Sixty years ago on the old C.P.

by Ben F. Sargent, 1928

In the winter of 1868 or 60 years ago, I was then 20 years of age and in the employ of the Central Pacific Railway as a freight brakeman on Sacramento division between Rocklin and Truckee or as it was sometimes called, Coburns Station. I well remember the 9 days' blockade and that we had 9 engines on the first day and 8 engines on each of the next eight days on the snow plow also there were several hundred men sent up from Sacramento as shovelers some said there were 500 of them and most of them were a tough looking lot. Would have done credit to any states prison and the snow was from 6 to 20 or more feet deep and this mob all wore shoes. Emigrant Gap was the headquarters for the west side of the mountain and there the company had a bunk house that would accomodate 500 men, with bunks filled with hay only. I remember one night going to bed there and of having a rubber coat and for additional warmth and as I then thought for more safety for the coat I put it on over my other clothes and buttoned it up and when I awoke the next morning it was gone, proving that a 20 year old boy can sleep very soundly. It also recalled to my mind a remark made one day on the snow plow by Ed Fellows who was at that time Division Superintendent of the Sacramento Division that he wanted to get back to Sacramento where he felt now he could sleep in safety with all those thieves up here. One day I was flagging to keep the snow off the shovelers and my feet where I stood directly over the center of the track were higher than the top of the stack of the engines. At that time only part of the sheds had been completed and between them was where the snow was deepest. Nate Webb had charge of the hill in winter and the old timers R. W. Clinch, C. W. Carter, Charley and Pat Bennett, Hank Lancaster, who afterwards was killed near Donner Lake. Deacon Gail, Geo. Gammond, Geo. Woods, Andy Ryder, Cap Witham, Cap Wight, Nat Kendall, Jim Burchard, Mose Freeman and very many more that I have forgotten their names. I remember a $20 bill greenback to John Moody who kept the Truckee Hotel in payment for a meal ticket and he replied I would rather trust you than take that paper money [which] at that time was at a discount. Early in the spring of 1869 five of us two conductors and three brakeman went out to end of track or to Carlin, Nev. End of track then was east of Humboldt Wells. C. E. Gillette was then Division Superintendent at Carlin, Nev. and no passenger trains then ran east of Elko, Nev. and that was the stage station for the mines at White Pine and quite a lively place as long as that excitement lasted. The road bed was very poorly ballasted. You could stand at the rear end of a freight train looking toward the engine and it resembled the movement of a snake up and down. Many times we would be 20 to 24 hours making 100 miles. Would overtake trains stalled out of steam or engine foaming with alkali water poor and green fuel. The first three months we were up there I did cooking in the caboose for many of our meals everything was very high except beef, potatoes were 12 1/2 cents per lb. I was at Carlin the day the last spike was driven and every whistle was blown and every bell rung and whiskey was plenty. After the connection at Promontory was made the passenger train was extended to that point in 1869. There was the Sacramento Truckee Shoshone, Humboldt and Salt lake Divisions and the passenger conductors for our divisions (Shoshone and Humboldt) were Tom Chick, Charley Carter, Lew Thatcher and Geo. Conwall and other conductors were Canyon Bill, Hill, Hank Davis, Jim Hopkins, Walter Case, Fred Benson, Frank Free on Truckee division. Fred Bayless, Nate Kendall, Hughey Darran, Windy Williams, Lank House, Gov. Seymour Evans, W. S. Cannon, R. W. Brashier, R.W. Clinch and B. F. Sargent. Salt Lake Division. Patsy Coin, Carr, Brown, Noonan, Clement, Snyder, Jim Cassin and many others. I was on the road when the train was held up at Verdi and the next night at Independence Springs. I claim to be one of the pioneers of the old CP. I was employed on every division from Rocklin, Cal. to Ogden, Utah. Was brakeman, Baggageman or Conductor, and the last two years ending in 1882 as conductor between Truckee and Winnemucca and of all the old time railroad men of those early days I only know James Cassin, conductor at Ogden and Roger Trewick at Pacific Grove, Cal. Myself and friend W. W. Osgood left Vermont in 1868 for California via the Isthmus route to take a job on the CP where Osgood was a brakeman and yardman and later a conductor on SP in Arizona. In 1870 the westbound passenger train took breakfast at Elko, Nev. where they killed two hours, to avoid arriving at San Francisco at too early a time in the morning. J. F. Gerald was agent and John D. Treat kept the hotel at Elko at that time both first class men.

Ben F. Sargent

To the editor: SP Magazine: You may use this as a whole or any part or none of it but if you do use it please send me a copy of the magazine containing it.

B F Sargent, care of A.T. Osha, RD No. 1, Rochester, Vt.

Benjamin F. Sargent


Courtesy of the Lynn D. Farrar Collection.

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