WRITTEN BY: BILL BOWSER
Along with the decline of the once almost ubiquitous railroads the term “the wrong side of the tracks” is also disappearing from the American scene. Young people today probably don’t know that it used to be a very common expression denoting the less affluent part of town. The section that was less desirable, the place you wanted to move away from if you had a little more money. But who decides which is the wrong side of the tracks? And why would one side be better than the other?
During the nineteenth century railroads were extending their tentacles almost everywhere bringing increased prosperity to towns throughout the land. Being close to the railroad was a huge economic advantage, but there were disadvantages as well. The railroads also brought along the concept of the right and wrong side of the tracks, but few people today know how that originated. It is no longer apparent how one side of the tracks could be better than the other, but to the early Americans the difference was quite obvious.
Almost all of the locomotives used to be fueled with coal, which produced massive amounts of smoke and dirt, which was blown by the prevailing winds mostly toward one side of the tracks. People living on the downwind side of the tracks had to deal with the soot and dirt while their neighbors on the other side did not. Life on the right side of the tracks was definitely better than it was on the wrong side.