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The Central Pacific Reaches Nevada

By Wendell W. Huffman

Nevada Historical Society Quarterly, Vol. 38, No. 1  (Spring, 1995), pp. 19-36

In his History of Nevada, published in 1881, Myron Angel recorded that "on the thirteenth of December, 1867, the first locomotive ran into Nevada, reaching Crystal Peak from the California side.''(1) The railroad that was being built into Nevada from California at that time and place was the Central Pacific Railroad, the western component of the nation's first transcontinental railroad. Ever since the appearance of Angel's work, his date for the railroad's first entry into Nevada has been accepted—apparently without reservation.(2) However, at least one of the railroad bridges between the state line and the town of Crystal Peak was not completed until the end of March 1868.(3) Obviously, no train could have reached Crystal Peak until after all of those bridges were finished—more than three months after the date given by Angel for the first train. (Crystal Peak itself presents a problem. The railroad eventually bypassed it in favor of the more favorably located Verdi and after the 1872 von Schmidt survey it fell within California, but was considered a part of Nevada in 1867-68). While this does not necessarily mean that the railroad was not somewhere inside Nevada on or by December 13, 1867, it raises questions about the dependability of Angel's statement and invites a general inquiry into the circumstances of the passage of the railroad into Nevada.

In November 1866, three years after tracklaying began, the rails of the Central Pacific were laid as far as Cisco—ninety-two miles east of Sacramento. Construction to this point had often been challenging, but the twenty-eight miles between Cisco and the Truckee River included the most difficult sections of the entire transcontinental railroad, sections in which the builders faced the hard granite backbone of the Sierra Nevada and had to carve out eleven tunnels with an aggregate length of more than a mile. As rapidly as the Chinese crews finished work west of Cisco, they moved ahead to the locations of the various excavations to build camps for themselves and begin clearing the approaches to each of the tunnels. By the time the snow began to fall, all the headings were started, and, except for occasional interruptions when storms prevented the distribution of supplies and avalanches swept away shanties and workers alike, work continued around the clock through the winter.

The longest of the tunnels was Tunnel 6, which was to run 1,659 feet through the summit ridge at Donner Pass. To cut the expected working time on this tunnel in half, a 90-foot shaft was sunk to the center of the tunnel's alignment to allow workers to blast away in both directions from the center as well as from the two ends. To lift out the debris generated at the center faces, an old locomotive was hauled to the top by oxen from the end-of-track and set up as a hoisting engine.(4) Four hundred men were kept busy twenty-four hours a day on this tunnel; yet, they were able to advance the headings only one foot per day on each of the four faces. To speed up progress on this tunnel even more, nitroglycerine then a recently invented explosive—was introduced in March 1867. It was manufactured right at the tunnel site and increased the rate of progress more than 50 percent.(5)

While the work on the tunnels proceeded according to schedule through the winter of 1866-67, the progress was slow, measured in only feet and inches. This was painfully frustrating for the directors of the Central Pacific as they read the frequent newspaper reports of the rapid progress of the Union Pacific Railroad, building westward from Omaha. The Union Pacific was the eastern segment of the transcontinental railroad, and both companies were franchised by the United States Congress to build toward each other until they met. While it was initially expected that the Union Pacific (with easier geography and ready access to eastern sources of supply) would build all the way to the California border, the Central Pacific was determined to reach at least into the Salt Lake Valley.

The Union Pacific's relatively rapid progress, achieved at the very time when the Central Pacific was struggling across the high Sierra, was more than a mere emotional embarrassment for the Central Pacific directors—it represented a potential financial disaster. Since the government was granting land and loaning bonds to each company for completed mileage, any mile of track the Central Pacific did not build was potential money in the bank for the Union Pacific. Of more immediate concern, the slow headway against the granite tunnel faces created the very real possibility that the Central Pacific would be unable to build any new track in 1867.

Until new track was built, there would be no new grants of land or government bonds. Without land to sell to settlers or bonds to sell to investors, the Central Pacific would be without the primary sources of funds necessary to pay for the construction of its railroad. Without those funds, the company's only significant income would be that earned by hauling passengers and Nevada bound freight to Cisco. However, while Cisco was well into the mountains, a considerable amount of the Comstock traffic still crossed the Sierra by way of Placerville and the Johnson Pass wagon road, and the Central Pacific did not earn enough from train operations to pay all of its construction expenses.

As a solution to this predicament, the Directors of the Central Pacific decided in mid-January 1867 to leap-frog ahead of the current end-of-track at Cisco and begin construction of an "independent link" of track down along the Truckee River, where the snow and terrain were less severe.(7)  In fact, by the date of this decision, some two thousand Chinese workers were already scraping out the roadbed along the Truckee River east of the mountains.(8)  But until the decision to jump ahead was made in January, the company had not expected to build track on this grade until the railroad reached that point from Cisco.

Because the government issued bonds on track for the transcontinental railroad in increments of twenty miles or more, the Central Pacific would have to build at least that many miles of railroad along the Truckee to earn any of the desired bonds. Building this much required a great deal more than merely preparing the roadbed. Five bridges had to be built to carry the proposed track across the Truckee and various tributaries; in New York the company's vice president, Collis P. Huntington, was immediately instructed to rush the iron work for these spans via Panama, rather than by sail around South America.(9)  Meanwhile, work commenced on the foundations for the bridges, and logging camps and sawmills were established east of the mountains to begin producing the bridge timbers, as well as the thousands of cross-ties that would be needed. These bridge foundations were completed and the masonry piers were being built by the end of April 1867. Tunnel 14, one of the two short tunnels located in the Truckee canyon, was also finished by that date.(10)

While the wooden ties and timbers, and the stone for the masonry, could be procured locally, all of the iron for the railroad would have to be hauled by teams some twenty-five miles across the Sierra on the wagon road from Cisco. Altogether, three thousand tons of rail, in sections twenty-four-feet long and weighing nearly five hundred pounds apiece, along with countless kegs of spikes and fasteners, would be needed. (11) There is indication that some attempt was made to carry material across the mountains on sleighs in January 1867. However, the roadbed along the Truckee was far from ready for the iron at that time, and the difficulties of this early effort and the pressure to transport revenue-generating freight across the Sierra discouraged the company from moving more railroad material to the Truckee until the snow had melted from the wagon road.(12)

The snow created problems down along the Truckee River, too, and interfered with construction well into the spring. With eight feet of snow on the ground at Donner Lake, and two feet as far east as the Little Truckee as late as April, grading for this segment east of the mountains had to begin at the lower elevations on the very eastern section and proceed westward as the snow melted.(13)

Distribution of rail and supplies along this planned stretch of railroad also required a locomotive and some cars. While the Central Pacific then had nineteen locomotives, all of these were being used just to handle the company's business between Sacramento and Cisco. Furthermore, as these engines were already set up in operating condition, disassembly would be necessary if any were to be carried across the mountains in wagons. There were four additional locomotives then at sea on the long voyage around South America from New York, but these were six-drivered freight locomotives—much heavier than needed for construction service—and there was no telling when they would arrive in San Francisco.(14)

The eventual solution to the problem of rolling stock for use east of the mountains came from an unexpected quarter. Even while the Central Pacific was pushing its new construction, the company was negotiating for the purchase of the Western Pacific Railroad, an independent company that owned the franchise to build the portion of the transcontinental railroad between Sacramento and San Francisco Bay by way of Stockton. Though this company had existed about as long as the Central Pacific, it had by 1867 built only twenty miles of railroad and was nearly bankrupt. Finally, in June 1867, the Western Pacific sold out.(15) This transaction inadvertently solved the Central Pacific's problem of getting a locomotive for use east of the mountains, for at the time of its sale the Western Pacific owned ten locomotives, several of which had never been assembled following their delivery from the East. One of these was a Baldwin-built engine named San Mateo, which was still warehoused in San Francisco, packed in its factory crates.

Obtaining the Western Pacific's San Mateo solved only half the problem; the Central Pacific still had to get it over to the Truckee River. Soon after the purchase of the Western Pacific was made final, the unassembled components of the San Mateo were brought up the river by schooner to Sacramento, and in early July they were loaded onto a train for the end-of-track. From Cisco, the crates of locomotive parts traveled by wagon across the summit to Coburn's Station, where the wagon road reached the Truckee River. The iron work and trucks for ten flatcars were also sent across from Cisco, while the timbers for these cars were being milled at Coburn's.(16) By the end of July, the task of assembling the San Mateo and the cars had begun; and from Coburn's Station to a point well into the Truckee canyon the roadbed was nearly ready for the rails.(17)

Coburn's Station became the Central Pacific's headquarters and supply depot for the construction of the isolated railroad down the Truckee River. Four sawmills were soon in operation, and new stores and dwellings were rapidly being built. Immediately after the San Mateo and the car hardware arrived at Coburn's, teamsters began bringing from Cisco the three thousand tons of rail that would soon be needed.(18) In late July, the railroad company changed the name of Coburn's Station to Truckee.(19)

With summer, most of the snow had melted from the right-of-way between the tunnels at the upper elevations, and all available men were put to work preparing the grade for the railroad between Cisco and Coldstream. Altogether, some two thousand men were soon at work on forty-five miles of grade between Cisco and the state line. While several of the tunnels remained unfinished, the company fully understood by now that there would be only a short season of fair weather during which the men could work outside on the mountain. There would be time enough for finishing the tunnels in the fall; and, if the snow held off, they might then even be able to complete the railroad all the way across the mountains to the Truckee River.(20)

Meanwhile, at Truckee, rail and supplies continued to pile up, and in early September, when the San Mateo and a train of flatcars were finally assembled, tracklaying began in an eastward direction along the waiting roadbed. Progress was slow at first; by October, only four miles of track were finished, though by that date, rails were being spiked down at a rate of about one-half mile per day.(21) On October 29, company director Edwin B. Crocker reported that within another two days the railroad would be completed as far east as they planned to go.(22) Then, the tracklayers returned to Truckee and began to lay rails westward, completing the few miles to the crossing of Coldstream by November 18. When the work stopped, a total of twenty-four miles of track had been constructed. The next day government commissioners inspected the finished track and approved the issue of bonds for this section of railroad.(23)

The exact location of the eastern end of this twenty-four miles of railroad along the Truckee River is of prime importance to the question of when the railroad reached Nevada. Unfortunately, it may now be impossible to determine with any certainty exactly where the tracklayers stopped. We do know that the railroad reached a construction camp called Camp 24, and that the end-of-track and Camp 24 were generally described as being "at the state line."(24) While the precise location of the border was probably not generally known, John F. Kidder, who had surveyed the state line for the Houghton-Ives Commission in 1863, was employed as the Central Pacific's location engineer on the segment east of Truckee; certainly, Kidder was quite capable of indicating to the construction crews the exact point at which the railroad reached the boundary. Furthermore, because the railroad directors had created a new construction company for work east of the state line, there may have been a reason for work to pause at the Nevada border. If tracklaying stopped precisely at the boundary, as these indications suggest, and if E. B. Crocker was accurate in his estimate that work eastward would be finished two days following October 29, then we can claim with some confidence that the rails of the Central Pacific reached at least to the Nevada border on October 31, 1867.

One clue has come to light that tends to support the view that the railroad reached the state line in late 1867 but did not actually enter Nevada. This clue is derived from the fact that the only locomotive on the railroad east of Coldstream before February 1868 was the San Mateo, and the only engineer paid for operating this locomotive in 1867 was James Campbell.(25) A report in the Virginia City Daily Trespass, however, identifies G. Reilly as the engineer to run the first locomotive into Nevada.(26) The obvious implication is that, if Campbell was not the driver of the first locomotive into Nevada, then that event did not take place in 1867 when Campbell was the regular engineer of the only locomotive then on the railroad east of Truckee. While there is the possibility that Reilly was only temporarily operating the San Mateo when the first train crossed, the implication that this crossing did not happen in 1867 is strengthened by the fact that the Daily Trespass report was published in the spring of 1868, shortly after construction resumed eastward from Camp 24.

On the other hand, although the railroad may indeed have stopped precisely at the California-Nevada state line, other evidence raises the possibility that the actual end-of-track at Camp 24 was in fact inside Nevada in November 1867. Contemporary newspapers reported that construction in late 1867 included the 138th mile (from Sacramento), and that the track extended twenty miles east of Truckee.(27) While these measures might not be precise, both figures require the railroad to have been built east of the border. Camp 24 itself, where the railroad stopped, was not a point but was spread out for some distance on both sides of the Truckee River east of the state line. This camp was primarily a base for construction eastward, but it was also headquarters for the erection of the bridge at the railroad's second crossing of the Truckee River—some 0.3 mile east of the border. While the railroad could not have gone past this crossing point until the bridge was finished, late in March 1868, the rails may have been laid right up to the site of the bridge. Indeed, this is indicated by the Gold Hill Daily News of November 11, 1867, which reported that the track had been completed "to the second crossing of the Truckee."

The distance from the border to the bridge was not far, and the newspaper may only have been loosely describing, by reference to the nearby second crossing, an end-of-track at the state line. But there is good reason to suppose that the author of that report meant precisely what was printed. In the first place, while the Central Pacific had only to lay twenty miles of track along the Truckee to qualify for federal bonds, the company built at least the twenty-four miles for which bonds were issued. This suggests that rails were being laid on all available roadbed, not merely the minimum needed to receive bonds. This decision must have been deliberate, for all the iron for those extra miles had to be laboriously hauled across the mountains from Cisco.

Certainly, those extra miles of track produced additional bonds, but a second reason for building on the entire grade between Coldstream and the second crossing may have been the need to provide rail access to those bridges. Laying track all the way to the sites of both the Coldstream and the second-crossing bridges would have allowed the railroad to deliver bridge timbers sawn near Truckee directly to the bridge projects. To have stopped right at the state line would have required that timbers for the Camp 24 bridge be unloaded from the cars at that point and hauled by teams for the intervening 0.3 mile to the bridge. While we do not know exactly what was done, it seems to make more sense to believe that the railroad was built right to the bridge site—past the border and into Nevada. And this is, after all, what the Gold Hill Daily News states was done. If so, the railroad may actually have entered Nevada on the last day of October 1867, before the tracklayers returned to Truckee to lay the rails from that point to Coldstream.

Obviously, this requires that the descriptions of the end-of-track and Camp 24 as being "at the state line" be interpreted as statements of only general location. Even though Kidder and some of the railroad engineers knew the location of the boundary, its exact location was probably not widely known; the reference to Camp 24 being "at the state line" can thus easily be understood as only a loose designation, especially in light of the fact that those descriptions were written in Sacramento—from which perspective any location even in the neighborhood of the border might be seen as "at the state line."(28)

The argument that an imprecise understanding of the location of the boundary led to vague statements as to the relation of the end-of-track to the state line can also be applied to the local claim that Reilly was the locomotive engineer who ran the first train into Nevada. Without a clear demarcation of the state line, the second crossing of the Truckee River may itself have stood as a symbol of the border during the five months that this bridge was under construction. Reilly may in fact have driven the first locomotive across that bridge in late March 1868, an event which could well have been perceived even among those living at Camp 24 as the crossing over into Nevada.

The shadow of confirmation that the railroad had indeed entered Nevada at Camp 24 in 1867 is contained in Myron Angel's account of the first train reaching Crystal Peak on December 13, 1867, although the railroad was never built to that community, but rather to the yet-to-be designated Verdi. While it would have been impossible for trains to reach Crystal Peak before the bridges between Camp 24 and Crystal Peak were finished, Angel's relation of events is otherwise surprisingly close to what we know was going on at the time. E. B. Crocker wrote on December 11 that passengers were being carried between Truckee and Camp 24, and this was reported in the Territorial Enterprise on December 13—the very day Angel indicated as the date of the first train into Nevada. Angel's identification of a date so close to that of the first passenger train to Camp 24 is either a remarkable coincidence or his statement may somehow be based on that very event.

One possible connection between Angel's story and the first passenger train service is that he may have taken the date of the Territorial Enterprise's report as the actual date of the event itself. However, if he had read the newspapers at all, he should have realized that trains could not have reached near Crystal Peak at that time. A more likely possibility is that Angel gathered his information from interviews. The slight discrepancy in date and apparent disregard for earlier construction trains is the kind of thing one might expect in information drawn from memory a decade after the event. Even the misstatement that the first train ran all the way to Crystal Peak is understandable in an oral account, since Crystal Peak was the closest real town to Camp 24 (about six miles away), and Camp 24 itself had effectively disappeared by the time Angel was doing his research and writing.(29)

Clearly, there are many things about the arrival of the railroad into Nevada that we just do not know, and the relationship of Angel's account to the event it reflects is one of those unknowns. However, what is perhaps most important about Angel's history of the railroad's arrival is the claim that the train of December 13, 1867, ran into Nevada. If nothing else, this can be taken as evidence that the actual end-of-track (at Camp 24 rather than Crystal Peak) in December 1867 was perceived in 1880 as having been inside Nevada. As such, it increases the likelihood that the railroad had actually crossed the border on October 31, 1867, rather than in March 1868.

Although our focus has been on the end-of-track at Camp 24, that was certainly not the only scene of construction activity on the Central Pacific during the fall of 1867. While crews were laying rails along the Truckee River, other crews were racing to complete the railroad across the Sierra summit between Cisco and Coldstream before the arrival of winter storms. With enough workmen on hand, the tunnels and most of the roadbed from Cisco to within nine miles of Coldstream were soon finished, and on October 30 (about the time that the track along the Truckee reached Nevada at Camp 24), crews began to lay track eastward from the end-of-track near Cisco.(30) Within a month, the railroad climbed to Donner Pass, and on November 30 company officers, friends, and representatives of the press, with appropriate ceremony, watched as a length of rail was spiked onto the highest point on the Central Pacific. Just yards to the east, the roadbed pointed downward through the completed Summit Tunnel toward the Truckee River and Nevada.(31)

For the directors of the Central Pacific, this was the climactic event. Having struggled upward for more than four difficult years, they surely viewed the waiting eastern downhill grade with the confidence that nothing could stop them. Now, with only nine miles to go between the summit and the completed track beyond-Coldstream, they began to predict that they would indeed beat the storms and complete the connection all the way to the Truckee. All available forces were concentrated on this section of grade; yet, with one foot of snow already on the ground, it was obvious that the race against the season would be close.(32) Just in case they failed, carloads of rails were unloaded onto the ground near the wagon road at the summit for ready access should they need to be sledded down the mountain in the spring when construction east of Camp 24 could resume.(33)

The track was extended east of the Summit Tunnel as fast as the grade was finished, and for a time it looked as though the connection between Donner Pass and Coldstream might actually be completed. On December 7 an excursion train of legislators and pioneers from Sacramento ran over a mile east of the pass, but it was snowing so hard that they could not see Donner Lake just below.(34) Crews persisted in the snow for several days, and had reached through Tunnel 12 (two and a half miles east of Summit Tunnel) by December 17. Then, a fierce storm broke, dropping up to eight feet of snow on the mountain and bringing all work to a halt. With this storm, all of the connected track east of Cisco was abandoned to the snow, and Cisco resumed its role as the end of the line for a second winter.(35)

Despite the heroic effort, a seven-mile gap separated the two segments of the Central Pacific, stretching between Tunnel 12, on the west side of Strong's Canyon, and the western extremity of the railroad along the Truckee River, at the crossing of Coldstream. This uncompleted section included the line that runs high above the south shore of Donner Lake. The twenty-four miles of railroad along the Truckee River remained without rail connection to the main portion of the Central Pacific. However, sleds and sleighs ferried freight and passengers between Cisco and Truckee, and the railroad between Truckee and Camp 24 remained in operation through the winter.

Because this railroad east of Truckee was equipped with only a single locomotive and a handful of flatcars, accommodations were extremely limited. A local reporter noted that passengers rode on open gravel cars—no doubt an invigorating experience through the Truckee canyon, where winter temperatures are often the coldest in the nation.(36) Perhaps because of the primitive facilities, use of this railroad for passengers was apparently restricted to times when the stage road between Truckee and Crystal Peak was blocked by snow or mud.(37)

Early in 1868, in anticipation of the extension of track eastward from Camp 24 in the spring, enough rail to lay another forty miles of track was sledded down from the stockpile at Donner Pass and from Cisco. Several more freight cars and two additional locomotives were also sledded across the mountains from Cisco in February.(38) The identities of these locomotives is at present unknown. One report indicates that a sixty-passenger coach was in service east of Truckee by June, before the connection west of Coldstream had been completed; no evidence yet found discloses whether this car was hauled across the mountains like the locomotives or the company had it built in Truckee of local materials.(39)

Meanwhile, some six thousand Chinese workers were preparing the roadbed beyond Camp 24 and out into the Truckee Meadows, and with the completion of the second-crossing bridge, tracklaying eastward was resumed sometime between March 24 and 30.(40) Progress was only moderate at first, as the bridge crew rushed to finish the third crossing of the Truckee, three miles beyond Camp 24. By April 12 rails were being laid just east of Crystal Peak near the Verdi station that had yet to be established. The area east of Crystal Peak had replaced Camp 24 as the end of train service by April 16.(41) The final work on another bridge across the Truckee at Hunter's Station further delayed the tracklayers, but Hunter's itself became the terminus for train and stage connections on April 29.(42) Rails reached Reno (formerly Lake's Crossing) at noon on May 4, and service was established to that point from Truckee the following day.(43)

Few obstacles lay beyond the fourth crossing of the Truckee River at Hunter's, and the tracklayers hardly paused as they surged eastward through Reno. By May 22 cars were running nine miles beyond Reno, and the front was being advanced at a rate of more than a half mile per day. With fair weather and open country, the Chinese graders had moved far ahead, and by June the completed roadbed stretched past the site of Wadsworth, where, after following the Truckee River for seventy miles, the Central Pacific turned away and headed out onto the desert toward the Humboldt River.(44)

Even before tracklaying began at Camp 24 in the spring of 1868, other workers had begun clearing snow from the line east of Cisco in preparation for spanning the gap between Tunnel 12 and Coldstream. In places the snow was frozen solid to a depth of thirty feet and had to be broken out with picks.(45) On May 15, about a week after the track from Truckee reached Reno, the eastern terminus of the main portion of the Central Pacific was moved from Cisco to Summit Valley, just west of the Summit Tunnel.(46) It remained the end-of-track until the missing segment further east was completed. By June 14 the grade between Tunnel 12 and Coldstream was ready for rail, and tracklaying to close the gap between the two segments of the Central Pacific began. The seven miles were rapidly covered, apparently by crews working from both directions, and the final spike securing the connection between Reno and Sacramento was driven at 8:20 P.M. on June 17.(47)

At 6:30 the following morning, the locomotive Antelope departed Sacramento with a train of one freight car, a baggage car, and three coaches; it ran all the way to Reno, arriving at 8:00 that evening—the first train to run through from Sacramento. The train returned to Sacramento the following day, and thereafter there was regular service between Reno and Sacramento, with the fare established at $15 and the 154 miles covered in a scheduled nine and one-half hours.(48)

Once the Central Pacific reached Nevada, its construction organization was in high gear and there were few obstacles. East of Reno, there were no tunnels and only five bridges in all of the rest of the way across Nevada. While it had taken almost five years to complete the 154 miles of track from Sacramento to Reno, it took only another ten months to build the remaining 536 miles to a connection with the Union Pacific at Promontory, Utah.

Though achieved at great effort and expense, building the isolated stretch of railroad along the Truckee River from Coldstream to Camp 24 produced the desired result for the Central Pacific. It immediately yielded federal bonds worth more than $1 million, the sale of which helped offset the expense of tunnel construction in 1867. Furthermore, it put the end-of-track some sixty miles ahead of where it would otherwise have been in June 1868. If nothing else, this moved the eventual connection with the Union Pacific at least that many miles farther east, thereby producing government bonds and corresponding grants of land for the Central Pacific that would otherwise have gone to the Union Pacific.

Moreover, by meeting the Union Pacific at Promontory, the Central Pacific was within striking distance of the Salt Lake Valley and was able to negotiate the purchase of Union Pacific track to Ogden, where the junction between the two railroads was established. Had the initial connection been too many miles west of Promontory, the Central Pacific may have been denied affordable access to Salt Lake, and would have lost considerable revenue over the subsequent years as a consequence.

Unfortunately for historians and railroad buffs, the actual entry of the railroad into Nevada appears to have gone unheralded in contemporary accounts. This can probably be attributed to the fact that the railroad which reached Nevada in late October 1867 provided only limited service and, because it ran only to Truckee, clearly did not fulfill Nevada's desire for a railroad connection with the California tidewater. Even when this railroad was extended east of Camp 24 in March 1868, and service became more regular, trains still ran only to Truckee, and passengers and freight continued to cross the summit via the wagon road. Coupled with this incomplete connection with California, the general ignorance as to the exact location of the state border may also be to blame for the failure to note the railroad's arrival into Nevada.

The effect of this silence is that we do not know precisely when the railroad actually entered Nevada. Based on the limited evidence at hand, including E. B. Crocker's two-day estimate for completion of the section of railroad east of Truckee, the only thing we can claim with any degree of confidence is that the Central Pacific reached the Nevada border on October 31—Nevada Day—1867. The railroad may indeed have extended some 0.3 mile into Nevada at that time or shortly thereafter, but it certainly did not pass the site of the second crossing of the Truckee River until completion of that span late in March 1868. Myron Angel's account, which set us on this inquiry by its impossible claim that a train reached Crystal Peak in 1867—before the two bridges between the state line and that point had been completed—turns out to be a subtle clue that the end-of-track at Camp 24 was actually inside Nevada by December 1867.


I) Myron Angel, History of Nevada (Oakland: Thompson and West, 1881), 275.

2) For instance, David F. Myrick, Railroads of Nevada and Eastern California (Berkeley: Howell-North, 1962), 2; George Kraus, High Road to Promontory (Palo Alto: American West, 1969), 183.

3) Virginia City Territorial Enterprise (21 March 1868); Mark Hopkins to Collis P. Huntington, 30 March 1868, Collis P. Huntington Papers, Microfilm, Syracuse University.

4) This locomotive was the Sacramento, which the Central Pacific purchased specifically for this task from the Sacramento Valley Railroad, under which, back in August 1855, it had been the first locomotive to operate anywhere west of the Great Plains.

5) Hopkins to Huntington, 7 February 1867; Edwin B. Crocker to Huntington, 20 March and 3 May 1867; John R. Gilliss, "Tunnels of the Pacific Railroad," Transactions of the American Society of Civil Engineers, 1 (1870), 161-62.

6) The Central Pacific's total profit from operations in 1867 (when Cisco was the end-of-track) was $869,273.68, while the total amount paid to Crocker and Company for construction in 1867 was $9,930,282.19. "Current Statement of the Central Pacific Railroad Company of California for the Year Ending December 31, 1867," reproduced as Exhibit 5 in "Report of Richard F. Stevens, Chief Accountant, to the United States Pacific Investigation Commission on the Accounts of the Central Pacific and Western Pacific Railroad Companies, October 8, 1887," U.S. Congress, Senate, Report of the United States Pacific Railway Commission, 50th Cong., 1st sess., 1887, Sen. Ex. Doc., p. 4538.

7) Letters of E. B. Crocker and Leland Stanford to Huntington on January 9, 1867, indicate that the idea of skipping ahead to the Truckee River was being discussed at that time. Letters to Huntington from Crocker on January 15, from Stanford on January 17, and from Hopkins on January 21 reveal that the decision to build ahead along the Truckee had by then been made. The phrase "independent link" for the isolated railroad on the Truckee River was attributed to the Central Pacific in the Gold Hill Daily News of August 21, 1867.

8) Auburn Placer Herald (29 December 1866); Sacramento Union (15 September 1866).

9) Hopkins to Huntington, 21 January 1867.

10) Charles Crocker to Huntington, 25 April 1867.

11) Sacramento Union (8 February 1867).

12) E. B. Crocker to Huntington, 31 January, 3 May, and 4 June 1867.

13) C. Crocker to Huntington, 25 April 1867.

14) The last of the Central Pacific's first nineteen locomotives arrived in San Francisco on November 3, 1866. Engines 20 through 23 departed New York in August, September, and October 1866. Engines 24 and 25 had been delivered from the factory by the date of the January decision to build ahead on the Truckee, but they were not shipped from New York until February and March of 1867. San Francisco Alta California (3 November 1866); Huntington, "Records of Invoices, 1863-1885," 52, 55, 61, 78, 88.

15) Stanford to Huntington, 6 April 1867; E. B. Crocker to Huntington, 8 June 1867. Incidentally, though their routes between Sacramento and San Francisco Bay are parallel, this early Western Pacific was in no way related to the Western Pacific Railroad built forty years later.

16) E. B. Crocker to Huntington, 10 July 1867; Sacramento Bee (13 July 1867); Sacramento Union (18 July 1867). Too many contemporary sources identify the San Mateo as the first locomotive brought across the Sierra for there to be any doubt. Whether this was the first locomotive into Nevada depends upon whether or not the rails had been extended across the state line before March 1868, when two additional locomotives were set up for use on the railroad east of Truckee. Though the San Mateo was operated by the Central Pacific in construction service in Nevada, it remained a Western Pacific locomotive until the summer of 1870, when it became Central Pacific No. 171. It was sold in 1889—presumably for scrap. The locomotive erroneously identified in the History of Nevada (edited by Sam Davis [Reno: Elms, 1913], 608-9) as the first locomotive east of the Sierra was the former California Pacific Flea, sold to the Central Pacific in 1879, and not brought across the Sierra until after 1893.

17) E. B. Crocker to Huntington, 23 July 1867.

18) Gold Hill Daily News (19 July and 6 August 1867).

19) E. B. Crocker to Huntington, 1 August 1867; confirmed in Sacramento Bee (3 August 1867) and Gold Hill Daily News (6 August 1867). Subsequent use of the name Coburn's in the newspapers and by railroad officials, and the fact that the name change was announced again the following spring in the Sacramento Union (11 April 1868) and the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise (14 April 1868) indicate that the new name was not immediately adopted.

20) E. B. Crocker to Huntington, 2 July 1867.

21) Folsom Telegraph (21 September 1867); Gold Hill Daily News (2 October 1867).

22) E. B. Crocker to Huntington, 29 October 1867.

23) Ibid., 19 November and 5 December 1867.

24) Hopkins to Huntington, 16 and 30 March 1868.

25) Central Pacific vouchers (1868) 235, 236, and 236 (for October, November, and December 1867).

26) Virginia City Daily Trespass (17 April 1868).

27) Sacramento Union (21 November 1867); Gold Hill Daily News (27 November 1867).

28) As if the matter of dating the railroad's entry into Nevada were not complicated enough, it was confused even more in 1872, when a new state line was surveyed and marked about 0.6 mile to the east of the 1863 border. Clearly, the railroad did not reach the point where this new line would be established until April 1868; but as that line did not then exist, to use it for dating the railroad's entry would be anachronistic. For a history of this state line, see James W. Hulse, "The California-Nevada Boundary: History of a Conflict. Part 1" Nevada Historical Society Quarterly, 23 (Summer 1980), 87-109, "Part 11," 23 (Fall 1980) 157-78.

29) Yet another possibility is that Angel's date of December 13 had nothing at all to do with the first passenger train to Camp 24, but was derived from some now-lost record or recollection that the actual end-of-track at Camp 24 was only extended across the border and into Nevada on December 13. In that case, earlier trains could not actually have entered the state. If this was the case, then the November 11 Gold Hill Daily News report that the railroad had reached the second crossing by that date is without literal meaning. But, if Angel knew that the track had only been extended as far as the border on December 13, how could he say that the train of that date ran all the way to Crystal Peak, some six miles beyond?

30) E. B. Crocker to Huntington, 29 October 1867; Sacramento Union (31 October 1867).

31) Hopkins to Huntington, 1 December 1867; Sacramento Union (2 December 1867); Virginia City Daily Trespass (2 December 1867). Profiles confirm that the true summit of the Central Pacific was just west of Tunnel 6, the Summit Tunnel.

32) E. B. Crocker to Huntington, 5 December 1867.

33) Samuel S. Montague, "Report of Chief Engineer of Central Pacific upon the Location, Construction, and Equipment of the Road" (1 July 1869), reproduced as Exhibit 3, Report of the United States Pacific Railway Commission, p. 3480.

34) Sacramento Union (9 December 1867).

35) E. B. Crocker to Huntington, 21 December 1867, 3 January 1868.

36) Carson City Daily Appeal (11 April 1868).

37) Reports in the Virginia City Daily Trespass (27 March 1868) and the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise (2 April 1868) to the effect that passenger service was just then commencing on the railroad between Camp 24 and Truckee imply that the earlier attempt at passenger service was short lived.

38) E. B. Crocker to Huntington, 11 February 1868; San Francisco Alta California (4 February 1868); Virginia City Daily Trespass (17 February 1868).

39) Sacramento Union (3 June 1868), quoting Grass Valley Union (2 June 1868).

40) Virginia City Daily Trespass (17 February 1868); E. B. Crocker to Huntington, 24 March 1868; Hopkins to Huntington, 30 March 1868.

41) Virginia City Territorial Enterprise (12, 16 April 1868).

42) Ibid. (12, 30 April 1868); Virginia City Daily Trespass (27 April 1868).

43) Virginia City Territorial Enterprise (5 May 1868).

44) Ibid. (22, 27, 30 May 1868).

45) E. B. Crocker, to Huntington, 11 February 1868; Virginia City Territorial Enterprise (14 February 1868); Montague, "Report of Chief Engineer," p. 3480.

46) Virginia City Daily Trespass (16 May 1868).

47) Virginia City Territorial Enterprise (14, 18 June 1868). Angel, History of Nevada, 275, records the date of this event as June 19, 1868.

48) Sacramento Bee (18 June 1868); Sacramento Union (19, 20 June 1868); Virginia City Territorial Enterprise (24 June 1868).

Courtesy Wendell W. Huffman and the Nevada Historical Society.

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