Railway Preservation News

Spirit of the Old West
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Author:  Edd Fuller [ Thu Oct 21, 2021 9:48 am ]
Post subject:  Spirit of the Old West

The spirit of the old west lingers in the these photographs by Mary McPherson, and she writes about the places that can still be found that embody the mythology of America's westward expansion made possible by the railroad.

http://thetracksidephotographer.com/202 ... -old-west/

Edd Fuller, Editor
The Trackside Photographer

Author:  xboxtravis7992 [ Fri Oct 22, 2021 7:02 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Spirit of the Old West

An interesting article, although I think it is worth discussing though the difference between the old west of myth and the west of reality.

Anything that went through the Hollywood lens of course is skewed towards myth making and story telling. The real west was hardly a constant showdown between cowboys and outlaws, and most of the violent conflicts were truly between the US Army suppressing various American Indian tribes and moving them to reservations. Oh yes there were certainly outlaws like Billy the Kid; or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid... but it was hardly like the west was overran with criminals the same way the cinema made it out to be. The west was a lot more grounded in that of the prospectors, the trappers, and the pioneers than the action heroes of film; and most of the action was vicious massacres of US Army troops against many many many Native American tribes.

Even in railroad history it seems certain groups have become favored over others in our railroad telling. Much is made of the Chinese and Irish contributions to the railroad construction, but I would argue its been overstated to the point that its begun to eek out the memories of the Mormon Pioneers, the Civil War Veterans, former Black slaves, the Germans and other European immigrants who ALSO contributed to the effort. Its gotten to be though the myth has been so focused on just the Chinese and Irish viewpoint we now have to contend with railroad history repeating nonsense like the "blasting wars at Promontory" a segment that we know was graded under Brigham Young's crews, and not the opposing Chinese and Irish groups the myth constantly quotes. Or even more the disingenuous claims that the Chinese were racially excluded from the Golden Spike ceremony in 1869 (oft-repeated in the 2019 events and ceremony) which was promptly debunked by Stanford researchers who pointed out several Chinese attendants at the ceremony in photographs from 1869 (don't forget Ambrose's baskets at Donner Pass myth either). I don't say this to detract from the realities of the Chinese or Irish experiences on the railroad construction... but to show how myth making has begun to craft a fiction that is not historically based.

I know of many heritage railroads in the western US that has embraced the myths to some extent. How many heritage railroads have a shoot out or a train robbery as the highlight of their tour? Its certainly fun, and in areas were entertainment helps aid the train experience I think its certainly succeeds... but for railroads that want to present an accurate history its arguable that the train robberies only reinforce myths and not the history of the line. Oh yes, there were certainly train robberies in the old west; but not quite the daily on the clock occurrence a heritage railroad may present. I am not saying that as a "don't do train robberies" thing, I certainly think entertainment is great and brings in a more diverse crowd than just the historically minded fans. We just need to be aware though of how much of that presentation is borrowed not from the route's real history, but the co-opted one of Hollywood cinema or Disney's & Knotts' theme park ventures.

But one magical aspect of reality which I think the author of the original piece was trying to convey is the old west still lives in rural and desolate landscapes. Sitting in isolated places like Osier and Sublette on the C&T waiting for a train, or driving alongside the Nevada Northern grade through the Steptoe Valley... truly desolate open landscapes that have changed very little in time other than the grades of the track and roads that follow them. There is a real old west buried under the myth, we just have to discover it.

Author:  John T [ Sat Oct 23, 2021 3:32 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Spirit of the Old West

Train robberies and the like have always been considered "low brow" but they put butts in seats. They were more in the realm of tourist railroads than museums. Is anybody doing them anymore?

Author:  Zach Lybrand [ Sat Oct 23, 2021 8:43 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Spirit of the Old West

Grand Canyon Railway was doing them up until the pandemic struck; I'm not sure how it goes now. There were definitely passengers who were looking forward to it.

Author:  Trolleyguy [ Mon Oct 25, 2021 11:31 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Spirit of the Old West

The Little River Railroad in Coldwater Michigan (Yes, Michigan) no longer does the train robbery thing. They are a tourist RR but decided that the Wild West feature wasn't appropriate. They were still staging fake robberies in 2013 when I was there.

File comment: Little River RR
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