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From the time of the inaugural train ride on the first American railroad in 1830, (1) the train and the railroad have held a fixed place in America's consciousness, manifested by depictions of the train in literature and resulting in the development of the train as an enduring feature of the American literary landscape. American railroads "reached the zenith of their golden age" between 1900 and 1920 (Klein 29), during which time the railroad became an integral part of the American psyche (Martin 123). In Thomas Wolfe's day, railroad tracks were "the device uniting America," and the rails, as described by Richard Walser, "formed a gridiron linking seacoasts to mountains and plains, and joining together, too, the people of America, the wealthy New York sophisticates as well as the commonplace folk of Wolfe's North Carolina childhood" ("Thomas Wolfe's" 6). Look Homeward, Angel (1929) introduces readers to Wolfe's lifelong love affair with trains and the railroad and anticipates the "magnificent train sequences" (Donald 439) that would follow in one modest, understated, and unassuming sentence: "All day, under a wet gray sky of October, Oliver rode westward across the mighty state" (Look 7). Within a short six years' time, but millions of words later, Wolfe confidently proclaimed, "I've written all that one could write, or need ever write, about a train ..." (qtd. in Donald 298). (2) Twenty-five years after Wolfe's pronouncement, C. Hugh Holman concluded that "No American ... has been more the poet of trains" ("Thomas" 178). Indeed, according to Joseph Warren Beach, "No one has better rendered the passion and romance of travel by train, the power and mystery of locomotives" than Thomas Wolfe (97). Engineered out of the "huge railroad stations of his mind" (Church 100), Wolfe's lyric and epic train narratives remain unparalleled. From his early train ride at the age of three from Asheville, North Carolina, to the World's Fair in St. Louis; to a transcontinental train trip from Seattle to Baltimore in an effort to save his life; to the return railroad trip to Asheville in his casket within a cypress shipping box, the train was always an integral part of Thomas Wolfe's experience. Wolfe spent his formative years in Asheville, a popular resort town situated in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, a place where the wail of whistles and the thunder of locomotive wheels on railroad tracks were frequent sounds of arriving and departing trains. "More than any other symbol," Walser notes, "the train is Wolfe's signature..." (Thomas Wolfe 66), and the "whole complex of the train world" ("Thomas Wolfe's" 3) infuses his writing. Wolfe characterized his own writing about the train as including everything from the vastly expansive to the "minutely thorough, desperately evocative descriptions of the undercarriage, the springs, wheels, flanges, axle rods, color, weight, and quality of the day coach of an American railway train" (Story 42). Writing with flourish and passion about the most commonplace of street railways, elevated trains, subway trains, railroad tracks, and train stations, Wolfe "celebrates" trains hurtling across the country through the darkness of night, winding cautiously down steep mountainsides by day, gliding into distant valleys, and rushing past farmland and through vacant towns (Johnson 112). Walser writes, "The train--its stations, tracks, locomotives, freight cars, day coaches, pullmans, its 'lonely and departing whistle wail'--permeates the writings of Thomas Wolfe" like nothing else ("Thomas Wolfe's" 3).

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