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Michael Portillo: Great American Railroad Journeys S02 – E19 – “Mattoon, Illinois to Columbus, Kentucky”


Lousy format, but viewable – especially if you go full screen. Have been unable to find S01 E03, nor some other episodes, but still worth listening to. I fill in with missing episodes when found.

About  series 2

Great American Railroad Journeys is a BBC travel documentary series presented by Michael Portillo and aired on BBC Two. Using an 1879 copy of Appleton’s Guidebook to the railroads of the United States and Canada, Portillo travels across the United States primarily by train, though at times using other forms of transportation where necessary. On his journeys, he makes stops to learn how places, events and people, and the railroads of the 19th century influenced the country’s growth into a major superpower.

In his second series, Portillo took two railroad journeys around the midwestern and central regions of the United States, spanning a total of 20 episodes. His first recreated the experience that would have been felt by those travelling across the 19th century American Frontier, beginning in St. Louis, Missouri and travelling towards Kansas City, Dodge City, Colorado Springs, Albuquerque, and finishing at the Grand Canyon.

His second focused on discovering how the modern Midwest was made, beginning in the Twin Cities and following the Mississippi River, before heading towards Chicago, and then turning back southwards towards Minneapolis, eventually rejoining the Mississippi at the finishing point at Memphis.



Episode 1 – “St. Louis, Missouri

The first leg of Portillo’s third railroad journey begins with an exploration of St. Louis via the Metrolink. Places visited include Eads Bridge, the Gateway Arch, Union Station and Shaw’s Garden. Portillo takes a look inside the tallest standing monument in the country, boards a replica of the vessel used in a historic expedition that opened up new lands but brought about the demise of the Native Americans, discovered how James Buchanan Eads managed to span the Mississippi River with a bridge despite not having any experience at bridge-building, and samples refreshments in the city’s former grand railroad station..

Episode 2 – St. Louis to Jefferson City, Missouri”

The second leg of Portillo’s Frontier railroad journey travels westwards across the state of Missouri towards its capital at Jefferson City, learning how traditions of European settlers and the introduction of law enforcement affected the region. Places visited include Washington, Hermann and Jefferson City. He samples some of the German traditions still maintained in Hermann by the descendants of the original German settlers and discovers how anti-German sentiment during World War I caused a decline in the winemaking they brought over, finds out more about George Caleb Bingham and his paintings of the west, learns how to fashion a corncob pipe at the Missouri Meerschaum company in the style employed by Henry Tibbe, and visits the jail that was used to house criminals brought in from the Wild West and the conditions it had during its early years.

Missing – Episode 3 – Sedalia to Kansas City, Missouri”

The third leg of Portillo’s Frontier railroad journey continues westwards across the state of Missouri towards Kansas City, learning of the culture and hidden delights developed in the 19th century and the dangers faced by early Frontier pioneers. Places visited include Sedalia, Independence, and Kansas City. He uncovers why Sedalia was the railroad town of hidden, shady pleasures for 19th century railroad workers and passengers, finds out why some freight trains in America can be over a mile long in length, discovers more about the music of Ragtime and one of its most prominent composers, Scott Joplin, experiences life in 1855 within a living museum history town, and learn about the dangers and brutal hardships that were faced by early pioneers heading out west.

Episode 4 – “Kansas City to St. Joseph, Missouri”

The fourth leg of Portillo’s Frontier railroad journey sees him exploring the region around Kansas City. Places visited include Paola, Kansas, Kansas City – West Bottom district, and St. Joseph. He discovers how Kansas City’s geographical position contributed to it being a major part of the cattle industry and how the Irish helped to shape the city into an important railroad hub for the United States, visits the first Irish business to be opened in the country and still owned and run by the family of the founder, tries out being an auctioneer at a cattle auction, learns more about the founding of the legendary Pony Express and how it was run, and listens to the story of how Jesse James came to his end.

Missing – Episode 5 – “Lawrence to Topeka, Kansas”

The fifth leg of Portillo’s Frontier railroad journey sees him entering Kansas to explore a state of prairies and tornadoes. Places visited include Lawrence – Haskell Indian Nations University and the University of Kansas, the Midland Railway, and Topeka. He learns how Native Americans were treated in the 19th Century at Haskell, meets with the country’s first storm chaser, discovers how Dr. James Naismith invented basketball before having a go at the sport inside the Allen Fieldhouse stadium, finds out what happened when the people fought back against the wealthy, privately owned railroads, and explores the Tallgrass prairie to see the importance of its ecosystem, along with how the landscape and the railroads influenced the poetry of Walt Whitman

Missing – Episode 6 – “Dodge City to Lamar, Colorado”

The sixth leg of Portillo’s Frontier railroad journey sees him journeying from Kansas into Colorado, across a region well known as “cowboy country”. Places visited include Dodge City, and Lamar. He learns more about Wyatt Earp and Chalkley Beeson, visits a reconstruction of the Long Branch Saloon to experience a shootout during the times of lawlessness in the Wild West, finds out about the demise of the buffalo and the efforts to preserve a rare breed, listens to the music of the Dodge City Cowboy Band, samples Kansas bread and hears how the railroads helped to bring in the settlers that would make it a staple of the State’s diet, and travels to the site of the Sand Creek Massacre to hear of how it resulted in the deaths of many Native Americans at the hands of the United States Army.

Missing – Episode 7 – “La Junta, Colorado to Pueblo, New Mexico”

The seventh leg of Portillo’s Frontier railroad journey brings him towards the Rockies and to a region where expansion was earned through war. Places visited include La Junta – Bent’s Old Fort, Las Animas County, Colorado (via car), Raton, New Mexico, and Pueblo, Colorado. He learns more about the Mexican–American War of 1846-48 and the result of the conflict, experiences life as a cowboy including how to use a lasso, finds out the history of firearms in the Wild West at shooting range of the NRA and of the gun culture of the United States, and visits a steel mill that helped with the expansion of the railroads into the West and continues to produce rails for the country.

Episode 8 – “Cañon City, Colorado to Colorado Springs

The eighth leg of Portillo’s Frontier railroad journey continues onwards into the Rockies, to a region that was opened up to settlement and trade. Places visited include Cañon City – Royal Gorge Route Railroad, Colorado Springs (via car), and Pike’s Peak – Pike’s Peak Cog Railway. He travels on the Royal Gorge and learns how its construction was dogged by a war with a rival railroad company, finds out how the partnership between William Jackson Palmer and Dr. William Bell helped to found the spa resort of Colorado Springs, discovers how cricket is an active sport in Colorado, and uncovers how Katharine Lee Bates founded America’s national hymn by riding up to the top of Pike’s Peak to see the views that inspired her.

Episode 9 – “Santa Fe to Acoma, New Mexico”

The ninth leg of Portillo’s Frontier railroad journey sees him heading into New Mexico, and a land that was once a kingdom of the Spanish. Places visited include Santa Fe – La Fonda Hotel & Santa Fe Opera House, and Acoma Pueblo. He learns how Lew Wallace created his biblical epic, Ben-Hur, why John Crosby created operas with the natural beauty of Santa Fe as their backdrop, and of the success of Fred Harvey’s restaurant chain, while discovering the history and Spanish colonial architecture of Santa Fe, before travelling to a pueblo community at Acoma to learn of its history, including the conflict between Native Americans and the Spanish, and the impact the railroad had on its people.

Episode 10

The final leg of Portillo’s Frontier railroad journey takes him across New Mexico to Arizona, where it concludes at one of America’s greatest natural wonders. Places visited include Albuquerque, Williams – Grand Canyon Railway, and Grand Canyon National Park. He views the old locomotive works of Albuquerque, meets with a volunteer group and their project to restore the Santa Fe 2926, one of the largest steam locomotives in the country, learns more about John Wesley Powell, samples chilli peppers while he tackles with making his own enchilada, before heading via train to see the great natural wonder of the Grand Canyon, both on the ground and in the air.

Episode 11 – The Twin Cities, Saint Paul

The first leg of Portillo’s fourth railroad journey begins with an exploration of the Twin Cities. Destination visited (via metro) include Saint Paul – Union Depot, Cathedral of Saint Paul and James J. Hill House; and Minneapolis – Saint Anthony Falls. Portillo learns more about James J. Hill and his railroad empire, and of novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald and his creation, The Great Gatsby, looks inside the Saint Paul’s former grand railroad station and its equally grand cathedral, experiences the jazz lifestyle of the 1920s, and discovers how Minneapolis grew into a major industrial hub as well as a major contributor of artificial limbs.

Episode 12 – The Twin Cities, Minneapolis

The second leg of Portillo’s Midwest railroad journey continues his exploration of the Twin Cities. Destinations visited (via metro) include Fort Snelling, the American Swedish Institute, Minnehaha Park, and North-East Minneapolis. He finds out how the Dakota Sioux were treated by the United States, understands how Lutefisk was brought to North America by Swedish immigrants and partakes in an American-Swedish lunch, hears how Henry Wadsworth Longfellow created his epic poem, The Song of Hiawatha, and takes a look inside the restored passenger cars that were used on the Milwaukee Road.

Episode 13 – “Red Wing, Minnesota to La Crosse, Wisconsin”

The third leg of Portillo’s Midwest railroad journey takes him along the Mississippi, along a stretch that was influenced by white settlers. Destinations visited include Red Wing, Winona, and La Crosse. He finds out more about Laura Ingalls Wilder and her literary work Little House on the Prairie, takes part in a tribal dance of the Dakota Sioux and hears how they were forced out of their lands by the US government, experiences the sport of lacrosse, learns how the Mississippi was made navigable in the 19th century for freight from bustling industry in the region, and visits a wildlife refuge to see the efforts to protect the river’s flora and fauna, including the Bald eagle.

Episode 14 – “Tomah, Wisconsin to Portage, Wisconsin”

The fourth leg of Portillo’s Midwest railroad journey leaves behind the Mississippi, and heads eastwards across Wisconsin. Destinations visited include Tomah, Wisconsin Dells, Baraboo – Circus World Museum, and Portage. He finds out how cranberries are grown and harvested, learns how H. H. Bennett developed photography that could capture motion and how he put the Dells on the tourist map, takes a look at a historic circus train and hears how the railroads brought the circus to the people of the United States, relaxes with a ride on a flume at the waterpark capital of the world, and learns of the history of the portage between the Fox River and the Wisconsin River.

Episode 15 – “Milwaukee to Racine, Wisconsin”

The fifth leg of Portillo’s Midwest railroad journey brings him along the shoreline of Lake Michigan. Destinations visited include Milwaukee – Harley-Davidson factory, Turner Hall, Holler House and Milwaukee Public Museum; and Racine. He hears how Harley-Davidson created its first motorcycle and an iconic brand with a loyal following, finds out how German settlers left there mark on Milwaukee by taking part in some German gymnastics, indulges in some bowling at the oldest bowling alley in the country, discovers how Christopher Latham Sholes developed the QWERTY system used on typewriters and modern keyboards, and views some of machinery of the company founded by Jerome Increase Case that helped to mechanise agriculture.

Episode 16 – “Chicago, the Windy City”

The sixth leg of Portillo’s Midwest railroad journey enters Illinois and arrives at the distinctive American metropolis of Chicago. Destinations visited (via metro) include Union Station, Chicago River, Chicago Fire Academy, Willis Tower, Joliet, and Moody Church. He finds out how the city became the birthplace of the skyscraper and how they created its skyline, makes announcements at a restaurant bearing his name, trains alongside the city’s fire department and learns about the fire of 1871, tries his hand at baseball at the home of the Joliet Slammers and hears how William Hulbert helped to found the National League, and discovers how the evangelists Dwight L. Moody and Ira D. Sankey met and became internationally famous for preaching gospel by both word and music.

Missing Episode 17 Chicago, US Rail Hub

Episode 18 Homewood to Champaign,Illinois 

The eighth leg of Portillo’s Midwest railroad journey begins heading southwards across the state of Illinois. Destinations visited include Homewood – Flossmoor Country Club, Kankakee, and Champaign – Monticello Railway Museum and University of Illinois. He learns how railroads influenced suburban life and the creation of country clubs before having a go on the fairway, discovers how Frank Lloyd Wright influenced American architecture by visiting a house he built beside the Kankakee River, attends a party beside the railroad platform that features a song sung by Arlo Guthrie and written by Steve Goodman,  rides along a stretch of the former Illinois Central Railroad and hears more of its history, and visits a university engineering ranch dedicated to educating students in the construction of railroads, based on the teachings of Arthur Newell Talbot.

Episode 19 – “Mattoon, Illinois to Columbus, Kentucky”

The ninth leg of Portillo’s Midwest railroad journey continues southwards through Illinois, finishing back on the banks of the Mississippi in Kentucky. Destinations visited include Mattoon – Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site, Centralia, Carbondale, and Columbus (via car). He uncovers how the early life of Abraham Lincoln shaped him into becoming the President of the United States and experiences the work in splitting rails, he learns how harvested fruit was transported and witnesses how apple butter is produced, sees the inner workings of a carillon, hears how coal miners of the 19th century formed unions for better conditions in the coal industry, and finds out how Ullysses S. Grant fought for control of the Confederate-held Columbus in the American Civil War and how decisive a turning point it was for the Union.


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