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Bill Thayer

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The Road of the Century
The Story of the New York Central
Alvin F. Harlow

[image ALT: An aerial photograph of a long train pulled by a steam lcoomotive, making its way from the distance toward the left foreground near the viewer, round the gentle bend of a wide river between two forested hills. It is a New York Central train and the Hudson River.]

Rounding base of Anthony's Nose,
in the Washington Irving Country

The Author and the Book

Alvin Fay Harlow (1875‑1963) was a professional writer who specialized in telling history, often technological history, picturesquely for a popular audience. In particular, he wrote several books on railroads and canals: Old Towpaths: The Story of the American Canal Era (1926), Old Postbags: The Story of the Mail Service (1928), Old Waybills: The Romance of the Express Companies (1934), Steelways of New England (1946); the present volume (1947); and A Treasury of Railroad Folklore: the stories, tall tales, traditions, ballads, and songs of the American railroad man with Benjamin A. Botkin as editor (1953) — a list that is not exhaustive.

Road of the Century is entertaining and focuses somewhat on the picturesque and easy-to‑grasp, told in a rather breezy style: but it contains a mass of information, provides a solid overview of its subject with many interesting details, gives the reader an excellent notion of the early westward expansion of U. S. railroads generally, and includes seven maps of the New York Central and its constituent railway systems.


The Embryo of a Giant


A Living Chain Is Forging


The Twelve Little Railroads


The Birth of the New York Central


Mid-Century Growing Pains


Enter the Leading Man


The Hudson River Is Beautified


Manifest Destiny


The Knotting of Three Strands


The Pride of Michigan


"Familiarly Known as the Lake Shore"


The Road of the Century Takes Form


Saga of the Amazing Mr. Brice


The Tragedy of the Nine Tunnels


The Bee Line


The Big Four, Old and New


Boston & Albany


In the North Country


Twentieth Century

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Technical Details

Edition Used

This transcription follows the original edition, Creative Age Press, Inc., 1947. It is in the public domain because copyright was not renewed in the appropriate year, which would have been 1974 or 1975: details here on the copyright law involved.


The printed edition includes some eighty black-and‑white images: woodcuts interspersed thruout the text, usually at pretty much the best place to illustrate it, and photographs printed in groups on high-quality glossy inserts. I've distributed the latter to what seemed to me the most suitable places in the text, and repositioned a few of the former in the same spirit; but the original placement is indicated in the sourcecode as well as by the URL of the image, and in my Table of Illustrations. The author, before captioning the frontispiece you see above, indicates "All photographs from New York Central, unless otherwise specified".

I colorized the maps, black-and‑white in the printed edition; they gain in readability.


As almost always, I retyped the text by hand rather than scanning it — not only to minimize errors prior to proofreading, but as an opportunity for me to become intimately familiar with the work, an exercise which I heartily recommend: Qui scribit, bis legit. (Well-meaning attempts to get me to scan text, if success­ful, would merely turn me into some kind of machine: gambit declined.)

This transcription has been minutely proofread. In the table of contents above, the sections are shown on blue backgrounds, indicating that I believe the text of them to be completely errorfree. As elsewhere onsite, the header bar at the top of each chapter's webpage will remind you with the same color scheme.

The edition I followed was very well proofread: I found very few identifiable typographical errors, although I didn't check all the dates and numbers.

A small number of odd spellings, curious turns of phrase, etc. have been marked <!‑‑ sic  in the sourcecode, just to confirm that they were checked.

Any mistakes are thus probably my own, so please drop me a line, of course: especially if you have a copy of the printed book in front of you.

Pagination and Local Links

For citation and indexing purposes, the pagination is shown in the right margin of the text at the page turns (like at the end of this line p57 ); these are also local anchors. Sticklers for total accuracy will of course find the anchor at its exact place in the sourcecode.

In addition, I've inserted a number of other local anchors: whatever links might be required to accommodate the author's own cross-references, as well as a few others for my own purposes. If in turn you have a website and would like to target a link to some specific passage of the text, please let me know: I'll be glad to insert a local anchor there as well.

My icon for the book is an engraving on the title page of the print edition, in pretty much its original colors: it's a locomotive of the 1830's or maybe better the early 1840's, but matches no locomotive otherwise figured in the book's woodcuts. If you can identify the type, railway line or date, please drop me a line, of course.

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Site updated: 25 Feb 13