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Books and Beyond

I was reading in the BBC Music Magazine for May 2019 the article noting that 2019 is the 150th year anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. Brian Wise describes how in the early years of train travel, musicians often performed for people on the train ride. This was a new idea for me.

A reproduced color painting spread on the first two pages of “Way Out West” shows a man playing the organ for “Sunday services on a train of the Central Pacific Railroad, 1876.” You also see people with hymnbooks singing.

In a black and white photograph toward the end of the article, Toscanini is shown on a train waving to a fellow maestro. In 2017, one of my favorite composers, Philip Glass, took a cross-country trip on Amtrak. He said things on the train were somewhat broken down, but he still loved the trip. “It’s a vast and beautiful country” (p. 50).

The first sentence gives the date when the nation’s first continental railroad was finished: 10 May 1869 — a hundred years before our country sent men to the moon!

The author writes that “classical music in the US was forever transformed by the golden age of train travel” (p. 46). He quotes from Pacific Tourist, by Henry Williams, a book about the early days of train travel. It was published first in 1879. This book is available from MnLINK Gateway. The full title is “The Pacific Tourist: Williams’ Illustrated Guide.”

The book, “a reproduction of a historical artifact,” is 314 pages in length, telling the early routes of many trains, the towns and cities traveled through, and descriptions of the countryside along the way.

There are descriptions of troubled confrontations with the Cheyenne, Pawnee, Sioux, and Arapahos, but there are also peaceful times of communicating with them.

We see many black and white drawings in the book. One of the first illustrations is scenes in Omaha, Nebraska. I spent some time looking at these, because I had just read in my Great-Aunt Anna Eliza’s 1933 journal about a December train trip she took that year after visiting her sister in central Iowa: she got on the train in Marshalltown, Iowa, traveled to Omaha, stayed all night, and continued on the Burlington to her home in York.

The print in “Pacific Tourist” is very small, so I need to apportion my reading to what my eyes can handle. In my imagination I’m riding along with my great aunt. According to the book, the first town we go through after Omaha is Gilmore, still in Douglas County, which is 9.5 miles southwest, and has an elevation of 976 ft. Halfway there is Half-Way House, a saloon! The Missouri River is three miles east of Gilmore.

Now the train turns more westerly, and the next town in five miles is Papilion (Pa-Pil-Yo), named by Lewis and Clark in 1804. It’s a Latin word that means butterfly. The town is in Sarpy County, and there are two newspapers: Papilion Times and Sarpy County Sentinel.

About 30 miles from Omaha we enter the Platte Valley, “which occupies such a prominent place in the history of the country” (p. 20). The land is rich farming country. I can continue reading page by page or I can look in the index for particular interests.

Nebraska City, 30 miles south of Omaha, has a National Historical Landmark: the Arbor Day Farm. My husband and I get material from the Arbor Day Foundation, which supports planting trees and educational presentations. The last sentence in this section: “Nebraska planted 10,000,000 trees in 1878” (p. 32). The 2019 Harvest Day Celebration in Nebraska City is from September 3 to October 31 (online information).

The Aug. 3-4, 2019, edition of The Independent included at least two railroad stories. “On the Porch,” Jennifer Andries’ column, tells of the town of Dudley in Clifton Township of Lyon County, and how it began with a railroad station. The laying of tracks began in 1901. The town was named after a village in Massachusetts. However, in 1904 the railroad station was closed, and Dudley became a ghost town.

In one of her weekly columns in the Independent, Cindy Votruba tells of her visit to the Alexandria Art Festival, where she saw railroad drawings by John Cartwright. I looked up his site, and saw small versions of his work. The trains and train stations in his art are mainly in North and South Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. My want list is already in a notebook. Thank you Cindy.

When my great-grandfather traveled from Pennsylvania to Illinois in 1866, he and his wife and baby daughter could already travel by train. My historical source in Illinois told me that the railroad started in Princeton, Il, in about 1852. There were trains from the east to Chicago then, and my relatives would have changed trains there to get to Princeton in Bureau County, where they were headed. Then a horse and carriage to Buda, 20 miles to go.

Marshall-Lyon County Library and the Plum Creek Library System have many books about railroads. I think next I would choose “Train Talk: an illustrated guide to lights, hand signals, whistles, and other languages of railroading,” by Roger Yepsen. You can visit marshalllyonlibrary.org or call the library at 507-537-7003 for more information.

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