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Railroads America - The Northwest

( Originally Published 1927 )



Several of the routes across country to the Pacific that were originally urged for the first transcontinental railroad were later approximated by the lines of the Santa Fé, the Southern Pacific and the Northern Pacific. The Union Pacific, partly owing to the fact that it was the first through road to be built, partly owing to its central position geographically, was for some time the most important route in the west ; then south of it and north of it rose other ambitious lines.

California was not the only desirable goal on the Pacific coast, there was the seaboard of Oregon and Washington, and to connect the Mississippi River section of the country with the far northwest corner the Northern Pacific Railroad was projected to run from Lake Superior to Portland, Oregon. The route planned for this line presented no exceptional engineering difficulties; the main objections to it were that it ran through a very sparsely settled territory and that the climate of this territory was very cold. Construction work on the line was begun at Pacific Junction in 1870 and in three years the railroad was completed as far as Bismarck, North Dakota. To se-cure a connection with Duluth and St. Paul the Lake Superior and Mississippi Railroad was leased and a traffic agreement was made with the St. Paul and Pacific Railroad. At the western end of the line the Northern Pacific acquired an interest in the Oregon Steam Navigation Company.

The obstacles encountered by the Northern Pacific were largely financial; when funds could be obtained the laying of tracks through North Dakota and Montana went on, when the road's bankers were in difficulties the work stopped until money was easier. Not until 1883 was the last spike driven by this pioneer railroad of the Northwest. Then the Oregon and California Railroad was leased to furnish a direct line from Portland to San Francisco. In 1887 the Northern Pacific completed its tracks to Seattle, which became its main western terminus.

Meantime the St. Paul and Pacific Railroad was adventuring in the northwestern section of the country. This road was in large part the creation of James J. Hill. When eighteen years old he was an employé of a forwarding business between the United States and the Hudson Bay Company. Presently he went into business for himself and by his travels became well acquainted with the country in the vicinity of Lake Superior and the Red River, and realized the great possibilities for railroad traffic through the wheat districts. Taking a position with the St. Paul and Pacific Railroad, he won his way to influence and power.

Presently the connection between the St. Paul and Pacific and the Northern Pacific was abrogated and Hill saw an opportunity to obtain the former road for himself. He interested Canadian capital and re-organized the St. Paul and Pacific under the new name of the St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba, with himself as general manager. The main purpose of the new company was to connect with the Canadian Pacific, which was then being built, but the country more directly west was not overlooked, tracks were laid to Fargo and Grand Forks and pushed across the Dakotas.

Buying the stock of the company as rapidly as he could, Hill gained control of the road in 1883 and became its president. By then the company's two northern lines had reached the Canadian border and the western division was at Devil's Lake in North Dakota. By 1890 Hill's road owned more than 3000 miles of track; now his ambition was to reach the Pacific. With his engineers he travelled over every mile of the route he planned and suggested the best places for the rails. He completed his junctions with the Canadian Pacific, consolidated other railroads with his, changed the name of his company to the Great Northern, and finished his through route to Seattle in June, 1893. For a time there was great competition between the Great Northern and the North-ern Pacific, but presently agreements were made, and the two roads worked in harmony. Into the northwest they brought a steady stream of settlers, and local as well as through traffic has made both roads prosperous.

Another giant railroad system that has spread its network of connecting lines and spurs over the northwest is the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul, which links up Chicago with Kansas City, Omaha and Sioux City in one direction, with Milwaukee, St. Paul and Minneapolis in another, and with Spokane, Seattle and Tacoma in the far west. This railroad has accomplished a remarkable feat of engineering in electrifying 660 miles of its tracks across the Belt, the Bitter Root, the Rocky, and the Cascade Mountains to shipside on Puget Sound. The power employed is generated from the great hydroelectric re-sources of western Montana and Washington. The power units are capable of moving passenger trains of twelve to fourteen cars over steep grades and in exhibition tests have accomplished a speed of 83 miles an hour.

Various tests have been made by this road to determine the relative powers of its electric and steam locomotives. On one occasion a gearless electric engine, weighing 520,000 lbs., was set buffer to buffer against a freight engine, weighing 556,000 lbs., and the locomotive drivers were told to push their engines against each other as hard as they could. The freight locomotive snorted under full steam, the motors of the electric hummed; for a few seconds the two stood locked tight, then the electric locomotive propelled its rival backward on the track.



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