I’ve read and appreciated a couple of Frank H. Spearman’s classic westerns (he wrote Whispering Smith, most famously), and thought I’d try another. The Mountain Divide is somewhat different from my previous choices. It has the feel of a boy’s book, a genre which was big at one time. That’s mainly because the main character is a 17-year-old boy, and due to the lack of a romantic element in the plot. The book is also different from the others in not being set in the author’s contemporary time, but several decades back in history. It’s about the building of the Transcontinental Railroad, just after the Civil War.
We first meet Bucks, our hero, as a newly hired telegrapher in the track town of Medicine Bend. Faced with a mob of angry customers, he handles himself with coolness and good sense, gaining the favor of his bosses and senior employees. Important among them is Bob Scott, the action hero of the book, who – interestingly enough – is a “half-breed.”
The story proceeds with Bucks advancing in his career, and clashing again and again with the outlaw element that accompanies the progress of the track laying. In the end it will come to open war between the railroad men and the lawless elements. Hostile Indians are also a constant threat. Bucks and Bob Scott will nearly lose their lives before their final triumph.
I should probably mention that, to the best of my knowledge, author Spearman gives a false impression of the legal situation. The recent miniseries Hell On Wheels, which I gave up watching, more realistically portrayed the arrangement – the saloons and gambling dens and houses of ill fame went west with the construction, and were tolerated – or facilitated – by the railroad companies. In this story, the two groups are mortal enemies.
As you’d expect for a book written around the turn of the 20th Century and aimed at boys, The Mountain Divide is a pretty straightforward adventure story, easily enjoyed. I consider Spearman a superior stylist to most of his contemporaries, and I liked this book.