Jul 312015
 
Hell on Wheels Season Four-each season has less and less to do with reality.

Returning to Cheyenne with his Mormon wife and baby, Cullen Bohannon finds himself struggling to feed his family, and is reluctantly drawn into the struggle between Thomas Durant, head of the Union Pacific, and John Campbell, provisional governor of Wyoming, for control of Cheyenne and the railroad. Little on the show makes any sense, and this season achieves the dubious honor of being the most historically inaccurate season so far. Read More…

Sep 112014
 
Hell on Wheels Season Three-A bizarro-world version of the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad.

Yay, the writers finally read a book about the railroad, but their addition of a few historical facts to the fantasy land that had been built in the previous two seasons simply creates a bizarro-world version of the Transcontinental Railroad. The series essentially consists of Bohannon and Elam working together to save the railroad. Wow, if Cullen Bohannon was not so tough and did not have a faithful, almost silent, black sidekick, the railroad would not have been built. Read More…

Jul 312014
 
The American Transcontinental Railroad

Victorious in the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), the United States acquired California and New Mexico. A year later, gold was discovered in California, luring hundreds of thousands of people across the plains. However, the new territories resembled distant colonies rather than parts of the republic. It took six months of hard, dangerous travel to cross the plains. The other options were sailing around South America or sailing to Panama and crossing the fever-ridden isthmus. The government approved the construction of a transcontinental railroad in 1862, but construction was slow until the American Civil War (1861-1865) ended, when labor and materials became available. The Union Pacific, which started from the Missouri River, relied mainly on veterans, while the Central Pacific, which originated at Sacramento, turned to cheap Chinese labor. Paid in government bonds, both companies competed to lay more track and qualify for more bonds. When the two tracks met at Promontory Point in Utah on May 10, 1869, a six-month-long trek by wagon had been replaced by a week-long trip on a train, thus linking the two sides of the nation.
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Jul 312014
 
Transcontinental Railroad Timeline

Victorious in the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), the United States acquired California and New Mexico. A year later, gold was discovered in California, luring hundreds of thousands of people across the plains. The government approved the construction of a transcontinental railroad in 1862, but construction was slow until the American Civil War (1861-1865) ended, when labor and materials became available. The Union Pacific, which started from the Missouri River, relied mainly on veterans, while the Central Pacific, which originated at Sacramento, turned to cheap Chinese labor. Paid in government bonds, both companies competed to lay more track and qualify for more bonds. When the two tracks met at Promontory Point in Utah on May 10, 1869, a six-month-long trek by wagon had been replaced by a week-long trip on a train, thus linking the two sides of the nation. Here is a timeline to help understand it. Read More…

Aug 012013
 
Hell on Wheels Season Three Trailer

Season Two was a definite improvement over the first season, but the departure of both Joe and Tony Gayton, the creators, and John Shiban, the show runner, right after the series was renewed for a third season threatened to prematurely end the show. Fortunately, John Wirth, who had previously produced Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, came on board. Since roughly half the cast were killed off in the previous season, he has a tremendous opportunity to move the focus of the show away from a soap opera with three separate love triangles to the actual construction of the railroad.

The first season was very uneven, and while the second season was much more enjoyable, the writers were far from faithful to the historical record, inventing robber gangs and an attack by the Sioux that seemed to be a dress rehearsal for the Little Bighorn. Hopefully, the third season will keep the improved writing but actually follow what is written in the history books and present the construction of the transcontinental railroad as the mind-boggling technical achievement that it was. Read More…

Dec 132012
 
Hell on Wheels Season Two: Soap Opera on Rails

Most people turn up their noses at soap operas like General Hospital, Days of Our Lives, Dallas or Dynasty, but still want to become involved in the lives of people who are more attractive and lead more exciting lives. For those whose tastes run to Westerns, Hell on Wheels satisfies that desire. It certainly does not satisfy any desire to learn the history of the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad. To be fair, it is a very good soap opera.
Two competing railroads, the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific, raced to build the first transcontinental railroad in the United States. The producers made the logical decision to focus on the Union Pacific, but he railroad was not built by an ex-Confederate hunting the murderer of his wife, and the plucky widow of the original surveyor, who would be able to finish the railroad on schedule if they ever stop squabbling and accept their love for each other. Read More…

Mar 302012
 
Hell on Wheels

On the surface, Hell on Wheels is about a Confederate veteran who is hunting the Union soldiers who had killed his wife during the American Civil War. Yawn. However, the show uses the construction of the transcontinental railroad to examine the many problems facing a recently re-united nation: the challenge of making former enemies live together in peace; the expansion of the railroad into the lands of Native Americans, who rightly feared that it meant the end of their way of life; and the need to integrate newly freed slaves into a world that was still controlled by white men. Hell on Wheels clearly has ambition but does not always achieve its goals. Read More…