The Transcontinental Railroad
 
May 10, 1869 - Promontory Summit, Utah Territory
 
A Golden Spike was driven to hold in place the last section of rail completing the first transcontinental railroad. This project, long the dream of so many politicians, business men, industrialists, miners, and pioneers had finally begun with the ground-breaking of the Central Pacific Railroad in Sacramento, on January 8, 1863. A little over six years later, it was possible to travel the 2000 miles from the Missouri River to the shores of the Pacific in just six days - a journey that had previously required four to six months. Just five days after the driving of the Golden Spike, tickets went on sale for travel from Omaha to Sacramento. Depending upon the class of service that the traveler desired, the ticket price varied from $40 to $111.
 
A transcontinental railroad had been discussed as early as the 1830's, but the need for feasibility studies, route surveys, debate over the routes, politics, and other matters delayed the start of this vital project. Finally, in July of 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Pacific Railroad Act which granted a charter to two companies, The Central Pacific and Union Pacific, to build rail and telegraph lines between Omaha and the West Coast. The act provided for loans to the two companies as well as the awarding of generous land grants either side of the railway.
 
Each company utilized thousands of workers in the project, the Union Pacific employed quite a number of Irish immigrants, while the Central Pacific used up to 30,000 Chinese workers ('coolies' - from the Chinese words for 'rent' and 'muscle'), on their portion of the project.
 
Numerous obstacles had to be overcome to build the railroad; mountain ranges, river gorges, miles of seemingly endless prairies, and the tribes of the Plains Indians which, rightly so, saw the coming of the 'Iron Horse' as the beginning of the end of their way of life.
 
Despite the obstacles, progress on the railway was steady over the six years of construction. One construction record was set that still stands today. On April 28, 1869, crews of the Central Pacific laid 10 miles of rail in one day, winning a bet between the two companies.
 
The potential rewards were so high that neither company wanted to stop building railway. Survey and grading crews from both companies actually passed each other in northern Utah Territory. A government commission was formed to force the two competitors into arbitration to decide upon a terminus point. Thus Promontory Summit, a point equi-distant between the two 'ends-of-track', as of April 9, was chosen as the meeting point.
 
The Promontory Summit route was relegated to only localized traffic in 1904 when the 'Lucin Cut Off' was completed across the Great Salt Lake - saving 45 miles, and the climb through the Promontory Pass. In 1938, the Promontory route was completely abandoned, with much of the actual railway being dismantled in 1942 for use in the war effort.
 
Suggested Reading:
 
Ambrose, Stephen E.
  Nothing Like It in the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1865-1869
 
Combs, Barry B.
  Westward to Promontory: Building the Union Pacific Across the Plains and Mountains
 
Galloway, John Debo
  The First Transcontinental Railroad: Central Pacific - Union Pacific
 
Griswold, Wesley S.
  A Work of Giants
 
Klein, Maury
   Union Pacific - 2 Volume Set
 
Kraus, George
  High Road to Promontory: Building the Central Pacific across the High Sierra
 
Mayer, Lynne Rhodes; Vose, Kenneth E.
  Makin' Tracks: The Story of the Transcontinental Railroad in the Pictures and Words of the Men Who Were There
 

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