Robert Lardin Fulton

覧Many interesting stories have been floating around for years and when I asked about them Mr. Strobridge pronounced the most attractive ones myths.

覧One was that the railroad cut across the hills east of Wadsworth straight to Humboldt Lake, about 35 miles, instead of going around 8 miles further over level ground, because a ship loaded with iron and two locomotives went down at sea. "Oh, that's a lie," he shot back, "we never lost a ship at sea nor a bar of iron. All during that time our ships were on the sea not one was lost."

覧The same rebuff came for the story of the maiden's grave near Beowawe. It was said that Lucille Duncan, one of a large immigrant party, took sick at Gravelly Ford, where she died and was buried near the camp, the wagon train with her parents moving on. When the railroad was built the grave was right on the line and the body was moved to where it now lies on a rounded hill close to the track, with a wooden cross to mark the spot. Settlers in the neighborhood have used it as a burying ground and it is now quite a little cemetary. "Another lie," says Strobridge," the old overland trail was lined with graves but none of them was ever disturbed by any of our work."

覧It was said that the timbers for the Truckee River Bridge at Wadsworth were floated down the river from the saw mills above. "Not so," says Strobridge, "the timbers went down on the cars."

覧Three locomotives were loaded on big sleds at Cisco in the winter of 1867, by W. L. Pritchard, known all over the West as "Nick of the Woods," which his teams hauled over the summit to Truckee. Twenty flat cars and forty miles of iron were taken over in the same way, so that by the time the Summit tunnel was finished the road was graded to Wadsworth and forty miles of iron laid. The work of digging the Summit tunnel occupied thirteen months.

The act ofCongress gave free rights to all timber and lumbermen to cut any trees on government forest land to be used in building the railroad. The same privilege was given to woodmen cutting ties, fuel, bridges, timber for snow sheds, etc. The fuel agent urged the company to secure a supply of wood in advance, large enough to give the engines dry fuel across the desert, but Mr. Huntington objected as the money could not be had at the time. Subsequent events showed the wisdom of the plan. When the road was crossing Nevada the trainmen were at times forced to pull up sage brush to fire the engines. If there was a wreck that damaged the freight cars they were cut up for engine wood instead of being repaired.


覧Of all the multitudes who came and went during the building of the Central Pacific, from Sacramento to Promontory, the only man now alive (1920) who was with it from start to finish is James Harvey Strobridge, who was in immediate charge of the grading and track-laying. He was born April 21, 1827, and is now spending a green old age under his own vine and fig tree in Castro Valley, near Hayward, California. Although 93 his faculties are acute, his memory wonderful, and many a middle aged man looks older.

At different times I have visited him and spent hours lisrening to his intimate stories. Like most men of action he is inclined to repulse the interviewer and can hardly be induced to talk about the great work in which he distinguished himself. We know that he was born on a farm near Albany, Vermont, from a long line of good American ancestry. Early in his career he took up railroad building and in 1844 laid the track into Fitchburg, Mass. For a year he was on the Vermont Central, then took a contract for two miles near Waterville, Conn. On January 30th, 1849, he started for San Francisco, via Cape Horn on the sailing vessel Orpheus, landing July 8th, 1849. He soon reached the mines at Placerville, digging gold in Coon Hollow. Forty years later he built the railroad into Placerville, crossing this same Coon Hollow on a trestle 120 feet high.

When the Central Pacific was organized Strobridge became manager of construction, in charge of everything except the department of bridges and buildings, which was under Arthur Brown.

覧The Chinamen never learned to love their Anglo-Saxon overseer. Strobridge was forever rushing them and when a missed hole in a blast at Bloomer Cut caused him to lose an eye the Chinaman said rather regretfully, "Ole man shoot 'em one eye; why no shoot 'em two?"


覧Before the road was one year old a very young man entered the freight department and soon became the greatest expert of his generation. He had been in the army as clerk for his father who was quartermaster of Garfield's regiment, the 42nd Ohio. Mr. Huntington introduced him as "John C. Stubbs, an infant prodigy on traffic." He organized a campaign that literally transferred the ocean freight from the clipper ships around Cape Horn to the cars of the overland railroads. He became traffic director for all the Harriman lines and retired after over forty years of activity. He has (1920) returned to his birthplace in Ohio and says that the only connection now with traffic is to sit on his back fence and watch the Erie go by.


覧In the fall of 1866 the snow was very heavy, inquiries convinced the management that the road could not be kept open by any ordinary means. The Sierra Nevada mountains are in a belt that receive one of the heaviest snowfalls on the globe, seventy feet and even more having been known. It was decided to build sheds over the track in exposed places and in the summer of 1867 Arthur Brown planned a system nearly forty miles long. Sawed lumber could not be had in sufficient quantities, so round and hewn timbers were used, the whole work costing two million dollars. Brown was a genius in his line. He built all the bridges, stations, water tanks, snow sheds, section houses, the Oakland terminals, the Stanford, Crocker and Hopkins mansions in San Francisco; and put up the famous Del Monte Hotel ready for occupancy in 90 days. He had full command and not even the general manager of the road could order over a hundred dollars worth of work in improvements without his approval.


覧One of the first locomotive engineers lost his life in a wreck at Auburn. His infant son was adopted by Uncle Mark Hopkins and his wife, who gave him all the advantages that belong to wealth and station, so that today (1920) he is one of San Francisco's eminent citizens.


覧Another case was a large land deal in which I played a small part. Mr. Crocker had financed a stock range at Promontory, for his son and two associates. They very much desired a tract of over a hundred thousand acres of pasture in the company's grant adjoining theirs. Mr. Crocker parlayed with Governor Stanford over it, off and on for several years, but they failed to agree. One day as they chanced to meet Mr. Crocker brough the subject up, asking for a price. When Stanford did not name one Crocker said "Send some one to examine it and let us buy it." The Governor said "All right, suppose we send Fulton out." Crocker said, "All right again. Whatever Fulton says it is worth we will give." The Governor responded, "Whatever Fulton says it is worth we will take," and they did.


覧The man selected to administer the Company's land grant forty miles wide and seven hundred and forty-four miles long, was B. B. Redding, one of the wisest and best of men. He was a pioneer and served as Secretary of the State of California while Stanford was Governor. He became the prophet of the lunch table, always listened to with delight.


覧(speaking of the men who founded the CP) James Bailey, a jeweler in Sacramento, was the richest of the whole party and it was he who had financed Judah up to that time. Marsh lived in Nevada City where he had interests in mines and water companies. Lew Booth, who had a large grocery store on J Street, Sacramento, was a cousin of Newton Booth, who later became Governor of California and U. S. Senator.


覧Judah sailed from Sacramento on October 10, 1861, for the city of Washington to secure government aid for the proposed railroad, taking James Bailey with him.


覧Returning to California in August, 1862, Judah went immediately to work making careful surveys for the road. And now in this year of 1920, the sole survivor of this party is Benjamin Franklin Leete, whom I have known intimately for many years and who has given me free access to his library containing pamphlets and papers, maps and records of the most interesting character. For the last fifty years he has made his home in Reno and now at the age of ninety recalls Mr. Judah perfectly, whom he describes as a very slight man not over five-feet-five or six and never weighing a hundred and fifty pounds. The two men were friends in their youth, working on adjoining divisions of the New York Central Railroad. Leete specialized on bridges and has some notable structures to his credit.

——When the general offices were moved from Sacramento to San Francisco (1874) one fine room was set apart for a private mess or dining room and thirty or forty places were filled by heads of departments, their assistants and occasional visitors; a genial company of experts in many lines. Almost any subject might be talked of without reserve and sometimes the freedom was startling. Governor Stanford occupied the seat at the head of the table when present, and questions of grave importance were ventilated as often as light ones. The merest chance seemed to turn the conversation and one day Mr. Huntington told how he headed off Jay Gould's attempt to parallel the Central Pacific from Ogden to San Francisco. As he described it there was a battle royal from start to finish. Sitting not far away I said "Mr. Huntington, you ought to write a book." Very good naturedly he said, "There are a good many things it woud not do to put in a book." Gould often declared that he would not visit California until he could ride across the continent on his own rails. He never visited California. In the contest between the Pennsylvania Company and the Southern Pacific for control of the route to New Orleans, Vice President Scott's health gave way and an intimate friend said to Mr. Huntington, "You are killing Tom Scott." "You are mistaken," was the answer. "Scott is velvet, while I am gunnysack. He will die and I will live, but I am not killing him." Once he told of standing with Mr. Crocker at the Summit, looking down across the cliffs at Donner Lake, a thousand feet below and up at the cliffs towering above. That lower level must be reached with the track, and it looked like an impossibility. Huntington said, "I'll tell you what we'll do, Crocker; we will build an enormous elevator right here and run the trains up and down by it." "Oh Lord, said Crocker, "it cannot be done." The level was finally reached by cutting a shelf in the face of the granite cliffs on which the rails were laid.


2005-03-28-01-03.jpg


Courtesy of the Lynn D. Farrar Collection.

Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum
Copyright ©2005, CPRR.org.  All Rights Reserved.  [Last Updated 7/15/2005]

Use of this Web site constitutes acceptance of the User Agreement;
Click any image or link to accept.

HOME