Virtual Exhibitions 2011, no. 1

Promotion and Transformation of Landscapes along the CB&Q Railroad

Eric D. Olmanson

This virtual exhibition shows some of the many ways railroads reshaped landscapes of the American West between 1847 and 1965. You may choose to read chronologically starting with the overview, or go directly to a theme that interests you by clicking on the navigation slider below. To see an image's full view and caption, click the image thumbnail. All rights reserved for all exhibition images. For permission to use an image, contact the Newberry Library.

Chapter 5


The Pacific Northwest:
“Most people are captivated and captured on their first trip”

James J. Hill's Great Northern Railway was the only successful transcontinental road to be built without land grants. Hill acquired controlling stock in the CB&Q in 1901, in effect making the Burlington a transcontinental route. Between 1923 and 1924 a series of finely produced booster pamphlets was published jointly by the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad, the Northern Pacific Railway, and the Great Northern Railway. This selection of covers from the brochures suggest a coherent vision of the Pacific Northwest as a forward looking frontier, full of mineral wealth, a gateway to international trade, yet a home for humble tillers of the soil and raisers of chickens. They draw on archetypes of yeoman farmers, inexhaustible resources, and dramatic landscapes to portray a benignly optimistic vision of Manifest Destiny.

CB&Q Brochure "Zone of Plenty" (1920) showing cattle in front of farm
Cover, CB&Q "Zone of Plenty" brochure, which covers Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Washington, Oregon, and Idaho (1920)

This brochure defines the “Zone of Plenty” as the northern tier of states from Minnesota to Washington and Oregon, Hill’s original railway empire. Fat hogs and cattle grazing in lush grass in front of a well-ordered new house, a barn, a windmill, and out buildings adorn the cover. No grains or vegetables are depicted.

CB&Q Brochure cover "Land of Opportunity Now" (1923)
Cover, CB&Q "Land of Opportunity Now" brochure (1923)

This busy scene depicts a cornucopia of economic activity, with grain and livestock in the foreground, a man carrying a basket of produce, and in the background tall timber ready for the mill, and a factory across the water. Smoke may symbolize progress, and the ship distant markets for both timber and produce.

Brochure cover "There is a Happy Land -- The Pacific Northwest"
Cover, CB&Q "There is a Happy Land: The Pacific Northwest" brochure (1923)

This cover displays vignettes of order. In the center is a large, sturdy, modern home scenically situated on an overlook. Clockwise from upper left: a healthy herd of cattle in front of a modern barn; schoolgirls dancing in front of a new schoolhouse; a horseman herding sheep; and weed-free rows of vibrant crops.

Brochure cover "A Business of Your Own in Poultryland -- The Pacific Northwest"
Cover, CB&Q brochure, "A Business of Your Own in Poultryland: The Pacific Northwest" (1923)

In this domestic scene, a happy couple oversees the key to their prosperity: chickens. It is an image of agrarian bliss that contrasts sharply with Grant Woods’s famously dour painting seven years later, “American Gothic” (1930).

CB&Q Brochure cover "The Land of Better Farms" (1923)
Cover, CB&Q "The Land of Better Farms" brochure (1923)

While the covers of other pamphlets depict modern farms, this scene shows a stern-looking yeoman behind a horse-drawn plow breaking virgin soil on a hilly field above his house. It may have been aimed at would-be settlers who wanted to escape from more urban and industrialized parts of the country to experience the Jeffersonian ideal of being a small-farmer land owner dependent only on his wits and labor.

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Brochure cover "Timber Billions of the Pacific Northwest" (1923)
Cover, CB&Q "Timber Billions of the Pacific Northwest" brochure (1923)

After lumber companies moved through the northern forests of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, they left the cutover lands and moved to the Pacific Northwest. The scene suggests abundant jobs for hardworking men.

CB&Q Brochure cover "Treasure Lands of the Pacific Northwest" (1924)
Cover, CB&Q "Treasure Lands of the Pacific Northwest" brochure (1924)

The text inside the brochure begins: “on the basis of wealth of immeasurable billions in mineral treasure a mighty industrial edifice is rising in the Pacific Northwest. To picture this vast wealth, to measure its power and to explain what it means to the man, in whatever line of business, who builds his future in this Land of Opportunity is the purpose of this book.” The brochure goes on the describe the treasure to be unearthed, not merely gold and silver, but even more valuable mines of copper, lead, coal, oil, and zinc to help supply a growing demand: “An electrified nation demands more copper.”

CB&Q Brochure cover "Power for Supremacy" (1923)
Cover, CB&Q "Power for Supremacy" brochure (1923)

With pictures, maps, and persuasive rhetoric, this brochure essentially argues that cheap power is the key to industrial growth and the “Great Builder” bestowed upon the Pacific Northwest more than half of the water power resources of the country. In a remarkable section titled “The Immortal Horses” it argues that “coal is burned and destroyed” and its “supplies . . . are slowly but inevitably diminishing; they are not inexhaustible”; and oil reserves “too will one day dry up; for neither are oil supplies unlimited”; and as for wood, “vast forests, once thought inexhaustible, are rapidly depleting” suggesting that “as a source of economic industrial power it cannot be relied upon. But for the horses of water power the future holds no threat of extinction.”

CB&Q Brochure cover "Western Gateway to World Trade" (1923)
Cover, CB&Q "Western Gateway to World Trade" brochure (1923)

The brochure begins dramatically; you can almost see the increasing brightness: “it is morning in the Pacific. The nations of its far-flung countries, feeling the strength of rapid growth, arise in new might. Ancient empires, potentially the most powerful of the earth, throw off the sleep of lethargy. The powers gird for fresh conquests of trade. Twelve hundred millions of people, the world's great majority—white, yellow, brown, black—look out upon the broad Pacific and behold a vast new realm of commerce, a new theatre of world events.” Maps and figures help build the case for the important role the Pacific Northwest is destined to play on the dawning new world stage.

Brochure "Travel's Rewards" showing a ship in a harbor (1923)
"Travel's Rewards," in CB&Q brochure, "Through the American Wonderland: The Pacific Northwest," pp.4–5 (1923)

The opening passage of this brochure argues that not only landscapes were transformed, but so too were the adventurous people who traveled the rails to destinations like the Pacific Northwest and beyond: “this, then, is about a trip that may change your whole life.” Whether seeking a new home or merely a temporary escape, a ticket on the Burlington offered not only transportation from point A to point B, but an opportunity for travelers to reinvent themselves in a new place.


Creative Commons License 2011 Eric D. Olmanson
This refers only to the text and does not include any image rights. Please click on an image to view its individual rights status.