Progress of the Railroad

The last of the railroad towns was Wasatch located at the eastern end of the longest tunnel (770 feet) on the road. In fact it was the delay occasioned by this work that gave rise to the town. When the line was put down a temporary track was built around the obstruction so as to permit the materials for the track beyond to reach the front. This place originally had a machine shop, round house and eating station all of which were removed to Evanston in 1870.

Upon the passage of the supplementary Charter in 1864 the restriction confining the Central Pacific to the State of California was withdrawn and they were authorized to build for one hundred and fifty miles east of the California boundary. This latter restriction was also withdrawn by Congress in 1866, leaving the meeting point to be determined by the rapidity of the construction of the respective lines, or as the Act of Congress put it, they could locate, construct, and continue their line until it should meet the Union Pacific continuous line.

With the experience of three years behind them and the Land Grant, Government Bonds and prospective earnings, not to speak of the element of pride ahead, the two lines entered into a race the like of which had never been seen. The rivalry extended from the Presidents of the respective Companies down to the boy who carried water to the graders. Both forces, justly proud of their achievements, considered themselves a little better than the other. One form of the rivalry was as to which outfit could get the greatest amount of track down in one day. The Union Pacific’s forces led off with six miles, soon after the Central went them a mile better.

Then seven and a half miles were put down by the Union Pacific; the Central Pacific forces not to be outdone announced they could get down ten miles inside of one working day. Vice-President Durant offered to wager ten thousand dollars it could not be done, and the Central Pacific outfit resolved it should be done. Waiting until there were but fourteen miles for them to lay, they started in and laid ten miles and two hundred feet from seven A.M. to seven P.M., using four thousand men in the operation.

And then the Union Pacific outfit was mad. They claimed if they had massed their forces, made special preparation, etc., they could do better than their competitors, but they could not prove it for there was no more track to lay.

The Central Pacific people ran their grade east of Ogden to Echo Canon, this when their completed line was only built to the vicinity of Wadsworth, Nevada. The Union Pacific Railroad located their line to the California State line and had their graders at work as far west as Humboldt Wells, Nevada, four hundred and sixty miles west of Ogden.

Laying the track

Laying track to join the railroads by Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, September 24, 1881.

This line west of Promontory was never built, however, and it is said that one million dollars was expended in this way. As it was the Central Pacific had their grade established some eighty miles east of Promontory Point, thirty miles east of Ogden, and this when the Union Pacific were laying their completed track within a mile of and parallel to their grade . The prize was so great that every nerve was strained on the part of both contestants as to who should push their track the further. The advantages were about equal.

The Central Pacific were somewhat nearer their base of supplies, their laborers were the quiet, orderly, and easily managed Chinese and then they were in comparatively good financial shape. The Union Pacific, though farther from their base of supplies, were in railroad communication with the points of manufacture, their men, while turbulent and hard to control, were enthusiastic and worth three to one of the opposing forces. They were well paid, well housed and well fed, and were handled by men who had as a rule, army experience back of them and who certainly were “bosses” in the best and fullest sense.

During the winter of 1868-1869 the advantage was with the Central Pacific Company. Their line across the Sierras was fully protected by snow sheds and they only met with one week’s suspension of business from snow troubles during the whole winter, while the Union Pacific were blocked between Cheyenne and Green River for four long months. The rate of construction grew rapidly. During 1864 there were about two hundred men employed on the grading and track-laying. While it took one year to complete the first forty miles, the second year, the year 1865, saw two hundred and sixty five miles done, over a mile a day working time, and this was exceeded from that on.

There were about two thousand five hundred graders employed in 1867 in addition to four hundred and fifty track-layers and from this number up, until the completion of the road. Their forces numbered twelve thousand men and three thousand teams, while six hundred tons of material were placed daily during the spring of 1869 when the contest was at its height. The maximum track laid in one day, was seven and a half miles. As the line progressed round houses were put up at Omaha, North Platte, Cheyenne, Laramie, and Ogden, each having twenty stalls, and at Grand Island, Sidney, Rawlins, Bitter Creek, Medicine Bow and Bryan, of ten stalls each. These were substantial buildings of brick or stone with sheet-iron roofs thoroughly fire proof.

In addition to the large shops at Omaha where much of the building of equipment was done, repair shops were built at Cheyenne and Laramie.

Stations were established at an average of fourteen miles apart. The station buildings were built of wood and of two classes, three-fourths of them twenty-five by forty feet, the remaining one-fourth thirty-six by sixty feet. At each station water tanks were erected, surmounted by wind mills. Sidings three thousand feet long were located at each station and in some cases at points intermediate fifteen hundred feet long. In all there was about six per cent of the main line distance in side tracks.

To accommodate not only the Public, but their own employees, the Company put up good sized hotels at North Platte, Cheyenne, Laramie and Rawlins.

Eating houses were established at Grand Island, North Platte, Sidney, Cheyenne, Laramie, Rawlins, Bryan (Near Granger long ago passed out of existence) Wasatch (afterwards removed to Evanston) and Ogden. During construction days the charge for a meal was a dollar and a quarter, but with the opening of the road this was reduced to one dollar and afterwards to the present price seventy-five cents.

William Francis Bailey, 1906. Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated March 2018.

Author & Notes: This tale is adapted from a chapter of a book written by William Francis Bailey, entitled The Story of the First Trans-Continental Railroad:  Its Projectors, Construction and History, published in 1906, by the Pittsburgh Printing Co. The tale is not 100% verbatim, as minor grammatical errors and spelling have been corrected.

Also See:

Railroad Tales & History

Historical Accounts of American History


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *