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The United States Grows
(1865-1900)

Rails across America - The Beginning



Rails across America - The Beginning
Reading Level
     edHelper's suggested reading level:   grades 7 to 9
     Flesch-Kincaid grade level:   5.88

Vocabulary
     challenging words:    arduous, bowled, non-slave, roadbed, boon, east-west, impassable, investors, transcontinental, ill-fated, further, unthinkable, crossing, rails, better, solidify
     content words:    United States, Cape Horn, South America, North America, Panama Canal, Civil War, New Orleans, New Mexico, San Diego, Abraham Lincoln


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Rails across America - The Beginning
By Toni Lee Robinson
  

1     How many times have we sighed "Are we there yet?" Long trips can make us long for the end of the road. These days, planes and automobiles make short work of long distances. Until 1869, going somewhere could be a long and daunting job.
 
2     Imagine it is 1840. You are traveling to California from the east coast of the United States. Most likely, you would board a ship. Whether you wanted to or not, you would travel by the "scenic route."
 
3     Ships had to go all the way around Cape Horn at the bottom tip of South America to get to the west coast of North America. This took months. Storms, pirates, or any number of hazards could bring the trip to a bad end. The Panama Canal shortened the journey by weeks, but it wasn't opened until 1920.
 
4     The only alternatives to the roundabout route by ship were arduous Lewis-and-Clark-style treks. Horse, wagon, canoe, or foot travel were the only choices. Crossing the nation by these methods took months. Besides that, horses, wagons, and the like couldn't handle much in the way of freight.
 
5     In the early 1800s, the development of the steam engine changed travel for the better. Steamboats worked well, but only where waterways were big enough for the big vessels. Then the steam locomotive was built. People began to see trains as a way of moving goods and passengers more efficiently.
 
6     Linking the nation by rail was a topic of discussion even before the Civil War. Southern officials pictured New Orleans as the beginning of the railroad. From there it would run through the lower parts of Texas and New Mexico, ending in San Diego. Northerners opposed this idea. A railroad of such national importance controlled by slave states? Unthinkable! In the tense political climate, a route could not be agreed upon.
 
7     Abraham Lincoln had long dreamed of a railroad that would cross the nation. As the Civil War began, the need for such a road became clear. The U.S. needed to unify its territory. A railroad across non-slave lands would solidify the power of the Union. It would be an avenue for economic growth. A rail link across America would make the North and the nation stronger.
 
8     Lincoln had already been working behind the scenes to further the railroad. Traveling through Council Bluffs, Iowa, in 1859, he met Grenville M. Dodge, a gifted railroad engineer. "What's the best route for a Pacific railroad to the West?" Lincoln asked Dodge.

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