Celebrating the John Galt Line

Jim Woods

Jim Woods has over 20 years of experience in the markets from working as a stockbroker, financial journalist, and money manager.

It’s July 22, and for lovers of literature, and specifically those who love the work of novelist/philosopher Ayn Rand, today’s date has a certain glorious significance.

In Rand’s magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged, July 22 is the date that the John Galt Line is officially opened.

Now, if you’re not familiar with the novel, just start reading it today. You can write and thank me in about a month when you’ve finished.

If you are familiar with this masterpiece, you know that the John Galt Line is the transcontinental railroad that is built by the protagonist, Dagny Taggart. The fact that this transcontinental railroad is made with a new kind of metal, Reardon Metal, which lasts three times longer than any other metal and which costs less to produce than other metals, allows its inventor, Hank Reardon, to capture huge profits.

Here’s an excerpt from the novel. In this scene, Dagny announces the opening of the John Galt Line:

“Now I must tell you about the opening of the John Galt Line,” said Dagny. “The first train will depart from the station of Taggart Transcontinental in Cheyenne, Wyoming, at four p.m. on July twenty-second. It will be a freight special, consisting of eighty cars. It will be driven by an eight-thousand-horsepower, four-unit Diesel locomotive — which I’m leasing from Taggart Transcontinental for the occasion.

(An extended, and quite beautiful, dramatic reading of this passage by voiceover artist and producer Heather Wagenhals can be found here).

So, aside from the coincidence of today also being July 22, what’s so important about the launch of the John Galt Line?

The significance of the John Galt Line in Rand’s novel is that it represents man’s victory and mastery over nature in the pursuit of a concrete physical goal. In this case, the goal was to traverse the continent in a train that is faster and more capable than any before it. To achieve this, the lead characters had to use their only tool for survival, and the only tool humans have to alter, to enhance and to celebrate their existence, the tool of reason.

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The building of a transcontinental railroad is a perfect example of man’s ability to achieve greatness, so it’s not surprising to me that Rand used it as a plot device to demonstrate man’s mind at its best. Yet, we don’t have to visit the pages of Atlas Shrugged to celebrate real-world railway achievements.

In fact, in May 2019, I wrote about the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad (which occurred on May 10, 1869).

The so-called “Golden Spike” event took place in Utah, and to help commemorate the occasion, the Union Pacific Corporation (UNP) sent its historic steam locomotive “Big Boy No. 4041” to the event. Here’s what I wrote about this anniversary last year:

Now, you may think this event is just a quaint little remembrance of things past or a nostalgic reminder of the country’s expansion into the West. But I don’t think of it that way. I think of it as a chance to celebrate reason, reality and the victory over matter and molecules in the pursuit of a concrete physical goal — a goal to explore and settle new territory and to enhance human existence.

The way that I see it, the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad is the quintessence of human achievement.

Now, when it comes to having reverence for reason and human achievement, Rand is unequaled. In another passage from the novel, we can see Rand’s worship for human values and human achievement, while also destroying those who regard achievement and the pursuit of values in the physical world as an “ignoble concern” or a “surrender of man’s spirit to his body.”

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She looked at the cab around her. The fine steel mesh of the ceiling, she thought, and the row of rivets in the corner holding sheets of steel sealed together — who made them? The brute force of men’s muscles? Who made it possible for four dials and three levers in front of Pat Logan to hold the incredible power of the sixteen motors behind them and deliver it to the effortless control of one man’s hand?

These things and the capacity from which they came — was this the pursuit man regarded as evil? Was this what they called an ignoble concern with the physical world? Was this the state of being enslaved by matter? Was this the surrender of man’s spirit to his body?

She shook her head, as if she wished she could toss the subject out of the window and let it get shattered somewhere along the track.

In addition to the brilliant writing on display here, Rand’s not-so-subtle critique of those who scorn rational achievements in the real world as some sort of reprehensible aspect of human nature also is on display. As an advocate of laissez-faire capitalism being not only the most effective social system, but also the most moral social system, Rand always connected the purpose of human life with living a rational, achievement-oriented existence here on Earth.

In fact, Rand informally called her ideas, “a philosophy for living on Earth,” as those ideas venerate our existence and our nature, qua man.

So, today is July 22, the date of the maiden voyage of the John Galt Line. And on this day, I am going to celebrate by venerating man’s distinguishing characteristic, and the one that makes all other values possible, the power of reason.

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Don’t Flatter Yourself

“Don’t flatter yourself that friendship authorizes you to say disagreeable things to your intimates. The nearer you come into relation with a person, the more necessary do tact and courtesy become. Except in cases of necessity, which are rare, leave your friend to learn unpleasant things from his enemies; they are ready enough to tell them.”

— Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

While I would rather learn about my inequities and unpleasant things as soon as possible, instead of when they are presented by my enemies (so that I can fix them), I do love the idea of the growing importance of tact and courtesy the closer you become to someone. If we want to cultivate mutually satisfying relationships, we have to treat those in our lives with tact, courtesy and tenderness. Sure, we can provide “tough love” when appropriate, but tough love has a way of quickly morphing into resentment and anger.

So, the next time you feel the desire to be critical, or to say something disagreeable to someone you value, pause for a moment and try not to flatter yourself into thinking you have permission, because you probably don’t.

Wisdom about money, investing and life can be found anywhere. If you have a good quote that you’d like me to share with your fellow readers, send it to me, along with any comments, questions and suggestions you have about my newsletters, seminars or anything else. Click here to ask Jim.

In the name of the best within us,

Jim Woods

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