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The Building of the Iron Road
"Overland Monthly," May, 1869

pp.  469-478

Now that the iron road across the continent has about reached completion, what better can the Overland do than tell its readers how it was built?  A full description of each end of the road, of all the aspects and resources of the country it traverses, of the most striking incidents of the work, and the people who did it—this is not possible in the limits at command. Indeed, the various phases of the subject require separate treatment, and we can only pretend now to sketch the history and progress of the Pacific Railroad, in a broad and general way.

In 1836 John Plumbe, a Welshman by birth, an American by education and feeling, a civil engineer by profession, began to agitate, at Dubuque, Iowa, a project for a railroad from the Great Lakes to the Pacific Ocean, across the Territory of Oregon.  From that time until his death, in California, several years after the discovery of gold, he was an ardent advocate of the project, laboring to bring it before Congress, to inform the public mind on the subject, and to secure a practical beginning of the great work by the construction of roads connecting the Mississippi States with the railroad system of the East.  Almost as early as Plumbe, Carver, Wilkes, Benton, Whitney and other sagacious men, had conceived the idea of a railroad across the continent.  Lewis Gaylord Clarke predicted its ultimate construction, in the Knickerbocker Magazine.  The idea naturally occurred to many far-seeing persons, who believed, like Webster, that the Republic must have a long frontage on the Pacific, and that a rival to New York would arise on the waters of the San Francisco Bay, or Puget Sound. But neither the Government not the country was prepared to encourage a work of so much magnitude, at that early day.  When Plumbe first broached his project at Dubuque, there were scarcely any railroads, and only sparse settlements, in the States west of the Ohio.  Chicago was an obscure village, in the midst of an unpeopled prairie.  Not one line of railroad had been finished between the Atlantic and the great interior basins, and much of the country west of the Mississippi was a terra incognita, except to the Indians and a few hardy pioneers.  As recently as 1844, when Fremont returned from his second exploration across the Plains, so little was generally known of this great region, that his reports were regarded as a remarkable contribution to the sum of physical knowledge, and earned him a world-wide reputation.  The population, business, and internal improvements of the United States embraced a region, from Canada to the Gulf, scarcely 1,000 miles wide; and west of that lay 2,300 miles of vacant territory, which must be traversed to realize the dream of a Pacific Railroad; and then our flag covered only one small Territory on this coast, inhabited by a feeble colony.  In that distance of 2,300 miles, two lofty mountain chains had to be crossed, which were thought to present almost insuperable engineering difficulties.  Even so late as 1846-47, when we had acquired California, and our knowledge of the intervening country was more familiar, Asa Whitney's proposition to aid the construction of a Pacific Railroad, by a grant of alternate sections of land, for a width of thirty miles on either side, found few earnest advocates, though it attracted universal attention.

The discovery of gold in California, and the rush of emigrants to this coast, first caused the project for an inter-oceanic railroad to be regarded as a national necessity, and brought it to the favorable attention of Congress.  In March, 1853, the first appropriation of $150,000 was made, to defray the expense of searching for a practicable route.  Six surveying parties were fitted out by the War Department, commanded by officers, all but one belonging to the corps of topographical engineers, who have since become celebrated, including Stevens, McClellan, Saxton, Gunnison, Beckwith, Whipple, Williamson, Parke, and Pope.  In 1854 Congress made additional appropriations, to the amount of $190,000, and three more parties were organized.  Ten routes were surveyed, between the thirty-second and forty-ninth parallels, the terminal points ranging from the Bay of San Diego, in Southern California, to Puget Sound, in Washington Territory, on the Pacific, and from Fulton, Arkansas, to St. Paul, Minnesota, on the Mississippi side.  The length of these routes varied from 1,360 to 1,740 miles, on air lines, and from 1,533 to 2,290 miles, on the lines of the proposed roads.  The results of these surveys, which were elaborately reported, and published in thirteen thick quarto volumes, copiously illustrated, were of great value to science, every department of which was embraced in them, and as guides to subsequent explorations and practical works.  They demonstrated the practicability of a railroad across the western half of the continent, by either one of several routes; but sectional rivalry and political jealousy long prevented Congress from agreeing upon any particular route or plan.  California, as the State most interested, agitated the subject in every possible manner, and brought every available influence to bear in favor of the immediate commencement of the work.  Her gold contributed to give a wonderful stimulus to railroad building in all the States on the opposite side of the continent, where the number of miles in operation increased from 8,588, in the year 1850, to 30,598 in 1860.  But she remained isolated by over 3,000 miles of land travel, and more than 5,000 miles of sea travel, costing much money, and consuming from three weeks to three months of time, both the land and the sea trip being dangerous, and to most emigrants repellant.  The money that it cost a family to reach here, would settle them on a good farm in what was then called "the West."  The transmission of a single letter by mail for a long time cost forty cents.

It was not until 1862 that Congress perceived the danger of leaving this rich State, the bullion safe of the Republic, exposed to the dangers of foreign invasion or domestic insurrection invited by its isolated and neglected condition.  In that year, during a terrible civil war, Congress passed the memorable bill under whose encouragement the Pacific Railroad was at last begun.

But even then, California was the inspirer of its action and had to do the preliminary work.  What Eastern capitalists shrank from attempting at that time, under the stress of war levies and loans, the citizens of a gold-producing and gold-circulating State, enjoying the profound peace born of isolation, confidently undertook.  During the long discussion preceding legislation, the width of country to be ironed over had been rapidly contracting as immigration pushed westward and the railroad system of the Atlantic States was extended.  Practically, the length of a Pacific Railroad route proper, on the most direct line, had been reduced to less than 1,900 miles, between the waters of the Missouri and those of San Francisco Bay.  Only half this distance, at the most, would need to be built by Californians, if any had courage for such a job.  The route generally indicated as preferable was that near the forty-first and forty-second parallels, from Council Bluffs via the South Pass of the Rocky Mountains and the south end of Salt Lake, to Benicia near the mouth of the Sacramento.  The settlement of California and the building of San Francisco had cast Puget Sound as a terminus into the shade, and determined the adoption of a central line of communication.  The route mentioned had been surveyed by one of the Government parties, and measured 2,032 miles.  The line finally located was reduced to 1,851 miles in length, with Omaha and San Francisco as the termini, the South Pass being left far to the northward and Evans' Pass accepted instead, and the line passing the northern end of Salt Lake.  The country is nearly a level plateau from Omaha, where the elevation above the sea is 968 feet, rising gradually to the Rocky Mountains, and attaining the extreme elevation of 8,242 feet at Evans' Pass, a distance of 548 miles.  Farther westward the route maintains an elevation of 5,000 to 7,564 feet till Echo Cañon is reached, 421 miles further, and not far from Salt Lake Valley.  Salt Lake City is 4,285 feet above the sea, but the continental road leaves it to the southward, passing by the head of the lake, where the elevation is about the same.  Here the central plateau, or Utah plain, is entered, continuing to the eastern base of the Sierra Nevada, a distance of about 500 miles, and maintaining an elevation of 4,000 to 5,000 feet.  This plateau, however, is ribbed with numerous irregular mountain ranges, generally timberless, that rise from 1,500 to 5,000 feet higher than the intervales.  Where these ranges trend northerly and southerly they are broken enough to afford an easy grade for the railroad.  From Reno, at the foot of the Sierra, 4,525 feet above the sea, to the summit of the railroad pass near Donner Lake, 7,042 feet above the sea, an elevation of 2,517 feet is overcome in a distance of 49 miles. The descent from the summit to the western base of the Sierra is 6,966 feet, in a distance of 98 miles.  There the level valley of the Sacramento and San Joaquin is entered, only 56 feet above sea level, and followed to the Bay of San Francisco, a distance of 131 miles from the official western base of the Sierra Nevada.  The railroad line thus briefly sketched trends nearly west from Omaha, on the Missouri River, to Winnemucca, in the Humboldt Basin, a distance of over 1,400 miles; and from the latter point to San Francisco the trend is nearly southwest.  The longer part of the line lies between the parallels of forty-one and forty-two; the shorter part crosses from the parallel of forty-one to below that of thirty-eight. This description will enable the reader to understand the extent and nature of the work marked out in 1862, when Congress passed the Pacific Railroad Bill, to connect the Pacific Coast with the Atlantic railway system.  More than the 1,851 miles of track between Omaha and San Francisco had really to be built, for our calculation does not include a gap of 500 miles between Omaha and Chicago; but this portion was constructed as a private enterprise, without national aid, and was a natural adjunct of the Mississippi Valley system.  We will now tell as rapidly as possible how the Pacific Railroad was finally built, in scarcely more than six years from the time the work of grading began.

The credit of the practical initiation of the enterprise is due to California, as above stated.  Early in the year 1861 a company was organized at Sacramento, under the laws of the State, by the name of the Central Pacific Railroad Company, which, the same year, began the survey and examination of routes for a railway over the Sierra Nevada, under the superintendency of the late T. D. Judah, as Chief Engineer.  This gentleman, an engineer of eminent ability, boldness, and originality, made the first complete instrumental and "thorough railroad survey" ever made over the Sierra Nevada.  Preliminary examinations and barometrical observations had been made the year before upon three routes-one through El Dorado County via Georgetown, another via Nevada City and the Henness Pass, and a third by way of Illinoistown, Dutch Flat, and Donner Lake Pass.  These observations, wrote Mr. Judah in his first report to the company, under date of October 1, 1861, demonstrated the existence of a route from Sacramento across the Sierra Nevada, by which the summit could be attained with grades of 105 feet per mile.  Accordingly field parties were organized early in the spring, and a thorough railroad survey made, developing a line with lighter grades, less distance, and encountering fewer obstacles, than were found upon any other route or line before examined across the Sierra, and proving that the difficulties and formidable features of this range could be successfully overcome.

Judah's survey extended no farther than 128 miles east of Sacramento, to a point about five miles down the valley of Truckee River; but within this distance all the difficulties of the route were overcome; a mere reconnaissance through the valleys of the eastern slope showing that they afforded an easy railroad grade, while on the plateau beyond the base of the Sierra, as far as Salt Lake, the survey and estimates of Lieutenant Beckwith were a sufficient temporary guide.  The main object was to demonstrate the practicability of crossing the Sierra by the most direct route between San Francisco, the commercial entrepot of California, Sacramento, the capital of the State, and Virginia City, the heart of the silver mines of Nevada.  The discovery of the rich mines on the eastern slope had created a traffic across the mountains which it was estimated would yield the projected railroad five million dollars per annum, and alone justify its construction.  This was a vital consideration in the infancy of a costly enterprise.  Lower passes to the northward offered less obstacles from winter snows, but necessitated a longer line.  The projectors of the Central Pacific Railroad preferred taking the chances of winter obstructions to those of losing a share of the profitable business that would help pay for the extension of the road toward Salt Lake.  They were convinced that the snow difficulty was much exaggerated.  Judah's survey crossed the State at nearly its narrowest part.  It demonstrated that an elevation of 7,000 feet, with a base of only seventy miles, could be overcome with a maximum grade of one hundred and five feet per mile; that the western flanks of the Sierra, being at right angles to the northwesterly and southeasterly trend of the chain, could be ascended along an unbroken ridge from base to summit, in the general direction of the streams; that the necessary tunneling would be comparatively easy and inexpensive; that the maximum cost of the mountain work would not exceed $150,000 per mile; and that the average cost for the first one hundred and forty miles would not exceed $90,000.

On this showing, the Directors of the Central Pacific Railroad Company, on the ninth of October, 1861, authorized Judah to proceed to Washington on the steamer which sailed two days later, as their accredited agent, to procure appropriations of land and Government bonds to aid in the construction of the road.  The names of the Directors were Leland Stanford (that year elected Governor of the State), C. P. Huntington, Mark Hopkins, Theodore D. Judah, Charles Crocker, L. A. Booth, James Bailey, D. W. Strong, and Charles Marsh.  All but the last two were citizens of Sacramento, which city justly claims the credit reflected by their foresight, their confidence, their labors, and their success.  The idea of Government bond subsidies in aid of railways originated with these men, who, finding the capitalists of San Francisco cold and skeptical towards their project, looked to Government for more immediately available aid than land grants alone to help the beginning of a national work.

Judah was accompanied on his way east by Aaron A. Sargent, one of the first Republican Congressmen elected in California, who took a deep and intelligent interest in the project of the Central Pacific, studied it on the passage, and afterwards at Washington; labored for it in committee; introduced the bill granting aid in land and bonds, and urged its passage in an able speech, taking the ground that the road was a military necessity, an argument forcibly illustrated by reference to the existing circumstances of the country, then convulsed by war.  The bill was advocated by the whole delegation from the Pacific, was finally passed, and was approved by President Lincoln, July 1st, 1862.  Judah's report and maps, and the arguments of the representatives of California based thereon, had brought Congress to adopt a practical plan for the construction of a work which had been under discussion for twelve years.  The bill recognized existing companies at either end of the route—the Central Pacific being one, while the central division, from Omaha to the eastern boundary of California, 1,300 miles out of 1,851, was given to the Union Pacific Railroad Company, an incorporation created by the Act itself, although the Act gave the California company the right to continue its road from the State line until it met the Union Pacific—a right of which it has availed itself with peculiar energy and success.  The bill granted bond subsidies of three classes-at the rate respectively of $16,000, of $32,000, and of $48,000 per mile, according to the nature of the country described in certain limits, these bonds being a lien upon the road and all its fixtures, and eventually repayable to Government.  A subsequent amendment allowed the companies to issue mortgage bonds to an equal amount, having priority over the Government bonds.  The grant of lands was for twenty alternate sections, or 12,800 acres per mile, amounting to nearly 16,000,000 acres, worth at the price named in the bill ($2.50 per acre) about $40,000,000.  The bond subsidies on the Union and Central Pacific Railroads, estimating the length from Sacramento to Omaha at 1,727 miles, and assuming that the two companies meet at Monument Point, the head of Salt Lake, would aggregate at par a value of $52,976,000, an average of something over $30,000 a mile.  The actual average on the line of the Union Pacific, as calculated to Monument Point by the Secretary of the Interior, has been $26,580; the allowance of $48,000 per mile for the one hundred and fifty miles of Central Pacific road east of the western base of the Sierra, which was officially fixed at a point seven miles from Sacramento, raising the average for the entire line considerably.  The value of the land grants per mile may be stated at $32,000.  Thus we have $52,000 as the average sum per mile contributed by the Government to build the Pacific Railroad.  This would aggregate, for 1,851 miles, from Omaha to San Francisco, $96,352,000; and the estimated cost of the whole road was $100,000,000.  If the bonds could have been sold at par, and the lands could have been marketed as fast as the work proceeded, the Government aid would have been sufficient to build and equip the railroad and the telegraph line accompanying it, and have left a profit over, for the actual cost has been less than the estimates.  But ten per cent. at least must be deducted from the bonds, which sold at a discount averaging as much as that, and it must be remembered that little of the land could be sold at all until after the completion of the road.  After making these allowances, however, the Government grants were still a magnificent basis of credit on which the two companies could sell their own first mortgage bonds for all the way from ninety cents to par.

It was considered necessary to offer such magnificent inducements for the construction of a work of national necessity, over the wild, unpeopled region of the middle continent, which was not expected to furnish any way-business for many years.  Even with such inducements, capitalists were loth to take hold of the enterprise.  The country was engaged in a civil war which taxed its utmost powers, and the duration and event of which were uncertain.  Those on the Atlantic side who had confidence in the National Government invested largely in its securities.  Moneyed men on the Pacific side were satisfied with the two per cent. a month on local loans they could easily realize, and with the more liberal returns from commerce from mines and real estate.  Hence, the Directors of the Central Pacific found it impossible to obtain subscriptions to the stock of the road in San Francisco, and secured barely enough elsewhere to comply with the State law and to meet preliminary expenses.  The Union Pacific, although it put forth the names of some heavy capitalists in its list of corporators, did not begin work until after the close of the war.  The California Company had more pluck and energy.  After making the survey that satisfied Congress and secured the aid bill, it proceeded to begin the construction of the road, although the heaviest and costliest grading on the whole route form Omaha to San Francisco met it at the start, and all the iron, rolling stock, and other railroad material had to be ordered and manufactured on the Atlantic side, waited—for several months, shipped 19,000 miles around Cape Horn, exposed to danger of loss at the hands of rebel cruisers, and after its receipt required transportation one hundred and twenty-four miles into the interior.  During the autumn of the year 1862 the final working surveys of the first division of fifty miles were made.  In January, 1863, the work of grading was begun, the occasion being signalized by public ceremonies, in which the State Legislature and other officers, and a large gathering of prominent citizens, participated.  Some persons who had little faith in the enterprise, or who believed that at most only a short section of railway would be built as a tender to a toll-road from Dutch Flat to Virginia City, laughed when Governor Stanford, as President of the Company, shoveled a little sand from a wagon into a mud hole, at the foot of K Street, where the grading actually began.  But the work went on.  The first shipment of rails did not reach Sacramento until October, 1863.  By June, 1864, thirty-one miles of track had been laid, to Newcastle, 930 feet above sea level, a larger portion of this distance lying in the foothills of the Sierra.  The energy shown by the Central Pacific Company induced the Legislature of 1863 to pass laws authorizing San Francisco, Sacramento and Placer counties to issue bonds for subscription to the stock of the company in the sum of $600,000, of $300,000, and of $250,000 respectively.  The San Francisco subscription was eventually compromised by a gift of bonds to the amount of $400,000, without stock.  The Legislature of 1864 guaranteed the payment by the State of interest at the rate of seven per cent. per annum, gold, on $1,500,000 of the Company's bonds, for twenty years.  More stock was taken in this State and at the East; but yet in January, 1865, the total stock subscriptions reported did not exceed 9,889 shares, equal to $988,000.  C. P. Huntington, Vice President of the Company, attended to its interests at the East, negotiating for money and materials, and aiding to procure such amendments to the Act of Congress as would facilitate the work.  In negotiating for money, he found the difference in currency and the high premium on gold much against California.  For a long time it was very difficult to dispose of the Company's bonds at a fair price, and the outlay at the beginning was so heavy, and there was so much enmity and litigation to encounter, that the prospects of the enterprise were often most disheartening.  The issue of San Francisco bonds was prevented by hostile suits, carried up to the Supreme Court, until 1865.  The credit of the Company was injured by malicious charges that the road would not be built beyond Dutch Flat, sixty-seven miles from Sacramento, and that it could not be operated farther in winter if it were built.  These causes delayed the work beyond Newcastle, and it was not until September, 1866, that the road was completed to Alta, seventy miles east of Sacramento, and 3,625 feet above the sea.  In November following the track reached Cisco, 5,911 feet above the sea, an elevation of 2,286 feet being overcome in twenty-three miles.  The summit of the Sierra was still thirteen miles off, but excepting the tunnel work, the worst part of the job on the whole line to Salt Lake was done.  From Colfax, fifty-four miles east of Sacramento, to Cisco, thirty-eight miles further, an elevation of 3,463 feet had to be overcome, and the average grade was over 91 feet; while for short distances a grade of 105 to 116 feet was necessary, the later figure being the legal maximum.  On this section the Company's operation had reached great proportions.  About 6,000 laborers were employed, most of whom were Chinamen, without whose aid the Central Pacific Railroad could not have been built, as there was an insufficiency of white labor at prices considerably higher than those paid the Chinese.  The Company were sending out iron by nearly every ship leaving New York for California.  Its bonds were increasing in favor, at ninety-five per cent. and accrued interest in currency.  The monthly earnings of the road had risen to about $150,000. During the winter of 1866-67 the completion of the road to Cisco was prevented by snow, but work in the tunnels was continued, and grading on the eastern slope, beyond the snow line, was pushed with great energy. Work on the eastern end of the Pacific Railroad was not begun by the Union Pacific Company until the summer of 1865—more than eighteen months after the Central Pacific began its grading at Sacramento.  The Eastern Company had a level plain before it for five hundred miles, had more capital to back it, had no difference in currency to overcome, and but a short distance, comparatively, to transport its supplies.  The bond subsidy of $32,000 per mile on the Plains, with a grade of only seven feet to the mile, was more than sufficient to pay the cost of the work; while the grade of the Central Pacific, up in the Sierra, cost nearly double the highest bonus of $48,000.  The Union Pacific made fast time, however, when work was once begun.  In one year it laid track to a point two hundred miles west of Omaha, and was able to continue laying track, while the Central Pacific folks were delayed half a year by snow.  In November, 1866, the Union Pacific had extended its track three hundred miles west of Omaha; sixty-five miles of track were laid in one month, and on one day three miles were laid.  The staging time across the country between the two iron roads had been reduced to ten days.  The connection between Omaha and Chicago by rail was made by the completion of the Northwestern Railroad, in December, 1866, and the material and supplies for the Union Pacific could thus be transported all the way "to the front" by the fastest possible means, while the Central Pacific material was sailing 19,000 miles around Cape Horn.  Of the 3,300 miles of railroad originally needed to connect New York and San Francisco, scarcely more than 1,300 remained unbuilt.

With the melting of the snows, in the spring of 1867, the work of railroad building was resumed on both sides of the country with increased vigor.  By midsummer the Central Pacific was completed to the summit of the Sierra; fifteen tunnels, embracing a length of 6,262 feet, were far advanced, and 10,000 men and 1,300 teams were working on the grade down the eastern slope.  The Union Pacific, with a still larger force, was laying track at the rate of two or three miles a day, and had got well on into the Black Hills, at the foot of the Rocky Mountains.  This point was actually reached in October, and the Union Pacific was then 500 miles west of Omaha.  As it entered the mountains, and encountered the first of its heavy work, the Central Pacific, though its cars were still arrested by the non-completion of the Summit tunnel, approached the Nevada Plateau.  Henceforth there would be less inequality in the race for Salt Lake.  The Union was far ahead, but it had four or five hundred miles of uneven country to pass, while the Central had comparatively smooth ground.  On the 30th of November, 1867, the first passenger train reached the summit of the Sierra. In December, 1867, the Central Pacific had crossed the summit at an altitude of 7,042 feet, penetrated the fifteen tunnels, and reached the Lower Truckee nearly 140 miles east of Sacramento.  The Union had reached a point in the Black Hills nearly 500 miles west of Omaha, at an elevation of between 7,000 and 8,000 feet.  Work was delayed again, especially on the Central, by winter storms.  In April, 1868, the Union had reached Evans' Pass, the highest point on its route, 8,242 feet above the sea and 548 miles west of Omaha.  In this long distance it had overcome an elevation of 7,274 feet, on an average grade of only thirteen ad a half feet per mile. The Central, in going 105 miles east of Sacramento, had to make an average grade of sixty-six and a half feet per mile to overcome an elevation of 6,986 feet, and much of its mountain grade was from ninety to one hundred feet.  In five years, since the grading on the Central Pacific began, 688 miles of track had been laid by the two companies-140 by the Central and 548 by the Union.  The two companies were nearly equidistant from Monument Point, at the head of Salt Lake; the eastern company 522 miles, the western 545.  Both corporations were now in command of ample means, and as the summer opened, pushed men and material to the front with great energy.  It was an object with each to secure as much of the Government subsidy as possible, and also to control a greater part of the carrying trade of the middle territories.  For nearly twelve months since, each has been putting forth its utmost energies, and the result has been a competition and speed in railroad building quite unparalleled.  From 20,000 to 25,000 workmen and 5,000 to 6,000 teams have been engaged grading and laying track, or getting out stone and timber along the 1,100 miles of route between the base of the Sierra and Evans' Pass.  Five or six hundred tons of material daily have been forwarded from either end to the front.  The route was bustling with life.  The army of employees built up numerous small towns as they advanced, leaving some to decay, but planting the germs of scores of permanent places, some of which now contain thousands of inhabitants.  All the vigor, vice and lawlessness or border life characterized the railroad population, but it was made subservient to one of the grandest instruments of refined civilization.  The woods of the Sierra and Rocky Mountains rang with the strokes of axmen and the click of steel in the quarries.  The streams were bordered with camps of lumbermen and choked with floating logs.  At one place on the Truckee River, twenty-five sawmills went into sudden operation.  Lumber, iron and material of every description lined the road, and the wake of the advancing workmen was marked by the odd debris of deserted camps.  On the Central road alone from seventy to one hundred locomotives and several hundred cars were constantly passing to and fro with material, supplies and laborers.  The wharves at San Francisco and Sacramento were piled with iron bars.  At one time thirty vessels were en route at one time via Cape Horn with iron and rolling stock for the road, and locomotives and rails were even ordered by way of the Isthmus.  The forest solitudes of the Sierra Nevada thundered to the roar of falling trees or passing trains.  The desert spaces of the plains were populous. On the eastern end the buffalo was scared from his pasture range, and the even more savage red men dared only a few sneaking acts of resistance that were more like thievish murders.  Track was laid at the rate of two, three, four, five and six miles a day by each company.  Within a few weeks the Central Pacific have laid seven miles in one day.  It is a literal fact that more ground was ironed in some days, by the two companies together, than the ox teams of 1849 averaged for a day's journey.  By September 30th, 1868, the Central track extended 350 miles, and the graders were fifty miles ahead, while another grading party was coming one hundred miles westward from Salt Lake.  The agents of both companies had been negotiating with the Mormons, who, anxious to keep the hordes of monogamous Gentiles out of their community, took contracts to grade ahead of both roads from Salt Lake Valley east and west.

The competition increased as the two roads neared each other; but when the winter again set in, the operations of the Union Pacific were seriously interrupted.  Along four hundred miles of track, from the Black Hills to the Wasatch Mountains, where the country has an elevation of from five thousand to eight thousand feet, the road was blocked with snow for nearly two months.  Mail, materials, and supplies were stopped, and passengers suffered great hardships.  Serious defects in construction were revealed, leading to complaints and investigation before Congress.  The Central road was stopped but one week.  It had no snow difficulty except in the Sierra, and twenty-two of the forty or fifty miles of deep snow belt had been roofed in with heavy timbers.  Where this protection had not been furnished the track could have been kept clear with snow-plows, but for the fall of some trestle-work which prevented the passage of the engine for a few days. Another winter the whole width of the snow region will be roofed, and it is confidently asserted by the company that the road can be worked with as little interruption from storms as any railway on the northern Atlantic side.  The Central had enough iron, ties, and other material to keep up the work of construction steadily.  The train was stopped in the vicinity of Ogden, within eighty miles of the head of Salt Lake, by an obstinate rock tunnel, which is even yet not quite finished.  The competition between the two companies was transferred to Washington, where charges and counter-charges were made, and an imbroglio created which has not yet been cleared up.  The Central wished Ogden fixed as the point of junction, claiming that the Union was working west of that place off the official line; and the Union wished Monument Point named for the junction, though there was a time when its managers expected to reach the California State line, and actually made surveys that far.

But with these disputes the Overland has nothing at present to do.  It has only to rejoice that the work so long prayed for by denizens of the Pacific coast, on which so many hopes have centered, and which really is of great importance to the whole Republic, is at last about completed.  One thousand miles of track have been laid within twelve months past; the larger proportion of that amount within six months.  For a year, the iron road across the Plains has been growing at the rate of nearly two and three-quarters miles a day; a line of telegraph following it.  The whole work of laying 494 miles of track, from Chicago to Omaha, and 1,727 miles, from Omaha to San Francisco—2,221 miles in all—has been accomplished in less than seven years since Congress passed the Pacific Railroad Act, and in a little over six years since California began work on the main line. The section of 124 miles, from Sacramento to San Francisco Bay, is well under way, and will be completed in July.  Its construction was originally entrusted to another company than the Central Pacific; but the trust was abused, and only within a recent period has the franchise passed into the hands of the builders of the Central Pacific.

Before the next anniversary of National Independence the traveler can enter the cars at New York and be transported by rail to the waters of San Francisco Bay inside of a week, unless he chooses to stop by the way.  For all practical purposes, however, the Pacific Railroad may be said to be completed when the junction is effected near Salt Lake; and the public celebrations and rejoicing coincident with that event will be fully justified as an expression of national feeling over the accomplishment of one of the most remarkable works of the age-a work that unites two extremes of a great country, that links widely-separated States, that annihilates geographical and sectional divisions, that marries the business and society of the east and west, and establishes a new highway for the commerce of Asia.

Bret Harte's "Overland Monthly" can also be found on microfilm in California Room of the California State Library.  It ws the custom of the magazine not to give names of authors.

Text Courtesy Russell Towle.

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