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Bain, David Haward. The Old Iron Road: An Epic of Rails, Roads, and the Urge to Go West.

BAIN, David Haward. The Old Iron Road; an epic of rails, roads, and the urge to go West. Penguin Books. 433p. illus. notes. index. c2004.0-14-303526-6. $15.00. SA

David Bain took his family on a trek through the American West a few years ago, wandering about several states until they ended up at the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. What with good cars and the Interstate freeway system, travelers by the thousand easily traverse their route in a short time. Unknowingly, though, their wheels are literally passing over the ruts of Conestoga wagons, the streets of defunct and forgotten towns, hunters' trails, and the unmarked graves of countless Native Americans and pioneers. Bain tells us their stories, and numerous others, bringing history brilliantly to life as he makes his way west.

The writing style is leisurely and heavily anecdotal, much in the style of John McPhee and his followers. It brings numerous people and almost-forgotten episodes back to life, from the trivial to the highly significant. There is a real immediacy to "living history" such as this: to learn about some long-ago adventure and then to actually see the same location as it is today. The author has a keen eye for the present, too, and blends his stories with the quirky characters he meets along his way. One difficulty is that Bain's narrative is apt to jump back and forth among various historical eras, and historical figures sometimes flicker in and out of the present.

Having said that, the book makes one itch to get out in the boondocks and rediscover the old boom-and-bust towns, diamond frauds, and Native American battle sites. YA readers with even a tiny spark of curiosity ought to find it fascinating. Raymond Puffer, Ph.D., Historian, Edwards AFB, Lancaster, CA
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Author:Puffer, Raymond
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Nov 1, 2005
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