Every story is a railroad story. Just ask Karl Marx

Posted by Jim Wrinn
on Sunday, July 15, 2018

When I was growing up in the 1970s, one of my favorite syndicated newspaper columnists was a Chicago writer named Sydney Harris. His work appeared on the op-ed page in our region’s daily paper, the Asheville (N.C.) Citizen-Times. Among his regular opinion pieces were collections of snippets of wisdom and random and interesting facts and thoughts, which he would entitle “Things I learned while on the way to looking up other things.” This blog post is presented in the spirit of Harris’ column.

The source of the information I’m about to share with you is a delightful book I picked up at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, N.M., last March. It’s called “Daily Rituals: How Artists Work.” Those of us who write and edit for a living are always fascinated by how other creative types produce their work, and we’re always looking for that lightning bolt of inspiration that might help us hone our own craft. And, of course, I’m always delighted to learn about a railroad angle to anyone and anything.

In reading about artists and singers, actors and symphony conductors, poets and politicians, I ran up on the entry for Karl Marx, and found a most delicious tidbit that relates to our railway fascination. As it turns out the revolutionary socialist, not long after he wrote his communist treatise Das Kapital, applied to be a railway clerk in the mid-1800s. But it didn’t work out for a most bizarre reason. Wrote Daily rituals author Mason Currey, Marx was “rejected for illegible handwriting.” Not a good thing for an industry that thrives on precision.

If you ask the Trains staff if they get tired of hearing me say that every story has a railroad angle if you dig deep enough, they will proclaim they’re sick of hearing about it. But it’s true. Even for Karl Marx, failed railway clerk, there is a brush with our favorite form of transportation.


I’ll be on the road later this week to report from Union Pacific’s legendary Frontier Days special passenger train between Denver and Cheyenne, Wyo. I hope to see many of you there as 4-8-4 No. 844 performs this annual ritual of the American West. More on that next week.  






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