Southern Pacific Bulletin

October, 1920

At the request of The Bulletin, Mr. J.O. Wilder of Sacramento recently retired after fifty-four years' conscientious service,has written his experiences. ... As a California pioneer railroader, Mr. Wilder presents a graphic picture of the obstacles faced and overcome by the builders of the old Central Pacific, and of his own connection with the Central Pacific and the Southern Pacific. Loyalty and determination against heavy odds, The Bulletin readers will note, stand out as characteristics of those men who left an indelible impression the early history of California.

It is a pleasure to write the names of Leland Stanford, Charles Crocker, Mark Hopkins, S. S. Montague, L. M. Clement, Arthur Brown, superintendent of bridges, and last but not least that wonderful superintendent of construction William [James H.] Strowbridge. The latter had but one eye, and because he could see more with that one eye than many men can see with two he was known among the Chinamen as the "One-Eyed Bossey Man."

I will preface my commencement with the Central Pacific by saying that on May 30, 1866, I left my home in San Francisco, a mere youth with my blankets and carpetsack, with canvas pants, high-top boots, and with seven dollars and a half in my pockets, to find myself among strangers, to take my place in the employ of the Central Pacific. I left San Francisco at 4 o'clock in the afternoon by the steamer "Capitol," that being the only route to Sacramento at that time. Reached the Capital City the next morning.

The usual runners for the hotels were there in full force at the landing, which was at the foot of K Street. One runner, whom I learned years after was William Land, for the Western Hotel, grabbed my blankets, bag and carpetsack, threw them into the Western wagon, and I expected to be thrown in myself as I had seen runners perform in my home city, but to my surprise said Johnny (that is what they called small boys in those days) was told the Western was one block up the street, you may walk. After eating breakfast I went to No. 54 K Street, which was the main office of the Central Pacific at that time. Being the first there I sat on the steps with my blankets and carpetbag and awaited the coming of Mr. S. S. Montague, who was chief civil engineer and to whom I had a letter of reference. He arrived with Fred Steiner, chief draughtsman.

Life in a Railroad Camp

It was fortunate for me that Mr. Montague was going up to the front that morning. So with my blankets on my back we walked to the depot which was on Front, J and K Ktreets. The train consisted of two passenger coaches, which were about the size of maintenance and work train coaches of today. The baggage car resembled that of a caboose of today, minus the observation top, with side doors. This train was drawn by Engine Pacific No. 2, and was known as Train No. 1. The main line at that time turned into I Street, leaving I Street at Fifth, along the levee to Sixth Street, Sixth to B Street levee, crossing the American River east of what was known as Rabeles tannery.

Our first stop was Rocklin. Other stops were Auburn, Illinois Town, New England Mills, Long Ravine Bridge, then the terminal , Gold Run, which was the end of track. Here Mr. Montague took his span of horses with light wagon and drove up the dusty road to Dutch Flat to what was called Chinnie Ranch, now called Alta. Here Mr. Montague met with Mr. L. M. Clement, assistant chief engineer. I was invited to dinner with them. Tin plates and cups were used but the food tasted very good to a hungry boy, even if it was my first experience in a railroad camp eating house. After dinner Mr. Montague and Mr. Clement inspected the roadbed, which was then about completed to this point. The tracklayers were working east of Dutch Flat.

After the inspection they started up the line. I was told to ride Mr. Clement's white mule, and what that mule didn't know was not worth knowing. For instance, he knew that had something of light weight and seemed to enjoy it, but not so with yours truly, for I had been in the habit of riding on the back of wagons or a street car. While he trotted along with his nose close up to the light wagon I would have given my last five dollars for a pillow. When we reached a watering trough near Emigrant Gap I found myself standing in the stirrups and was glad to get off his back to unloosen the check rein on the horses. I then led his muleship to get his drink. He would drink and then take a sniff at me, as much as to say, "What have I had on my back?" In fact, he had never seen a boy before.

As we passed along the line of construction every now and then we would hear some gang foreman sing out "Fire," then the explosion, with rocks flying in all directions. Mr. Montague had some trouble with his horses, but to my surprise and delight his muleship didn't seem to care half so much about those rocks as I did. This was my first experience, but was not to be my last. At Emigrant Gap the wagon road leaves the main line and up through a small valley to the top of a mountain, then commences the down grade to Crystal Lake, where we arrived about sundown, which was the headquarters of Mr. Clement, and also the party headed by Engineer McCloud, to whose party I was assigned for a time, doing cross section work. I remember while with this party, of 200 kegs of powder put in a cliff, called Crocker's spur, which lifted the whole mass to the Yuba River below.

Blazing the Iron Trail

Pine trees were but pipestems in this crash, and Crocker's Spur became a thing of the past after that shot was fired. It was also while with this party that I saw for the first time a big Piute Indian. He had his squaw with him and he became quite interested in the leveling instruments. After some persuasion Mr. McCloud got him to place his squaw in front


Courtesy of the Lynn D. Farrar Collection.

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