Michael Portillo continues his 1,000-mile journey from the northern state of Minnesota to the home of the blues in Memphis, Tennessee.
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I have crossed the Atlantic
to ride the railroads of North America
with my reliable Appleton's Guide.
Published in the late 19th century,
my Appleton's General Guide To North America
will direct me to all that's novel...
in the United States.
As I journey across this vast continent,
I'll discover how pioneers and cowboys conquered the West...
..and how the railroads tied this nation together,
helping to create the global super state of today.
As I continue my rail journey across the Midwest,
I am still feeling the restless energy pumped out by Chicago.
There's much more to explore in this towering city,
reaching back to its origins.
How the waterways were adapted, and the railways attracted.
My railway journey tracks the birth of the industrial Midwest.
I began in Minneapolis - a 19th-century powerhouse.
Then headed south along the trade route of the Mississippi
to La Crosse, in rural Wisconsin.
Striking out east, I beached at Lake Michigan's Milwaukee,
then set a course for America's railroad capital, Chicago.
Next, I'll travel through fertile prairies in Illinois,
whose agriculture fuelled the cities,
en route to my final destination
in Memphis, home of the blues.
Today, I continue my tour of Chicago, the nation's rail hub.
I'll head downtown to the lavish Palmer House Hotel,
then track down a railroad pioneer in Pullman.
Next, I journey south through Illinois
to one of America's first suburban country clubs at Homewood.
Then on to the wonderfully-named Kankakee,
before finishing in Champaign with a heritage ride
at the Monticello Railway Museum.
'This time, I recreate the original brownie...'
That is wicked. Well done, Chef.
'..I discover the solution to the city's pollution...'
Imagine when you have 30,000 cubic feet per second
of sewage coming out into here. It will be beautiful.
MICHAEL LAUGHS A great image.
'..and get my hands on the hooter.'
People often talked about the smell of steam locomotives.
What about the sound of them?
TRAIN HORN TOOTS
Appleton's tells me that Chicago has, within 40 years,
grown from a small Indian trading station
to the position of metropolis
and the greatest railway centre on the continent.
In classical times, it was almost true that all roads lead to Rome.
And today it's almost true that all railroads lead to Chicago.
Chicago's first railroad arrived in 1848,
when the Galena And Chicago Union line was built
to serve Illinois' lead mines.
170 years later,
Chicago is the nerve centre of the USA's vast freight network,
handling roughly a third of the nation's total cargo.
Trains from all corners of the country converge here.
In huge rail yards, they are sorted and reconfigured,
ready for their onward journeys.
I'm marvelling at the Chicago Belt Railway's
five-and-a-half mile long facility.
Joe, what a pleasure and a privilege.
'Joe Szabo is a fifth-generation railroad professional.'
Joe, I'm so impressed by Chicago
as the hub of America, the crossroads of America.
How did it become so?
The railroad boom in Chicago really didn't begin until
the building of the River Bridge over the Mississippi River
at Rock Island.
Rock Island is a good, long distance west of Chicago,
why so significant?
This was the key point in crossing the Mississippi River,
and whoever crossed the Mississippi River was going to be the key city
in the development of the railroad network,
because this is where you were finally going to be able
to connect East Coast with West Coast.
And so this put Chicago at the centre
of the transcontinental railroad,
and the economy grew from there.
The Chicago and Rock Island Railroad opened in 1854,
but not everyone was delighted.
Mississippi steamboat owners saw the growth of long-distance rail
as a threat to their river traffic.
15 days after the Rock Island bridge opened,
a steamer crashed into it and the owner sued,
claiming that it posed an impediment to navigation.
A little-known Illinois lawyer, Abraham Lincoln,
successfully defended the railroad's legal right.
A milestone in his career, and a victory for Chicago's railroads.
Once the rail network began developing,
Chicago began to explode.
By 1890, they're the second largest city in the nation.
Chicago finds itself at the centre of a transcontinental rail network.
-What is the significance of that network?
-It's absolutely critical,
because before the construction of the transcontinental railroad,
there was no national economy.
All you had was a series of small, local economies that
were no bigger than the distance a horse could walk in a day.
And it was the transcontinental railroad that tied
all those local economies together,
and for the first time, we have a national economy,
and Chicago was right at the centre of all this.
How important are the railroads for freight in the United States today?
It's critically important.
And by most measurements, rail is the most efficient,
safest way to move commodities.
Rail's a critical part of a multimodal network.
And so foreign goods are coming into the ports by ship.
They get transferred to rail,
get brought, you know, 1,000 miles inland,
and then, ultimately, distributed by truck.
How significant is this place, the Belt Railway Company of Chicago,
this enormous facility, to the USA?
So I call this the economy in motion.
On this site of 786 acres,
8,400 cars a day are sorted and assembled into new configurations
for transcontinental transit.
Using a technique that's barely changed
since the days of my Appleton's Guide.
At the heart of the operation is a 30 foot high double track hump,
or mound, controlled by a yard tower.
I'm standing above the place where individual cars are separated off,
and allowed to roll into their new formation by the force of gravity -
one of the most compelling sights I've ever seen on a railway.
-Hello, I'm Michael.
-Nice to meet you.
-It's a great operation you have here, Nick.
I've never seen anything like it.
These cars are descending by gravity.
How is their destination determined?
Well, each car has a code when it comes in,
and it determines where we're going to route it.
For example, all these cars in 37, we coded them as 740s,
so as this train comes out,
every car that is coded as a 740 will be humped into 37.
You call this process humping, right, because, I mean,
-literally, we're on a hump.
And I'm amazed how far they travel by gravity.
Is that just cos the gradient of the track is perfectly calculated?
That's correct. The track grade make the cars roll.
They usually leave here about four, four-and-a-half miles per hour.
This Chicago yard has been marshalling rail freight since 1902,
and helping to keep the US economy rolling.
We're talking here about materials and produce from all over America.
Yeah. We move our wheat, grain,
we move frozen vegetables, lumber,
flour, corn, petroleum oils.
We have trains coming in from both the east and the west.
We bring them all the way from Canada,
and we re-route them back all over the US.
Is there any facility in the United States that compares to this one?
No, no. We're the only facility with a two-way hump.
-Meaning you can bring them up to this little summit?
And then they can roll that way, or they can roll that way?
-That is correct.
-I mean, gravity is man's oldest friend, isn't it?
-Yes, it is.
I'm swapping suburban Chicago railyards
for the urban "L".
The city has a superb skyline, an unmistakable silhouette.
And on the L, you feel like you're advancing towards Chicago.
The nucleus of Chicago's L
is a two-mile circuit of elevated track called The Loop.
Built between 1895 and 1897,
this short stretch is at the heart of the L web.
For the first time, workers and shoppers could travel seamlessly
by rail to the heart of downtown Chicago.
Following in their tracks,
I'm bound for a building described in my Appleton's Guide
as one of the most imposing in the city.
The lobby of the Palmer House Hotel is fantastic.
The painted ceiling with allegories of love and fantastic animals.
Everywhere, candelabra -
some borne aloft by semi-naked angels,
others by mythical lions.
The whole thing is just so over the top.
This is the longest continuously operating hotel in North America,
and Ken Price its official historian.
We are in a glorious room in a glorious hotel.
-Cheers. Thank you very much, indeed.
-What is the origin of the hotel?
-Well, it goes back 145 years.
It started with a man by the name of Potter Palmer,
who was neither educated or privileged,
who came from a very small farm town in upstate New York.
Most of the young men his age were essentially going west to Colorado
and California, where the gold was.
He saw the middleness of this area, and he was right on the money.
And it made him incredibly successful.
Potter Palmer made his fortune in retail and property development.
The Palmer Hotel was his most lavish project,
built as an extravagant wedding gift for his wife, Bertha.
The two of them were two completely opposites
in terms of where they came from, and their backgrounds.
He was not educated, she had a college degree,
during the Civil War,
when a good education for a man was simply seventh-grade.
But days after opening,
the hotel was destroyed by Chicago's Great Fire of 1871.
Palmer rebuilt it in iron, brick and sandstone,
and relaunched it as the world's first fireproof hotel,
while Bertha stamped her taste on the interior.
The hotel looks the way it does because of
Bertha's great love of beauty.
She introduced a form of painting
that had never been seen before in this country.
She loved the entire impressionistic movement so much,
she travelled back and forth the Atlantic throughout her lifetime
and acquired the 220 Monets, Manets,
Degas, Pissarros, Renoirs, Cassatts, Cezannes.
When she died,
she bequeathed the vast majority of those to the city of Chicago,
which is why the city of Chicago has
the largest collection of French Impressionism outside of France.
In 1893, millions descended on Chicago
for the world's Columbian Exposition,
celebrating 400 years since Columbus landed on American soil.
Bertha Palmer wanted to provide lady visitors to the fair
with a delicious portable snack,
and the result made culinary history.
-Stephen, how lovely to see you. I'm Michael.
-Good to see you, Michael.
-How are you?
-Great to see you, indeed.
So I think Bertha Palmer caused the creation of the brownie here.
-Have you refined it?
-This is the actual recipe that the pastry chef
back in 1893 produced for Bertha at the time.
What I have in this bowl here is I've actually melted the chocolate
and the butter, and I've placed it in here.
What we have to do now is we have to whip this up.
-If you could take care of that.
-Under your supervision, sir.
Absolutely. It actually smells wonderful.
-It smells like a brownie already.
-It smells brilliant. It's pretty good.
-Throw in our sugar.
-That is an unbelievable amount of sugar.
-Keep going, keep going.
-Yeah, all right.
Yeah, keep mixing. Right, right, right.
-Have you got them?
-You're making me work quite hard here.
I don't think you eat many of these, do you, looking at you?
You know, I do actually eat quite a few.
-In fact, we make about 10,000 of these a week.
-Oh, my goodness!
Brownies here at the Palmer House are pretty incredible.
I really like it. You're getting a work out.
You need to get the walnuts and put them on liberally, like this.
-Pat them down lightly with your hand.
-Little bit, yeah.
-I'm a very happy bunny at the moment.
'30 minutes later and I can hardly contain myself.'
-Whoa, they look great.
-Check that out.
-Are they finished?
No, there's one more step we have to take, Michael.
We're going to brush them with some apricot glaze.
Was that happening in Bertha's day, too?
Yes, it was. Yes, it was part of the original recipe.
-Very inventive, weren't they?
-They were. In fact, they were.
That is wicked!
-Well done, Chef. Well done, Chef.
-Nice job. Nice job, Michael.
I love it!
I'm sold, but what will today's guests
make of my authentic brownies?
Would you like a brownie?
I've been down in the dungeons of the hotel
making some brownies with the chef.
-They were invented in this hotel.
-I heard that.
-Yeah, you heard that?
-You don't look like a chef, so.
-No, no. That's very true.
Those are some good brownies.
-It's pretty good.
-It is pretty good.
Delicious. I'm glad I don't have a nut allergy.
Yeah, that's right. They're heavy on walnut.
-Do you make brownies yourselves?
-Yeah, from a box!
THEY ALL LAUGH
-They won't be better than your mother's, I guess?
Apparently, they're slimming.
-Yes, the best of all - zero calories.
-Thank you very much.
And I hope you'll remember it not least for its brownies.
A new day, and the Windy City is rather more wet than blowy.
Many argue that Chicago's famous nickname
has nothing to do with the weather.
It teased the metropolis's boastful citizens, full of hot air.
But Chicagoans had reason to be proud.
Appleton's remarks that the site of the business portion of Chicago
is 14 foot above the lake.
It was originally much lower,
but has been built up by three to nine foot since 1856.
It's an inclined plane, rising towards the west,
to the height of 28 foot,
giving slow, but sufficient drainage.
Just imagine the challenge of draining the waste of a population
that was multiplying decade-by-decade.
Not to mention the volumes of rainwater!
In the shelter of the Loop's Clark Street Bridge,
author Libby Hill will tell me how Chicago
dragged itself out of the mud.
-Hello, Michael. It's so nice to meet you.
Welcome to Chicago.
Libby, it strikes me that Chicago did not begin with many natural
advantages. My guidebook tells me about the drainage problem
-that the city had.
-Well, Chicago was built on a marsh,
and so when they finally hired a sewage director,
he decided that the best thing to do was to get the city up
out of the marsh, And so he raised the city.
It took 20 years. He put sewers underneath the sloping streets,
so that all these sewage would flow down to the Chicago River.
Work began on that ambitious project in 1856,
and soon the city was in turmoil
as the streets were raised to accommodate the new sewers.
It's hard to believe, if you were a citizen living here
you would have seen sidewalks that were different levels.
So the level might be like this,
and then, because they were working right here,
and then you'd be down here, and then you'd be up there.
First floors had been turned into basements
and the streets were running along what had been their second floor.
It must have been a very dramatic time,
but the city went on about its business.
Addressing this muddle and restoring Chicago's ground floors
to street level fell to engineer George Pullman,
later famous for his railroad sleeping cars.
He recruited hundreds of men manually to jack up buildings.
Even as people went about their business inside.
But despite this ingenuity,
Chicago's sewage troubles weren't finished.
Unfortunately, the Chicago River drains out into Lake Michigan,
and that's where they were getting their water supply from.
That must have given them an enormous public health problem.
Sometimes fish would come out of the faucets.
You could tell that the water wasn't really very clean.
People got sick from the drinking water.
And so everybody was complaining that the city fathers drank water
that they imported,
but that they, the ordinary people,
had to drink water from Lake Michigan.
The city fathers finally listened to all the pleas of the people, and
that's when they decided that they were going to reverse the river.
Reversing a river, I never heard of such a thing.
A huge bit of engineering. How was this done?
So what they did was to build this enormous canal,
but built on the idea of gravity,
would just pull the water westward if they just sloped the canal.
However, it's one thing to understand that principle,
it's another thing to accomplish it.
Chicago's 28 mile long sanitary and ship canal remains
one of the towering achievements of North American engineering.
38 million cubic yards of soil and rock were moved
in order to build it.
As well as diverting Chicago's sewage away from Lake Michigan,
the canal created a direct shipping channel
from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi.
-Was it a success for Chicago?
-Yes, it was a huge economic success,
and a huge benefit to Chicago's health.
What happened downstream, people didn't like it.
St Louis was going to sue the state of Illinois
and the city of Chicago for reversing the river
and sending their sewage down to them.
However, word got out that they were going to do that
and so the canal was pretty much completed.
So they opened the dams that were holding back the lake water
and the river. They opened it surreptitiously one night,
and the water flowed towards St Louis, and that was it.
Following on from the impressive successes of 19th century engineers,
Chicago has continued to adapt to survive.
There's a modern civil engineering project
that rivals those of the 19th century.
If you take a village on a swamp,
and over decades you convert it into
a megalopolis of nine million people,
you're going to come across a big problem.
And that will need a big solution.
As big as this hole.
To understand what has been built here at the McCook Reservoir,
I'm heading deep underground.
This is one of the weirdest experiences I've ever had.
I've just being picked up by a crane.
And... Whoa! ..flown over an enormous hole.
And I'm going to be dropped down here like, like a sack of grain.
And it's a long way down.
'It's an exhilarating 300 foot descent into the tunnels
'that will eventually feed the new reservoir.'
Going down pretty fast.
So the shaft is closing in above me.
I can still see the sky, but it's getting smaller and smaller.
This is not like your average lift or elevator.
The Eagle has landed.
-Welcome to the McCook Reservoir Main Tunnel.
-You're Kevin, aren't you?
Very good to see you indeed.
'My guide is managing civil engineer, Kevin Fitzpatrick.'
Kevin, we're entering here a huge diameter tunnel.
What is the total project about?
It's called the Deep Tunnel Project, or the Tunnel And Reservoir Plan.
We started it in 1972 to try to solve the pollution and flood
problems that have plagued Chicago for the last more than 50 years.
And what is the nature of that problem?
Well, the problem is Chicago, and several of the suburbs,
their sewers were built over 100 years ago,
and they're called combined sewers,
in which rainwater that hits the streets is combined
in the same sewer system as what's draining people's homes -
their sinks, their toilets.
So all that rainwater gets combined with the sewage,
and during a storm event, it can overwhelm the treatment plant,
and so it overflows into the waterways,
or it backs up into people's basements, in their own homes.
And so how is this the solution?
So, once this is complete, all that water will have a new place to go.
It will go out into the reservoir here,
and we'll be able to store it until after the storm has gone,
and our waste water treatment plant has a capacity to clean the water
before we put it back into the river.
So that's a charming image for me.
One day, this tunnel may be full of mildly diluted sewage.
Yes, it's been called the largest toilet in the world, sometimes!
Costing some 3.5 billion,
the system's capacity will be over 20 billion gallons
when complete in 2029.
109 miles of tunnels and two reservoirs
are already up and running,
and have reduced city flooding by half.
It's the largest project we've had in Chicago since
the reversal of the Chicago River over a century ago.
And is there a connection between this and the reversal a century ago?
They're completely connected.
When they solved the problem of the polluted water supply
in Lake Michigan by reversing the Chicago River,
they created another problem of a polluted waterway
heading downstream. Over the years
all the sewage and rainwater was diverted to that waterway,
causing pollution and decreasing the amount of biodiversity in the river.
So we're trying to clean up those waterways and capture
all that pollution here in the Deep Tunnel, and in the reservoir,
preventing it from polluting communities downstream.
So this project is really about restoring the waterways.
Are you going to live to see it finished?
-I sure hope so. They won't let me retire until it's done.
Ah, it's just vast.
It's just enormous.
Imagine when you have 30,000 cubic feet per second
of sewage coming out into here. It'll be beautiful.
MICHAEL LAUGHS A great image.
The McCook Reservoir will give the Chicago system the capacity
to cope with an extra ten billion gallons of storm water and sewage.
I was stunned when I heard about what was done in the 19th century.
I mean, reversing the river. That is an extraordinary thing to do.
And now I see what you're doing today.
Which of the two do you think is the more remarkable achievement?
Wow, it's difficult to say.
They're both historic engineering feats.
Er, they're both generations apart.
Very difficult to compare. But I'm a little biased,
so I'm going to say this one's much more impressive.
And I'm going to say it takes a city like Chicago to think on this scale.
This morning, I'm heading to a residential suburb on Chicago's
south side on the trail of one of the railroad's most famous names.
George Pullman built this factory in 1880 to manufacture carriages
for his Pullman Palace Car Company.
In Appleton's day, they became a byword for luxury travel.
A piece of railway history.
And alas, there are derelict buildings like this that once
were a hive of activity over the world.
Because, for now at least, it seems that the golden age of the
American passenger railroad is behind us.
Alongside his factory, Pullman built for his workers the first
model industrial town in America and named it after himself.
By 1885, it was home to almost 9,000 people,
and this district is still known as Pullman.
I'm meeting architect Mike Shemansky to find out how it all began.
Mike, before I ask you about this very interesting town that
we're in, tell me about George Pullman.
George Pullman came to Chicago in the 1850s from upstate New York.
He was a very industrious young man.
He recognised at the time that the country was committed to
building a transcontinental railroad,
and was smart enough to say,
"Hey, people are going to be spending a week on a train,"
and so he started to experiment with
converting coaches into sleeping cars, but recognised
that to really do it properly you had to build it from scratch.
And so he developed the Pioneer. It was like a little palace on wheels.
There were quarters for staff, there were dining rooms, kitchens.
When they came off the line here, they were fully equipped.
The new Pioneer was the height of sophistication,
aimed at those for whom only the best will do.
When Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865,
his body was taken by train from Washington DC on
a tour of mid Western and Northern states
en route to his home in Springfield, Illinois.
George Pullman pulled off a stroke of genius.
He had the fortune, or misfortune, depending on the perspective,
to introduce the car in the funeral train of Abraham Lincoln,
which introduced it to the public,
so he got all this free publicity, and the railroads started to
recognise that there was public demand for this quality and luxury.
Pullman's company owned nearly 50 such cars on three
different railroads by 1867.
Former slaves were employed as
porters to serve the white clientele.
They were nicknamed George after Pullman himself,
and they worked long hours for low pay.
Pullman's porters would go on to form the first successful
all-black trade union, and by the early 1890s,
his workforce in Pullman had reached almost 6,000.
It was quite diverse and it included mechanics,
but it also included artisans and craftsmen,
so he recruited people from all over the world.
That led to the eventual idea of building the town, to have an
advantage over his competition.
Living accommodation in Pullman ranged from elegant detached
houses for executives, to modest two-bedroom apartments for workers.
It was a pedestrian scaled community.
Everything was within convenient walking distance from the shops,
your homes, the school for your children, parks for recreation.
Despite the care that Pullman took of his workers, nonetheless,
this place was the centre of a very major industrial dispute.
How did that come about?
It came about as a result of the worst recession the country
had experienced to date.
The demand for Pullman cars plummeted and it was
a very difficult time.
When you were building very expensive commodities such as
Palace cars or even freight cars, and there's no market,
you have to start laying people off.
And what they tried to do was keep the key workforce together,
the highly skilled craftsmen,
so that they could respond once the recession was over.
And in order to do that, they lowered the wages.
And unfortunately, they did not lower the rents.
Trouble broke out in Pullman in May, 1894,
when 3,000 employers began a strike over wage cuts.
The dispute escalated to involve a quarter of one million
workers in 27 states.
After three months,
President Grover Cleveland used troops to end the strike.
And so Pullman Cars has an important place in history,
obviously on the railways, for the construction of this town,
for being the centre of a major strike, and for the porters,
who were a prelude to the civil rights movement.
I'm sad to be saying goodbye to Chicago,
but I have a train to catch.
I've yet to visit homeward and Kankakee and Champaign, where
I'll finish with a heritage right at the Monticello Railway Museum.
-Cafe car is open and serving, and as always,
thank you for riding Amtrak.
My next stop is Homeward, Illinois.
Appleton's tells me that the streets of the villages are regularly
laid out and planted with shade lined trees.
Chicago was grimy and polluted, but the well-off could buy fresh air,
and after a short train ride, swing by their country club,
even if it was a fair way off.
Homeward is a suburb of Chicago,
about 25 miles south-west of the loop.
The railroad transformed this rolling farmland into
a country getaway for wealthy Chicagoans,
and attracted its first country club for members only in 1899.
I'm curious to know more about its founding from club historian,
-Michael, welcome to Flossmoor Country Club.
Thank you. Very, very beautiful. I'm so pleased to be here.
-Well, let's go out and have a look around.
-Thank you very much.
Flossmoor retains its exclusivity today.
Joining would set me back about 13,000 dollars.
So when do we first get country clubs being formed in the Chicago area?
Basically the 1890s.
They spurred off of the rail that went north to Chicago Golf Club,
and then down south to clubs like Flossmoor.
If the railway had not come down to Homewood at the time,
this country club wouldn't be here.
Did the railroads ever invest directly in country clubs?
Matter of fact, they did.
In 1893, the Illinois Central Railroad
bought 160 acres of farmland out here,
so they had this piece of property and didn't know what to do
with it until a couple of our founding members came along, and asked them
to extend the rail line so that they could build a country club out here.
The Illinois Central Railroad built its first suburban commuter line
south of Chicago in 1856, to serve the new middle class of Hyde Park.
By the 1880s,
commuter lines struck out from the city in 15 different directions as
far as 40 miles, enabling well-paid professionals to commute,
or spend weekends away from the city.
Why were people, I imagine particularly men, so keen to escape Chicago?
The hustle and bustle of the city was probably in its time not much
different than it is today.
So I think just getting out to the country and the beginnings of
suburbanisation probably encouraged folks to leave the city at a time on
the weekend to play a little golf.
During the early 1880s,
well-heeled businessmen who enjoyed sporting clubs in the city began to
establish similar amenities in the country.
shooting and horse riding, and formal clubhouses with lavish ballrooms
offered members an exclusive social life.
Greg, you're a businessman.
Do you think that from the earliest days businesspeople from Chicago
saw the advantage of getting together on the golf course?
I think business and golf probably were tied together from very early times.
One of our founders was a golfer and two were not,
but they still saw the advantage of
coming out and spending time together on the weekend.
And so the great wealth of the United States,
do you think it's partly due to the existence of its golf courses?
I'd like to believe that.
It probably has more to do with the existence of transportation and the
railways moving people about easily.
By 1900, there were over 1,000 country clubs across America.
We start with this big fella, do we?
-We're going to go with the long club first.
Looking towards the target.
Can't even see the flag from here cos it's such a long hole.
Taking the club back...
-What do you think, Greg?
-It's a fair way.
It's not THE fairway.
I think I may have let you down on that one, Jerome. Sorry about that.
It's all right, we'll get through.
-We will, will we?
-It's all about the next shot.
The next shot, think of that. The next shot.
In a bunker, but a politician has often been in tighter situations.
I'll show you how much I know about golf. This is called the 19th hole.
It is, and this is the best part, Michael.
And this one, I think I will be able to sink.
-Cheers to you as well.
I'm leaving behind country pursuits
to return to the railroad that by 1882 stretched over 900 miles,
from Chicago to New Orleans.
TRAIN HORN BLARES
I'm headed for Kankakee.
Appleton's tells me it's upon the river of the same name,
a tributary of the Illinois.
When the railroad was begun,
a forest stood upon the site of this now important town.
In the words of the song, "Architects may come and architects may go."
I wonder if any had designs on Kankakee?
The Illinois Central Railroad reached the single cabin
which was Kankakee in 1853,
and ordered that a town be developed on this bend of the river.
Using the train, farmers could send crops to Chicago, 56 miles away, in
three hours instead of six days, and the new settlement prospered.
-Nice to meet you, Michael, you're welcome to step in.
It's a lovely stretch of river, isn't it?
It is. Very peaceful out here, especially today, very nice and calm.
Lots of lovely properties along here.
There is. Riverview Historic District, so a lot of neat homes from prior years.
60 miles from Chicago, and it couldn't be more peaceful.
As a lover of architecture,
I'm excited to be visiting Frank Lloyd Wright's ground-breaking
B Harley Bradley House,
a building that revolutionised American design in the 20th century.
Another architect, Gaines Hall, and his wife Sharon,
own the property today.
-Hi Michael, nice to see you.
A great pleasure indeed.
Gaines, a Frank Lloyd Wright house.
I'm seeing a fairly low-sitting property, subdued colours,
very strong horizontal lines, an emphasis on the roof.
That's what came to be known as the Prairie Style.
He was trying to emphasise the horizontality of the prairie.
This particular house became the one that has been associated with the
beginning of the Prairie Design.
One architect told me, he said,
"This is the house that changed the face of American architecture."
It left behind old European influences,
you see nothing of Corinthian or Greek revival, or Roman.
It left all that behind.
It's truly American.
And you think he was deliberately seeking a
non-European, American style?
I think he was looking for his expression of what he began to call
the Organic Style, associating with nature,
and nature on the prairie was relatively flat.
The gable ends actually kick up, if you will.
And that's because Wright had a real fascination with Japanese architecture.
And that's about the only influence we can see from
somewhere outside the United States.
Frank Lloyd Wright was born in Wisconsin's broad,
flat prairie land in 1867.
He rejected the ornate European tradition,
and designed over 1,000 buildings in an Organic Style,
including Pennsylvania's Fallingwater in 1935,
and New York City's Guggenheim Museum, completed in 1959.
Now, you and your wife have played an important role in the house's
history. Tell me about that.
Well, we moved to Kankakee in 1998,
and we were asked if we'd ever seen the house, and we said no.
So we came and looked at the house.
And then, when the owners wanted to tear down the stable,
which had had no attention for 16 years,
and it was in dilapidated condition,
we determined that it was something that was worth saving for Kankakee.
So we went through some negotiations, we sold our house,
bought this house, moved in with not a working bathroom,
and began to start the restoration.
-And may we take a look inside now?
-You certainly may, let's go.
During the late 19th century,
many American architects looked to the past,
and European styles, for their inspiration.
They built elaborate, many-storeyed houses with turrets and porches,
or grand neoclassical mansions.
The contrast with the modern Prairie Style
of Frank Lloyd Wright was stark.
The interior is not what I would have guessed from the exterior.
Here we've got all these dark woods, quite simply carved.
It's almost more a celebration of the forest than it is of the prairie.
-Ah, you must be Sharon.
-Nice to meet you.
Congratulations to you on this amazing house.
Thank you. It's a nice home to live in.
It's laid out very nicely to entertain.
Does it have any quirks or details that captured your imagination?
I think one of the fascinating things to me,
is all of the wood in here is quarter-sawn oak.
It's the way the log is actually cut, and it gives a unique grain.
Very refined kind of a grain.
And so Frank Lloyd Wright was into designing the light fixtures,
the furniture, every detail of the house.
He was. He designed most of the furniture that was in the house.
Unfortunately, it was all sold off over the years.
Well, I first saw the house from the river,
can we now see the river from the house?
Well, one is certainly very aware of the river.
It's absolutely a wonderful view, isn't it?
The house is very well-oriented.
The river is something that I think makes the house setting unique.
He just wanted to make sure that wherever his architecture was,
it blended with the surrounding, and it recognised nature.
You can see, standing here, that we're in the trees,
we're overseeing the river,
and you're practically outside at this point.
You've now confronted the man Frank Lloyd Wright.
He has a reputation of being
the greatest American architect of the 20th century.
Why do you think that is?
It's hard to say why, but I would agree that he probably is.
Wright had his own style,
he was wanting to create something new all of the time.
When people come to visit this house,
they're blown away by what it was in 1900,
when Victorian and other styles were still there.
This is the house that changed the face of American architecture.
So, Kankakee's legacy is impressive,
and I'm lucky to have had such a privileged tour.
I'm heading back to the station, where, hospitably,
the locals are throwing a party.
If you've ever heard of the town of Kankakee,
it could have been in a song.
You might have heard it sung by Johnny Cash,
or maybe by Arlo Guthrie,
and it celebrates a great train.
It's called The City of New Orleans.
It passes through the station in a few moments' time,
and there's a concert where they're going to sing the song!
# Riding on the City Of New Orleans
# Illinois Central... #
-How are you?
-I'm good, how you? How was your trip?
-A very good trip so far, thank you very much.
# Fifteen cars and fifteen restless riders
# Three conductors and twenty-five sacks of grain
# All along the southbound odyssey
# The train pulls out at Kankakee
# And rolls along past houses, farms and fields
# Good morning, America, how are you?
# Say don't you know me I'm your native son
# I'm the train they call The City Of New Orleans
# And I'll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done
# Good morning, America, how are you?
# I said don't you know me I'm your native son
# I'm the train they call The City Of New Orleans
# And I'll be gone five hundred miles when they day is done. #
This morning I'm heading south towards Memphis, Tennessee.
This is an enormous privilege,
to be able to spend a moment or two in the cab of the Amtrak.
And to be able to see for my own eyes
that the Illinois Central was built through the prairies,
straight as a die.
More than a quarter of Amtrak's national routes
pass through Illinois.
This diesel-electric locomotive has a maximum speed of 110mph.
My next stop will be Champaign, Illinois.
The guidebook says that it's a rapidly-growing city of 5,000 inhabitants,
at the intersection of the Indianapolis, Bloomington
and Western Railroad.
Clearly an important crossing point for railroads.
And Champaign might be the place to raise a glass to the history of the
Ladies and gentlemen, we are now arriving in Champaign-Urbana.
Champaign-Urbana will be our next stop.
126 miles south of Chicago, Champaign was founded in 1855,
when the Illinois Central Railroad
laid its tracks two miles west of Urbana.
By 1871, Champaign was a thriving commercial centre,
with three railroads converging on the city.
20 miles west at the Monticello Railway Museum, a heritage line,
once owned by the Illinois Central, has been preserved.
I'm going to ride on the footplate.
There's no better way to understand railroad history
than to ride on old tracks, with vintage rolling stock.
Starting with this locomotive, a 280 from 1907.
TRAIN HORN TOOTS
People often talk about the smell of steam locomotives,
what about the sound of them?
TRAIN HORN TOOTS
Particularly in America!
Chartered in 1861,
the Monticello Railroad Company was incorporated
into the Illinois Central Railroad in 1902,
at the height of its expansion.
The museum and its locomotive are run by rail enthusiasts,
like director John Sciutto.
John, it's great to be on the footplate with you.
-Nice to meet you.
-Wonderful locomotive, 1907, I believe. Tell me about it.
It was built in 1907 for the Southern Railway,
it was last assigned to the Memphis Division,
which ran between Sheffield, Alabama and Memphis.
Did the museum have to do much work on the locomotive?
At the time it was purchased by the Museum,
it literally looked like a pile of scrap.
This locomotive was completely rebuilt,
took a period of about 15 calendar years.
The engine runs on 7.5 miles of vintage track, bought by the Museum.
And how do you feel, now that you can drive it on your own track?
Oh, it's wonderful that we have this,
not only a piece of history, running here in central Illinois,
but it's been recognised worldwide for our restoration efforts.
TRAIN HORN TOOTS
I'm curious to know more about the creation of the Illinois Central
as we head back.
How was the railroad organised, politically speaking?
Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A Douglas were key supporters
of the original concept of pushing for land grant railroad
The United States government owned the majority of the land in the
territory of the state, at the time.
And they basically gave the land to the railroad,
and the railroad in turn then sold off parcels to towns,
farmers and people that were developing along the railroad,
and then that money helped fund the railroad itself.
What did the railroad get out of it?
The railroad in turn received
all the freight traffic and passenger traffic.
Stephen Douglas was an Illinois Senator,
who together with Senator William King from Alabama,
steered the first Land Grant Act through Congress.
The Act secured 2.5 million acres of federal land
for the State of Illinois to sell,
thereby raising finance to build a railroad.
The Illinois Central was the first land grant railroad,
and paved the way for many more to follow.
The Illinois Central Railroad was very unique and key,
that it was not only the longest railroad in the world at the time,
but where other railroads were east and west,
the Illinois Central was north and south, geographically.
So naturally, it was a conduit for folks, especially in southern states,
that wanted to move to the free states of the north,
that they were transported from commerce areas such as New Orleans,
to the commercial and growing areas of the north, particularly Chicago, Illinois.
And did that intensify after the abolition of slavery?
Absolutely. All the free slaves,
and folks that wanted to better themselves,
a lot of them migrated to the north via the Illinois Central Railroad.
-And Chicago in particular?
-And Chicago in particular.
The Illinois Central was greatly indebted to a young lawyer,
who defended the railroad in some 50 cases during the 1850s.
I'm returning to central Champaign, to visit the University of Illinois,
which for over a century has been at the cutting edge of rail research.
Appleton says of Champaign, that it has a female academy,
and that its schools are large and well-connected.
In a town that largely owes its existence to the railways,
I'd like to know what track education has taken since.
We've had railways now for 200 years,
but there are always more refinements to be made.
I'm keen to find out the latest from Dr Chris Barkan,
Director of Rail Tech.
My 19th century guidebook tells me
that this was an area of institutions,
of education, and of course it's a railway station.
Somehow the two have come together.
Yes, well, the university was the result of President Lincoln signing the Moral Act in 1862,
which led to the formation of land grant universities throughout the United States.
How do you think it is that the university finds its way into rail?
Well, of course, railroads were rapidly being built in the second half of the 19th century,
and the first knowledge I have of a rail programme around here was when
Professor Talbot started his work, I would say in the late 1880s,
or early 1890s.
Arthur Talbot was a brilliant civil engineering student here
during the late 1870s.
He became a professor
and his work on the design and construction of track
remains fundamental today.
By the beginning of the 20th century,
we were very clearly established as a substantial railway engineering department.
Nowadays, what are the sorts of issues you're dealing with?
We obviously want to continue to improve safety,
to prevent derailments and collisions.
And if we're going to mix high-efficiency freight trains,
and high-speed, reliable passenger trains on the same infrastructure,
we have to be particularly careful about this.
Building on the work of Professor Talbot,
Riley Edwards is researching how track structure
is affected by today's trains.
-Good to see you.
-Welcome to the track loading system.
What can we lend a hand with?
So, the task today is adhering some special gauges to the track,
that allow us to measure what the loads are, that go onto the track structure.
So this process is going to be led by graduate research assistant Aaron Cook.
He's involved in putting these gauges on.
-Nice to meet you.
So you actually do this out on the tracks?
Yes. We install it under traffic,
which means we have flagmen out on the line protecting us,
warning us when there's a train coming, and we clear up,
let the train pass, then get back to work.
I'm getting down to a little layer under the top of the metal,
giving us a nice clean surface on which to attach the gauge.
So, the first step, we've got this track welder.
All it does is it puts a large current through.
That current will melt the tiny bit of the metal on this gauge, here.
And this gauge has got a bunch of little wires
that run inside it back and forth.
What it does is it measures
how much things move as loads go across them.
It changes its resistance, and we measure that resistance.
We know how much the rail is pushed on by the wheel.
That is clever. So the gauge down here on the side,
below the top part of the rail,
is nonetheless going to record what is happening,
what's pressing down on there, and to what extent.
So, we could reasonably expect to do that in ten minutes,
before the next train comes?
Not all of that. We usually pull off and go back on several times by this
-point in the process.
because it was taking me quite a long time!
Well, I'm very, very grateful to you, and good luck with the work.
Chicago owed much of its greatness to railroads,
including the Illinois Central.
Two Illinois politicians played a vital role in bringing in the railroads,
Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln.
The rapid development of the railroads was demonstrated
when, in 1865,
Abraham Lincoln was able to return home from Washington by train.
In his coffin.
Next time, I test my frontier resolve...
Abraham Lincoln split rails, and then, the United States.
..unearth Illinois' elixir of life...
I'm making apple butter.
It makes you young and good-looking, Michael!
..get my ducks in a row...
There they go.
Don't let 'em get away!
I think this is the bizarrest thing I've ever been involved in.
..and get a dose of the blues.
Michael Portillo continues his 1,000-mile journey from the northern state of Minnesota to the home of the blues in Memphis, Tennessee. In the nation's rail capital, where tracks pass underground and over ground and are elevated into the air, he investigates the ultimate marshalling yard. At the ornate Palmer House Hotel, Michael recreates the original chocolate brownie, invented by Bertha Palmer in 1893. He discovers the origins of the Sanitary and Ship Canal and uncovers the history of an incredible civil engineering project which raised the city to new heights. Heading deep underground, Michael inspects a modern-day scheme on a similarly awesome scale, described by the boss as the largest toilet in the world!
On the trail of one of America's most famous railroad names, Michael heads south to Pullman to investigate the legacy of its founder, George Pullman. Beside the Kankakee River, Michael is invited to visit the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house that changed the face of American architecture. On the platform at Kankakee station, Michael parties with the locals as they celebrate the City of New Orleans rail service, immortalised in song by Arlo Guthrie. He gets his hands on a vintage hooter riding on the Monticello Heritage rail line and in Champaign learns a thing or two at a railroad university.