This is a graphic header showing various historic transportation images and the title Moving North Carolina, as well as the subtext, "How we got here. Why we live where we do. Who we are."

Welcome to
Moving North Carolina

This blog offers a fresh perspective on North Carolina history, telling the panoramic story of our state as a tale of evolving transportation and increasing mobility. The blog is a companion to the public television documentary of the same name.

North Carolina transportation history – from ancient footpaths to superhighways – is a saga of vehicles and vessels; of animals and engines; of rivers, canals, rails and roads. But far deeper than that, it is a very human story. It is the story of the people who used those modes of transportation to arrive here, to populate the countryside, to prosper, and to coalesce into one special state. Moving North Carolina is the story of how we got here, why we live where we do, and what has been important to us. It is the story of who we are.

Moving North Carolina is a window through which you can view North Carolina history as you never have before.

Here's what you can do on this blog:

  • Click below on one of the most recent posts to read the full story.
  • Browse or search the entire collection on the Searchable Archive page.
  • Peek behind the curtain on how the blog originated on the About The Blog page.
  • Watch a preview of the Public Television documentary version of Moving North Carolina and purchase a DVD or Blu-ray disc on The Documentary page.
  • Comment on any post (at the bottom of the post) or leave general feedback on the Comment page.
  • (Coming Soon) Subscribe and receive a weekly email with a thumbnail description of that week’s post. (And no sales pitch.) A simple click will bring you the big picture and the full story.
A bright red cowcatcher on a steam engine

Early rail – the cowcatcher

Among the litany of hazards that made riding on early American railroads a moment-to-moment adventure was the not-farfetched possibility of a collision with an animal. Impact with a dog, hog, or even a sheep that had wandered onto the tracks might not even be noticed by passengers and crew. But as one engineer put it, “Them there cows are the devil to pay.” The all-American solution to a very American problem was a “cowcatcher” mounted to the front of the engine.

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A steam engine dominated by a conductor's pocket watch

Railroad Time

America in the 1800s was still a country built around the farm, where the time of day was reckoned in broad terms: sunrise and sunset; daylight and nighttime; breakfast, dinner and supper. In a small town, where stores had business hours, churches scheduled services, and a court might hold session, a stricter calculation of time was more important. But each town kept its own time with little concern for the next town down the dirt road. Then the railroads came, imposing Standard Railroad Time.

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Four draft horses in harness, with the mathematical formula for horsepower superimposed

Horsepower

As the Industrial Revolution produced mechanical devices to perform work, it was only natural to compare the productivity of an engine to that of the animals that had historically provided the muscle. So why don’t we talk about oxenpower or bullpower? And why was horsepower actually based on the work capacity of Shetland ponies. And not to get too picky, why is “one horsepower” not the amount of work one horse could accomplish in a given time?

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Please check weekly for new posts. And if you like what you see, please help spread the word.