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Central Pacific Railroad
Photographic History Museum
Cape Horn
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"A light car, drawn by a single horse, gallops up to the front with its load of rails.  Golden Spike at the Stanford University Museum.  Courtesy National Park Service.Two men seize the end of a rail and start forward, the rest of the gang taking hold by twos, until it is clear of the car.  They come forward at a run.  At the word of command the rail is dropped in its place, right side up with care, while the same process goes on at the other side of the car.  Less than thirty seconds to a rail for each gang, and so four rails go down to the minute ... close behind the first gang come the gaugers, spikers, and bolters, and a lively time they make of it.  It is a grand 'anvil chorus' ... It is played in triple time, 3 strokes to the spike.  There are 10 spikes to a rail, 400 rails to a mile, 1,800 miles to San Francisco — 21,000,000 times those sledges to be swung: 21,000,000 times are they to come down with their sharp punctuation before the great work of modern America is complete." –Dr. William Abraham Bell, Newspaper, 1866
Golden Spike Completion of the Pacific Railroad, May 10, 1869
Harper's Weekly engraving
based on the
Charles R. Savage photograph.
Savage. Golden Spike Ceremony

Joining of the Rails, May 10, 1869, Promontory, Utah
(Detail of Savage and Ottinger Stereoview, "Engineers shaking hands.")
Chief Engineers for CPRR (Samuel Skerry Montague) and UPRR (Grenville M. Dodge). 
Courtesy David Wood.  Also see the A.J. Russell image.

The first transcontinental railroad was completed when the rails of the Union Pacific, reaching westward from Omaha, Nebraska, and those of the Central Pacific Railroad, reaching eastward from Sacramento, California were joined, completing the coast-to-coast connection.  The telegraph signaled a waiting nation:  "DONE!"

(Purchase a poster showing the famous A.J. Russell photograph.)

Sacramento photographer and artist Alfred A. Hart documented the CPRR construction in 364 stereoviews.
To bring out the 3-D effect,  move your cursor 
back and forth across the picture's edge:
Rounding Cape Horn [Animated]
Did you know that punched railroad tickets were the forerunners of computers?


(Logo from CPRR Ticket)

Did you know that supermarket bar code labels were originally "just extended ... dots and dashes" of printed Morse code and the first practical use was to identify railroad boxcars?

"At Sacramento  ... The Central Pacific company had thirty locomotives gayly decked ranged on the city front, and at the signal of a gun announcing the driving of the last spike on the road the locomotives opened a chorus of whistles, and all the bells and steam whistles in the city joined."

Sacramento Depot
CPRR Depot, Sacramento, California (detail of A. A. Hart Stereograph) with Steamer Chrysopolis. Courtesy Dana Scanlon Collection.

A. J. Russell View at Promontory Summit. Courtesy National Park Service.The Central Pacific Railroad Company of California was organized on June 28, 1861 by a group of Sacramento merchants known later as the "Big Four" (Collis P. Huntington, [Gov.] Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins, and Charles Crocker); also called "The Associates," they are best remembered for having built the western portion of the first transcontinental railroad ("the Pacific Railroad") through California, Nevada, and Utah.  A.J. Russell View at Promontory Summit. Courtesy National Park Service. (Right)

Cape Horn.  Carleton Watkins.  Courtesy Royal Geographical Society.A practical mountain route for the rail line was first conceived and surveyed by Dutch Flat, California gold prospector and drugstore owner Dr. Daniel W. Strong and engineer, Theodore Dehone Judah, who obtained the financial backing of the California group and won federal support in the form of the Pacific Railroad Act, signed in 1862 by former railroad lawyer Abraham Lincoln.  C.E. Watkins View at Cape Horn. Courtesy Royal Geographical Society. (Left) [More Watkins]

Government bonds, required to be repaid after completion of construction, were issued to the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroad Companies as they completed construction milestones, and they were granted sizable parcels of land along the entire length of the track as an added incentive, placing the CPRR and UPRR in competition — a race to the finish at an undetermined meeting point.

Pacific Railroad Construction 1863-1869
Last Spike1863—1869
"The Last Spike" by Thomas Hill (detail in gold, rear cover).

Timelines: [CPRR/UPRR]—[Transcontinental RR]—[Completions]—[CPRR]—[Photography]—[RR's]—[RR Events]—[US RR's]—[West]—[SF]—[Chinese]

The Central Pacific began laying track eastward from Sacramento, California in 1863, and the UPRR Ground Breaking, Newark Daily Advertiser. Courtesy Glen Pierce.Union Pacific started laying track westward from Omaha, Nebraska, two years later in July, 1865.  To meet its manpower needs, the Central Pacific hired thousands of Chinese laborers, including many recruited from farms in Canton.  The crew had the formidable task of laying the track crossing California's rugged Sierra Nevada mountain range and had to blast fifteen tunnels to accomplish this.  The crew of the Union Pacific, which was composed largely of Irish immigrants and Civil War veterans, had to contend with Indian attacks and the Rocky Mountains.  On May 10, 1869, after completing 1,776 miles, 4,814 feet (2,859.66 km) of new track, the two rail lines met at Promontory Summit, Utah.
Courtesy Martin Gregor and Bruce C. Cooper.


Locomotive on Turntable
Locomotive on Turntable  (detail of A. A. Hart Stereograph #139)

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Great great great grandpa, Lewis Metzler Clement (1837-1914)
was the First Assistant Chief Engineer, later the Acting Chief Engineer, 
and also was the Chief Locating Engineer 
of the Central Pacific Railroad!
L. M. Clement signature
Railroad Commissioners
As second in command of the most formidable engineering project of the 19th century, Lewis M. Clement was in charge of locating and constructing the first transcontinental railroad over California's Sierra Nevada Mountains, including blasting the Summit Tunnel through 1,660 feet of solid granite using black power, and building 40 miles of Snowsheds to keep the track clear during winter blizzards. 
Tunnel No. 15.
Tunnel No. 15
Muybridge Stereoview

Lewis Metzler Clement was the engineer in direct charge of the final location, design and construction of the CPRR Division between Colfax and Truckee (miles 75 to 120), by far the most difficult section of the entire Pacific Railroad which included Cape Horn, the Sierra tunnels, and the snowsheds. 

" ... The ... crews worked round the clock ... Then, at one in the morning on May 3, 1867, a great, noisy crumbling took place at the east facing, and light from torches in the west could be seen flickering through the dust. ... The Summit had been pierced. The Sierras had been bested. ... young Lewis Clement, the engineer in charge of Summit Tunnel, strode into the now widened bore a week after the breakthrough, surveyor's instruments in hand. With torchbearers stationed every few yards in the 1,659-foot bore, Clement began his first series of observations in the damp and eerie tunnel. During the preceding two years' work he and his assistants had been measuring under conditions never taught about in engineering schools. They had made their calculations under poor visibility on a wildly uneven tunnel floor, plotting a bore not only divided into four distinct parts, but one that had to gradually rise, descend, and curve as it penetrated from west to east. ... the expected margin of error was large, and if the various bores were seriously misaligned, many months of expensive remedial work would have to be done, delaying the Central Pacific Railroad's progress east. ... As Clement finished his meafsurements and worked out the geometric statistics at a rude desk near the tunnel mouth, he found his most fervent prayers answered. Summit Tunnel's four bores fitted together almost perfectly, with a total error in true line of less than two inches. The seemingly impossible had been achieved. The longest tunnel anyone had cut through natural granite, cut at a daunting altitude in an abominable climate, had been bored by a small army of Chinese thousands of miles from their ancestral home. The Sierras were truly breached and ... the great race across the continent was on. ... " —A Great And Shining Road. By Professor John Hoyt Williams

In addition he had similar charge of the final 200 miles of the line across Nevada and Utah ending at Promontory Summit.  In February, 1869, Clement was appointed as one of four members of the Special U.S. Pacific Railroad Commission to inspect and approve the railroad’s location and construction and help to determine the very sticky issue of where the CPRR and UPRR would finally meet.  Once the line opened in 1869 Clement added the duties of CPRR Superintendent of Track, a position he held until 1881.

L. M. Clement went on to design and build (also using Chinese laborers) the Southern Pacific Railroad line from Sacramento to Los Angeles via the San Joaquin Valley, and also worked on many urban and cable car lines.  Among his works in the area was the design of the cable car turntable at the foot of Market Street in San Francisco.  Leland Stanford also sought Clement's help to set up the Mechanical and Electrical Engineering Departments at Stanford University.

Theodore D. Judah
Chief Engineer
(Watkins Portrait)

Daniel W. Strong
Daniel W. Strong 
Found Sierra Route

Bank Check Logo
(Logo from CPRR Bank Check)
Lewis M. Clement 
First Assistant
Chief Engineer

In an 1887 statement submitted to the U.S. Pacific Railway Commission, Lewis M. Clement summarized the challenges and great obstacles — both physical and financial — which had to be overcome to build the CPRR:

"At the beginning of the construction, the company, knowing the political and commercial necessities demanding the rapid completion of the railroad, determined that nothing which was in their power to prevent should for a single day arrest its progress.

CP-UP Timetable, 1881 CP-UP Timetable, 1881"With this determination in view all energies were bent, fully realizing the physical obstacles and financial difficulties to be overcome.

"The financial difficulties were not lessened by the opinions circulated to the effect that the obstacles were insurmountable; that the railroads then constructed in Europe were as bagatelles compared with the difficulties to be met in constructing the Central Pacific Railroad, and failure was clearly written on the rocky sides of the cañons and the bold granite walls of the Sierra Nevada mountains.

"Not only was it impossible to construct a railroad across the Sierras via Donner Pass, but owing to the great depth of snow, some years reaching an aggregate fall of nearly 50 feet, would be impracticable to operate, and if built must be closed to traffic in the winter months, which would have been the case had not the road been protected at great cost by snow sheds.

"Against these utterances from men of railroad experience the company had to battle in financial circles, forcing them to show that they were not attempting an impossibility, though always realizing the great difficulties."

Monitor Calibration Grayscale. Courtesy of an Anonymous Donor; reproduced by permission.
© 2024 CPRR.org. By clicking any image or link, I agree to be bound by CPRR.org's User Agreement which permits personal use web viewing only; no copying; arbitration; no warranty.
List of readings about the history of the transcontinental railroad.  (Image courtesy <http://www.animfactory.com>.)Read about Transcontinental Railroad History:
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Golden Spike Ceremony
Laying Last Rail, Promontory, Utah, May 10, 1869 (detail of A. J. Russell Stereograph #540)

Central Pacific Railroad
Photographic History Museum
Currier & Ives
Currier & Ives, 1870-1871
Truckee River, Sierra Nevada's, California
CPRR Timetable Map
CPRR timetable map, 1871
Sierra Summit Contour Map  (railroad in red)
Historic Contour Map of the Sierra Nevada Summit and CPRR
[Modern USGS Topo Map; Aerial Photo]
First Construction Train

First Construction Train Passing Palisades, Nevada
(Detail from Hart Stereograph #338.)
Courtesy Robert Dennis Collection, New York Public Library.

Click on a small red box or State name to see a large 1915 map of that part of the route.


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"All of us live better than John D. Rockefeller" Warren Buffett

Historical perspective – that you won't get on the nightly news:


Prosperity is accelerating worldwide. Real incomes have tripled since 1950, globally. The filth from horses polluting 19th century cities is gone; hydraulic mining is obsolete; there is more old-growth forest in California today than there was in 1850; forest lands are increasing (New Hampshire: 50% → 86% in a century) because efficient farming needs less land (and factories and locomotives, etc. no longer burn wood as fuel; with net sequestration of carbon now by America) while global food prices declined 75% in 50 years, the cost of meals fell from 19% → 8% of income from 1959 to 2000 ("a century ago, Americans spent 43% of their incomes on food and 14% on clothing; by 2002, those shares were 13% and 4%"), and men are 3 inches taller than in 1900; the belching smoke stacks have all but disappeared and the air is dramatically and increasingly cleaner (over the last half century, air pollution emissions have declined by 3% annually relative to output; since the 1970's: ozone & particulates ↓31%, sulfur dioxides ↓71%, carbon monoxide ↓75%, nitrogen dioxide ↓41%, lead ↓98%, & dioxin ↓90%; in the past decade secondhand smoke exposure ↓75%); productivity is soaring (↑25x since 1776) because of innovations such as the transcontinental railroad and the internet (since WW II U.S. railroad freight hauling has doubled with productivity up 1,200%; a single company's often misunderstood management innovations doubled retail productivity compared to competitors, saves customers 15-25% on food purchases, accounted for over half of increased U.S. productivity, 1995-99, and is doing more to alleviate third world poverty than any other organization); due to growing Economic Freedom, the World Bank reports (2004) that this is "the most prosperous year in human history" with 4% global growth; world poverty (<$1.08/day) is rapidly decreasing (65% → 20% in a century), and the U.S. poverty rate halved since 1960 and the poor are able to vastly outspend their supposed income, while in the U.S. with the fastest-growing growth rate of major developed countries, household net wealth increased to now reach a record high; Reaganomics, a supply side march toward freedom, on average halved tax rates in the United States, a policy copied by almost every other nation, resulting in 43 million additional U.S. jobs and $30 trillion wealth creation; more wealth has been created in the United States in the last quarter-century than in the previous 200 years; energy is not in short supply because new knowledge and methods make energy and "limited" natural resources ever cheaper and ever more plentiful (i.e., in the past 30 years US personal income has risen 8x, twice as fast as gasoline prices; cheap oil actually saved the whales by making it uneconomic by 1860 to continue slaughtering them for the whale oil used for illumination and to lubricate locomotives; oil reserves are nearly at a record high); nuclear energy can supply needed electricity, as it does for 20% in U.S., 76% in France; global literacy ↑52%→81% from 1950-1999; Americans over 25 with college degrees up 7.7% → 25% from 1960 to 2000, employment in U.S. managerial and specialized professional jobs nearly doubled from 1983 to 2002, with total U.S. employment 1970 → 2002, ↑75%; violent crime declined dramatically with the murder rate halved since 1980 (↓96%-98% since the middle ages!); cures for most of the diseases of poverty have long been available, and longevity is rapidly increasing with our dramatically improved environment (US: 49 → 77 years in a century, requiring 10% the income in 1999 to achieve the same life expectancy as it took in 1870.) Welfare reform has almost doubled the earnings of poor families. Even the eighth of Americans below the "poverty" line now live as the "well off" did in earlier generations: 46% of "poor" Americans (2003) own their own homes, 76% have air conditioning, 3/4 own a car (with 30% owning two or more), 97% have color TV, 78% a VCR or DVD, and 62% receive cable or satellite TV.
WarningBut, real environmental protection is not easy or intuitive and (since a jungle became a "rain forest" and a swamp became a "wetland") wasteful, scientifically illiterate "environmentalism", litigation, intimidation, dubious conclusions, overconfidence, misleading and incompetent reporting, scare stories, or propaganda is neither nice nor benign, being instead a "deadly prejudice" that puts people in jeopardyfor example:
A child dies needlessly every thirty seconds from malaria because irrational fear of insecticides prevents mosquito abatement; ("About half of all humans who have ever lived have died from malaria;" 50 million have died unnecessarily; 1 million die annually; killing one out of every 20 sub-Saharan Africa children < age of 5); this could be easily prevented.
Millions starved in a famine while nations refused UN donated corn in 2002 because of misguided hatred of bioengineered seeds (actually, all crops & farm animals are genetically modified). ...

[Your comments, please.]
Policy Resources: NCPA, Cato Institute, Policybot, Improving World, Worry vs. Reality, Junk Science, Economics, Pessimism, America, Politics, Justice, Volition, Energy Independence, Greenpeace Founder, Michael Crichton's speech on Environmentalism


Riding the Transcontinental Rails: Overland Travel on the Pacific Railroad 1865-1881
Edited by Bruce C. Cooper, with content from the CPRR Museum, 2004.

An anthology of Nineteenth century first person accounts of overland travel on the Pacific railroad between 1865 and 1881 with fourteen sections in the book each of which can easily be read in one sitting.  Also includes 93 period engravings and other illustrations, eleven maps, and another sixty pages of appendicies.

The Classic Western American Railroad Routes
Bruce C. Cooper, Editor, 2010

A Study of Cape Horn Construction on the Central Pacific Railroad, 1865-1866
by Jack E. Duncan, 2005
Book summaryAdobe Acrobat PDF format

Cover of Volume I of "The Governor: The Life and Legacy of Leland Stanford"
Cover of Volume II of "The Governor: The Life and Legacy of Leland Stanford"

The Governor: The Life and Legacy of Leland Stanford by Norman E. Tutorow.

Chapter #6: "Building the Central Pacific Rail Road of California–1863-1869"
Courtesy Norman E. Tutorow and The Arthur H. Clark Company. © 2004.

Details about this Outstanding 2-Volume Biography on one of the 19th Century's most Important Figures.
Table of Contents.

Cover of the Book "Empire Express"
checkWonderful Book about Building the First Transcontinental Railroad:

Author David Bain reports that "Empire Express was the main selection of the Book of the Month Club."
C-Span BOOKNOTES Interview

"The definitive story of the heroism and heartbreak that produced a railroad, changed the landscape of the country, and altered the horizon of the nation." —The Wall Street Journal

Across Nevada
1868 & 1997: Photographic Comparatives


Ambrose, "Nothing Like It in the World," book cover
#1 -  New York Times Best Sellers List

Author Stephen Ambrose's book [EXCERPT
[NPR Interview Download Realplayer®]
The Men Who Built The Transcontinental Railroad 1863 - 1869"

ErrataRead the corrected paperback edition, not the hardcover first edition.

to CPRR.org Website
Other New Books & Transcontinental Railroad Video

Historical/Medical/Political perspective:


"THE HOSPITAL: Belonging to the Railroad Company is a large, airy and comfortable building, located near the shops, where their men are taken care of when sick or disabled. It is well conducted, a credit to the company, and of incalculable benefit to those unfortunates who are obliged to seek its shelter. The company grounds cover 15 acres ..." Crofutt's Guide, 1872.

"Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint." —Mark Twain

Why are health insurance premiums rising so much faster than workers' earnings? CPRR HospitalThe Central Pacific Railroad Hospital (photo, left) directly provided health care to its workers for 50¢/month starting in 1868, and the monthly cost was still exactly the same in 1948! In contrast, health care costs are spiraling out of control (↑1,000x!) today because – ignoring the "first do no harm" principle – the federal government made a mess out of financial incentives when it eliminated market-based health care and made American healthcare consist of playing with other people’s money by imposing wage controls during World War II that were promptly circumvented with non-taxable "employee benefits" paid for by reduced salaries, causing take-home pay to be stagnant. This has resulted in the current unworkable systemWorld's Smallest Political Quizdriven by politics – of bureaucratic "third party" reimbursement of health care costs by balkanized insurance companies or the government, with endless regulations and paperwork causing a huge overhead, and that hides the true costs from patients and prevents them from expressing their true preferences, and so defeats the market forces needed for health care providers to be able to provide health care according to patients' actual choices & needs, i.e., Wanna Fix Health Care? Stop Hiding the Cost! The out of control cost increases also result in large numbers of people being uninsured (which is worsened because insurance is further overpriced, by as much as 600%, due to costly government-mandated coverages, and out-of-control malpractice litigation), and leads to a quarter of all bankruptcies. This also produces "job lock" (preventing people from changing jobs to avoid losing their health plan). Patients paying directly for their health care ("first party") see the expense directly and won't allow costs to rise out of control (as has NOT happened with un-reimbursed cosmetic and LASIK vision correction surgery prices). The Central Pacific Railroad Hospital experience (the world's first multi-location HMO) shows that with direct employer provided ("second party") health care, costs can also be stable over long time periods (for eighty years at $6/year!), because the costs are not hidden. However when insurance company or government meddling makes medical care not provided directly by the employer appear almost free to patients (low co-payments and deductibles – U.S. "consumers pay just 14 cents on every health dollar spent"), the demand escalates rapidly and the bill for such a plan with hidden indirect costs, as expected, rises uncontrollably, unless needed health care is denied by rationing under inferior socialized medicine (under socialized medicine in England, only about 50% of women with breast cancer and men with prostate cancer survive, but in the U.S. 80% survive) or HMO type plans with either draconian rules or unconscionable delays (in 2004, Canadians waited 11.3 million weeks for delayed treatment; with half waiting more than 17.7 weeks for treatment), or controlled by regulations which result in life-threatening shortages and are so complex and dysfunctional that, for example, the U.S. Government's Medicare Hotline could only answer a billing or policy question correctly 4% of the time. (By analogy, buying your own meals, or – like the CPRR medical plan – buying a pre-paid monthly meal plan at the company cafeteria is workable, but meal cards entitling you to unlimited "free" – or "almost free" – meals at any restaurants of your choice will be completely unaffordable – i.e., "there's no such thing as a free lunch.") Recognizing this, patient empowering portable Health Savings Accounts have recently been enacted into U.S. law in an attempt to reintroduce financial sanity to health care, as affordable consumer driven health care (even for "high-cost" patients), where patients get to keep the health care dollars that they decide not to waste, while retaining low cost major medical insurance coverage for catastrophic illnesses. "Consumers then can make the treatment choices that are right for them without the third party disconnect that divorces the consumer from costs."
[Your comments, please.]
Policy Resources: NCPA, Cato Institute, Medical Progress, CPRR Hospital Report, 1883, CPRR Hospital Statement, 1883, The Old CPRR Hospital, Central Pacific Railroad Hospital, What Ails Health Care, Solution to Health Care Reform.

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