Andinias staff

On the Tracks of the Iron Horse (I).

By John Pitt
Copyright. All Rights Reserved.

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"'All aboard! All aboooardd!!'

The conductor's extended cry created a thrill of anticipation as we mounted our train in Washington, DC, for the start of a journey that would take us 3,500 miles across the entire United States. With its waiting room decked in gold leaf and a marble concourse large enough to hold the Washington monument sideways, the city's Union Station made a suitably imposing place to begin our adventure on the tracks of the legendary Iron Horse.

Amtrak's gleaming Cardinal train crossed the Potomac and was soon heading down the Shenandoah Valley, home to wild bear, bobcat and 200 species of birds. Most of the trees had turned crimson and gold in the early autumn sunshine as our train climbed into the Blue Ridge Mountains on a line built in the 1870s by former slaves from Virginia. On a mountain above Big Bend tunnel stood the statue of John Henry, who swung twelve-pound hammers in both hands to prove he could tunnel through rock faster than a steam-powered drill. He died from a heart attack soon afterwards but his achievement inspired such railroad songs as 'Take This Hammer' and 'If I had a Hammer'."

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