Rails East to Promontory
The Utah Stations
A concept to link the nation by rail became a reality
on May 10, 1869 and America's frontier was nearly history (Fig. 2).
Construction of the first transcontinental railroad and the meeting of
the Union and Central Pacific Railroads at Promontory Summit not only
contributed to the development of the west but, in fact, pulled the west
coast ito the continental mainstream. The "Iron Horse" opened the
American West, traversed imposing mountain ranges, and made it possible
to ship and travel the width of the country in days instead of weeks or
months. A stage coach from Omaha to Sacramento required continuous
travel for more than 20 days. Now with the railroad, the same passage
was possible in less than a week.
Figure 2: One of the last emigrant wagon trains heading west meets one
of the first locomotives heading east at Monument Point, Utah, May 8,
The building of a transcontinental railroad to link
the potentially rich and opportunistic western lands to a prospering
east where manufactured commodities were readily available was not
totally an eastern concept. In 1852, two years after becoming a State,
the California legislature resolved:
" . . . . the interest of this State, as well as those
of the whole Union, require the immediate action of the Government of
the United States for the construction of a national thoroughfare
connecting the navigable waters of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans for
the purpose of national safety, in the event of war, and to promote the
highest commercial interests of the Republic, and granting the
right-of-way through the states of the United States for the purpose of
constructing the road." (State of California in Kraus 1969a:7)
A potential route was selected and surveyed in 1853
and 1854 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps, led first by
Captain J. Gunnison and replaced by Lieutenant E.G. Beckwith, surveyed
through Utah in May 1854. The survey party suggested a route paralleling
the Hastings road, south of the Great Salt Lake, through the Salt Lake
Desert and over a low pass at the south end of the Pilot Range (Fig. 3).
Unfortunately, Beckwith's survey concentrated primarily on flora,
fauna, and native Americans rather than the practical aspects of
building a railroad (Beckwith 1854:18-30).
Figure 3: The Gunnison/Beckwith proposed railroad route
through Utah in 1854. (click on image for a PDF version)
In 1857, Californian, Theodore Dehone Judah,
presented the shortcomings of the survey to Congress. Unsuccessful in
acquiring support for another survey, Judah returned home. His
perseverance paid off and within two years he had inspired the
California legislature to organize the Pacific Railroad Convention.
Judah, the chief spokesman and engineer, called for detailed surveys of
potential railroad routes. Finally by 1861, the initiative of the
Convention resulted in: (1) stock shares being sold in a private
enterprise, the Central Pacific Railroad Company of California, and (2)
a formal proposal being sent to Congress to enlist financial aid for the
rail line. Judah approached Congress once again. With the country
engaged in a civil war, Judah gained Congressional support stating that
his railroad would "Unite the Nation". The Pacific Railroad Act was
created, endorsed by the 37th Congress, and signed into law by President
Lincoln on July 1, 1862 (Kraus 1969a:13-45). No single action changed
the complexion of the vast trans-Mississippi west in a shorter period
of time than the passage of this Act.
The Act called for the creation of the Union Pacific
Railroad Company for construction of a railroad and telegraph westward
from a point on the Missouri River near Omaha, Nebraska. (Note:
construction actually began at the west bank of the River in December
1863. A bridge was installed to Council Bluffs, Iowa in 1872 [Barry
Combs, Union Pacific Railroad Company, personal communication]).
Likewise, the Central Pacific Railroad Company was to construct a
railroad and telegraph eastward from the Pacific Coast at or near San
Francisco or the navigable waters of the Sacramento River (Kraus
1969a:45, 37th Congress 1862:489).1 Other provisions allowed for a
200-foot right-of-way on either side of the track including ground as
needed for construction of machine shops, stations, camps, and other
essential facilities. It also granted the privilege to remove earth,
stone, and timber materials necessary in construction. Three
amendments, in following years, provided additional grants and aid
(Kraus 1969a: 45).
1. The Union and Central Pacific Railroads received
the first authority to build under the New Act. The Northern Pacific was
chartered in 1864; The Atlantic and Pacific in 1868, and the Texas
Pacific in 1871 (Department of the Interior, BLM 1962).
Dependent upon all manufactured material coming from
the east, the Central Pacific waited. Work trains, tons of iron spikes,
rails, and tools were required and had to be shipped by boat, around
South America to San Francisco, then by steamer up the Sacramento River.
Depending upon the terrain and construction difficulties, the Central
Pacific, and Union Pacific, received loans of $16,000 to $48,000 for
every mile of track laid. Additionally, to obtain revenue, both were
allocated every alternate section of public land adjacent to the rail
line (mineral lands exempt) (Kraus 1969a:45). This acreage, formed a
basis of credit with which to secure financing.2
2. Central Pacific, 7,481,280 acres, Union Pacific
18,979,659 acres (Department of the Interior, BLM 1962).
Ceremonies, appropriate to the occasion, launched
construction in Sacramento, January 8, 1863. It required five years of
arduous manual labor, assisted only by hand tools and blasting powder to
carve the route and lay rails through the Sierra Nevada. It was during
this period that the principal ownership of the Central Pacific was
consolidated by "The Big Four": Leland Stanford, company president and Governor of
California, Collis P. Huntington, financial wizard and Central Pacific
lobbyist in Washington, Mark Hopkins, Sacramento merchant and company
treasurer, and Charles Crocker, chief contractor of construction.
The first train reached Reno on June 11, 1868. With
the deep snow and precipitous mountains behind, the construction pace
picked up and construction crews moved swiftly across the Nevada Desert
Figure 4: A work train in the Nevada (Southern Pacific, Alfred A.
However, in the Great Basin there were other
problems. Coal deposits were unknown so timber was utilized for fuel.
Often only sagebrush powered the locomotives (Griswold 1962:298). Timber
for ties was also a problem. Redwood trees, hewn in California, were
transported and laid into central Utah. After leaving the Humbolt River
in central Nevada, surface water for the locomotives and construction
crews was virtually nonexistent. Drilled wells were often found dry and
when water was found, miles of redwood aqueduct transported the water to
holding tanks along the track. Water trains were then filled and driven
to the railhead (Fig. 5, Kraus 1969a:203).
Figure 5: A water train on a siding during construction of the railroad.
Note the Chinese laborers to the side of the track (Southern Pacific,
Alfred A. Hart Photograph).
At track's end, horse-drawn wagons were stationed to
provide water, food, and materials to more than 10,000 workers moving
east across the desert (Figs. 6, 7). A vast majority of the workers were
Chinese (Figs. 8, 9), and their contribution to the railroad
construction is immeasurable. Indians, indigenous to the area, also
worked alongside the Chinese (George Kraus, Southern Pacific Railroad
Company, personal communication).
Figure 6: Telegraph Installation Accompanied Track-laying in the Great
Basin Desert (Southern Pacific, Alfred A. Hart Photograph)
Figure 7: Railroad construction camp (Southern Pacific, Alfred A. Hart
Figure 8: Chinese work gangs, horse-drawn carts,
and hand tools accomplished much of the grading work (Southern Pacific,
Alfred A. Hart Photograph).
Figure 9: A lithograph of Chinese railroad workers
from Harper's Magazine 1869 (Golden Spike National Historic Site)
Known as "Crocker's Pets," the Chinese each received
wages of $30 to $35 a month and were divided into groups of 30 men. Each
group selected a leader who received all wages and bought group
provisions. The Chinese workers are credited for saving $20 a month.
Every night before supper, the Chinese workmen enjoyed hot baths in used
powder kegs. Warm tea was available at the work site (Kraus 1969b:41).
"Systematic workers these Chinese - competent and wonderfully
effective because (they are) tireless and unremitting in their
industry . . . their workday is from sunrise to sunset, six days
a week. They spend Sunday washing and mending, gambling, and smoking."
(Alta Californian in Kraus 1969a:217).
"They quickly picked up the necessary smattering of
pidgin English. Otherwise they remained a segment of old Canton set down
in Nevada, and remarkably unaffected by their change.
Their blue cotton smocks and trousers and their broad
basket hats were ideal for the climate. When the felt-soled slippers of
the new arrivals wore out, they purchased American boots at the company
commissary, the price checked off against their wages due. The fit seems
seldom to have been very good, for it remained a continuing joke among
the superior whites that a Coolie always insisted on his full money's
worth in the form of the biggest boots he could get. (McCague,
Survey crews from both companies advanced (Figs. 10,
11) far ahead of railroad construction. By the spring of 1868, Central Pacific surveyors
staked a line east across Nevada and Utah into Wyoming. Union Pacific surveyed a line as far west as
the California border (Kraus 1969a:126).
Figure 10: Track laying in the Great Salt Lake
Desert (Golden Spike National Historic Site)
Figure 11: Track laying in the Utah desert (Southern Pacific,
Alfred A. Hart Photograph).
Grade construction followed the survey crews in
advance of the track laying. Rivalry flared as both the Union Pacific
and Central Pacific graders often worked side by side. This resulted in
parallel grade construction between Monument Point and Ogden, Utah and
possibly into southwestern Wyoming. Officials of both railroad companies
were optimistic that their line would receive the final right-of-way and
the contracts and benefits included (Kraus 1969a:
228-229). Today parallel railroad grades are obvious
and can be seen between Corrine, Utah and Monument Point at the north
end of the Great Salt Lake (Fig. 12).
"From what I can observe and hear from others, there
is considerable opposition between the two railroad companies, both
lines run near each other, so near that in one place the U.P. is taking
a four foot cut out of the C.P. fill to finish their grade, leaving the
C.P. to fill the cut thus made, in the formation of their grade.
"The two companies' blasters work very near each
other, and when Sharp and Young's men first began work, the C.P. 'let
her rip.' The explosion was terrific. The report was heard on the Dry
Tortugas, and the foreman of the C.P. came down to confer with Mr.
Livingston about the necessity of each party notifying the other when
ready for a blast. The matter was speedily arranged to the satisfaction
of both parties." (Deseret Evening News, March 31, 1869, in Kraus
Figure 12: Parallel railroad grades near Metataurus,
Utah. Central Pacific, foreground, Union Pacific, middle
ground (BLM Photograph)
With limited grade construction remaining for both
railroads, Leland Stanford awarded a construction contract to Mormon
Church leader Brigham Young amounting to more than $2,000,000. Brigham
subcontracted the work to prominent church members and ward bishops.
Among them were Joseph Young, President Lorenzo Snow, Ezra T. Benson of
Logan, Mayor Lorin Farr, and Chauncey W. West of Ogden.
Although disappointed that the railroad would follow a northerly course
and bypass the capitol, the Mormons were eager to see its completion
The contract called for construction of 200 miles of grade west from
Ogden (Reeder 1970:45). The various jobs entailed in a grading
contract, for the Union Pacific in Echo Canyon, may be analogous to contracts along the
|Earth excavation, either borrowed for embankment, wasted from cuts, or
hauled not exceeding 200 feet from cuts into embankment, per cubic yard||$ 0.27|
|Earth excavation, hauled more than 200 feet from cuts into embankment,
per cubic yard||$ 0.45|
|Loose rock, per cubic yard||$ 1.57-1/2|
|Solid lime or sand rock, per cubic yard||$ 2.70|
|Granite, per cubic yard||$ 3.60|
|Rubble masonry in box culverts, laid in lime or cement per cubic yard||$ 5.85|
|Rubble masonry, laid dry, per cubic yard||$ 5.|
|Masonry in bridge abutments and piers, laid in lime
mortar or cement, beds and joints dressed, drafts on corners, laid in
courses, per cubic yard||$13.50|
|Rubble masonry in bridge abutments and piers,
laid dry, per cubic yard||$ 7.20|
|Rubble masonry in bridge abutments and piers,
laid in cement per cubic yard||$ 7.65|
|Excavation and preparation of foundation for masonry at estimate of
|(Deseret Evening News, May 20, June 9, 1868 in Reeder
Virtually all the earth moving was accomplished with
hand tools and horse-drawn carts. Nitroglycerin was limited and blasting
powder was used for large rock cuts.
Records of Mormon construction camps are limited.
Field investigations near Promontory Summit found architectural features
diagnostic of grade and track laying camps (Anderson 1978 & 1980).
The authors and Anderson identified tent platforms and dugouts, some
with masonry walls and fireplaces. West of the Promontory Mountains, the
authors failed to locate isolated grade construction and track laying
camps other than those which later became railroad maintenance
stations. This may be explained by the relatively flat terrain of the
Great Salt Desert. Consequently grade construction moved rapidly
(Appendix I) and housing became less permanent.
News accounts that describe Mormon grading in Echo
Canyon for the Union Pacific, provide an impression of what camps may
have been like in the Salt Desert:
Echo City, July 13, 1868
"BELOVED NEWS: - - We are here: and the
railroad is coming. Already it is estimated, one half, if not more of
the track down Echo Canyon is ready for the ties and rails.
"A birds-eye view of the railroad camps in Echo
Canyon would disclose to the beholder a little world of concerted
industry unparalleled, I feel safe to assert, in the history of railroad
building. All classes of profession, art and avocation, almost, are
represented. Here are the ministers of the gospel and the dusky collier
laboring side by side. Here may be seen the Bishop on the embankment and
his 'diocese' filling their carts, scrapers and shovels from the
neighboring cut. Here are the measurer of tapes and calico and the
homeopathic doctor in mud to their knees or necks turning the course of
the serpentine torrents.
"Here the driver of the quill finds grace in
propelling a pick. The man of literature deciphers hieroglyphics in
prying into the seams of sand rock. 'Our Local,' when last seen, was
itemizing on a granite point with sledge and drill to beat 300 yards or
less into 'kingdom come,' or a big fill hard by; and 'Our Hired Man' had
pitched into a dugway of loose rock high upon the mountain side, several
fathoms above 'eternity's gulf stream' to carve out a new channel for the
tide of travel, the track for the iron horse having absorbed the Pioneer
road. Here the grey haired scissors-grinder and the editor returning to
his wits, with a third party, supposed to be, had formed a
co-partnership to run a cart without a horse on a hillside cut. One
there was of the homogenus who 'plead' leave of absence to defend a
contraband distillery. But such an illustrious corps of practical
railroad makers must surely leave their mark. The above are real life
pictures . . . (Deseret News, July 22, 1868 in Reeder
Clarence Reeder summarized the Mormon railroad
"A people working together in harmony under the
guidance of their religious leaders to accomplish a temporal task which
they treated as though it were divinely inspired." (Reeder
A Mormon railroad grader, James Crane from
Sugarhouse, Utah penned this song which typifies the industrious gaiety
of the Mormon workers:
"At the head of great Echo there's a railroad begun,
And the "Mormons "are cutting and grading like fun;
They say they'll stick to it, till it is complete
And friends and relations they long again to meet.
Hurrah! Hurrah! for the railroad's begun!
Three cheers for our contractor, his name's Brigham Young!
Hurrah! Hurrah! we 'er honest and true,
For if we stick to it's bound to go through.
Now there's Mr. Reed, he's a gentleman true,
He knows very well what the "Mormon" can do;
He knows in their work they are lively and gay,
And just the right boy's to build a railway.
CHORUS - - - Hurrah! Hurrah! etc.
Our camp is united, we all labor hard;
And if we work faithfully we'll get our reward;
Our leader is wise and industrious too
And all the things he tells us we 'er willing to do.
CHORUS - - - Hurrah! Hurrah! etc.
Hurrah! Hurrah! etc.
The boys in our camp are light-hearted and gay;
We work on the railroad ten hours a day;
We'er thinking of the good time we'll have in the fall,
When we'll take our ladies and off to the ball.
CHORUS - - - Hurrah! Hurrah! etc.
We surely must live in a very fast age;
We've traveled by ox teams, and then took the stage;
But when such conveyance is all done away
We'll travel in steam cars upon the railway.
CHORUS - - - Hurrah! Hurrah! etc.
The great locomotive next season will come
To gather the Saints from their far distance home;
And bring them to Utah in peace here to stay,
While the judgements of God sweep the wicked away.
CHORUS - - - Hurrah! Hurrah! etc.
(Deseret News, August 12, 1868, in Reeder 1970:35-26)
During the final months of 1868, track-laying crews
from the east and west began to converge on Utah. Officials from the
Union and Central Pacific lobbied in Washington for approval of their
rail line through Utah. Rivalry continued on both sides and as late as
March of 1869, the approved route through Utah remained unclear. Finally
on April 9, 1869, an agreement was reached. The Central Pacific and Union Pacific
construction crews were to join rails at Promontory Summit. Ogden, Utah would serve as the
common terminus and junction of the two roads. In agreement, the Union Pacific would
continue construction but the Central Pacific would pay for and own the rail line from
Ogden to Promontory Summit (Kraus 1969a:241-242).
Although the route and ownership of the railroads
were resolved, the spirit of competition between the Union Pacific and
Central Pacific continued. Both companies raced to reach Promontory
Earlier that year, Charles Crocker claimed that
Central Pacific could lay ten miles of track in one day. Rival
construction camps of the Union Pacific laughed at the boast. Legend
states that Vice President Durant of the Union Pacific wagered $10,000
that it could not be done. Crocker covered the bet and on April 28,
1869, the Chinese and a handful of Irishmen accomplished a feat that
still challenges engineers today (Kraus 1969a:248).
"The scene was an animated one (wrote the man
from the Bulletin). From the first 'pioneer' to the last tamper, about
two miles, there was a line of men advancing a mile an hour; iron cars
with their load of rails and humans dashed up and down the newly-laid
track; foremen on horseback were galloping back and forth. Keeping pace
with the track layers was the telegraph construction party. Alongside
the moving force, teams were hauling food and water wagons. Chinamen
with pails dangling from poles balanced over their shoulders were moving among the men
with water and tea."
(San Francisco Bulletin in Griswold 1962:309)
Wesly Griswold elaborates with a vivid account of the
construction and day's events:
'At seven o 'clock, the Central Pacific's
well-drilled construction forces began their greatest day's march. At
this moment, the first of five supply trains was already panting at the
railhead. When the whistle of its locomotive screamed for the contest to
begin; a swarm of Chinese leaped onto the cars and began hurling down
kegs of bolts and spikes, bundles of fish plates, and iron rails. 'In
eight minutes, the six teen cars were cleared, with a noise like the
bombardment of an army;' wrote the San Francisco Bulletin's
"The train was then pulled back to a siding to make
way for the next. As it chugged away, six-man gangs lifted small
openwork flatcars onto the track and began loading each of them with
sixteen rails plus kegs of the necessary hardware to bolt the rails
together and fasten them to the ties. These little flatcars, called
'iron cars,' had rows of rollers along their outer edges, to make it
easier to slide the rails forward and off when they were needed. Two
horses, in single file, with riders on their backs, were then hitched to
each car by a long rope.
"While this was being done, three men with
shovels, who formed the army's advance guard and were called pioneers,
moved out along the grade, aligning the ties. They did this by butting
them to a rope stretched out parallel to a row of stakes that the
railroad's surveyors had driven to mark the center line of the track.
"At rails end stood eight burly Irishmen, armed with
heavy track tongs. Their names were Michael Shay, Patrick Joyce, Michael
Kennedy, Thomas Dailey, George Elliott, Michael Sullivan, Edward
Killeen, and Fred McNamara. They waited now beside a portable track
gauge, a wooden framed measuring device for making sure that the rails
they laid were always 4 feet, 8-1/2 inches apart. Two additional men
handled the gauge, moving it just ahead of the tracklayers all day
"As soon as the first iron car had been hauled
forward, with a Chinese gang aboard, its horses were released and led
aside. The Chinese quickly stripped the car of its kegs of spikes, bolts
and fish plates, and broke them open. They poured the spikes over the
stack of rails, so that they would dribble onto the ground as the rails
were removed. The bolts and fish plates were loaded into hand buckets to
be carried where they were needed.
The Irish tracklaying team split in half, two men
taking up positions at each end of the rail car on both sides. As each
forward pair grabbed one end of a rail and quickstepped ahead of it, the
rear pair guided the other end along the car's rollers and eased it to
the ground with their tongs. Each rail, 30 feet long and weighing an
average of 560 pounds, was in place within 30 seconds.
"Behind the rail handlers followed a gang that
started the spikes - eight to a rail and attached fish plates to
the rail joints by thrusting bolts through them. After them, came a crew
that finished the spiking and tightened the bolts. In their rear moved
the track levelers, who hoisted tie ends and shoveled dirt under them in
order to keep the rails on an even level. They were guided by the
gestures of a surveyor 'reverend looking old gentleman,' noted the
Bulletin's reporter who kept sighting along the finished track. At the
back of the line tramped the biggest contingent of all - 400
tampers, with shovels and tamping bars to give the track a firm
"As each iron car was unloaded, it was lifted and
turned around. The horses were rehitched to it and hauled it back to
the supply dump at a run. It was lifted off the track whenever it got in
the way of a full car headed for the front, and in time to prevent the
latter from having to slow down.
"When the whistle blew for the midday meal, Crocker's
'pets,' as the Chinese were often called, and their Irish
advance guard had built six miles of railroad. Strobridge insisted on
fresh horses for the iron cars every 2-1/2 miles. He also had a second
team of track-layers in reserve, but the proud gang that had laid six
miles of rails before lunch insisted on keeping at it throughout the
rest of the day.
"The better part of an hour was lost after lunch at
the tedious job of bending rails, for the remainder of the 10-mile
stretch was a steady climb and full of curves. This was done in a crude
way; by placing each rail between blocks and hammering a bend into
"When the curved rails were ready, the construction
army resumed its march. By seven o 'clock in the evening, the Central
Pacific Railroad was 10 miles and 56 feet longer than it had been 12
"Each man in Strobridge's (Central Pacific Construction
Superintendent) astonishing team of tracklayers had lifted 125 tons of
iron in the course of the day. The consumption of materials was even
more impressive: 25,800 ties, 3,250 rails, 28,160 spikes, and 14,080
As soon as the epic day's work was done, Jim
Campbell, who later became a division superintendent for the Central
Pacific, ran a locomotive over the new track at 40 m.p.h., to prove that
the record breaking feat was a sound job as well. Then the last emptied
supply train, pushed by two engines, was backed briskly down the long
grade to the construction camp beside the lake, with 1,200 men riding on
A sign along the grade commemorates the race and laying of 10 miles of
track in one day (Fig. 13).
Figure 13: Ten Miles of Track Laid in One Day
(Southern Pacific Photograph).
On April 28, 1869, only four and eight miles
respectively separated the Central and Union Pacific from their mutual
goal. Considerable grade work remained, however, before the Union
Pacific could lay tracks on in to Promontory. A
newspaper of April 30, 1869 states:
The last blow was struck on the Central Pacific
Railroad and the last tie and rail were placed in position today."
(Alta Californian in Kraus 1969a:256).
The Union Pacific met the Central Pacific on
Promontory Summit, May 10, 1869 and the transcontinental railroad was
completed (Fig. 1, 14). A Nation previously divided by a "region of
savages and wild beasts, deserts of shifting sands, and whirlwinds of
dust" (Webster in Kraus 1969a: 13) was now united. America obtained a
network of communication and transportation that brought the Nation
together. The industrial revolution was accelerated. New markets were
opened in the West for finished eastern products. Vast deposits of
minerals, timber resources, and agricultural lands became accessible;
the country was truely united.
Figure 14: The meeting of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific at
Promontory Summit, May 10, 1869 (Charles Russell Photo).
Accompanying the construction of the transcontinental
railroad was the establishment of siding and section facilities. Each
section station served a ten to twelve mile section of railway. The
station housed work crews and equipment necessary to maintain and repair
a specific portion of the railroad. An inventory of the Salt Lake
Division of the railroad (Fig. 15) notes the original section stations
built in 1869. These stations, Lucin, Bovine, Terrace, Matlin, Gravel
Pit (Ombey), Kelton, Ten-Mile (Seco), Lake, and Rozel grew into active
Figure 15: An 1869 inventory of buildings on the Salt Lake Division
of the Transcontinental Railroad (Courtesy of Southern Pacific).
(click on image for a PDF version)
Chinese section gangs carried out maintenance work,
and improvements to keep pace with deterioration and erosion. Culverts,
bridges, and ties required constant attention and replacement. As
locomotives grew in size and weight, section crews installed heavier
rails. As rail traffic increased, water pipelines and holding tanks were
installed, rebuilt or replaced.
On March 17, 1884 the Central Pacific officially
became the Southern Pacific Railroad3
Company (Southern Pacific Railroad Company, 1955:31).
Soon 11 rail sidings were installed to keep pace with expanded
settlement, commerce, and ranching. Sidings allowed trains to
pass others that had stopped to load, unload, or take
on water. By 1902 as many as ten trains per day (five each direction)
travelled through northern Utah (Daily Train Schedule, Box Elder News,
1902). With completion of the Lucin Cutoff in 1904, most
transcontinental traffic began crossing the Great Salt Lake by trestle
and merged with the Promontory Branch at Lucin. The new line, built by
the Southern Pacific, was 40 miles shorter and eliminated the
difficult grades of the Promontory Branch (Fig. 16).
Shortly after completion of the cutoff, the workmen, their families, and
the support public, whose livelihood depended upon the railroad and the
Promontory Branch, began leaving. Only a few trains a week passed
through (Bebee 1963:120). In 1942, the rails were removed for steel in
World War II and the ties scavenged for the fence posts (Golden Spike
Oral History, Larsen 1979). Today, the few people who travel the route
are hunters, recreationists, and railroad buffs.
3. The Southern Pacific Railroad Company was
incorporated on Dec. 2, 1865 to build a rail line between San Francisco
and San Diego, then east but was purchased by the Central Pacific prior
to any construction. In 1870 the "Big Four" reorganized the Southern
Pacific and used its name unofficially until 1884 (Heath and Campbell,
Figure 16. The Promontory Branch of the Transcontinental Railroad, 1869-1904.
(click on image for a PDF version)
Last Updated: 18-Jan-2008