Going Places: Transportatzon Redefines the Twentieth-Century West. By Carlos Arnaldo
Schwantes. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003. Pp. xxi+421.
Preface, acknowledgments, prologue, photographs, illustrations, notes,
sources, suggested readings, index. ISBN 0-253-34202-3. $39.95, cloth.)
Carlos Schwantes, the St. Louis Mercantile Library Endowed Professor of
Transportation Studies and the West at the University of Missouri, Saint Louis,
covers a lot of ground. In addition to teaching classes on a variety of subjects, he
is the author or editor of fourteen books and a lecturer for railway and boat
tours. His latest book constitutes an interpretive historical essay on transporta-
tion and its impact upon the modern American West.
While acknowledging the broader context of modernization, Schwantes focus-
es upon the modes of travel west of the looth meridian, which runs from the
Dakotas through Texas. He writes: "Long-distance highways like old Route 66 or
modern Interstate 8o are twentieth-century equivalents to the dusty trails along
which earlier generations plodded west to Utah, Oregon, or California" (p. xiv).
He provides a broad view of westering Americans and the various transportation
technologies they embraced while on the move. In particular, he insightfully ex-
plores the dynamics of rail, air, and automotive "transportation corridors" (p.
37). He also considers the extent to which the technologies reshaped the space
people inhabit-for good and for ill.
Without a doubt, his passion is the railroad. He waxes poetic about the magiste-
rial trains-the Super Chief, the Empire Builder, and the California Zephyr-that
once crossed the continent. More than any other mode of transportation, the rail-
roads fostered the growth of towns and cities as well as new forms of commerce
and industry in the hinterlands. Along with the obvious physical and economic
changes in the land, the promotional activities of railroads transformed the imag-
ined landscape. Their booster campaigns invented a place of wonder, magic, and
opportunity. Indeed, they made the region both a place and a state of mind.
Ironically, the trains made new modes of transportation successful. The first
automobile routes paralleled the tracks, because trains were the easiest way to
transport road-building materials. Once the motorcar began to resonate with
the popular desire for greater individual control over travel, the freeways and
highways became synonymous with the open road. However, they also gave birth
to traffic congestion, air pollution, and urban sprawl. When airplanes took to
the skies, pilots gazed downward and navigated using the network of tracks.
Eventually, airline carriers and passenger service created a new frame of refer-
ence for viewing the vast distances of the region. Throughout his repetitive and
often personal discourse, the author emphasizes the entangling connections be-
tween railways, highways, and airways.
In one of the most compelling chapters titled "The Space of Place,"
Schwantes analyzes the knotty problems that continue to plague the transporta-
tion corridors and offers a few solutions. Nevertheless, common values such as a
fascination with speed and dependence on technology make it impossible to
turn back the clock on the transportation revolution. "Given all that westerners
have done to reconfigure space during the twentieth century," Schwantes rueful-
ly concludes, "it is almost impossible to imagine a workable alternative to the au-
tomobile in most places and under most circumstances" (p. 362).
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 107, July 2003 - April, 2004. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101224/. Accessed March 7, 2014.