles/central-africa-railroads.php
and Australia—https://www.infrastructure.gov.au/rail/history.aspx
there was no unified vision of a continent-wide rail system. Different regions or countries laid track but each chose its own gauge (so some tracks were wide, some narrow) which resulted in regrettable setbacks. The railroads couldn’t connect to each other. Many lines had to be rebuilt. Some locomotives and cars were unusable.

Latin America—http://logisticsportal.iadb.org/node/4213?language=en
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Trochita
Paul Theroux wrote a travelogue, The Old Patagonian Express, about his journey from a Boston suburb to the south of South America, all by rail.  He wrote a similar travelogue, The Great Railway Bazaar, taking a rail trip from London to Tokyo (he rode the Trans-Siberian Railway—all the cars piped in loud, over-produced Christmas music ha ha—just kidding). I read these 2 books decades ago, and dimly remember some adult content so I shouldn’t recommend them to you guys until you graduate from high school. On the other hand…

…I can recommend Jules Verne. If you haven’t seen the movie Around The World in Eighty Days (the good one—Michael Todd directing David Niven and practically every character actor or celebrity of the day), read the book first. It’s the most fun of Jules Verne’s work. Both book and movie (yes, there are cringey moments from today’s viewpoint) are highly recommended by me.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Around_the_World_in_Eighty_Days
https://www.imdb.com/video/vi2559950361?playlistId=tt0048960&ref_=tt_ov_vi

https://www.biography.com/writer/jules-verne

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Jules-Verne

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Simpler time

Loyal readers of this blog know that as you travel east or west, local time is determined by how far you are from the Prime Meridian. Each degree of longitude means 4 minutes of time difference. Wherever you happened to live in the United States in the 1800s, your town kept local time depending on when the Sun was highest—at noon. Your town’s time might be a few minutes different from the next town to the west or east.

That changed when the railroad connected the country.

Trains must keep to schedules! The boys in the railroad scheduling department didn’t want to pull out a sextant to know when the train would pull into the station in Grand Rapids or Medicine Hat or Lake Tahoe. They needed time to be simpler. So they dreamed up the idea of time zones.

“On November 18, 1883, America’s railroads began using a standard time system involving four time zones, Eastern, Central, Mountain and Pacific.”

That meant everybody in one time zone all kept the same time. If you travel over to the next time zone, you change your watch or clock by one full hour. A time zone represents 15° of longitude only roughly. Mostly it’s the states’ boundaries—not the actual meridian—that determine the split. If the state is too big to conveniently fit into 15 degrees, then county lines are used to define the time zone.
https://www.mapsofworld.com/time-zone-map/usa.html

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Where the buffalo roam

The railroads in the east connected ports on the Atlantic Ocean and went as far west as Iowa. From there to Sacramento was over 1,900 miles of American MidWest—territory inhabited by the Shoshone, Arapahoe, Cheyenne and Pawnee tribes. Their centuries-old way of life would soon be ended by the railroad. The Plains Indians depended on hunting bison, the buffalo, that flourished in herds of thousands on the prairie. Buffalo need a tremendous amount of undisturbed land to graze on.

In the end it would take three railroad companies to build the transcontinental line. The 2 big ones, who would be laying the most track, had a race (of course) to see who could first reach Promontory Point in Utah. On May 10, 1869 the two tracks were joined together. The last spike to be driven was solid gold.

After that, you could board a train in New York City and travel clear to San Francisco—all by railroad. You still can—it takes 2 and a half days. https://www.rome2rio.com/s/New-York/California

https://transcontinentalrailroad101.weebly.com/transcontinental-railroad.html
https://www.history.com/topics/inventions/transcontinental-railroad
http://www.sfmuseum.net/hist4/practical.html
https://www.history.com/news/transcontinental-railroad-chinese-immigrants
https://www.deseret.com/2019/5/9/20672767/5-quotes-about-the-golden-spike-and-the-historic-completion-of-the-transcontinental-railroad
https://www.socialstudiesforkids.com/articles/ushistory/transcontinentalrailroad-builders.htm
https://livesleftbehind.wordpress.com/2018/10/11/north-americas-midwest-native-american-tribes/

UPDATE! My pal Diana (known to you readers as Ms Physics) pointed out this article about the return of the buffalo herds. What great news! https://returntonow.net/2020/06/19/bison-return-to-lakota-reservation-in-south-dakota-for-first-time-in-150-years/?fbclid=IwAR39CIg4w2RyhmtwfSrNDvn0bIbdkLO3clVsvw3tizMmojf8UkQWXJYSQoU

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Crazy Judah

In 1857, a young railroad engineer named Theodore (nickname Crazy) Judah had a big idea: to connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans by a railroad that ran clear across the country. By that time there were railroads up and running in both the eastern and western parts of the country. The hard part would be running hundreds of miles of new railroad across the midwest—and finding a way through the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Theodore first presented his ideas in Washington, DC but couldn’t get congressmen to all agree on legislation to make his railroad project a reality. He decided instead to get backing from private business people. In Sacramento he found backers and they became the Central Pacific Associates.

The next step was to go out and survey and map the route the railroad would take. Theodore was a civil engineer, so he knew how to survey land. He found a way through the Sierra Nevada range—by the horrible Donner Pass, named for the pioneers who had become disastrously stranded there one winter. When he finished it, the map was 90 feet long!

https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/tcrr-judah/
http://www.sfmuseum.net/hist4/practical.html

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Horses get a break

While Americans were traveling by packet-boat, barge and steamboat on the Erie Canal, the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River, cities that weren’t connected by these water routes were suffering from lost business. They needed to get connected. The best way looked to be overland travel by railroad—the new train tracks.

In 1828 the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company began laying track to connect the port city of Baltimore with the Ohio River (the Ohio feeds into the Mississippi). Believe it or not, they were going to use horses to pull the trains. Luckily for the horses, in 1830 inventor Peter Cooper convinced the B&O to try a steam locomotive. He designed a small version of a locomotive—named the Tom Thumb—to demonstrate how efficient steam power would be. He took the board of directors for a train ride with Tom Thumb pulling them in an open-air car.

Train tracks are way more easy to ride on than rough prairie. Heavy wooden ties lay on a level gravel bed and steel rails are hammered onto the ties with spikes.

http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/tomthumb.htm

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Father’s Day 2020

As I drew a steam locomotive for a recent post, for a moment I was transported back in time. When I was a boy, we were forever doing ‘projects’ for school. Not just homework, but projects—like a diorama, or a big graph with colored paper, or a diary with specimens Scotch-taped onto the pages. One particular week I had to do a project about steam locomotives. My dad is a train enthusiast—and a good drawer, so after dinner we sat at the dining room table and he drew me a diagram of how a steam locomotive works. I can see him now, explaining how the coal in the firebox heats the water in the boiler, the steam fills the cylinder which pushes the piston which turns the wheels…

I’m lucky to have a dad who took the time to explain things like that. It’s my great regret that I don’t have kids, so I draw these steam engine diagrams for you guys. Enjoy! Have a blessed Father’s Day.

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Steamboating

Robert Fulton was a portrait artist who had the good sense to get out of the art business and into something that made money.

American portrait artist and inventor Robert Fulton was fascinated with the possibilities of steam power. He had acquired some political and financial backing—and an exclusive license to run steamboats on the Hudson River. After designing a steam-driven submarine, he came up with a steamboat design.

“Fulton had immense success with his steamboat Clermont in traveling the 150 miles of the Hudson River from New York City to Albany in just over 30 hours. Fulton recognized the economic potential of using steamboats to move people and goods up and down the Mississippi and in 1811 the New Orleans became the first steamboat on the mighty river thus ushering in a new era of river transportation and a romantic period defined by sidewheelers and sternwheelers.”

Just as we saw with the opening of the Erie Canal, farmers and small businesses suddenly had an affordable way to get their goods to a big market like New Orleans—or from there to the rest of the world.

They built ’em even bigger than this.

If you want the real flavor of steamboating in its heyday, you can read Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi here: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/245/245-h/245-h.htm
What a book! Young Sam Clemens is taught to pilot a riverboat by the master, Mr Bixby. He encounters all the characters of that time and place, because literally every class of people rode the riverboat.

You can still take a cruise aboard a steamship today: https://www.steamboatnatchez.com/
or build a scale model of the Clermont: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=et3ZgVyi968
whose gear train really works: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bAVLH23qZcA

History of Steamboats on the Mississippi River


https://www.britannica.com/topic/Charlotte-Dundas
https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/theymadeamerica/whomade/fulton_hi.html
https://www.thoughtco.com/history-of-steamboats-4057901
https://kids.kiddle.co/Steamboat

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Swimming upstream

By now I’m sure you’ve spotted the pattern: there’s a situation where people struggle to get from Point A to Point B, and some tinkerer comes along and says, “I bet I could make those people’s lives easier.” We saw how Watt’s steam engine turned a wheel to pump water out of a mine. Trevithick developed that idea into a steam locomotive to haul carts of coal. Stephenson improved the locomotive to move cars full of people along rails made of Bessemer steel.

In Great Britain and the United States, inventors worked on the problem of moving a vessel in water. Just like a locomotive, a steam engine would pump a piston to turn a wheel. This time the wheel had paddles and was mounted on either the stern or the sides of a boat.

John Fitch proposed a design with banks of oars, like an Indian war canoe.

John Fitch and James Rumsey designed steam-powered boats that operated on the Delaware River between Philadelphia and New Jersey. In Scotland, William Symington designed a boat for towing on the Forth and Clyde Canal. In 1801 his steamboat the Charlotte Dundas ran successfully upstream on the Carron River. The Mississippi is a big river with a powerful current. It would take a powerful engine to move a boat against it.

https://www.britannica.com/biography/John-Fitch

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The Big River

The Erie Canal opened travel east-west from New York City to the Great Lakes, Ohio and the American MidWest. What if you wanted to travel north or south? Further west, there was a ready-made natural waterway for travel north-south: the Mississippi River. From Minnesota, The Mississippi flows through Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana, where she empties into the Gulf of Mexico. From Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania you can travel the Ohio River to the Mississippi (as Lewis & Clark did). Likewise, you can start from North Dakota and take the Missouri River to the Mississippi. The Arkansas and Tennessee Rivers also feed the Mississippi.

One big difference between a river and a canal: a canal doesn’t have a current. The Mississippi River flows south, so for a long time most of the travel on it was southbound. Poling your boat north against the current is nearly impossible. Probably teams of animals or humans—slaves—were harnessed to a cable and struggled along a towpath to ‘tote that barge’ northward. It was exhausting, backbreaking labor.

Mississippi River


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barge_Haulers_on_the_Volga
Paul Robeson—https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eh9WayN7R-s
William Warfield—https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pSzYRo9j7YM

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