The completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10th, 1869 was one of the
defining moments in American history. News of the railroad's completion was simultaneously
broadcast across the country via morse code, and the recently reunited nation
celebrated in unison. This massive construction project had its origins nearly
thirty years prior in the grandiose vision of one Asa Whitney, who first articulated
the idea of building a railroad from Michigan to the Pacific. Like any endeavor
of this scope, though, the motivations to lay track across several thousand miles
of rugged and hostile country were myriad and complex. Greed, power, ambition,
and, yes, grand vision, all played their part. But Empire Express is more
than an excellent history of the men who conceived and built the American railroad.
It is a broad portrait of the United States at a crucial point in its history,
a point at which it was still uncertain just what sort of a nation we intended
to become and what price we were willing to pay to become it. Eminent historian
Haward Bain does an excellent job shedding light on the complex and ambiguous
answers to those questions. Farley, Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
A revelatory, entertaining account of the worlds most indispensable mode of transportation
Tom Zoellner loves trains with a ferocious passion. In his new book he chronicles the innovation and sociological impact of the railway technology that changed the world, and could very well change it again.
From the frigid trans-Siberian railroad to the antiquated Indian Railways to the futuristic MagLev trains, Zoellner offers a stirring story of mans relationship with trains. Zoellner examines both the mechanics of the rails and their engines and how they helped societies evolve. Not only do trains transport people and goods in an efficient manner, but they also reduce pollution and dependency upon oil. Zoellner also considers Americas culture of ambivalence to mass transit, using the perpetually stalled line between Los Angeles and San Francisco as a case study in bureaucracy and public indifference.
Train presents both an entertaining history of railway travel around the world while offering a serious and impassioned case for the future of train travel.
"Meticulously documented and researched, Empire Express is a detailed account of the merger of the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific railroad lines in 1869.This history begins in 1843 and ends in 1873, spanning three decades during which massive changes occurred in the United States. Bain has gathered together numerous anecdotal accounts drawn from diaries, journals, and correspondence of many of the major players as well as some of the minor (though no one would mistake Bain for Howard Zinn here). This account masterfully moves between the national debates and the local discussions to capture and represent the climate surrounding the project. While lengthy at 711 pages (and 55 more of notes), Empire Express is a highly readable and thorough account of the building of the transcontinental railroad, an event which went a long way in sealing and synthesizing the United States into a nation." Reviewed by Andrew Witmer, Virginia Quarterly Review (Copyright 2006 Virginia Quarterly Review)
"A vast panorama, meticulously researched. Bain never forgets that two strenuously competitive companies were doing the building, one headed east, the other west. Every internal trouble the builders faced grimly inhospitable terrain, avalanches, Indian battles, keeping track of supplies, and money, always money was played out against this imperative need to hurry, hurry, hurry. You couldn't even take out time to hate your neighbor, and what a contentious bunch they were, in Bain's definitive telling of the tale." David Lavender, author of The Way To The Western Sea And The Great Persuader
"Empire Express is one of those books that anyone with any interest in railroad history or the American West must acquire and keep close at hand. It is gargantuan, truly towering, and thanks to David Haward Bain's lengthy and painstaking research it is as complete as this subject can ever be. Bain uses the voices of the transcontinental railroad's builders to tell much of this epical tale. Furthermore, to enliven his narrative he brings in contemporary events relative to this great American endeavor." Dee Brown, author of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee
"One of the greatest of all American stories has finally found a chronicler up to the task of telling it. David Haward Bain has managed to encompass it all genuine heroism and brutal dispossession, utopian vision and rampant corruption, technological wonders and war with the elements in a vivid narrative that no one interested in the American character will want to miss." Geoffrey C. Ward, author of The West, An Illustrated History and co-author (with Ken and Ric Burns) of The Civil War
"The building of the Pacific railroad is an epic story, often recounted but never so thoroughly, authoritatively and engagingly as in Empire Express....[This book] is well researched, well written, refreshingly revisionist where the sources indicate, illustrated by well-chosen photographs and studded with beautiful topographical maps indispensible to the construction story. The book promises to endure as the standard history of the Pacific railroad." Robert M. Utley, New York Times Book Review
Praise for Train:
“Tom Zoellner's writing is never less than engaging; in Train he has made himself a veritable Walt Whitman of rail travel. It's a great read.” —Richard Rhodes, Pulitzer prize-winning author of The Making of the Atomic Bomb “Train is such a pleasure to read, elegant, deeply informed and smart, full of knowledge-bearing sentences, and prose so companionable and rich in insight that it is as if its author were at your shoulder, taking you along with him. What an enjoyable journey. I will never hear the far off moan of a train in the night without thinking of it, and I know of no higher praise one can give a book. Tom Zoellner is quickly making himself a reputation as a man of wide and eclectic interests, and oh, my! Can he write!” —Richard Bausch, author of Peace
“Spirited and bighearted...Zoellner enlightens us about an industry thats hiding in plain sight.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“Highly entertaining, lucid and perceptive....Its a train lovers celebration of the great epic story of rail travel itself.”—Los Angeles Times
“This is one of those all-too-rare books that have so much to them”—The Washington Times
“[Train] is a gracefully written, densely detailed meditation of trains—past, present and future....[P]art travelogue, as he rides seven train that shaped the modern world; part personal memoir, as he describes the people he met along the way; and part history of trains, from their origin to their impact on societies around the world and their vital role in the fast-forward 21st century.”—LA Weekly
"An absorbing and lively reflection on an enduring marvel of modern industrial technology."—Booklist
“Train makes for fascinating reading….The authors easy, breezy style will keep readers chugging along.”—The St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Zoellner illustrates how the modern era was ushered in and strapped in place by railroads, and how trains—the reality and the idea—continue to shape the world as we understand it….Train is by turns lyrical, powerful, romantic, transporting, and rich.”—Phoenix New Times
"[Train], rich with history and local color, is a mesmerizing read for anyone interested in the impact of trains on the environment, politics, economics, and daily life around the world today."—Library Journal
“Enchanting and informative.”—New York Post
“[Train] is an absorbing round-the-world journey.”—BookPage
Beginning in 1842 with a visionary's dream to span the continent with a single railroad line, Empire Express captures three dramatic decades in which the United States effectively doubled in size, fought three wars, and began to discover a new national identity. Culminating in the driving of the Golden Spike in the Utah desert in 1869, which touched off a frenzy of celebration, the narrative ends in 1873 in Washington under the Capitol rotunda, with the crushing fall of a popular politician and the exposure of a powerful, hidden railroad lobby a scandal, which, for half a year, dominated the press and the country's imagination.
After the Civil War, the building of the transcontinental railroad was the nineteenth century's most transformative event. Beginning in 1842 with a visionary's dream to span the continent with twin bands of iron, Empire Express captures three dramatic decades in which the United States effectively doubled in size, fought three wars, and began to discover a new national identity. From self--made entrepreneurs such as the Union Pacific's Thomas Durant and era--defining figures such as President Lincoln to the thousands of laborers whose backbreaking work made the railroad possible, this extraordinary narrative summons an astonishing array of voices to give new dimension not only to this epic endeavor but also to the culture, political struggles, and social conflicts of an unforgettable period in American history.
About the Author
David Haward Bain is the author of four previous works of nonfiction, including Empire Express and Sitting in Darkness, which received a Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Book Award. His articles and essays have appeared in Smithsonian, American Heritage, Kenyon Review, and Prairie Schooner, and he reviews regularly for The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post, and Newsday. He is a teacher at Middlebury College and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference.
Table of Contents
Part I: 1845-57: A Procession of Dreamers
1: "For All the Human Family"
2: "Who Can Oppose Such a Work?"
3: "I Must Walk Toward Oregon"
4: "The Great Object for Which We Were Created"
5: "An Uninhabited and Dreary Waste"
Part II: 1860-61: Union, Disunion, Incorporation
6: "Raise the Money and I Will Build Your Road"
7: "There Comes Crazy Judah"
8: "The Marks Left by the Donner Party"
9: "The Most Difficult Country Ever Conceived"
10: "We Have Drawn the Elephant"
Part III: 1863: Last of the Dreamers
11: "Speculation Is as Fatal to It as Secession"
12: "I Have Had a Big Row and Fight"
Part IV: 1864: Struggle for Momentum
13: "First Dictator of the Railroad World"
14: "Dancing with a Whirlwind"
15: "Trustees of the Bounty of Congress"
Part V: 1865: The Losses Mount
16: "The Great Cloud Darkening the Land"
17: "If We Can Save Our Scalps"
18: "I Hardly Expect to Live to See It Completed"
Part VI: 1866: Eyeing the Main Chance
19: "Vexation, Trouble, and Continual Hindrance"
20: "The Napoleon of Railways"
21: "We Swarmed the Mountains with Men"
22: "Until They Are Severely Punished"
Part VII: 1867: Hell on Wheels
23: "Nitroglycerine Tells"
24: "Our Future Power and Influence"
25: "They All Died in Their Boots"
26: "There Are Only Five of Us"
Part VIII: 1868: Going for Broke
27: "More Hungry Men in Congress"
28: "Bring on Your Eight Thousand Men"
29: "We Are in a Terrible Sweat"
30: "A Man for Breakfast Every Morning"
Part IX: 1869: Battleground and Meeting Ground
31: "A Resistless Power"
32: "We Have Got Done Praying"
Part X: 1872-73: Scandals, Scapegoats, and Dodgers
Epilogue: "Trial of the Innocents"