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Michael Portillo crosses the Atlantic to ride the railroads of America, armed with Appleton's General Guide to the United States, published in 1879.

Genres: Adventure | Travel
Station: BBC Two (GB)
Rating: 0/10 from 0 users
Status: Running
Start: 2016-02-01

Great American Railroad Journeys Air Dates


S02E17 - Chicago, US Rail Hub Air Date: 14 February 2017 18:30 -

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Michael Portillo continues his 1,000-mile journey from the northern state of Minnesota to the home of the blues in Memphis, Tennessee. Today, in the nation's rail capital, where tracks pass underground and overground and are elevated into the air, Michael investigates the ultimate marshalling yard. At the ornate Palmer House Hotel, Michael teams up with the head chef to recreate the original chocolate brownie, invented by Bertha Palmer for Chicago's World Exposition in 1893. He discovers the origins of the Sanitary and Ship Canal and uncovers the history of an incredible civil engineering project which raised the city to new heights. Heading deep underground, Michael inspects a modern day scheme on a similarly awesome scale, described by the boss as the largest toilet in the world.


S02E18 - Homewood to Champaign, Illinois Air Date: 15 February 2017 18:30 -

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Steered by his Appleton's Guide, Michael Portillo continues his 1,000-mile rail journey south from Chicago through Kankakee to Champaign, Illinois. In full swing on the fairway at the Flossmoor Country Club, Michael discovers how wealthy businessmen from the city flocked to play and how the railroads fostered the growth of suburban life. Beside the Kankakee River, Michael is invited to visit the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house that changed the face of American architecture. On the platform at Kankakee station, Michael parties with the locals as they celebrate the City of New Orleans rail service, immortalised in song by Arlo Guthrie. He gets his hands on a vintage hooter riding on the Monticello Heritage rail line and in Champaign learns a thing or two at a railroad university.


S02E19 - Mattoon, Illinois to Columbus, Kentucky Air Date: 16 February 2017 18:30 -

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Armed with his 19th-century Appleton's Guide, Michael Portillo continues his 1,000-mile journey, beginning and ending on the Mississippi River from Minnesota to Tennessee. Riding the mainline of mid-America, Michael stops at rural Mattoon, where he gets a taste of the tough early life which shaped President Abraham Lincoln. Wiping the sweat from his brow, Michael struggles to split one rail compared with Lincoln's estimated 700 a day. Basket in hand, Michael joins the Schwartz family apple harvest in Centralia and learns how to make apple butter. He uncovers industrial unrest in the coal mines of Carbondale then heads to Kentucky and the banks of the Mississippi, where a bloody conflict unfolded which proved decisive in victory for Lincoln's Union.


S02E20 - Memphis, Tennessee Air Date: 17 February 2017 18:30 -

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Armed with his Appleton's Guide, Michael Portillo travels the lower Mississippi aboard a paddle steamer to hear about the life and work of former river boat captain, Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain. In the city of Memphis, Tennessee, Michael visits the historic Elmwood Cemetery, where he uncovers the story of a devastating epidemic, which claimed the lives of thousands. He discovers one of the largest rail freight hubs in the United States and in the home of the blues, meets contemporary artist Cedric Burnside in studio before joining millions of Elvis fans at Graceland. An invitation to a duck palace and the honorary position of Duck Master carry curious responsibilities at the 19th-century Peabody Hotel.


S03E01 - Boston Air Date: 22 January 2018 18:30 -

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Armed with his 19th-century Appleton's guidebook to the United States and Canada, Michael Portillo embarks on a 1,100-mile railroad journey from Boston, Massachusetts, across the border to Toronto in theCanadian province of Ontario. Along the way, he encounters revolutionaries and feminists, pilgrims and witches and rides some of the oldest and most breathtaking railroads in the world.

At risk of being uncovered as a Tory spy, Michael joins the Sons of Liberty aboard ship in Boston harbour. Will he help rebels jettison 112 crates of East India Company tea? Michael rides America's first subway and sups oysters in Boston's oldest restaurant. Heading out of the city along the route of one of the earliest railroads in the United States, Michael reaches Lowell, renowned as the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution. An historic streetcar conveys him to the Boott Cotton Mills, where he discovers a flagrant act of industrial espionage and militancy among the thousands of women and girls who worked there.

Michael's guide sets him on the trail of the second largest organ in the world, located now in Haverhill. He is rewarded with a rousing rendition of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, courtesy of the 19th-century Handel and Haydn Choir.


S03E02 - Boston to Concord, Massachusetts Air Date: 23 January 2018 18:30 -

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Michael Portillo's 19th-century Appleton's guidebook leads him to the Parker House Hotel, where in his best pinny, he whisks up a Boston cream pie.

In the fine dome atop Massachusetts General Hospital, where no-one could hear the screaming, Michael discovers the scene of grisly surgery, first made bearable in 1846 by a miraculous new substance. North of Boston, in Salem, Michael is caught up in a witch hunt. He gets a taste of the hysteria which gripped the town in the 17th century and how events were re-interpreted at the time of his guide.

And in Concord, where the first shots of the American Revolution were fired, Michael discovers the home of the celebrated author of the coming of age classic Little Women and hears the story behind the novel.


S03E03 - Plymouth to Nantucket Air Date: 24 January 2018 18:30 -

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Led by his Appleton's guidebook and tracing the footsteps of the Pilgrim Fathers, Michael Portillo heads for Plymouth, the home town of America. He learns how indigenous tribes of Wamponoag people taught the newly arrived settlers to live off the land, the inspiration for one of the biggest holidays in the American calendar.

Michael boards the vibrant Cape Cod Central heritage railway bound for Hyannis, a favourite spot for vacationing presidents. Catching a ferry to Martha's Vineyard, Portillo discovers that ardent Methodists put the island on the map by establishing the country's first religious summer camp in the early 19th century.

Moving on to the island of Nantucket, Michael discovers how hardy New Englanders made vast fortunes from whale oil at a time when Nantucket was the whaling capital of the world. Out at sea, he joins conservationists and whale spotters hoping for a glimpse these magnificent creatures.


S03E04 - Providence, Rhode Island, to New London, Connecticut Air Date: 25 January 2018 18:30 -

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Led by his 19th-century Appleton's guidebook, Michael Portillo's railway journey continues through New England. On the banks of the Providence River, he discovers a club that traces its roots and culinarytraditions back to the 1840s. Michael joins in with one of its legendary open-air 'clambakes'.

In the Rhode Island capital, Providence, Michael is on the trail of an historic company that counts US presidents among its customers. Portillo practises the art of penmanship at AT Cross, America's oldest manufacturer of writing instruments. Travelling west to New London, Connecticut, Michael visits the elite US Coast Guard Academy. Established around the time of his guidebook in 1876, 300 cadets enrol every year and train to defend more than one hundred thousand miles of American coastline.

On the literary trail, Michael visits the childhood summer home of an American dramatist who won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Eugene O'Neill's deeply personal and ground-breaking work dealt with human frailty and the struggles of modern life and transformed American theatre.


S03E05 - New Haven, Connecticut, to Mount Washington, New Hampshire Air Date: 26 January 2018 18:30 -

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Armed with his Appleton's guide, Michael Portillo's rail voyage goes river deep and mountain high as he continues his journey through Connecticut and heads north through the scenic New England states. In New Haven, a crash course in rowing takes place on a stretch of water where college teams from Yale and Harvard have battled for victory since 1852.

Making tracks north to Vermont, Michael experiences 19th-century rural farm life, when its green pastures were grazed by imported dairy herds from the Isle of Jersey and made it the butter capital of the world. Journey's end is in New Hampshire, where Michael ascends the steep slopes of Mount Washington aboard the world's first mountain climbing cog railway, at whose summit an extraordinary weather station has been recording the mountain's famously extreme weather since 1870.


S03E06 - Burlington to Plattsburgh Air Date: 29 January 2018 18:30 -

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Michael Portillo continues his American rail journey through New England as he heads for the Canadian border. First stop is Burlington, Vermont, a busy timber port at the time of his Appleton's guide. Michaelventures deep into the forest to learn how sustainable and technological innovations have transformed the state's billion dollar logging industry.

Following the old trade route across Lake Champlain, he hears of a pivotal battle during the War of 1812 where a British defeat gave the United States a new confidence on the world stage. In Plattsburg, Michael learns of the surprising origins of a classic Christmas carol.

Lead by his guidebook, he travels into the wilderness of the Adirondack Mountains. Here the rich and famous of Appleton's day established great camps to get back to nature, in the lap of luxury. He visits the largest of the camps, reached by boat and even a private funicular railway. In Lake
Placid, Michael braves the steep curves and speeds of an Olympic bobsleigh run. Last stop is an American fort mistakenly built in Canada!


S03E07 - Montreal, Quebec Air Date: 30 January 2018 18:30 -

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Following a special 1899 Canadian edition of his Appleton's guide, Michael Portillo has left the United States and crossed the border to embark on the next leg of his rail journey in Canada.

In the vibrant metropolis of Montreal, he discovers how French and British colonial roots have influenced the city's construction, cuisine and culture. Undaunted by his guidebook's description of the treacherous Lachine Rapids, Michael gets a thorough soaking on a white-knuckle boat ride down the St. Lawrence River.

At the city's prestigious McGill University, Michael learns of its role as a pioneering medical establishment in the 19th century. He unearths a mausoleum amidst the text books and volunteers as a guinea pig at the university's cutting-edge neurology department. In search of the city's black Canadian heritage, Michael is introduced to the dazzling piano playing of 20th-century jazz legend Oscar Peterson.

His Montreal tour ends with a visit to Cirque du Soleil HQ for a very special behind-the-scenes tour of an icon of modern French-Canadian culture.


S03E08 - Montreal to Ottawa Air Date: 31 January 2018 18:30 -

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Steered by his Appleton's guidebook Michael Portillo's train journey continues in Canada's Quebec province.

Venturing into the wooded hills of Vaudreuil, Michael explores a Canadian icon, maple syrup, and unearths its sweet secrets. Returning to the rails, he journeys west into Ontario and learns of Scotland's influence on Canadian culture. At Alexandria, a tartan army escorts Michael to the 70th annual Canadian Highland Games, where he dons his kilt and attempts to toss the caber!

In the capital, Ottawa, Michael visits Canada's parliament and hears how the new nation slowly developed its autonomy after confederation in 1867. Michael visits Ottawa's historic Central Experimental Farm where pioneering discoveries at the time of his guidebook launched a wheat boom that helped Canadian agriculture to dominate the world.


S03E09 - Thousand Islands to Oshawa, Ontario Air Date: 01 February 2018 18:30 -

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Using his 1899 Appleton's guide, Michael Portillo's rail odyssey through eastern Canada continues along the Grand Trunk railway, following the route of the St Lawrence River.

At Brockville, he leaves the tracks for a nautical pilgrimage through the beautiful Thousand Islands. In the port city of Kingston, Ontario, Michael visits Fort Henry and, dressed for the occasion, is entrusted to fire the naval guns that protected the nation's southern border during the 19th century.

Travelling west to Port Hope, he learns of the antics of a celebrated 19th-century high-wire walker known as The Great Farini. And, in the spirit of showmanship, Michael tests his balance with the modern sport of slack lining.

This leg of the journey ends in Oshawa at the opulent home of the McLaughlin family, who helped build a new economy for Canada when they switched from manufacturing carriages to motor cars.


S03E10 - Toronto Air Date: 02 February 2018 18:30 -

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Michael Portillo's railway journey across eastern Canada concludes in the nation's largest metropolis, Toronto. He begins his Toronto tour at Union Station. Now busier than the city's international airport, Michael is shown the ambitious engineering works underground to support the growing number of commuters.

From the dig down, he boldly goes to the dizzying heights at the CN Tower for an extreme outdoor experience at the top of the structure. Nerves are calmed at the Royal York Hotel, one of a network of luxury hotels built by the railway known as the 'castles of the north'.

Catching the street car, Michael finds out how Toronto made itself a magnet for money after it set up its own stock exchange, but not before he presses the button to open the day's trading.

Ending his time in the city's High Park, he seeks out the origins of a celebrated Canadian song that helped to shape the maple leaf as the country's national symbol.

Great American Railroad Journeys Actors

Michael Portillo(Presenter)



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Next Episode of Great American Railroad Journeys is

Season 3 / Episode 1 and airs on 22 January 2018 18:30

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