This is a great music video recently loaded onto YouTube by the young man “The Action Effect.” This is of American trains of the 40s to the 50s.
It’s a nice montage of Vintage Train action put to the music of Bruce Springstein’s “Land of Hopes and Dreams.”
From the 1920s through the 1960s, the railroads played a huge part in the imagination of the American people. While the rest of the world continued their respect for trains, the United States concentrated on planes and cars. But in the U.S., there was the “Golden Age” and “revival.”
From its inception through the Golden Age of Passenger travel, trains were a strong part of American cultural identity due to its major role in the movement of goods and people, connecting lands and cultures and dreams as well as the violence and destruction and isolation that comes with these dreams.
Railroads leaders were usually ruthless, crushing smaller opponents and collecting their power to rule the land to lay the rails and rule the movements of food, shelter, clothing, oil, coal, stone. Moving mountains and shaping the lands to mold as well as adjusting to the lands, the rails created and destroyed lives, like dreams.
Young boys and girls stole away in the middle of the night to escape, perhaps, a boring and heavy life, or perhaps abuse and confinement, poverty and despair. Taking what little they had in bags, meeting a friend or two, perhaps, at a pre-arranged meeting at midnight, jumping onto the trains, yearning for adventure and a “better life.”
African-American and Asian-American workers, searching for work and perhaps dignity in those days of a more emboldened and accepted dominant racist society, sought to work on the railroads to have livable wages and to be respected. Porters and waiters and some of the best chefs of the lands, sought to work on the fancy and comfortable railroads, upon the trains that company executives, sports and entertainment stars and presidents often traveled. To wear the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad or the Pennsylvania, or the New York Central, or the Santa Fe or Northern Pacific and the countless other ‘Name-train” railroads were a mark of pride. Young boys and some girls, dreamed of becoming engineers and agents on these railroads.
Promises of distant lands and different lives, promises of living wages and being looked at with dignity. Back-breaking grimy work in track-laying and oil-loading and tunnel-making, marked sources of pride as well as resentment.
Love, hate, beauty, grime, political intrigue, assassination, assimilation and resistance– like life, are all present in the beautiful and grimy trains that passed in the day and the night.
Today, the workers and trains still work in America, albeit no longer in the mainstream cultural imagination. But perhaps those days are slowly returning, in new forms. The train is an important part of human consciousness and life. It cannot be forgotten.
Enjoy this video put together and loaded by “The Action Effect.” Song is by Bruce Springstein.