It is an undisputed truth that the railroads brought both good and bad to American cities and towns; just as there is good and bad in all forms of progress. The spread of wealth, industry and jobs was a good thing for many, but then the attraction to big cities by nefarious and criminal elements has produced vice in these places. The railroads also spread the tentacles of gambling across the land and especially into the Wild West. Relatively unpoliced, these frontier towns were dens of inequity with prostitution combined with the sale of alcohol and gambling creating an industry of adult entertainment firmly entrenched. It made some very rich and many more others mighty poor. Bookies would even offer odds on what time the trains would arrive.
More recently, casinos on American Indian reservations have seen billions of dollars generated by these gaming operations, owned and operated by American Indians. The industry grew out of a taxation victory by an Indian couple, in the US Supreme Court in the nineteen seventies, over property taxes imposed by the Minnesota State Government. The court found that the states had no right to impose taxation or regulate Indian activities on Indian reservations. This led to the construction of high stakes bingo halls by the Seminole Tribe of Florida and despite the efforts of County police and officials to close the operation down; the tribe was successful in federal court. In 2011 two hundred and forty Native American tribes were running four hundred and sixty gaming operations worth some twenty seven billion dollars annually.
There are conflicting reports on whether this mega gambling Native American industry (Indian casinos generate more income than Las Vegas and Atlantic City casinos combined) is providing tribal Indians on reservations with improved standards of living or not. There are still many Indians living in trailer homes and cramped apartments in many tribal areas. It may not be paying off big time for all Indians but the industry is a major employer of Native Americans. There are huge facilities with hundreds of slot machines and it is reported that Indians receive $4 out of every $10 waged by Americans at these gaming facilities.
Gambling is seen by many to be a wicked God forsaken industry, a scourge of the nation which needs to be controlled and, even, curtailed. Others have a more laissez faire attitude to its existence and see it as a part of every grown up culture. The trains bring in punters to the casinos and the slot machines ring out with their distinctive song. Money makes the world go around, so they say.
The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas started out life as a Broadway Musical in the late nineteen seventies and was a smash hit with the American public. It was translated into a film starring Dolly Parton, as the Madame of the Chicken Ranch, the town’s local brothel. Burt Reynolds, another American big time movie star of the era played the town’s sheriff, who has an understanding and a part time relationship with Dolly’s character. Nineteen eighty two was the year that the film was released and it was the highest grossing musical film of the decade.
The story could be considered a light hearted look at American morals in the public realm in the modern era. The Chicken Ranch is a long running institution within the fictional Texan town and the sheriff turns a blind eye to its activities; and he and Dolly’s character are lovers on the side. A celebrity television personality decides to do an expose on the town and reveals to a large audience the existence of the Chicken Ranch. The brothel is the place where the winning Texas college football team is traditionally brought to celebrate its victory. The media attention creates a wave of public disapproval and negativity towards the town.
Burt Reynolds’s character, the sheriff, convinces Miss Mona (Dolly Parton) to close the brothel’s doors until the bad publicity blows over. She agrees but secretly allows the winning football team to have their traditional whoring celebration, but the TV star and cameras ambush them and film the goings on. Ed Earl (Burt Reynolds) assaults Melvin P. Thorpe (Dom DeLouise) the TV personality and quarrels with Miss Mona, calling her a whore. The Governor of Texas is called upon to make a decision regarding outback brothels, but he is portrayed as too weak to make a decision without the support of voter’s polling on the situation.
The movie ends with the director having it both ways, as the reconciled lovers come together and Ed proposes marriage, but Miss Mona turns him down because she knows he wants to run for state legislature; her prostitution background would hurt his chances. In a voice over at the conclusion of the film, the audience is told that Ed was successful in his political bid and that the couple married happily; a truly American fairy story.
When the railroad went through a township it put it on the map, literally, and it meant money and jobs. Lines of transports can offer trade, passengers and employment for locals. In the past, the railway was a lifeline to rural communities. Farmers could shift their produce by train and cattle ranchers could get their animals to market. The railroad was the first land based cost effective transportation system; it was reasonably fast and very reliable. The railways offered means of migration for Americans to economically move from one region to another, one town to another.
Freight trains in America are still a big part of the transport equation, competing with trucks for the haulage dollar. The railroad as a lifeline to rural communities is still a true statement, even today, in the twenty first century. There is talk about very fast trains for high speed travel but these are yet to win community approval through proper environmental channels. The transnational railroads remain the main routes across the country carrying goods and raw materials to their markets.
What are their lives like in Middle America, in these rural communities linked up by the networks of railroads? There are perceptions of some children in rural communities as having learning difficulties due to environmental factors. What are these environmental issues and are they connected to the rail lines criss crossing the country? Any talk of high speed trains has been constantly blocked by reports of high noise/vibration pollution damaging residents who live near or on these tracks. In European nations like Sweden their high speed trains are denied access to the lines during the hours of the night when nearby residents are sleeping.
People or progress? It has been an ongoing debate for decades now, as local communities and environmental groups stand up for their rights against the multinational corporations who want to invest in infrastructure and profit from it. Is the modern railroad going to be a lifeline or a scar in the lives and lands of rural America? Reports of rolling bombs carrying crude oil derailing and devastating towns in North America are reaching the world, as oil filled rail tankers crash and the ensuing explosions kill dozens of local residents. There are two sides to the rail debate and what was once a wholly positive story now has some dark aspects to it. There are no easy solutions to the dilemma these country folk now face; economics or safety, or can a combination of both be found?