Amazing articles on just about every subject...

Railroads America - Great Railroads Of The West

( Originally Published 1927 )

THE railroads of England in general followed highways of travel already well established and linked town with town for the greater convenience in business and pleasure of the inhabitants ; those of the United States, except in the strip of territory adjacent to the Atlantic coast, preceded the settlement of the country, marked the routes along which industry was to build, and were the pioneers of the nation's development. The land along the line of the first transcontinental railroad quickly rose in value, towns sprang up in the wake of the locomotives, and, although some of these were what were known as the "roaring towns" of the west, that quickly boomed and as quickly burst in sky-rocket fashion, many became thriving, important cities.

An era of prosperity followed the Civil War and the nation's attention was called to the vast natural resources of the western country. Oil fields and gold fields beckoned, grain production doubled, trebled west of the Mississippi, and this golden opportunity to reap rich harvests from the mining and agricultural regions led to tremendous competition among railroads.

Chicago was an important railroad centre before the Civil War, lines from there had reached the Mississippi and pushed on towards the Missouri. The first railroad completed across Iowa was the Chicago and Northwestern ; when it established its terminus at Council Bluffs it had direct connection with the Union Pacific and a commanding position in trans-continental traffic. The second line to reach the Missouri was the Chicago and Rock Island, afterwards known as the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific, which brought its tracks to Council Bluffs in June, 1869. Later in the same year there arrived the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy, and these three great roads, each controlling a number of smaller lines, engaged in a battle of giants for western business. A fourth road to Council Bluffs was the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul, which did not, however, reach that important junction-point until some time after the first three. Meanwhile the Illinois Central was building across Iowa to Sioux City, and the Pacific Railroad of Missouri, subsequently the Missouri Pacific, to Kansas City.

What of that vast territory west from the Missouri and the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean? In New Mexico, near a tributary of the Rio Grande, was a settlement founded by Spanish friars and called by them La Ciudad Real de la Santa Fé de San Francisco, The True City of the Holy Faith of Saint Francis. Here were rich deposits of gold, silver, copper, iron, and salt, as well as fields of maize, wheat and fruit trees, and early in the nineteenth century American traders established a caravan route across the prairies from Kansas to Sante Fé. The trail was infested with Apaches and other war-like Indians, but the profits of Santa Fé business were increasingly large and more and more tempted eastern merchants.

When Mexico ceded to the United States in 1848 the great southwest territory between the border of Texas and the Pacific an impetus was given to trade with that section and there was talk of binding it to the east and middle west by railroads. Colonel Cyrus K. Holliday was the leading enthusiast in the project of railway development in the southwest and visioned a line across Kansas to Santa Fé, with branches north to Denver, west to San Francisco, and south to the Gulf of California. His friends ridiculed this idea, declaring that such a railroad system could not possibly be made to pay, and therefore Colonel Holliday contented himself with organizing a company to run a line between Atchison and Topeka in Kansas. This company was chartered in 1859 as the Atchison and Topeka Railroad.

Funds to build this railroad were difficult to obtain and the company marked time until Congress granted the owners ten square miles of land for every mile of track that should be laid through Kansas to its western boundary. This extension of the road was in line with Holliday's plans and through his influence the name of the company was changed in 1863 to the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fé. Building at length began, and the rails pushed across the wide fields of Kansas and through the buffalo country, where workmen hunted the great shaggy beasts and possessed themselves of thousands of hides.

The railroad did not stop at the Kansas line, it went on into Colorado, turning a little to the southwest to make for the Raton Pass through the Rocky Mountains. Here it encountered a rival; Denver, which had been left out from the route of the Union Pacific, was building a line of its own, the Denver and Rio Grande, and claimed Colorado as its territory. The two roads raced for the Raton Pass. The Santa Fé engineers arrived first by a few hours, started shovelling while their competitors slept, and by morning had established their title to the route through the pass.

From Raton Pass the Santa Fé ran almost directly south. On reaching the border of New Mexico a tunnel had to be constructed at a height of nearly 7600 feet through half a mile of mountain. Beyond that the tracks dropped through a winding pass into wild and magnificent country, a land of forests, of deep, rock-walled canyons, of sage-covered deserts, of mesas, buttes, extinct volcanoes and lava beds. The first train steamed into New Mexico in 1878 ; in 1880 Santa Fé was reached. The railroad linked up Albuquerque that same year and fifteen months later was at El Paso, Texas. In 1883 the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad united Albuquerque with the Pacific, and by that junction supplied another through rail route from Chicago to the western ocean.

The Santa F6 is a most interesting road. It was early very profitable, due not so much to the trade with Santa F6, for which it was originally planned, as to the traffic in cattle. The railroad crossed all the north and south cattle trails farther south than any of its rivals and so secured a great advantage in cattle-shipment east from Colorado and Kansas. In addition the Santa Fé built up Kansas, bringing settlers to it and making it one of the richest agricultural areas in the world. More than this, it has opened the mineral deposits of Arizona. Its tracks, which reach for 11,000 miles, traverse country unrivalled for beauty, of a grandeur and picturesqueness no-where else to be found. Its crowning wonder is the Grand Canyon of the Colorado, made accessible to travellers by a northern branch from the main road.

The Colorado River is bridged by the Union Pacific at Green River Station, and 400 miles lower down by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fé at Needles. Here the Santa Fé tracks pass across the Mojave Canyon on a huge cantilever bridge, the second largest in the world, and enter southern California. The country through which the road runs is divided by the San Bernardino Range ; to the north is the Mojave desert, rocky and bare of all but the most hardy plants, yet rich in minerals ; to the south lies the "Land of the Afternoon," a domain of great beauty and fertility, famous for its flowers and citrus fruit.

Without the railroad to distribute quickly the fruit of California, a perishable commodity, the country around Los Angeles would not have prospered as it has; conversely, the railroad would not so greatly have prospered but for the fruit trade. Take into consideration the route of the Santa Fé, bringing to market the cattle and grain of the Kansas prairies, the ore of the mountain districts, and the oranges and lemons of the Sunset Land, and it is easy to see how important this great railroad system has been in building the nation.

In the west, as in the east, railroads, originally competing with each other for the business of a certain section of country, tended to consolidate and become parts of a system, the smaller lines dominated by the most powerful company. Among a number of railroads one would become the chief and either by purchase or lease or some arrangement with the other roads would acquire access to the strategic points in the territory it served. So it was that the Santa Fé by adding this and that branch to the parent stem stretched across the southwest to the Pacific. So also that other great southwestern railroad, the Southern Pacific, built up its empire.

The Southern Pacifie was made of various lines. After the completion of the first transcontinental road by the joining of the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific at Promontory the Central Pacific ruled California. To hold all the traffic of that state the Central built a southern extension under the name of the Southern Pacific of California. Collis P. Huntington was president of both lines. To head off competition it pushed its tracks to Yuma on the Colorado River, a place of great importance in the control of southern California.

From Yuma it presently built east, and then by making a junction with the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio the Southern Pacific obtained a through route from San Francisco to New Orleans. The management of the various branches by the joint Central Pacific-Southern Pacific proved complicated, however, and therefore a new charter was obtained to incorporate the Southern Pacific Company of Kentucky. This new Southern Pacific leased all the properties of the Central Pacific and with its connections to New Orleans and Galveston became the longest of all the American railroad systems and, the great rival of the Santa Fé through the southwest to California.

The Southern Pacific tracks crossed the deserts of southern Arizona, New Mexico and Texas; between Colton in California and Del Rio in Texas stretched 1200 miles of sand. Water had to be carried for men and engines in some places as far as 200 miles. Frequently the rails were covered by sand in the high winds of the desert and had to be dug out before the locomotives could proceed. For months at a time track-laying was suspended because of the intense heat that made it impossible to handle tools. There were no snow-slides to be met, as had been the case in building the Central Pacific, but the blowing sand was scarcely less of an obstacle, and the miles on miles of sand-fence of the Southern Pacific matched the miles of snow-sheds on the northern road. At the Tehacape Pass the height to be overcome was so great that eight miles of track had to be laid in order to gain a distance forward of one and a half miles. Once-and-a-half around the height the rails curled, then doubled on themselves and for a considerable distance ran straight back towards their starting-point, an instance of engineering cleverness and audacity.

A mighty feat of railroad building, that of the Southern Pacific across the desert. The results justified the labor. An immense traffic sprang up between San Francisco and Galveston and New Orleans. Sugar from the Sandwich Islands, landed on the Pacific coast, was whirled across country to Galveston and there shipped to New York; fruit from the far western orchards, conveyed by express to New Orleans, was carried by the Illinois Central to Chicago and other cities along its route ; and in time even the desert places, thanks to irrigation, contributed their share to the railroad's freight.

Home | More Articles | Email: