It's difficult to overstate the impact railroads had on the commercial and social fabric of America in the pre-automobile days.
Here's a western Montana flood story from the 1890s that illustrates the point. It comes from a 1946 issue of Railroad Magazine, in the form of a reminiscence by one Axel T. Swanson of Seattle.
On May 4, 1894, Swanson kissed his wife and 6-week-old son goodbye in Helena and boarded the westbound Northern Pacific train. Swanson was a "news butcher," a salesman who peddled candy, newspapers and the like to passengers. Continued