Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Boundless: Leaving the Station

It's huge.

It has to be.

Embarking on its maiden voyage across the continent, The Boundless pulls over 900 cars and more than 6000 people, on a train seven miles long.

 It’s a rolling city.

It carries tycoons and newly arrived immigrants, famous inventors and murderous charlatans. It contains opulent lounges and staterooms, a swimming pool, a cinema, a raucous saloon and a shooting range.

It pulls hundreds of freight cars -- and another eighty belonging to the world famous Zirkus Dante. Inside are acrobats, giants, stilt-walking Siamese twins -- and other wonders of the world, including a sasquatch.

And right behind the massive locomotive is a funeral car containing the remains of the rail baron whose dying wish was to travel forever back and forth across the continent on the train and tracks he masterminded.

* * *

When I was growing up, stories always seemed to take place somewhere else. For me, it was usually England or the United States. Stories could happen in the English countryside, or London, or in New York City, or in Utah or in Mammoth Falls, Wisconsin, but they never seemed to happen much in Canada. It’s changed a lot now, but I still think, as Canadians, we’re not so great at telling our own stories. And especially mythologizing our stories so that they lodge in our memories and even psyches. I used to think history was boring. It had nothing to do with me. Over the years I’ve come across lots of amazing things about our country.
One of them was the building of the national railway.
Canada is huge. It’s incredibly wide. Imagine building a railway from  coast to coast.
Truly, Canada might not have existed as we know it, without the railway. It stitched the  country together. Not only that, the path of the CPR had a huge hand in deciding how the country was going  to be settled and the where the major western cities would rise.
The building of the railway was a truly epic undertaking. Explorers and surveyors spent months and years finding the best routes. Then came making the road, and then laying the steel.

They had to blast through the endless Precambrian rock of the Canadian Shield north of the great lakes.

And then there was the muskeg, hundreds of miles of it,  land so boggy that ton after ton after ton of gravel fill just disappeared into its watery wastes, The muskeg ate gravel and steel. Whole trains were sucked into the depthless morass.


Then there were the trestle bridges to cross river valleys.

 And then came the Rockies.
Work slowed down in the mountains.
There were cliffs and gorges and avalanches, dynamite and blasting.
There were terrible conditions for the workers, especially for the Chinese workers who were brought in and paid much less than the white men, and given the most dangerous jobs.
But they did it. Despite all the hardships and inequalities, the work was finished in 1885.
In my next post: The Last Spike.
With sasquatches...

1 comment:

  1. In the book the boundless how many train stations