My father defends the Ames Monument:
UGLY!??! I'll have you know that the Ames Monument contains within itself most of 19th Century American history -- the railroad! crony capitalists! Manifest Destiny! New England duty! government extortion! congressional cynicism and betrayal! the industrial revolution! Victorian taste (it was designed by noted architect H.H. Richardson)! [Not to mention bas-reliefs by St. Gaudens]; irony (the UP moved the tracks and it now sits by itself in the middle of the lone prairie).
Next will be a pix of the Ames Shovel Museum:
By the 1870s Ames was the largest shovel manufacturer in the world, making three-fifths of the world’s shovels, although even as early as the 1830s and 1840s they struggled to meet the demand for their highly prized products. Ames shovels were the tool of choice in both the California and Australian gold rushes as well as in most major American building projects including the Erie and Panama Canals and most American railroad construction. Ames shovels literally built America.
But my favorite is still the Allegheny Portage Railroad:
Allegheny Portage Railroad: Developing Transportation Technology: Imagine riding on horseback or hiking through the Allegheny Mountains of western Pennsylvania in the summer of 1835. A dusty road climbs through an ever narrowing ravine. You are surrounded by steep hillsides covered with towering hemlocks, many reaching over 100 feet high. A small stream, barely four feet across, tumbles down its shallow and rocky course alongside the road. Here, high in the mountains, the air is cool, despite the season, and a feeling of wilderness pervades. As you round a bend in the road you notice the sound of heavy machinery--wheels turning, engines cranking, ropes straining. You see a cloud of dark smoke belching from an unseen smokestack somewhere on the hillside to your right. Then, through a break in the trees, you glimpse the front section of a boat slowly moving up the steep slope of the mountain! There cannot possibly be a river or canal in such a location. What is more, the boat appears to be moving up a steep grade under its own power. Clearly, an unusual event in America’s transportation history is under way...
Allegheny Portage Railroad--Visual 1: The railroad portage over the Allegheny Mountains was crucial to the Pennsylvania Main Line. It joined the system's two great canals into an efficient artery between eastern and western Pennsylvania. Passengers leaving Philadelphia in 1840 could reach Pittsburgh in 4 days instead of 23. The engineering was simple in principle. In the canal basin at Hollidaysburg, the packet boat sections in which passengers had travelled from Philadelphia were floated onto railroad cars for the portage. They were hauled from the water by stationary engines, then pulled by locomotives at about 15 mph over the long grade to the first incline. In a small shed at the foot of the incline, workers hitched three cars at a time, each averaging 7,000 pounds, to the continuous cable that moved over rollers between the rails. This cable was pulled at about 4 mph by a stationary steam engine beneath a large shed at the top of the incline. When possible, the operators used cars descending on the other track to counterbalance those assending, lessening the strain on the engines. On the near-level grades between inclines, the cars were drawn by horses or locomotives. The process was reversed on the other side of the summit...
[The United States] now numbers among its many wonderful artificial lines of communication, a mountain railway, which, in boldness of design, and difficulty of execution, I can compare to no modern work I have ever seen, excepting perhaps the passes of Simplon, and Mount Cenis, in Sardinia; but even these remarkable passes, viewed as engineering works, did not strike me as being more wonderful than the Allegheny Railway in the United States.
--David Stevenson, 1838
Occasionally the rails are laid upon the extreme verge of the giddy precipice and looking down from the carriage window, the traveller gazes sheer down without a stone or scrap of fence between into the mountain depths below. The journey is very carefully made however, only two carriages travelling together and while proper precautions are taken, it is not to be dreaded for its dangers.
--Charles Dickens, 1843
The trip of a boat over the mountain is now no novel sight.... Since this road was constructed such improvements have been made in the construction of locomotives, that a project has been suggested for relocating the whole road.
--Sherman Day, 1843
At this place the western division of the Pennsylvania Canal commences, and the miserable Portage Railroad, with its short splintery rails and curvatures, its stationary steam engines and abominable inclined planes, terminates. The traveller, who has crossed the mountain over it, will not regret to leave it, but will thank the stars that a better road will soon supersede it.
--Eli Bowen, 1853