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The Old Iron Road
An Epic of Rails, Roads, and the Urge to Go West
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"A picaresque race across the country. . . . In "The Old Iron Road," the dead seem to rise up to greet him 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, as in as many different forms as Bain can find room for in its pages."–––Verlyn Klinkenborg, THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW
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There is a corridor in these United States, along which tens of millions of people pass every year. But within sight of this highway -- Interstate 80 -- are old and older routes chosen by explorers, expeditions, and engineers -- by wagon train pioneers, Pony Express riders, Pacific railroaders, and excursionists taking the "horseless carriage" out for its earliest long-distance spins to rediscover America. By getting off the big, roaring highway, tracing those bygone paths and threading through bypassed towns and hamlets -- out where in history, something happened -- one may find a million stories.
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In the summer of 2000, award-winning author David Bain (Empire Express) 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 the year 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 back roads and main streets, they discovered the deep, restless, uniquely American spirit of adventure that connects our past to our present.
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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, train yards, museums, deserts, and diners that line the old emigrant routes, the railroad, and the Lincoln Highway. As he cruises west to California, Bain encounters a fascinating cast of characters, both historic and contemporary --from Mark Twain and Willa Cather to Henry Fonda and Marlon Brando, from pathfinder John C. Fremont and colorful Calamity Jane to Old West re-enactors and naturalist Terry Tempest Williams. Here, too, are memories of Bain's grandparents and the journeys that shaped his own heritage.
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Writing in the tradition of William Least Heat-Moon and Ian Frazier, yet with an engaging warmth and a deep grasp of history all his own, David Haward Bain has fashioned a quintessentially American journey.

Maps; Historic Black and White and Contemporary Color Photos
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"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 Fremont, Butch Cassidy, and Ulysses S. Grant.  When literary awards are handed out at years' end, THE OLD IRON ROAD deserves a few."
––DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, Professor of History at Rice University, and author of TOUR OF DUTY, WHEELS FOR THE WORLD, and THE MAJIC BUS

"A picaresque race across the country. . . . In "The Old Iron Road," the dead seem to rise up to greet him 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, as in as many different forms as Bain can find room for in its pages. "

"His 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

"This is a very personal and warm account--no dry history here--of a journey of the heart that concludes on a poignant note. Anyone who loves history and appreciates the writing of William Least Heat-Moon, Jonathan Raban, Bruce Chatwin and John McPhee will want to add it to their collection. " –– CHICAGO TRIBUNE

"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, NE, offers him the opportunity to discuss "Buffalo Bill" Cody, while Elko, NV, 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 200 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. So are the squaws and the braves. 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 (LONDON)
"This book is a gem."––NEWSDAY (Long Island, NY)

"Historical forays that deftly and palpably engage. . . . Bain bypasses a facile sentimentality for a more complex portrait of the American West." –– *PUBLISHERS WEEKLY

"One of the season's best." – USA TODAY


“A truly unique book that is, all in all, one of the best anecdotal historical books I have read in a long, long time.” –– David H. Gannon, San Antonio, AMAZON.COM

"You will absolutely love David Bain's latest, The Old Iron Road. . . . a warm and delightful adventure." –– Gregory M. Franzwa (author many books on the Oregon Trail, Santa Fe Trail, and the Lincoln Highway), in his newsletter Folio, August 2004.


"Title to tote along [when] summertime brings reading time for armchair traveling: David Haward Bain looks for traces of the first transcontinental railroad in The Old Iron Road." –– Michael Harrington, PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER

"A fine latter-day travel account of fulfilling the old American urge to go west, following the route of the original transcontinental railroad." –– CHICAGO SUN-TIMES

"On rare occasions, we find a book we absolutely fall in love with and we plan our travels around it. The recently published The Old Iron such a book....It is a warm tale, lovingly written." ––Skip Boyer, "Traveling Lite,"

"...Brings numerous people and almost-forgotten episodes back to life, from the trivial to the highly significant. There is a real immediacy to "living history" such as this: to learn about some long-ago adventure and then to actually see the same location as it is today. The author has a keen eye for the present, too, and blends his stories with the quirky characters he meets along his way....The book makes one itch to get out in the boondocks and rediscover the old boom-and-bust towns, diamond frauds, and Native American battle sites.––KLIATT MAGAZINE

"A richly interesting book of travel and history that also has the virtue of being a beautiful and original portrait of a family together definitely not going to Disneyland. Bain has produced an excellent and inspiring book. It so inspired this reader that he made Kool-Aid (Black Cherry -- 10 cents a packet!) for the first time since the Nixon administration, rented "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," made plans to visit his local historical museum and for the first time ever considered wanting a family so he could take them on an American road trip like the one Bain took with his." ––PORTLAND OREGONIAN

Links Along The Old Iron Road

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