Corky checking out the last RR tie laid, completing the Transcontinental Railroad, completed in 1869

Celebrating the completion of the Transcontinental Railway

I had a blast today driving up to Promontory, Utah to check out a piece of history that has fascinated me since I was a kid. I remember in school seeing the photo of all the people gathered for the driving of the “Golden Spike”, so even though it was cold and windy, it was well worth the trip to actually stand near the spot where this happened.

It was a monumental task, all done by hand, using mostly Chinese and Irish labor. Almost all of the track work was done using shovels, picks, axes, black powder, two-wheeled dump carts, wheelbarrows, ropes, mules, and horses, while supply trains carried all the necessary material for the construction, which consisted of ties, rails, spikes, bolts, telegraph poles, wire, etc.

In addition to track laying (which typically employed approximately 25% of the labor force), the operation also required the efforts of hundreds of tunnelers, explosive experts, bridge builders, blacksmiths, carpenters, engineers, masons, surveyors, teamsters, telegraphers, and even cooks, to name just a few of the trades involved in construction of the railroad. But when it was all said and done, travel from coast to coast was reduced from six months or more to just one week. And in so doing opened up the Great Plains and the West to development.

However, all this came at a high cost. The Native Americans saw the addition of the railroad as a violation of their treaties with the United States. War parties began to raid the moving labor camps that followed the progress of the line. Union Pacific responded by increasing security and hiring marksmen to kill American Bison, which were both a physical threat to trains and the primary food source for many of the Plains Indians. The Native Americans then began killing laborers when they realized that the so-called “Iron Horse” threatened their existence. Security measures were further strengthened, and progress on the railroad continued. But it was the beginning of the end for the American Bison and the Native American way of life.

Hell at 4900'

Life was hard and precarious in Promontory, where passengers had to change trains to continue either East of West

East meets West

This is how it looks today…



For more information, see the Wikipedia article or visit the National Park Service site 

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