Synopses & Reviews
In the summer of 2000, David Haward Bain and his family left their home in Vermont and headed west in search of America's past. From Omaha to San Francisco, Bain and his family retraced the entire route of the first transcontinental railroad. Following abandoned railroad tracks and the traces of old wagon trails, cruising down back roads and main streets, they discovered the deep, restless, uniquely American spirit of adventure that connects our past to our present.
A superb writer and an exacting researcher, Bain conjures up the marvelous sense of coming unstuck in time as he lingers in the ghost towns and battlegrounds, prairies and river ports, train yards, museums, and diners that line the old emigrant routes of the railroad and the Lincoln Highway. As he cruises west to California, Bain encounters a fascinating cast of characters, both historic and contemporary from Willa Cather to Marlon Brando, from pathfinder John Fremont to naturalist Terry Tempest Williams. Here, too, are memories of Bain's own grandparents and the journeys that shaped his own heritage.
Writing in the tradition of William Least Heat-Moon and Ian Frazier, yet with an engaging warmth and a deep grasp of history all his own, Bain has fashioned a quintessentially American journey.
"[Bain] elegantly broadens his scope here....[A]n intriguing guide....Bain bypasses a facile sentimentality for a more complex portrait of the American West." Publishers Weekly
"Bain offers useful footnotes to points raised by New Western historians such as Patricia Nelson Limerick and Richard White. Otherwise, not much more than a slide show for those who were there." Kirkus Reviews
"A picaresque race across the country....In The Old Iron Road, the dead seem to rise up to greet him as he goes, and the living save their best stories for him....It is impossible to cross this country by land without being changed by the experience. The Old Iron Road captures this fact vividly, as in as many different forms as Bain can find room for in its pages." Verlyn Klinkenborg, The New York Times Book Review
"This is a very personal and warm account no dry history here of a journey of the heart that concludes on a poignant note. Anyone who loves history and appreciates the writing of William Least Heat-Moon, Jonathan Raban, Bruce Chatwin and John McPhee will want to add it to their collection." Chicago Tribune
"A richly interesting book of travel and history that also has the virtue of being a beautiful and original portrait of a family together definitely not going to Disneyland. Bain has produced an excellent and inspiring book." The Oregonian
"Highly recommended....Historic accounts of particular people and places along the way make for lively and interesting reading, along with Bain's entertaining descriptions of and reflections on modern events and sights." Library Journal
"One of the season's best." USA Today
"What a terrific read! The Old Iron Road is an elegant combination of riveting storytelling, modern travelogue and impeccable history....When literary awards are handed out at years' end, The Old Iron Road deserves a few." Douglas Brinkley, Professor of History at the University of New Orleans, and author of Tour of Duty, Wheels for the World, and The Majic Bus
From Omaha to San Francisco, Bain and his family retraced the entire route of the first transcontinental railroad and discovered the deep, restless, uniquely American spirit of adventure.
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
1. The Odyssey Begins 3
2. Jumping Off 15
3. Rails and the River 27
4. The Lincoln Highway 43
5. The Road from Red Cloud 64
6. Hell on Wheels 89
7. The View from the Bluffs 117
8. Magic City 133
9. Road Tested on the Red Plains 154
10. Crossing the Divide 186
11. Green River to the Rim 211
12. Through the Canyons to Paradise 231
13. Following the Humboldt 275
14. Silver State 298
15. Over the Sierra 343
16. From Sacramento to the Sea 370
17. Golden Gate 385