Homer's Travels: Book: Davis Haward Bain's "The Old Iron Road"

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Book: Davis Haward Bain's "The Old Iron Road"

David Haward Bain's "The Old Iron Road: An Epic of Rails, Roads, and the Urge to Go West" was recommended to me by my blog-friend GeekHiker. The book follows the author's family vacation tracing several trails (Mormon, California, Oregon, Pony Express, Stagecoach), the Lincoln Highway, and the first intercontinental railroad. The story begins near Kansas City before going through Omaha-Council Bluffs and towards the west ending in San Francisco.

In the beginning the book piqued my interest mainly because of the my familiarity with the Omaha-Council Bluffs area. It's always fun to read about places you've been, especially if they are offbeat and not well known. In Council Bluffs they eat at Duncan's Cafe, the same place
we had lunch with the "J" a few months ago. When they drive through Grand Island they eat at the Coney Island Cafe, a place we tried to eat at and failed when we found it closed.

As they drive west they pass places we have visited in the last few months with the "J" and on Vacation:
Red Cloud, Chimney Rock, Scott's Bluff. Nice to be able to see what he was writing about in my mind's eye.

As I dug deeper into the book I started to see his style. Early in the book he mentions other travelogue writers including
Colin Thubron whom I've read. Thubron's book was a travelogue punctuated with history. Bain's style is the opposite really: A book of history punctuated with travel narratives. Not a history book mind you but a book of histories, a book of historical stories and anecdotes mixed together in a history geek's stew.

Bain is a history geek through and through. You can tell in his writing. History excites and thrills him. He is not only a History Geek but he is a member of that sub-genre: the Railroad Geek. I like history to a certain extent, I even like railroads on occasion, but I am not a history or railroad geek. I was very interested in the history of Thubron's book but Bain's book was history overload. I know some of you may think that you can never have enough history. I once thought that but this book changed my mind.

Maybe it's not the history overload. There is another possibility. I may be biased against United States history. Thubron's book was the history of China, South Asia, and the Middle East. I find this more exotic than the Cowboys, Indians, Pioneers, and Railroads history that is the meat of this book. When it comes to history, I seem to have a more exotic taste.

Despite it not being exactly to my liking, I did have moments of pleasure reading this book and I don't regret reading it. The GodSon bought this book while in Wall, SD. He's a history teacher and I believe he will appreciate the book more than I did.

Recommended ... if you are a U.S. history Geek.


  1. LOL - well, that's a mixed review if I ever read one!

    I think the reading experience for me might have been a little different, since I read it immediately after reading his opus "Empire Express". Since that book described those places as they were, in days of wild country with the railroad pushing through it, the second book set up the juxtaposition of those same lands as they are today.

    My only (personal) problem with the book was that I read it during the difficult time last September. Needless to say, the ending wasn't the ending I needed at the time!

  2. BM: It is a good book but I was not completely sold on all the history.

    GH: I was a little scatter brained when I wrote it and the book did give me mixed feelings.