Had it not been for railroads, most Montana towns wouldn’t exist — at least, not as we know them. That’s the story told by historian Dale Martin in his new book, “Ties, Rails, and Telegraph Wires.”
The railroad brought more to Montana and the West than passengers and a quicker way to get back to “civilization.” The coming of the new iron horse revitalized existing towns, created new ones, and brought new jobs on the trains and in the communities through which it passed.
The Montana Historical Society Press recently released the book.
Martin teaches history at Montana State University, Bozeman. He is a devoted railroad historian who has spent many years tracing rail lines across the nation, especially in Montana and the West. He came by his interest in railroads early — he and his brother grew up accompanying their railroad-buff father always taking the side roads in pursuit of all things rail.
The pages of “Ties, Rails, and Telegraph Wires” are filled with photographs of trains and depots in the golden age of the railroads. These historic photographs transport readers to a time when train whistles punctuated the rhythm of every day and depots were the buzzing hubs of community life.
This book introduces readers to the engineers, firemen, conductors, water tank operators, station agents, telegraphers, and section crews, as well as the town folk who counted on the railroad for transportation near and far, sending and receiving freight, and moving the U.S. Mail.
The book includes the railway memories of such western writers as Ivan Doig, Mary Clearman Blew and Alice Munro.
Doig remembered the “royal feeling to be the only person getting on or off a train when it stopped in Ringling.”
Blew marveled at the ability to take a train “even to places like Danvers, Montana, which has only a general store, a saloon, and a couple of grain elevators in addition to its train station.”
Throughout the book, author Martin celebrates and carefully documents the changes wrought by the railroad on the western landscape. Above all, Martin tells of how important the railroad was in shaping the West of today.
“Ties, Rails, and Telegraph Wires” is available from the Montana Historical Society Museum Store or through Farcountry Press. The price is $29.95 for hardcover or $19.95 for paperback. Readers can find it at their favorite bookseller or at mhs.mt.gov/store.