To the Sides of the Railways

Railways were a major divide in the territory they cut through. From New York to Chicago, by way of the daylong loop through the Virginias, the differences between the right and the left side of the line can be striking, and stark.

Sometimes, rails conformed to the topography. Perhaps they were laid on a dead river bed or a natural pass. Often, however, men had imposed them on the land (if need be, we may assume, by violent means: with dynamite, bulldozers, and heavy metal).

When a railway cut across formerly undivided territory, it eventually led to the separate development of the new two pieces of land. They evolved with their separate personalities, into different architectures. One was now in the North and one in the South; or in the East or the West.

On one side there would be the station and on the other the town. But along the route, that duality would persist wherever there were human settlements. Junkyards – sometimes vast – would be on one particular side of the line; houses would be on the other, mostly shoddy affairs barely holding themselves together, pushed to the edge of town, where they could go no further.

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This is the tenth part of The Trans-American Railroad: New York to Los Angeles at the Speed of Iron, a travel diary. Please see the previous stories below:

The Trans-American Railroad: New York to Los Angeles at the Speed of Iron

The Trans-American Railroad (Part II)

Penn Station: The Journey Begins

Suburbia and the Ruins Outside Philadelphia

The Flies, the Blue Whale, and the Boatman on the Potomac

Descent into West Virginia

The Grain Express: How Tomorrow Moves

The Amish Travelers of the Old Order

The Color-Blind Passenger

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