Ties That Bind

Iowa's web-like network of tracks made transcontinental railroad feasible.

HUMANITIES, January/February 2011, Volume 32, Number 1

By June 1886, traveling by rail in the U.S. on tracks four feet, eight and a half inches apart became the standard, thanks to Iowa, as Rudy Daniels explains in talks he gives around the state as part of Humanities Iowa’s Speakers Bureau. Up until 1886, railroads used track widths from between three and six feet. Thanks to Iowa’s web-like network of tracks linking farm communities across the state, over two thousand miles of track at Iowa’s gauge were in place when a decision on a standard was made. Iowa became a cornerstone of the transcontinental railroad when it was decided to cross the Missouri River at Council Bluffs. It then became feasible for a seamless rail line to extend to California.