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Central Pacific Railroad

To Theodore D. Judah belongs the credit of making the actual beginning of the first transcontinental railroad. Judah was educated at the Troy Engineering School. He was resident engineer of the Connecticut River Railroad, surveyed and built the railroad from Niagara Falls to Lewiston, and served as engineer on the Erie Canal, and on the Rochester and Niagara Falls Railroad. He gave up a lucrative position in 1854 to go to California to build the Sacramento Valley Railroad, the first on the Pacific coast. Twenty-two miles of that road were completed in 1856.

Judah was not only almost as much of a fanatic on the subject of a Pacific railroad as Asa Whitney, but he combined with the enthusiasm of the promoter the practical knowledge of the engineer and the executive capacity which gets things done. Judah found a pass by which the Sierra Nevadas could be surmounted 128 miles east of Sacramento on a maximum grade of 105 feet to the mile at a maximum cost of $150,000 a mile, a saving of 184 miles in distance and $13,500,000 in money over the route proposed by the government engineers. In 1860 Judah approached Leland Stanford, Collis P. Huntington, Mark Hopkins, and Charles Crocker, leading Sacramento merchants, and soon convinced them that building a transcontinental line would make them rich and famous. The prospect of tapping the wealth of the Nevada mining towns and forthcoming legislation for federal aid to railroads stimulated them to incorporate the Central Pacific Railroad Company of California. This line later merged with the Southern Pacific. It was through Judah's efforts and the support of , that the Pacific Railroad finally became a reality.

In June, 1861, the Central Pacific Railroad Company, with a capital of one hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars, was organized. Leland Stanford, who had just been elected Governor, was president of the company; C. P. Huntington, vice-president; Mark Hopkins, the other member of the hardware firm, treasurer; James Bailey, secretary, and Judah, chief engineer. The Sacramento merchants didn't object to putting their names down for fifteen thousand dollars each, or even to contributing enough actual cash to send Judah East again after the necessary capital. In October, 1861, Judah set out for Washington once more, as agent of the Central Pacific Railroad, to secure government aid in bonds and land to build the road. He drew up a bill embodying substantially the plan upon which the road was finally built, and intrusted it to A. A. Sargent, newly elected Representative from California. The House passed the bill May 6, 1862, the Senate June 20, and President Lincoln affixed his signature July 1.

Grading was begun January 1, 1863, when Governor Leland Stanford shoveled some sand from a cart into a mudhole at the foot of K Street, Sacramento, in the presence of the members of the legislature, the State and city officers, and a mixed crowd which was highly amused by the idea of a bunch of local storekeepers trying to build a railroad across the continent. But once the work was begun it never stopped until it was completed. The first shipment of rails arrived in Sacramento in October, 1863. By June 1, 1864, the track had been laid to Newcastle, thirty-one miles from Sacramento, and nine hundred and thirty feet above the sea.

Judah caught the fever in crossing the Isthmus of Panama, and died in November, 1863. He was only thirty-seven years old, but he had laid the cornerstone of a mighty monument to himself. Fortunately for the hardware store crowd, the Eastern capitalists preferred government bonds to railroad securities. The only way to get back the small amount they had invested was to put in more and keep putting in more. Accepting the inevitable at last, they went at the task in dead earnest, and by a succession of miracles raised money enough to meet the pay-rolls and other bills while they worked with desperate energy to finance the enterprise. Also, they took care to retain control of the situation. Not until September, 1866, three years and eight months from the date of beginning, did the rails reach Alta, seventy miles east of Sacramento, at an elevation of 5,625 feet. Two months later the line had been extended twenty-three miles farther to Cisco, overcoming an elevation of 2,286 feet in that distance. The road was now in the very heart of the Sierras, only thirteen miles from the summit.

Nine of every ten men who built the Central Pacific Railroad were Chinese. Renowned for their reliability and industrious work ethic, they labored into Utah ten thousand strong with little more that picks, shovels, and black powder. Subsisting on tea, rice, and dried vegetables from China, they lived in segregated quarters in camps such as Lucin and Terrace.

When winter began the headings were underground, so that the work could go on uninterruptedly, though it was necessary to dig snow tunnels two hundred feet long to keep the entrances open. That winter there were forty-four snow-storms, in some of which ten feet of snow fell. As the usual temperature was about thirty-two degrees above zero, the snow was wet and heavy. During the storms the wind blew so violently that the drifting snow hid a warehouse thirty feet from the cabin of the engineers. One man was lost in going a short distance in a straight line between rock walls, and came in exhausted. In running hues outside it was necessary to dig deep cuts and tunnels in the snow to get at the original transit points. Yet the tunnel-headings met only two inches out of alignment.

All summer the Central Pacific was pushed on with a force of ten thousand men, principally Chinese, and one thousand three hundred teams. By December 1, 1867, all the tunnels were pierced, and trains were running across the summit to Truckee, one hundred and forty miles east of Sacramento.

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Page last modified: 10-01-2012 20:05:24 ZULU