The Old Iron Road: An Epic of Rails, Roads, and the Urge to Go West (Paperback)

The Old Iron Road: An Epic of Rails, Roads, and the Urge to Go West By David Haward Bain Cover Image

The Old Iron Road: An Epic of Rails, Roads, and the Urge to Go West (Paperback)


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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. Spiritually, their journey began on a Kansas trail where the author’s grandmother was born in a covered wagon in 1889. Between the Missouri River and the Golden Gate, they retraced the entire route of the first transcontinental railroad and large stretches of the Oregon and California trails, and the equally colorful old Lincoln Highway. Following vanished iron rails and wagon wheel ruts, bumping down backroads 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 a marvelous sense of coming unstuck in time as he lingers in the ghost towns and battlegrounds, prairies and river ports, trainyards, museums, deserts, and diners that line his cruise west to California. Bain encounters a fascinating cast of characters, both historic and contemporary, as well as memories of his grandparents and the journeys that shaped his own heritage.

Writing in the tradition of William Least Heat-Moon and Ian Frazier, and with an engaging warmth and a deep grasp of history all his own, Bain has fashioned a quintessentially American journey.
David Haward Bain is the author of the award-winning Empire Express: Building the First Transcontinental Railroad and Sitting in Darkness: Americans in the Philippines. His articles, essays, and reviews have appeared in Smithsonian magazine, American Heritage, Kenyon Review, the New York Times Book Review, the Washington Post, and Newsday. Bain taught literature and creative writing at Middlebury College for thirty-two years.
Product Details ISBN: 9781496230485
ISBN-10: 1496230485
Publisher: Bison Books
Publication Date: September 1st, 2022
Pages: 470
Language: English
“[Bain’s] wholly winning book can be approached (and enjoyed) as history, memoir, and travelogue of the highest order. . . . Ambitious, magisterial, intimate, and engaging. . . . I was often reminded of such charming and idiosyncratic books as William Least Heat-Moon’s Blue Highways and Reyner Banham’s Scenes in America Deserta. Both of these books sent me on quests to see what the authors had seen and described so beguilingly, and I felt the same urge on page after page of The Old Iron Road.”—Jonathan Kirsch, Los Angeles Times

“A very personal and warm account—no dry history here—of a journey of the heart that concludes on a poignant note.”—Chicago Tribune

“A picaresque race across the country. . . . In The Old Iron Road, the dead seem to rise up to greet [Bain] 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, in as many different forms as Bain can find room for in its pages.”––Verlyn Klinkenborg, New York Times Book Review

“Bain bypasses a facile sentimentality for a more complex portrait of the American West.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review

“What a terrific read! The Old Iron Road is an elegant combination of riveting storytelling, modern travelogue, and impeccable history. By taking his family across America retracing the route of the first transcontinental railroad, award-winning prose stylist David Haward Bain rediscovered the glory days of the railroad. Ghosts abound, including John Frémont, Butch Cassidy, and Ulysses S. Grant.”—Douglas Brinkley, author of Wheels for the World

“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. Scout’s Rest Ranch at North Platte, Nebraska, offers him the opportunity to discuss ‘Buffalo Bill’ Cody, while Elko, Nevada, brings out Bing Crosby’s connection with the town. The overall effect is a modern exploration of the American West and its development of a sense of place in the tradition of Charles Kuralt and Bill Moyers.”—Library Journal

“The here-today-gone-tomorrow impermanence of life in the old American west pervades David Bain’s history of the penetration of the country’s last frontier. Everything there has changed in the two-hundred years since Captain Meriwether Lewis and Lieutenant William Clark left St. Louis on 14th May 1804 to explore an overland route to the Pacific. The 15m buffalo that roamed the range are gone. . . . Too many Indian peoples, once proud and free, now eke out lives of wretched humiliation on reservations. But melancholy over these sad departures is balanced by admiration for the deeds of the pioneers. They endured unimaginable hardships in turning a wilderness into one of the most prosperous places on earth.”—The Economist

“Well done! The Old Iron Road is a fine and honorable addition to the growing first-class literature of the American land.”—William Least Heat-Moon, author of Blue Highways and River Horse

“This book is a gem.”––Newsday (Long Island, NY)

“One of the season’s best.”—USA Today