Travel, Food, and Slices of Life

Opening of the West


One of my favorite classes in college, Locational Geography, explained why cities are where they are. For example, when the European explorers came to North America by ship, they established their trading posts and colonies along rivers which were the highways of their day.  Looking at a map you can see major east coast cities in harbors and then upstream a bit to what is called the fall line, the place where there the tides end at a waterfall. The town where I grew up in New Jersey, New Brunswick, is located just downstream of a small waterfall.fall line cities

Roads followed animal tracks and the first National  Highway, now U.S. Route 40, extended into Ohio and then into Illinois. This was the first roads project approved by Congress and it was funded to help provide an easier pathway to the West.nrmap

Westward expansion continued into Texas in the early 1800s and the rivers were used by people who could afford the fare. The rest of the pioneers walked.  And so it continued. The Santa Fe Trail, the Oregon Trail and many parallel routes lead people west.  Most people walked the thousands of miles and it took months and months to cover the distance we have just driven in a few days. No air conditioning and no 3G networks to ease travel in that time.western_trails

In the 1830s, however, transportation systems began to change with the development of the railroad.  Huntington, West Virginia, where I have lived the past 6 years, was founded by Collis P. Huntington, the owner of the C&O Railroad.  The railroad’s terminus on the Ohio River provided a short cut to the West and goods could be shipped faster than relying on the roads through the Appalachian Mountains and then to the rivers and then on to Chicago and the Great Lakes.C&O RR early

Chinese RRIn the early 1860s Collis P. Huntington served as second fiddle to Leland Stamford and disagreed with his boss when the Central Pacific started its race east to join the Union Pacific’s race west. Huntington looked at the Sierra Nevada and said the mountains were too big an obstacle to construct a rail line. But Stamford made the decision and Chinese crews were brought in.  Tunnels were dug by hand, often inching no more than a few feet through the rock each day.

Meanwhile, the Union Pacific’s construction teams were laying up to 10 miles of track a day across the prairie. The race was on. The first company to get to Ogden, Utah would own the right to the lucrative Salt Lake basin traffic. Finally, as the right-of-way crews worked on parallel lines for miles while the bigwigs bickered, the decision to have the lines meet was made.

DSC_0213The Golden Spike National Monument at Promontory, Utah memorializes not only that single last spike but a massive change in the transportation system of the United States and the world. DSC_0233This huge project, delayed during the years of the Civil War, finally climaxed May10, 1869. From that point on settlers to the West could opt to ride the train. From that point on goods could travel coast to coast in a matter of days instead of months by ship around South America. The transcontinental rail connection in the 19th Century was what the Internet has been to the 20th Century: the world became a smaller place.RRs


Author: GoingPlaces Can-Do Zero Waste

I moved to McMinnville a few years ago and was impressed with its friendliness and the beauty of the surrounding countryside. I write several blogs. GoingPlacesLivingLife is my personal blog related to travel, food and just general thoughts. Can-Do Real Food tells about my business processing local produce from small farms and preserving it by canning and dehydrating. The concept of Zero Waste appeals to me because we can truly reduce what gets tossed into the landfill with very small changes in our lifestyle. Join us.

10 thoughts on “Opening of the West

  1. Oppps, sent my last comment before I was fini9shed. I meant to add that as a kid we lived on a farm in ID where the Oregon trail went through. My brothers and I would hike up to where a rock filled pass cut through and go through all the junk wagon trains dumped out to lighten their wagons so they could climb through the pass without breaking wheels and axels. My cousin says the wagon wheel ruts can still be seen today.

    • I remember when we traveled to the Southwest in 1963, my dad showed us the wagon ruts. If nothing else, it impressed upon me the footprint we humans make on the earth. But also, the difficulties in the travel. In 1963 we were in a station wagon with camping gear on the roof and no air conditioning. Yeah, we complained, but we managed to “think cool”. LOL

  2. Awesome post! Very interesting 🙂

  3. You left out the Pony Express Trail and the Lincoln Highway… they were hubby’s passion when we lived on what was once a PX station. The Lincoln Hwy… first intercontinental route… followed some of the trail, too. This is really fun stuff!

    Because of hubby’s interest in this topic, we followed the Oregon and Mormon Trails on some of our journeys. And, of course, explored much of the Pony and Lincoln remnants where we lived at the time.

    • Well, was just speaking to where we visited. Today as we drove through Vale, Oregon we learned we were following the footsteps of the pioneers…..this trip has made me so very much aware of the distances and hardships those people traveled to follow their hope for a better life.

      • My comment was more about the stuff hubby instilled in me. We followed a LOT of the trails from East to West on quite a few trips. I never could help but be awed at the thought of taking those routes (especially across the desert). Amazing stuff.

        We also went to one of the commemoration things they do at the anniversary of the Golden Spike. If I remember right there was a re-enactment.

  4. This is a fun and informative post! Thanks!

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