Top Photo: Train engine display in Ogden, Utah

In 1869, when “the Golden Spike” joined two railroad lines in Utah, completing the transcontinental railroad, it was “today’s equivalent of the mission to Mars: Big, expensive and impossible.” (Source – Wikipedia – University of Wyoming historian Phil Roberts.) From then on, train travel was the only way to go, until the automobile, and then of course commercial air travel.

(I did not visit Golden Spike State Park in Utah. There’s not really much there – not even the Golden Spike! Apparently it’s in California somewhere.)

THE MONEY MEN, AND A FORGOTTEN PYRAMID

The Ames brothers were both affluent and influential in their day. They possessed the funds and the wherewithal  to ensure completion of the transcontinental railway. President Abraham Lincoln reportedly told Oakes Ames that if he could get the transcontinental railroad built then he would be “the most remembered man of the century.”(Source: Wikipedia)

Do you remember the Ames name? I sure didn’t.

Just outside Laramie, Wyoming, I visited the Ames Monument, a pyramid in the middle of nowhere, built by the Union Pacific Railroad in 1880 to honor the Ames Brothers. The pyramid rises up out of the wind-swept plains, on a red dirt road over 2 miles long (which I traveled in Nellie at approximately five miles per hour). It was built there because it is near the highest elevation of the Union Pacific Railroad line (8,247 feet). It stands at an impressive 60 feet high and 60 feet wide at its base.

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HUB OF TRAVEL,  CENTER OF LIFE

The Historic 25th Street area of Ogden, Utah is a good example of how a town built up around a train station. That’s Union Station at the end of the street in this photo:

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The same is true of Cheyenne, Wyoming, where Union Station and the State Capitol face each other with about 10 blocks in between.

NEW CONVEYANCE, NEW CRIMINALS

Trains also spawned a new type of criminal. Train robberies became common, such as those committed by Butch Cassidy and his Hole in the Wall Gang. I visited the Wyoming Territorial Prison, which housed Butch for two years for horse thievery, before he became a world-famous  train robber.

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I also stopped near the site of the famous train robbery in which Butch’s gang used so much dynamite that they blew up the money itself, as depicted in the Robert Redford and Paul Newman movie, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”

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GHOST TRAIN

One hundred and fifty years have passed since the railroads were joined in Utah, and middle America travelers have all but abandoned the rails. Freight? Sure. But there are no more passengers embarking or disembarking in Boise;  Boise is freight only. Ogden’s Union Station is now a collection of emaciated museums and a gift shop. Union Station in Salt Lake City now houses a nightclub and a clothing store; on my bus tour of Salt Lake, no one exited the bus to even snap a photo. (Amtrak does run to both Ogden and SLC, but departs and arrives elsewhere.) Cheyenne’s Union Station houses a museum and restaurant, and there is no passenger train travel there anymore either.

A HORSEMAN OF THE PLAINS

Traveling east across Wyoming, I followed the Union Pacific Railroad line, finding more abandoned train stations along the way. With hours to kill, I listened with rapt attention to a book on tape: “The Virginian – A Horseman of the Plains,” written by attorney Owen Wister and published in 1902. Have you read it? The language can be a bit flowery in written form for today’s tastes, but it is music to the ears. Did you know that Mr. Wister’s book gave birth to an entire genre of literature and paved the way for such western greats as Louis l’Amour and Zane Grey? Most of us know that the book became a movie with Gary Cooper in 1929, and then an uninspired television series in the 1960s. We won’t even talk about that wretched movie that came out a couple of years ago.

Medicine Bow, made famous by the book, sprung up simply because steam train engines needed water as they passed through Wyoming, and Medicine Bow built a large water tower.

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Yes, those are deer in the shot, who were kind enough to pose for me I was taking a photo of the water tower and the cool old truck.

Medicine Bow is now a sleepy little town of less than 300, where at nighttime it is pitch black and deafeningly quiet. That is, until the train comes barreling through, horn a-blazing (given the amount of noise it makes, it doesn’t seem appropriate to call it a “whistle”). And that happens at least 20 times a day by my count.

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A gentleman of about 75 years old stopped by the RV outside the Virginian Hotel in Medicine Bow, just to say hello.

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(The Virginian is for sale! $1.5 million.)

He grew up on a ranch 60 miles from Medicine Bow, and his wife was raised in town. When I asked about the trains he said, “Those goddamn trains. We hate ’em.”

Of course Medicine Bow hates the trains, which never stop there. It reminds me of the song by Garth Brooks, “Nobody Gets Off In This Town:”

Nobody gets off in this town
Trains don’t even slow down
My high school sweetheart’s married and gone
They met on a bus to San Antone
The Greyhound stops! Somebody gets on
But nobody gets off in this town

Nobody gets off in this town
Old folks ’round here wear a frown
Now let me see if I can set the scene
It’s a one-dog town and he’s old and mean
There’s one stop light but it’s always green
Nobody gets off in this town

Nobody gets off in this town
High school colors are brown
They can’t drag Main because it kicks up dust
Their cars and their dreams are all starting to rust
The high school dances are always a bust
Nobody gets off in this town

Nobody gets off in this town
They oughta just tear it down
Cause in the winter you freeze and in the summer you fry
Utility bill’s the only thing that gets high
I’d go for a drink but this county is dry
Nobody gets off
Nobody gets off
Nobody gets off in this square old merry-go-round
No, nobody gets off in this town

THE UNION PACIFIC THEME SONG

In closing, this is a 1970s commercial that has been playing in my mind throughout the trip: