Engraved on the golden Last Spike of the first transcontinental railroad:
"May God continue the unity of our Country as this Railroad unites the two great Oceans of the world."
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Savage.  Laying the Last Rail
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Jubilation
Laying the Last Rail

Joining of the rails linking the Central and Union Pacific Railroads, May 10, 1869, Promontory Summit, Utah.
CPRR's "Jupiter" engine on the left, UPRR's engine "No. 119" on the right.  "One of the classic icons of American imagery."
(Detail of Savage and Ottinger carte de visite with manuscript title, "Jubilation Laying the Last Rail." Historic Photo Courtesy C. Wesley Cowan.
  Albumen print from the left image, glass collodion negative of the C. R. Savage stereograph "The Joining of the Rails.")

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Transcontinental Railroad History

"The visionary Theodore Judah laid the engineering groundwork, but Samuel Montague and Lewis Clement carried it over (and through) the great granite peaks, across the Donner Pass and down the Truckee Canyon."
 Robert M. Utley, The New York Times Review of Books, December 12, 1999.
Hart 355

AJR Last Rail

SF RR Bond

First Train

Completion of the Pacific Railroad
Overcoming incredible obstacles, transcontinental railroad construction finished 7 years ahead of schedule!
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Summit Tunnel Composite Image by Bruce Cooper.Lewis Clement had achieved a triumph of the first magnitude in engineering.  The Summit Tunnel was 7,042 feet above the sea. "COMPLETION OF THE PACIFIC RAILROAD — Some twenty years ago it was proposed to build a railroad to the Pacific coast. The idea at that time was looked upon by most men as visionary in the extreme, and by some pronounced impossible, yet this so-called visionary project has been accomplished and the iron horse will now speed its way over three thousand miles of continuous rail, from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean."This was the highest point reached by the CP.  The facings were off by only two inches, a feat that could hardly be equaled in the twenty-first century.  Clement had done it with black powder, nitroglycerin, and muscle power.  He had not used electric or steam-driven drills, steam engines to power scoop shovels, or any gas or electric-powered carts or cars to haul out the broken granite.  There were no robots, no mechanical devices.  Well over 95 percent of the work was done by the Chinese men.  They and their foremen and the bosses, Clement and Crocker and Strobridge, had created one of the greatest moments in American history.

mapAmerican Progress allegorical painting by John Gast, 1872.“More than a dozen tunnels were blasted through the granite mountains. Most were on curves, laid out by Lewis Clement. When the faces met, they were never more than an inch off line, showing the remarkable accuracy of his calculations and instrument work under the most difficult of circumstances. Van Nostrand’s Engineering Magazine said in 1870 that the undertaking was preposterous, but Clement did it.”

 —Stephen E. Ambrose, Nothing Like It in the World
The Men Who Built The Transcontinental Railroad 1863 - 1869

The idea for a transcontinental railroad "to shrink the continent and change the whole world" was first proposed by men of imagination in 1830. It wasn't until 1862 that Congress passed a bill authorizing such a venture. In 1869, after a long, bitter and often terrifying struggle against Indian attacks, brutal weather, floods, labor shortages, political chicanery, lawlessness and a war, the first transcontinental railroad finally became a reality. Now the way was open for vast expansion and social changes that would make America the industrial giant of the world. ... One of the great engineering feats of history and ... a fascinating chapter in the development of our country.
[After Rails Across the Continent: The Story of the First Transcontinental Railroad by Enid Johnson.]  Text Courtesy Walt Winter.

An 1846 Cincinnati newspaper mocked the utopian claims that a railroad could "create settlements, commerce and wealth"; the project's supporters, the paper suggested, might as well be promising "to unite neighboring planets in our solar system and make them better acquainted with each other."
["Looking at the Transcontinental Railroad as the Internet of 1869" by Edward Rothstein, New York Times, December 11, 1999.] Text Courtesy David Bain. [Interview]

Photography was a critical marketing tool for financing with transcontinental railroad bonds – both the CPRR and UPRR hired photographers to document the progress of construction, producing the numerous stereoviews which now illustate this website. The camera equipment of the day was so large and heavy that a photo wagon was needed. Wet glass plate collodion negatives had to be produced in the field, required long exposures, and albumen paper required 20 minutes in sunlight to make photo prints. Today's digital cameras by comparison are a marvel — to select the best camera to create photographs for the CPRR Museum website, we found invaluable the extensive reviews on a great site for digital cameras, Digital Camera HQ.


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Freight Train Rounding Cape Horn (Carleton Watkins)
Freight Train Rounding Cape Horn, 2487' elevation (Watkins' New Cabinet Series, detail). [Topo Map; Aerial Photo] See other Watkins views at the Getty Museum & Royal Geographic Society.
ChineseIn 1864 the first Chinese workers were hired, and starting in March, 1865, thousands of Chinese in Kwantung Province were recruited by Central Pacific Railroad Co. to work on the western portion of transcontinental railroad.  The roadbed was blasted out of the solid rock mountainside in the fall of 1865 by lowering Chinese workers (also known as "Celestials" after the "Celestial Kingdom" as these tireless workers referred to their homeland) on ropes down the cliff face.  These Chinese men drilled and packed black power charges in the rock, lit the fuses, and had the agility to scamper up the ropes before the explosions.  Cape Horn, Sierra Nevada Mountains, California.
 
“The Chinese made the roadbed and laid the track around Cape Horn.  Chinese worker, Tunnel #8Though this took until the spring of 1866, it was not as time-consuming or difficult as had been feared.  Still it remains one of the best known of all the labors on the Central Pacific, mainly because, unlike the work in the tunnel, it makes for a spectacular diorama.  As well it should.  Hanging from those [ropes], drilling holes in the cliff, placing the fuses, and getting hauled up was a spectacular piece of work.  The white laborers couldn't do it.  The Chinese could, if not as a matter of course, then quickly and — at least they made it look this way — easily.  Young Lewis Clement did the surveying and then took charge of overseeing the railroad engineering at Cape Horn.

“What Clement planned and the Chinese made became one of the grandest sights to be seen along the entire Central Pacific line. Trains would halt there so tourists could get out of their cars to gasp and gape at the gorge and the grade.” 

—Stephen E. Ambrose, Nothing Like It in the World
The Men Who Built The Transcontinental Railroad 1863 - 1869


This Is My Railroad, SPRR Video, c. 1940's.

This is My Railroad, SPRR 1940
I
This is My Railroad, SPRR 1940
II

Click images to view the two parts of the movie. Courtesy Internet Movie Archive.


Savage. Driving the Last Spike

  Driving the Last Spike
   (Savage and Ottinger carte de visite.)
   Courtesy C. Wesley Cowan.

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Views Along the Line of the Pacific Rail Road.  No. 7148  "John Chinaman on the RailRoad." Union Pacific Rail Road.  Published by E. & H. T. Anthony & Co.

Track workers on a hand car in the Utah desert.
(E. & H.T. Anthony Stereoview #7148.) See enlargement and "3D" Stereo.
Echo Canyon Utah with the rock that A. J. Russell labeled "Great Eastern" in the background.  [Digital image restoration of railroad pictures.]
The hand hewn ties are another giveaway that it's on the Union Pacific Railroad. 
Location  identified courtesy Don D. Snoddy, UPRR.

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Racing to Build the Pacific Railroad:
"...So work on as though Heaven was before you and Hell behind you."
From a letter written by the Central Pacific's
C. P. Huntington to Charley [Crocker], 
dated July 1st, 1868.

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