Thursday, July 27, 2006

"Chinese ... were forced to camp, in thin canvas tents, under ten- to twenty-foot snow drifts"

"FUSANG: THE CHINESE WHO BUILT AMERICA, THE CHINESE RAILROAD MEN" by STAN STEINER states:
"And the Chinese tunnelers were forced to camp, in thin canvas tents, under ten- to twenty-foot snow drifts. For month after month, they lived like seals, huddled together in padded cotton clothes."

This description of the Sierrra summit camp in winter seems highly implausible, especially that thin canvas tents were in use under twenty feet of snow. Can anyone help to debunk this? Not sure what of this is made up and what can be verified as historically accurate. The description of "one and two-story houses, built quite strongly" (see below) seems much more credible. Here is what we have found so far:

Citing Wesley S. Griswold, "A Work of Giants" 1962 pp. 160-161 & 191 - 192, "A HISTORY OF THE CHINESE IN CALIFORNIA A SYLLABUS" edited by THOMAS W. CHINN, H. MARK LAI, and PHILIP P. CHOY, PUBLISHED BY THE CHINESE HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF AMERICA writes:

"Snow overtook the Central Pacific crews in December of 1866. That winter was one of the most severe on record. But Crocker ordered the workers to start tunneling Donner Summit. The Chinese lived practically entirely out of sight of the sky that winter, their shacks largely buried in snow. They dug chimneys and air shafts and lived by lantern light. They tunneled their way from the camps to the portal of the tunnel to work long, underground shifts. A remarkable labyrinth developed under the snow. The corridors in some cases were wide enough to allow two-horse sleds to move through freely, and were as much as 200 feet long. Through them, workmen travelled back and forth, digging, blasting and removing the rubble."

"TUNNELS OF THE PACIFIC RAILROAD" Van Nostrand's Eclectic Engineering Magazine, Vol. II, 1870 pp. 418-423 has sections giving detailed descriptions of Snow-Storms, Snow-tunnel, and Snow-cuts.

"The Pacific Railroad — Unopen" by Robert L. Harris in the "Overland Monthly," September, 1869, pp. 244-252 describes:

"October, 1867 ... the 'Summit Camp' ... This is really a small town of one and two-story houses, built quite strongly, to resist the weight of winter snows ... After a hearty welcome at the Summit Camp from brother engineers, and a substantial supper, I gladly coiled myself under as many bed-clothes as the human frame could stand, awakened only in the night by the dull boom of blasts in the tunnel, three hundred feet distant. ... "

Lewis M. Clement’s first person account in his 1887 Statement to the U.S. Pacific Railway Commission stated:

"As we neared the summit of the Sierras winter was again upon us, granite tunnels to bore, deep rock cuttings to make, and retaining walls to construct. Rock cutting could not be carried on under snow drifts varying in depth from 20 to 100 feet. It was decided, no matter what the cost, that the remaining tunnels should be bored during the winter. To reach the faces of the tunnels the snow drifts were tunneled and through these snow tunnels all rock was removed. Retaining walls in the cañons were built in domes excavated in the snow — the wall stones raised or lowered to their places into the dome through a shaft in the snow."