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Railroads America - The Completion Of The Line

( Originally Published 1927 )



At seven in the morning Crocker gave the signal. Ties had been laid in advance, five trains, loaded with spikes, rails, bolts and fastenings, stood on the track, and trucks carried the materials forward. Two squads, each of four workmen, caught up a pair of rails and placed them on the ties; spikes, fishplate fastenings and bolts followed, and the rails were instantly laid. On the heels of the layers came other workmen, armed with pick and shovel, to ballast the roadbed. The Central was marching forward at the rate of 144 feet—or five pairs of rails—to the minute.

With marvellous precision truck-crews, rail-carriers, track-layers, and ballasters did their work. Six miles of the ten had been laid by 1:30 o'clock—breaking all previous records—and Crocker ordered a recess for rest and dinner. An hour later work was resumed, and by seven o'clock in the evening the ten miles of track, and 1800 feet more, had been completed. Crocker had won his wager before some 5000 witnesses.

That feat of the Central Pacific was a unique achievement and made a record for track-laying that has never been approached. Some of the Union Pacific forces claimed that they could surpass the ten-mile record, but Crocker had seen to it, when he planned his exhibition, that his rivals should have less than ten miles to build, and therefore no attempt was made to win the palm from his gallant men.

On the following day the two railroads, working easily, laid their rails to the meeting-place. May first the two lines were separated by only a pair of rails each. West the tracks ran 690 miles to Sacramento, east 1086 miles to Omaha.

The completion of the transcontinental line took place on May 10, 1869. The little town of Promontory, Utah,—a collection of canvas tents and board shacks along a single muddy street,—was crowded with railroad workers, soldiers, speculators, and visitors from east and west. To the south rose the plateau of Promontory Summit, from which there was a splendid view of the vast Salt Lake. The tracks met in a flat-bottomed valley, sparsely covered with sage brush and scrub cedars.

There excursion trains pulled in over the two lines, and special trains with the officials of the companies. There was an interesting difference between the locomotives—the Jupiter-60 of the Central and the Rogers-119 of the Union ; the Central engine had a great flaring funnel stack, the Union locomotive a straight, slender stack topped by a spark-arrester cap. The official party proceeded to the gap between the rails, where a detachment of infantry kept the crowd in place.

Music was furnished by a band from Salt Lake City; there were reporters from eastern and western newspapers, and the telegraph wires were run from a pole to a small table close to the track to expedite the sending of despatches. One line of rail had already been completed, only the south ends of the ties were to be joined with pomp and ceremony.

The construction superintendents of the two lines brought a tie from the car of President Leland Stan-ford of the Central. This, romantically designated the Last Tie, was of polished native mahogany or laurel, eight feet in length, bound with silver and adorned with a silver plate, on which was recorded, "The Last Tie Laid on the Pacific Railroad, May 10, 1869," and the names of the officers and directors of the Central Pacific. Two rails followed, that of the Central carried by Chinamen, that of the Union by an Irish squad. The ceremonies began with a prayer by the Reverend Dr. John Todd, of Pittsfield, Massachusetts; then there were several speeches.

President Stanford, of the Central, declared in the course of his remarks : "The day is not far distant when three tracks will be found necessary to accommodate the commerce and travel which seek a transit across this continent. Freight will thus move only one way on each track, and at rates of speed that will answer the demands of cheapness and time. Cars and engines will be light or heavy, according to the speed required and the weight to be trans-ported."

Chief Engineer Dodge spoke for the Union Pacific. Said he : "Gentlemen, the great Benton pro-posed that some day a giant statue of Columbus be erected on the highest peak of the Rocky Mountains, pointing westward, denoting this as the great route across the continent. You have made that prophecy to-day a fact. This is the way to India."

There were cheers and more cheers. Various spikes were then proffered to the officials ; Nevada presented a spike of silver from the Comstock lodes ; Arizona one of alloy, gold, silver and iron; Idaho and Montana spikes of silver and gold ; California two of gold. Dr. Harkness made the presentation for California. "From her mines," he said, "she has forged this spike, and from her woods she has hewn this tie, and by the hands of her citizens she offers them to become a part of the great highway which is to unite her with her sister States on the Atlantic. From her bosom was taken the first soil, so let hers be the last tie and the last spike."

The spikes were driven in by various guests, President Stanford and Vice-President Durant drove in the historic last spike, and over the wires the message leapt to all four quarters of the nation where in city and village bells rang and cannon thundered and crowds paraded the streets.

The two locomotives, the Central's Jupiter-60 and the Union's Rogers-119, were unhooked from their passenger-cars, and covered with cheering riders steamed forward until they touched. There bottles of champagne were broken on the opposite pilots while the engineers shook hands. The locomotives backed away and each hooked up its cars; then the Union train smoothly crossed the juncture of the rails; when it withdrew the Central train puffed over the completed line.

The next day, May eleventh, the first transcontinental railroad passengers journeyed over the finished track.

Congress had directed that the common terminus of the two lines should be "at or near Ogden." The Union Pacific, however, had built its tracks 53.56 miles west from Ogden to the juncture at Promontory. The Central Pacific wanted to reach Ogden, and, bargain was made by which the Union sold about 50 miles of this track and leased the balance to the Central, so that the Central could run its trains into Ogden.

The Central took over the Western Pacific, one of its subsidiaries, connecting Sacramento and San Francisco, in 1870, and thereby completed the all-rail route from San Francisco to New York.



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