The earliest American railroads tended to be drab, but in the mid-1800s, colorful locomotives became all the rage. The North Carolina Railroad was on board with the trend, painting its rolling stock in bright colors and bestowing memorable names taken from mythology, North Carolina geography, or prominent citizens. That colorful tradition lives on today.
Laying track across the state from Goldsboro to Charlotte in the 1850s was grueling physical work, but when the task was completed, it gave North Carolina a much-needed reason to celebrate. That's not to say the process of building the North Carolina Railroad was always pretty. It featured unrealistic budget projections; cost overruns; compromises in the quality of work over the objections of the man charged with oversight. The story reads like something on the front page of today's newspaper.
The Erie Canal across New York State was a marvel. The concept was visionary. The business plan was revolutionary. The engineering was inspiring. The Erie Canal forever changed New York State and the Midwest. It also taught far-away North Carolina lessons that helped the "Rip Van Winkle State" rouse itself from crippling economic stagnation.
Railroad track gauge is the distance between the two rails. In the United States today, the standard is set at 4 feet, 8 1/2 inches. That measurement was also almost exactly the standard distance between the wheels of Roman chariots. The similarity has led some to conclude that the current standard was passed down from Roman times. The story is actually much more interesting than that simple telling.
In January of 1849, a potentially historic, but highly contentious railroad act came before a polarized North Carolina Senate. The House had passed the bill, but only by a narrow margin. In the Senate, floor debate was acrimonious. Then the vote was called. Deadlock: 22 ayes; 22 nays. A hush fell over the chamber and all eyes turned to the dais, where President of the Senate Calvin Graves rose to cast the deciding vote.