Whether you call it "the iron horse", "the choo-choo" or "the 6:02 that just left the station without me", there's no question the railroads were and are vital, frequently noisy ingredients of America's success. Those with questions or concerns about this statement are advised to check out this here comic book!
"Rails Across America", the story of one man's attempt to snort rail after rail of illegal narcotic while... no, wait. It's about trains.
Oh crap, Uncle Sam caught me throwing rocks at the Streamliner! Back to reform school for me, I guess.
Ya see Jimmie, America's first railroad engines came from England and had cute, whimsical names like "Stourbridge Lion" and "Puffing Billy" and we didn't check our bridges beforehand, we just held that throttle down and hoped for the best!
"Tom Thumb." "Best Friend Of Charleston". The crazy locomotive names just keep on coming! Nothing can stop America now!
Maybe we get the locomotives from England, but WE make them BAD-ASS with a new invention specifically designed to brutally shove lazy cows out of the path of progress!
Finally we have documentary proof that during his administration, President Millard Fillmore actually accomplished something.
Famous Devil-litigating jurist Daniel Webster simply had a rocking chair nailed to a flat car so he could enjoy the countryside on his train ride. That seems unsafe and uncomfortable, but I guess once you beat Satan in court, ordinary train riding just isn't exciting any more.
Finally, actor Bill Pullman (Independence Day, Independence Day: Resurgence, Aliens, no, wait, that was Bill PAXTON) invents the sleeping car so that people can sleep comfortably on a jolting, noisy platform being hauled along steel rails at fifty or sixty miles an hour by a coal burning steam engine. Thankfully, at this stage of history, opium is legal.
Uh oh, looks like the Native Americans aren't going to take all this buffalo killing and Stephen Foster music sitting down! Except for the ones that are actually sitting down, of course.
But just when you were expecting some exciting iron horse vs Sioux raiders action, the Civil War interrupts. Who was there to make the bloodshed more efficient? Railroads!
Gee Jimmie, probably that time two Long Island commuters got into it over a discarded newspaper. They were both really drunk. One guy lost a tooth and the other one got his head smashed against the luggage rack, and the railroad cops just stood back and laughed. Their wives had to drag them, bloody and sobbing like two children, away from the station. It was hilarious!
Actually Jimmie, the most exciting train exploit was the Great Locomotive Chase that happened during the Civil War when - get this! - one locomotive chased another one. It was an amazing chase, made slightly less amazing by the fact that trains run on railroads, which means everybody knew exactly where that locomotive was going, which took some of the drama out of the proceedings. What's that? You never heard of the Great Locomotive Chase? Well obviously you didn't grow up anywhere near Kennesaw GA, because if you grew up near Kennesaw GA you got paraded in front of that stupid locomotive at least once a year.
Regardless, this locomotive chase was filled with excitement! Yard engines! Freight engines! Switching cars onto sidings! Running BACKWARDS! All the thrills and adventure of an average day in an average rail yard!
Eventually the General ran out of fuel and the Great Locomotive Chase ended. It sure was a wild ride and it made a great Disney film! FUN FACT: most of the locomotive raiders were hung as spies. Wait, that's not fun at all.
Soon enough the war was over and we were back to giving locomotives charming names. Here's the "Oregon Pony!"
And the amazing technological brilliance of American railroaders led to great new mechanical improvements, like automatic signals to replace the old "highball" signal, which was a drunk guy with a ball on a stick, apparently (this is why alcoholic beverages are known as "highballs").
Really, locomotive? You're going to let a herd of buffalo get in your way? What's that pointy thing on the front of the engine for, anyway?
East meets west at Promontory Point Utah and now Americans can ride in comfort from sea to shining sea, interrupted only by the occasional gunshot as Buffalo Bill wastes another buffalo.
And in 1883 the railroads decided America should have different time zones - and America said "sure, why not?" and they just did it without any bothersome legislation or trouble! Sometimes giant corporations DO know what's best for us.
Standard automatic couplers and triple valve air brakes? Electric lights? SOLID VESTIBULES? What wonders will the railroads bring us next?
Check this out, this 1905 train is burning up the rails at 127 miles an hour! 110 years later, Amtrak is averaging about this fast. Meanwhile in Japan, the bullet trains average 200mph! Of course, they don't have buffalo to worry about.
Here are some more dates to remember. 1937 was the introduction of two-way telephones in mainline railroad operations! That certainly is a date that somebody could remember if there happened to be a good reason to remember it!
But the story of railroad progress doesn't end there. Constant improvements like domed observation cars and electro-pneumatic car retarders - sorry, that should be "electro-pneumatic car CHALLENGERS" - keep the railroads on the vital cutting edge of American industrial advancement. Thank you, Uncle Sam, for telling us how you and the railroads grew up together! Now grab onto that flatcar and get outta town, you hobo!
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