Thursday, February 28, 2008

Alfred A. Cohen & Fernside

"From Estate to Neighborhood: the Story of Fernside" by DENNIS EVANOSKY, © Alameda Sun, January 11 - February 28, 2008.

The Alameda Sun has a six part series about the history of Fernside and Alfred A. Cohen:

" ... In the 1850s Cohen was a respected and trusted financier and banker ... born in London, England, on July 17, 1829, the son of a wealthy merchant. ... While in jail, he studied the law. He was admitted to the bar in 1857. ... Around this time he began to put down roots on his 106-acre spread in the east end of Alameda. He built a home and dubbed his property 'Fernside' ... Leland Stanford played a major role in first consolidating A. A. Cohen's San Francisco and Alameda Railroad ... which by 1869 stretched from Vallejo Mills through San Leandro and Hayward before it reached Alameda’s Pacific Avenue wharf ... then hiring Cohen as one of the railroad's attorneys. Stanford would live to regret the latter decision. ... By the summer of 1869, the CPRR had added the SF&O and SF&A to its portfolio. When the deal closed, A.A. Cohen became a very wealthy railroad attorney. ... In September 1869, the transcontinental railroad was set to arrive at San Francisco Bay. There was one problem; the SF&O wharf at Gibbons Point was not yet ready to accommodate the trains. Cohen was happy to learn that the very first train would arrive on 'his' tracks. ... Cohen remained the president of the San Francisco, Alameda & Haywards Railroad and also served as the Central Pacific's attorney. ... he could scarcely abide members of the Big Four. He looked down on them as, 'men whose habits, modes of thought and conversation were not calculated to advance me.' ... " [More]

Click for parts one, two, three, four, five, and six.

[Courtesy Google Alerts.]

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

"The Central Pacific Railroad Across Nevada 1868 & 1997"

"Fernley man writes resource for railroad buffs" by MARY JEAN KELSO, © Lahontan Valley News and Fallon Eagle Standard, February 27, 2008. (News Article)

"Larry Hersh first became interested in trains after he was run over by a semi-truck. When the mishap occurred at age 6, his grandfather, a Pennsylvania railroad conductor, gave him his first Lionel model train to help occupy him during his recuperation. ... Hersh wrote a book to document the way the rail line was in 1868, when the first Central Pacific Railroad engine chugged across Nevada, and how it had changed by 1997 ... The Central Pacific Railroad Across Nevada 1868 & 1997 ... Hersh tracked down the exact locations where the original photos were shot and duplicated the scenes Hart had exposed in the first years of the CPRR. ... he is working on a DVD depicting the history of the rail grade between Reno and Wadsworth. ... For more information, visit Hersh's Web site ... or contact him at 775-575-3108." [More]

[Courtesy Google Alerts.]

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Trans Continental Poster Question

From: "Howard Banks"

There's a famous poster printed by Horton & Leonard that's headed: 1869 May 10 1869 / Great Event. I'd like to learn more about that poster. Can you tell me when it was printed? I assume it was a decade or so after the transcontinental railroad was completed.

—Howard Banks


Thursday, February 21, 2008

Jon Jang's "Chinese American Symphony" about the CPRR Railroad Workers

"Oakland East Bay Symphony summons slice of Chinese-American history," © Contra Costa Times, 02/21/2008. (News Article)

"... the immigrant laborers ... inspired Jon Jang's [music] ... a 24-minute, one-movement 'symphony' ... Chinese workers set a record laying 10 miles of track in under 12 hours ... It is both the triumph and the travail of that incredible achievement that Jang has tried to incorporate into his Chinese American Symphony, which is scored for the full traditional orchestra plus an array of unusual instruments including an anvil, a pennywhistle and, most evocative of all, the two-stringed bowed instrument known as the erhu, or Chinese violin. ... it was his beloved uncle-by-marriage, historian Philip Choy ... to whom the symphony is dedicated ... 'The orchestra ... represents the American West and the terror and danger' it posed for the Chinese workers. The erhu [is] the real star of the symphony ... 'symbolizes the small Chinese worker whose strength reaches mythic proportions.' ... " [More]

[Courtesy Google Alerts.]

More myths. "Alkali dust made most bleed from the lungs."

Is there any factual basis for the claim about the Chinese workers who built the Central Pacific Railroad that: "Once the men reached the desert ... Alkali dust made most bleed from the lungs"?

A number of the details of the post that makes this claim are well known to be incorrect: There was no significant difference in pay of Chinese vs. other workers (Chinese workers were paid a dollar more), as the railroad did not provide Chinese food to those workers – they prepared it themselves. The myth about Chinese being "suspended in baskets" at Cape Horn is a fabrication. No dynamite was used – only black powder and nitroglycerine manufacured on site at the summit tunnel, as nitroglycerine was too dangerous to transport.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

"Chinaman's Arch"

"Chinaman's Arch," LiveScience's Image of the Day, February 19, 2008. (Article)

"Golden Spike National Historic Site ... A monument located near the site known as Chinaman’s Arch was renamed the Chinese Arch in honor of 19th century Chinese workers who helped build the railroad. The arch was likely formed by wave erosion along the shore of ancient Lake Bonnieville, a great freshwater lake that extensively flooded the eastern Great Basin region throughout Utah and Nevada." [More]

[Courtesy Google Alerts.]

Chinamans Arch Image courtesy of the USGS.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The first California Aquarium Car

From: "Noah Belikoff"

I thought you all might find the attached articles interesting. They describe the first attempt by the U.S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries to transport live eastern fish (and lobsters) from New England for stocking in California's waterways in June of 1873.

It was a disaster ... literally. Heavy rains had undermined a trestle over the Elkhorn River in Nebraska; it gave way, precipitating the engine and the then-famed "California Aquarium Car" into the river. Nebraska was the inadvertent recipient of California's loss. (Manna to any Nebraskans lucky enough to enjoy the lobsters while they lasted!)

The intrepid Commissioner who accompanied the precious cargo managed to survive the ordeal and immediately returned to the east coast, successfully delivering 40,000 shad to the Golden State only three weeks later.

The attached Daily Alta California article is actually an uncredited excerpt (a common practice in those days) of a longer article published in the Omaha Daily Herald of June 10, 1873. See also the Omaha Weekly Bee of June 11 for further details.

After getting off to a rough start, successful deliveries of live fish on the transcontinental railroad to western destinations became routine from 1874 forward.


Daily Alta California 6-10-1873
Daily Alta California 6-10-1873

San Francisco Examiner 6-11-1873
SF Examiner 6-11-1873
Newspaper articles courtesy of Noah Belikoff.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Transcontinental train trip in 1923; also 1905

From: "Charter Mail"

In 1923 what train would an Ellis Island passenger use to get from the Island, New York to Sacramento, California? What would it cost? How long would the train trip be from New York to Sacramento in days? Would they use open train cars? How can I find out more about this train and trip?


Saturday, February 16, 2008

CPRR stereoviews photographed by Carleton Watkins in the 1870's

Philip Nathanson comments that there is a small series of 42 unique views by Carleton Watkins (#4201 - 4242) of the Central Pacific Railroad taken in the 1870s, also published in the 1870s, shortly after the completion of the transcontinental through Nevada and California. This series is different and not to be confused with Watkins earlier views of the CPRR (#1 - 364) which were printed from negatives by Alfred A. Hart. The issuance of these views shows the public's continuing fascination with the transcontinental railroad.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Quadrapod Copy Stand

We're always interested in novel and well made photo gadgets and accessories. The attractive four leg copy stand holding a camera that is shown repeatedly in the laboratory on the TV program CSI Miami looks like it might be useful for photographing documents, photo's, railroad collectibles, etc., although it apparently was intended especially for crime scene investigators and firefighter photography. It was hard to find information, so we though it might help someone to provide links.

There are two models, the original Quadra-PodTM Copy Stand (US Patent #5993077, trademark), and the more adjustable Quadrapod EliteTM Copy Stand (Patent Pending, trademark) shown below. The only licensed reseller is Richard McEvoy at Forensic Imaging, Inc., (585) 924-9410, or they can also be ordered directly from the inventor, Steven P. Jones, 5507 Moultrie Road, Springfield, Virginia 22151, (703) 321-8106,

Quadrapod Elite Photographic Copy Stand
Quadrapod Elite Photographic Copy Stand
Image courtesy of Steven P. Jones.

Automatic Track Laying Equipment

From: Wendell Huffman

The earliest spike driving machine I find in a quick search at Google patents is that of John W. Close. Patent filed July 1881, issued February 1890, with number 421908. It was steam powered. I am unaware of machines actually produced or used. But, someone was actually thinking about it.


[from the R&LHS Newsgroup.]

Misinformation Galore for Children

"Train of thought: Regional theater ensemble has lesson about railroad sacrifices, will travel" by Mary Therese Biebel, © Wilkes-Barre Pennsylvania Times Leader, February 15, 2008. (News Article)

"The harried manager with the eye patch squints at blueprints, wondering how he’s going to continue building the Central Pacific Railroad, now that it’s up against a 2,000-foot-high cliff that extends for three miles. [Monica Johnson and Kyle Yackoski portray two Chinese workers who are lowered in a basket over a steep cliff in the Sierras to set dynamite for the Central Pacific Railroad. The daring strategy was similar to a technique that had been used in China to build fortresses in cliffs over the Yangtze River.] Straw hat in hand, a Chinese railroad worker enters the boss’s office and suggests a plan. Back home, the worker says, there was a strategy for carving fortresses into the cliffs above the Yangtze River. Two laborers would be lowered in a basket to a vantage point where they would insert dynamite into the wall of rock. “The tricky part,” explains the worker, who is played by Monica Johnson, “ is to signal the men on top to pull you up quickly enough.” “Workers in a basket? Dangling over a cliff? It sounds crazy,” barks the manager, played by Kyle Yackoski. “But my college-educated engineers can’t think of anything better. Let’s do it!” Crazy or not, the idea is also dangerous, as young audiences will realize when the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble brings “All Aboard! The Story of the First Transcontinental Railroad” to their schools. As the cliff scene unfolds, two laborers enjoy a hearty breakfast of rice, pork and oranges, then step into a basket woven from reeds. ... Later in the day, the very worker who took the idea to the boss is lost in the explosion. After a brief moment of silence, another worker, played by Renee Fawess, fearfully climbs into the basket and prepares to be lowered. The 45-minute play is designed to show pupils in kindergarten through eighth grade how the Transcontinental Railroad linked east to west in the United States, and how it played a role in the lives of individuals, from the workers who built it to the American Indians who hunted buffalo on the plains long before the iron horse came along. ... The play, which represents the 30th year of BTE’s Theatre In the Classroom program, will show students the prep work that took place before anyone rode a train ... Yet another personage, an American Indian chief, will explain how the Cheyenne, the Lakota Sioux, the Apache, the Arapaho and the Pawnee had 52 uses for the buffalo, from food to clothing to tools, and how the white man’s westward expansion usurped the hunting grounds. ... [‘All Aboard! The Story of the First Transcontinental Railroad’] has two casts of three people each – with Richard Cannaday, Buddy Woodson and Abigail Lottie mirroring the same roles Fawess, Yackoski and Johnson portray. All six have shared in devising the script, director Goode said ... The two teams will spend eight weeks from late February through mid-April telling the story of the railroad to an estimated 40,000 children all over Pennsylvania and beyond ... " [More]

[Courtesy Google Alerts.]

Saturday, February 09, 2008

"Looking for the Chinese influence in early Nevada"

"Looking for the Chinese influence in early Nevada" by Ruby McFarland, © Nevada Appeal, February 8, 2008. (News Article)

"... the 1860 census ... recorded 14 Chinese living in Virginia City – most all doing laundry for the miners. The 1870 census reflected 3,156 Chinese in Nevada ... Employment was limited for the most part to being laborers, laundry men, woodcutters, cooks and servants. ... The areas where the Chinese were concentrated in the 1870s were Virginia City and Carson City ... Truckee Meadows, Humbolt and Elko Counties, along the route of the transcontinental railroad. The Chinese also built a lot of the short rail lines throughout Nevada. By 1890 most of the Chinese had left Nevada, with only 1,276 still living in the state. China towns fell victim to fires, too often caused by arson. ... Dayton was the first China town in Nevada. ... " [More]

[Courtesy Google Alerts.]

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

How long did it take to build the railroad?

From: "Camila Mora"

How long did it take to build the railroad across the country?

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Historic Pamphlets, before 1859

From: "Amanda E Strauss"

I am a researcher with Mission Mill Museum in Salem, Oregon. We are developing an exhibition celebrating the years before Oregon joined the Union in 1859. Towards this end, we are looking for any memorabilia, such as pamphlets, flyers, newspaper advertisements and posters, that were produced to encourage people to emigrate West during the Great Migration. We are interested in materials created by politicians, corporations and private citizens. ...

—Amanda Strauss, Research intern, Mission Mill Museum

Jupiter & 119 paint colors

From: "Don Melcher"

I was doing some poking around the CPRR site and found the pictures of the replica CPRR Jupiter and UPRR 119 from about 1979. I then found a photo from May 10, 1994. Big difference in paint! I am wondering what the basis for the change was – was it based on some new information, or was it perhaps at the whim of the NPS just to make it look significantly different from 119?

—Don Melcher, Oakland, CA


UPRR #119

Monday, February 04, 2008

1920-30s...Messages delivered to non-stop trains

From: "Kenneth Owen"

During the late 1930's, Railroads would deliver Messages to Non-Stop trains, as they passed through small towns.

The Station-Master would stand close to the non-stop train, as it came running past. He would hold a wooden "Y" shaped apparatus. He held it by the bottom end of the "Y". He would tie a paper-written message onto a string; press the string into slits on the top of the "Y"; with the looped (tied) string hanging toward the bottom of the "V". A man on the moving train would stick out his arm; run it through the string loop, and thus retrieve the string with the message attached.

Please, what was the "Y" delivery apparatus called?

—Kenneth Owen, Amarillo, Tx

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Culvert Construction Dates

From: "Randy Ruiz"

I am conducting a survey of the features of the Niles Canyon Railway, which as you probably know was a portion of the original Transcontinental Railroad built by the Western Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads.

Some of the culverts appear to date to the line's original construction in 1866, and feature battered coursed-ashlar sandstone headwalls and rectangular culverts. The stones are split-faced and are generally about 1' high and of varying lengths. There are other stone culverts on the line that use smaller stones with dressed faces. I have assumed that these were built later, but I have no idea how to date them.

Later culverts use clay or concrete pipe with cast-in-place concrete headwalls. The headwalls often feature a simple projecting cornice of about 2" deep by 6" tall. I am assuming that the corniced headwalls pre-date the un-corniced headwalls, but this is just a guess that the railroad would have simplified the design to save costs after determining that the rain-shedding benefit of the cornice was unwarranted on a culvert headwall.

Other culvert types include creosoted wood box culverts and corrugated steel pipe.

I am hoping to establish a range for the construction dates of these structures. I have exactly one piece of evidence that dates the construction of a wood box-culvert to 1916 (this culvert was replaced by the PLA in 2007). I believe the SPRR did not use concrete in earnest until around 1910, but I am not certain of this. I am also curious as to what decision process led to the selection of one construction technology over another when options were available. Wood would seem a poor choice at any time. Corrugated steel pipe was introduced in 1896, but I do not think the SPRR started using it until much later, and even when galvanized, they are not expected to last for 40 years.

Any thoughts, speculation, or actual fact-based knowledge would be appreciated.

Randolph R. Ruiz
150 Haight Street #501
San Francisco CA 94102

Actress Helena Modjeska private rail car c. 1890


Where can I find information and or pictures of Helena Modjeska (famous drama actress) private rail car that she traveled in during 16 all American tours in 1880's and 1890's. She lived in El Toro Orange County CA. I believe that name "Helena Modjeska" was prominently displayed on the car.

It was specially equipped with sleeping, dining, parlor rooms. The existence of such a car was documented in her and her contemporaries correspondence.

I would appreciate any information that would help in my research.

—Christopher Wojcicki PhD

Helena Modjeska

Saturday, February 02, 2008

2 trains stuck in Sierra

"2 trains stuck in Sierra," © Reno Gazette-Journal, 2/2/2008. (News Article)

"DONNER PASS – Nearly 400 people remained trapped Friday in two Amtrak passenger trains that were stranded in the snowy Sierra Nevada after a large snowplow fell through the tracks ... Amtrak's California Zephyr passenger trains were stranded near Donner Pass about 2 p.m. ... " [More]

C.P. Caboose Number 51


Quite a few years ago I got a 1/2" to the foot photocopy of a drawing from the California State Railroad Museum Library identified as:

C.P. Caboose
No. 51
Built at Sacramento Shops
October 1872

It's a drover's caboose with seats for passengers on one end and what appears to be a small cargo area at the other end. I'm part way through building a 1/8 scale model to go behind my live steam model of the CP-173. However, the drawing doesn't show the style of trucks or the style of the siding. Are there any photographs available of this caboose?

—Dick Morris, Anchorage, Alaska

2'' x 3 1/4" 1850 salt tin image found

From: "Bobbie Halmich"

I have an 1850 salt tin image that is in a window of an old railroad A&W cook stove, however, I can see him pretty clear but, I don't know who he is and, I don't want the picture destroyed. The stove has three small arched windows made of some type of fire proof plastic and, the picture is in the middle. Can you help? The stove has a date 1883.

—Bobbie Halmich

Friday, February 01, 2008

"Making moves on the Sierra checkerboard"

"Making moves on the Sierra checkerboard: Conservation groups and the Forest Service have been left with a land-ownership legacy left by the railroad" by Greyson Howard, © Sierra Sun, February 1, 2008. (News Article)

"... in the mid-1980s, Sierra Pacific Industries, a Redding-based logging company and now largest private land owner in California, bought most of the railroad land ... The public squares — the parcels not earmarked for the railroad — became National Forest lands. And starting in the 1970s, the U.S. Forest Service started consolidating high-priority parcels ... " [More]

[Courtesy Google Alerts.]

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