Neighbors - Trains and Boats


Railroads follow rivers. If you plan to cruise rivers, it sure helps if you enjoy trains


------Humans inherently favor the 'least work' hypothesis. This simple concept, employed by scientists since the inception of their field of study, basically states: "Given a choice, nature (or in this case, humans) will pick the alternative that presents the least work." Now, we all know folks who, through ignorance, stupidity, or bull-headedness, are the exception to this rule. They blunder along through life, apparently enjoying making things hard for themselves. But, they are the exception to this rule. Even a lowly worm, given a choice between hard dirt to dig or a nice mulchy route, will opt for the 'least work' path. Every employer knows that his workers well understand the 'least work' concept, as do most savvy social workers.

Fred, Living the Hypothesis

------Anyway, rivers seldom deviate from this theory - they flow downhill, driven inexorably by the pull of gravity, following the easiest route to the sea. Any weakness in underlying strata is immediately exploited. Even a river seemingly trapped in a deep canyon is utilizing a fracture, a fault, a soft stratum - something - to make it easier to get to the sea. Humans, following the 'least work' concept, followed rivers when they traveled. They rode on the backs of rivers and let the water do the work when they could. Tom Sawyer sat on a raft. We came down the Mississippi, not up. We've paddled up a few rivers, when we had no choice, and know the work involved - we did that only because it was easier than walking over the hills with a load of heavy gear.

El, Defying the Hypothesis

------Rivers were America's highways. Easy one way - downhill - and hard the other. Native villages were often along the banks of rivers, and most often at the junction of streams. Many of today's great cities were founded on the same locations and for the same reason.

St. Paul, from the Mississippi River

------Most of our earliest trails and, eventually roads, followed water. The 'least work' way home was certainly not paddling a raft back up the Ohio. Many paths were made by human feet returning 'upstream' .

The Path Home

------The advent of steam power was a revolution - suddenly, there was a new 'least work' choice. Instead of human or animal muscle power there was the power of boiling water. In a very short time, steamboats were plowing up the rivers and in another eye blink, steam engines were pulling cars on tracks -- railroads were born. But, even with this powerful new motive force, 'least work' prevailed. Railroads followed the banks of rivers, using the water-level routes carved by the work of rivers. Therefore, those of us who love to travel along rivers find we often have company - trains. It helps, if you want to cruise a boat on rivers, to also love trains (We have traveled almost every Amtrak route, many of the world's great rail journeys, and even circled the globe on trains - so we fit in).


------Almost every night cruising down the Upper Mississippi, we had train whistles putting us to sleep (or waking us up in the dark), and long lines of freight cars as part of the scenery. Off the river, we miss their company.


Our Constant Companions


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