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describes a symmetrical network

explains the need to be increasingly persuasive

mentions a rash risk taken by ordinary citizens

describes the lack of variation in the designs of the new towns that were built

talks of an unexpected change in conditions

describes a scene of apparent chaos

explains an underlying motive for building new towns

mentions a group of buildings that were no longer standing

talks of expectations that were initially met

10 describes how it was possible to take misleading photographs

Montana
A From the spring of 1907 through the fall of 1908, the Chicago, Milwaukee & St Paul railroad line
lumbered through the Dakotas and into Montana. From the top of any hill, one could have seen its course
through the badlands: the lines of horse-drawn wagons, the heaps of broken rock for the roadbed, the
debris, the gangs of labourers, engineers, surveyors. From a distance, the construction of the new line
looked like a battlefield. As the line advanced, it flung infant cities into being every dozen miles or so. Trains
needed to be loaded with freight and passengers, and it was the essential business of the railroad company
to furnish its territory with customers to create instant settlements of people whose lives would be
dependent on the umbilical cord of the line. The company said, 'Let there be a city,' and there was a city.
B Each was a duplicate of the last. Main Street was a down-at-heel line of boxes, wood and brick,
scattered around the prairie and the railway line. The boxes housed a post office, a hotel, a saloon, a
general store, a saddlery, a barbershop, a church, a bank, a schoolhouse and a jail. Beside the line, sites
were staked out for the grain elevator and the stockyard. A few dilapidated shacks, and the shabby place
was done. Captured from the proper angle, with railroad workers for citizens, it could be promoted as the
coming place in the New West. But the half-built new communities, in which the typical business was a
single-storey shed with a two-storey trompe-l'oeil facade tacked on its front end, were architectural fictions.
Their creators, the railroad magnates, were like novelists.
C As the railroads pushed farther west, into open range-land that grew steadily drier and steadily emptier,

the rival companies clubbed together to sponsor an extraordinary body of popular literature. For the
increasingly inhospitable land to be settled by the masses of people needed to sustain the advance of the
railroads, it had to be made palpable. Railroad writers were assigned to come up with a new picture of free,
rich farmland a picture so attractive that readers would commit their families and their life savings to it,
sight unseen. Pamphlets were distributed by railroad agents all over the US and Europe. They dangled
before the reader the prospect of fantastic self-improvement, of riches going begging for the want of
claimants. The size of a government homestead on 'semi-arid' land was doubled to 320 acres. It was an
outstanding free offer by any reckoning and no homesteader could resist it.
D It was to see what the homesteaders had been promised that Mike Wollaston and I were in Montana.
We were looking for his grandfather Ned's homestead, which had been granted to the family forever on April
27, 1917. We had a photograph taken sometime in the late thirties. In the chemical gloaming of underexposure stands a trim two-storey farmhouse with barns and sheds. We'd expected to find the place in
ruins, but there wasn't so much as the ruin of a ruin in sight. We gave up and decided to tack east, then
south, then east again as the road makes ninety-degree turns along the section lines. One can no longer
get really lost on the prairie: these roads, with their slavish devotion to the cardinal points of the compass,
have converted the land into a full-scale map of itself.
E Our course converged with a drab-green rift of cottonwoods along O'Fallon Creek. We were lucky
because that first week of June had brought perfect spring weather to the prairie a stroke of luck, for we
were seeing it as the homesteaders saw it during their first Montana spring. They arrived in a run of moist
years and the land, in its heyday, was living up to its descriptions in the railroad pamphlets. Then the
weather broke, giving the settlers the first taste of the pitiless, extreme character of the Montana climate
and the winter cold. When stable, high-pressure Arctic air settled in over the prairie, it brought blue-sky days
without a cloud to insulate the earth at night. There was almost no precipitation. The north wind raked the
homesteads, whistling through every crack in their amateur carpentry, prying off their tarpaper sidings. The
temperature dropped, and went on dropping: past zero, into the tens, twenties, thirties, forties. Then there
was wind, fire, lightning and ice.

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