The Way West

There was the prequel to Yellowstone called 1883. I thought about that on May 10, a couple of days ago, but didn’t blog about it. On May 10, 1869, the American Transcontinental Railroad was completed, and the golden spike was driven at Promontory Point, Utah.

In the series, they did mention that they could have just taken the train to Oregon. It might have been a better move for all concerned, but who am I to judge? After all, it was a fictional story and there were a number of inconsistent things – even though I did enjoy the series.

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On May 10, 1869, the presidents of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads meet in Promontory, Utah, and drive a ceremonial last spike into a rail line that connects their railroads. This made transcontinental railroad travel possible for the first time in U.S. history. No longer would western-bound travelers need to take the long and dangerous journey by wagon train.

Since at least 1832, both Eastern and frontier statesmen realized a need to connect the two coasts. It was not until 1853, though, that Congress appropriated funds to survey several routes for the transcontinental railroad. The actual building of the railroad would have to wait even longer, as North-South tensions prevented Congress from reaching an agreement on where the line would begin.

One year into the Civil War, a Republican-controlled Congress passed the Pacific Railroad Act (1862), guaranteeing public land grants and loans to the two railroads it chose to build the transcontinental line, the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific. With these in hand, the railroads began work in 1866 from Omaha and Sacramento, forging a northern route across the country. In their eagerness for land, the two lines built right past each other, and the final meeting place had to be renegotiated.

Harsh winters, staggering summer heat, and the lawless, rough-and-tumble conditions of newly settled western towns made conditions for the Union Pacific laborers—mainly Civil War veterans of Irish descent—miserable. The overwhelmingly immigrant Chinese workforce of the Central Pacific also had its fair share of problems, including brutal 12-hour work days laying tracks over the Sierra Nevada Mountains (they also received lower wages than their white counterparts). On more than one occasion, whole crews would be lost to avalanches, or mishaps with explosives would leave several dead.

For all the adversity they suffered, the Union Pacific and Central Pacific workers were able to finish the railroad–laying nearly 2,000 miles of track–by 1869, ahead of schedule and under budget. Journeys that had taken months by wagon train or weeks by boat now took only days. Their work had an immediate impact: The years following the construction of the railway were years of rapid growth and expansion for the United States, due in large part to the speed and ease of travel that the railroad provided.

May be an image of 4 people, people standing, monument and outdoors

 

 

23 COMMENTS

  1. Ahead of schedule, and under budget…..I’m guessing the US govt has no wish to repeat that, as seen by all the current budgetary laundry proceedings.

  2. And the tracks near the end were so shoddy that they were unusable 5 years later.

    Not to mention that both companies took jogs north and it took the President of the United States to tell them to finally join up.

    Lots of corruption and under-the-table deals were made.

    • The “tracks the UP laid down Ogden Canyon were on rickety trestles that soon collapsed. The UP needed the land at Ogden for a base as did the Central Pacific. and did everything necessary to win that race.

  3. “…, ahead of schedule and under budget.”

    Sounds like Trump was there. If today’s Dem’s were running the show it’d look like the NYC Wollman Rink grift they ran on taxpayers – never finished and a large portion of the funding going “missing”…until DJT got involved and finished it in short order, ahead of schedule and under budget. The Trump Organization ran it from 1986 – 1995, then got BACK involved in 2001-2021 (DeBlasio cancelled the contract).

    Really interesting history LL. Keep it going, and agree with the others who chimed in on the earlier post. Appreciate the updates, ones we can trust.

  4. There was an Amateur Radio special event station commerating the day. I tried to contact them, but the conditions weren’t very good, and I couldn’t even hear them…

  5. It took almost 90 some years for the interstate system to provide a similar boost to the transportation system with cars and trucks. It took Dwight David Eisenhower’s horrible experience trying to cross the country after WW 1 in an army convoy to convince the future president of the need for an above average road system. The Autobahn in Germany also had a huge influence on his thought process. One of the many major contributions this humble Kansas boy had on the country he loved. I’m not sure anybody in the beltway loves America or has its best interests in mind anymore.

    • FH, Eisenhower’s journey was difficult. It was the first time that a mechanized army unit made a long distance move in a timely manner. When we read about it now, it sounds really bad. At the time, it was remarkably fast, innovative and changed the Army’s way of thinking about vehicles.

    • Me as well (kinda obvious). It’s measured, informative, and interesting. In a word:Real.

      How do we support the proprietor in the endeavor beyond commenting/bloviating/spleen venting/offering our own take and knowledge when prompted by posted topics? Only fair I suppose.

  6. I knew the railroads were a big deal, but I had no idea just how big until we moved here. Lots of back-room deals, people disgraced, and some did jail time. But The West was opened, fortunes were made, and it’s all history now.

    Same with the telegraph and the Interstate Highway System. People don’t realize that the scope of these projects was immense.

  7. The TC railroad was racist, run by white supremacists, homophobic, xenophobic, no equity involved, no woman allowed, etc. Leave anything out? I’m down with the cause, whatever is the latest “thing.”

  8. Interesting. I have a good mind to ride the rails from Texas to… well, maybe just Montana but Banf would be more awesome. Return/sleeper obvs.

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