Will Braddock leaves Burlington, Iowa, wearing his father’s old Army slouch hat when he embarks upon his quest to determine his own destiny in Eagle Talons, The Iron Horse Chronicles–Book One. In Chapter 1, I describe the faded black officer’s hat as being without the “gold braid.” A junior officer, as was Will’s father, would actually have worn a gold and black interwoven cord, ending in acorn ornaments called finials. Only general officers’ hats were adorned with a solid gold cord. Will’s hat would not have looked like this, it was battered and dirty. The Union Pacific offers Will a new hat when he accepts his first job with the railroad, but he keeps his father’s old one. He will wear the same hat throughout the trilogy.
Paddy O’Hannigan, Will’s nemesis, on the other hand, has trouble hanging onto his bowler hat. Will keeps shooting the hat off Paddy’s head and the Irishman is constantly having to replace it. The bowler, also called a derby, was designed in England in the decade before the Civil War to provide game wardens with a hat that could not easily be knocked off by low-lying tree branches. The hat became quite popular on the western frontier. Lucius Beebe, American author, wrote that the bowler was “the hat that won the West.”
When Will first encounters the Union Pacific, most railroad engineers are wearing top hats, like Abraham Lincoln, as a badge of distinction. Railroad workers, however, soon adopted the bowler because it did not easily blow off when leaning off the side of a moving train. Today’s ubiquitous blue and white striped railroader’s cap had not yet been created. If you look closely at the engineer standing behind the cab of the locomotive pictured on the cover of Eagle Talons, you will see he is wearing a bowler hat.