The Deadliest Kvetch

Early American Anti Railfans

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Construction of the railroads in early America was not met initially with enthusiasm and glee. Honestly, very few advances in transportation are. We are all aware of the initial distrust and skepticism toward the automobile, and I'm certain air transportation and steamships were just as maligned when they appeared on the horizon. I have a two humorous excerpts for you today on the subject, and I hope they lighten the disappointment for you if you didn't receive that new gift that you wanted this morning under the President's Day tree:

(From Freeman Hubbard, Encyclopedia of North American Railroading. page 151).

In about 1830 the Lancaster, Ohio Board of Education was asked to permit the use of its schoolhouse for a debate on the practicability of railroads. Here is a record from the minutes of the Board’s meeting:

You are welcome to use the school room to debate all proper questions in, but such things as railroads and telegraphs are impossibilities and rank infidelity. There is nothing in the word of God about them. If God had designated that His intelligent creatures should travel at the frightful speed of 15 miles an hour, He would have foretold it through his holy prophets. It is a device of Satan to lead immortal souls down to Hell.

"The frightful speed of 15 miles an hour indeed!" Of course, the last sentence was correct, and still is today!

Now, the following I like quite a bit:

In a chapter of his book on local history about Eugene Township, Indiana (1963), Harold L. O'Donnell writes about the Chicago and Eastern Illinois (C&EI) Railroad coming to town, and he discusses the danger it was to livestock.

"Livestock in the early day were a constant source of trouble between the railroads and the farmers. Stock would be killed and it was, of course, always the fault of the railroads. In one case a farmer had a hog killed by a train and since he believed himself to have some ability as a poet, wrote the railroad claim agent as follows:

My razorback strolled down your track,
A week ago today.
Your #29 came down the line,
And snuffed his life away.
You can't blame me; the hog you see,
Slipped through a cattle gate;
So kindly pen a check for ten,
The debt to liquidate.

He was surprised a few days later to receive the following:

Old #29 came down the line,
And killed your hog, we know;
But razorbacks on railroad tracks,
Quite often meet with woe.
Therefore, my friend, we cannot send,
The check for which you pine,
Just plant the dead; place o'er his head;
'Here lies a foolish swine.'"

Not all of the citizens of early America were "Luddites" however; Robert S. Henry wrote the following eloquent paragraph, obviously in admiration:

“Thus, when as yet there were but two states on the western bank of the Mississippi . . . there came to America the combination of a new sort of flexible composite vehicle -- the train made up of many separate cars pulled by a unit of power -- and a new sort of road, the road of rails. Their combination freed the continent from the limitations of terrain and temperature which so severely restrict the usefulness of rivers and canals, for the railroad could go anywhere at any time. It could pierce mountains and cross waterless plains. It could run every day in the year, through the frozen winter or the long summer droughts, as well as in the more favored seasons of navigation. And upon its surface of rails the power of men and machines to produce transportation was many times multiplied.” [Robert S. Henry. This Fascinating Railroad Business.]

That's all I have for today; no long winded essay full of imagined witticisms! After all, it is President's Day today, and there's the ham to prepare, and several pies, and all the gift wrap to clean up once the presents have been opened! Here's hoping your President's Day is just as festive! I must run, for I have to hope to find a store open that still has cranberry sauce!

Thanks for reading, and check back soon on... The Deadliest Kvetch!

Updated February 20th, 2012 at 10:13 AM by Euphod



  1. leeferr's Avatar
    Thanks Ed.
    Entertaining as always. By the way, that ham didn't come from the tracks, did it?
  2. Euphod's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by leeferr
    Thanks Ed.
    Entertaining as always. By the way, that ham didn't come from the tracks, did it?
    Thanks Mike, and that would explain the bits of ballast I ran across! Actually it was a fine President's Day feast and the whole clan is getting ready for pies and coffee right now.
    Thanks for visiting and commenting once more!
  3. leeferr's Avatar
    Just spit them out like you would buckshot. Gives it that 'back to nature' taste.
  4. jjanmarine3's Avatar
    Funny this farmer never mentioned it was his prize winning stud pedigree show hog. Normally it is the first line in a claim.