Provo-based husband-and-wife duo Sam and Suzanne Payne have written historical material before, from projects for the printed page and the performance stage to music.
But when musician Clive Romney approached them about co-writing “Echoes of Hammers and Spikes,” a new book and CD from Utah Pioneer Heritage Arts, the first transcontinental railroad’s story captured their hearts.
“It’s an enormous tale, filled with all the things that drive the story of America,” storyteller Sam Payne said in an email to the Daily Herald. “To be part of telling that story to families wound up being very meaningful for us.”
“Echoes of Hammers and Spikes” celebrates the 150th anniversary of the first transcontinental railroad’s completion in Utah on Friday with a collection of stories and songs meant to spark kids’ interest.
“Part of our brief was to make something that could be useful to fourth-grade teachers and students as they study Utah history,” Suzanne Payne said in the email. “That really grabbed my attention and imagination. My work has mostly been with kids around that age. We tried to write a story that was clear and exciting, and could be enjoyed by children and the adults who’d share the story with them.”
Utah Pioneer Heritage Arts wanted to inspire children who read the book, like the builders of the transcontinental railroad, “to look out across great, empty spaces where no one has yet built anything and imagine wonderful and useful and daring ways those spaces might be filled,” according to Suzanne Payne.
“People built this railroad on a scale no project had ever approached, across places where no road of any kind had gone, in places no one believed a railroad could ever go,” Suzanne Payne said. “They worked it out in their heads and on paper and on the ground and built the whole thing by hand. One of the biggest projects Americans will ever complete was all handmade. It changed the world.”
Suzanne Payne said the inclusion of a CD filled with songs from Utah songwriters makes the book “unlike any other history of this subject.”
“ ‘Echoes of Hammers and Spikes’ does three things: It delivers a lavishy photo-illustrated telling of the story of the first transcontinental railroad from front to back, it brings to light some lesser-known stories and perspectives that may not always be shared, (and) it provides artful reflection on the history from thoughtful and gifted songwriters,” Sam Payne said. “A family or classroom that interacts with the book and CD can find all sorts of ways to learn the history, and also to reflect on the history.”
This book and CD combination gives an additional perspective to each chapter and serves as “a wonderful memory boost,” helping readers “visualize the characters in this huge story,” according to Suzanne Payne.
“It’s an incredible adventure story filled with light and darkness: America at its best and at its worst,” Sam Payne said. “As people listen to the album and read the book, they’ll find some of that complexity rendered in a way that can be understood by children, and reflected upon by families.”
Utah Pioneer Heritage Arts has used this book and CD format before, according to Sam Payne.
“For example, for more than a decade, the organization has fostered an ongoing project using similar methods to tell stories from each of Utah’s counties,” Sam Payne said. “More than a hundred songs have been written for that project, many of them recorded and released in albums that also contain booklets filled with written storytelling, and even images of original works of art.”
Sam Payne said the first transcontinental railroad’s completion has touched every corner of American life.
“It changed everything: from industry to leisure, from settlement to education, from government to foodways,” Sam Payne said. “We’re still feeling the effects of those changes, and the achievements of the builders of the first transcontinental railroad are still inspiring the visionaries of today.”
The Paynes remember years ago reading at the Golden Spike National Historic Park about “the enormous outpouring of joy across the country” when the first transcontinental railroad was completed. They said they hope “Echoes of Hammers and Spikes” readers and listeners “might be moved by that communal joy, that united spirit, expressed so fervently so soon after a terrible Civil War.”
“We hope people might believe that a similar kind of unified joy might even be possible for us, now, in our time,” the Paynes said.