Colorado History and Genealogy Project

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Union Pacific Railroad

One of the accomplished facts of the age is the existence of this great trans-continental railroad, which connects the Atlantic with the Pacific, and forms an unbroken chain in connecting the old world with the new. For many years before the commencement of the work, this matter had been constantly brought before the people, and agitated in Congress, by the friends and projectors of the movement. The feasibility of the plans submitted, accompanied, as they were, by topographical surveys of the section of country marked out for the iron pathway, received, at first, but little notice or commendation ; but perseverance, and palpable assurances of success in the enterprise, by those whose sympathies were enlisted, at last procured the recognition and essential co-operation of the Government. Thus it was that a company, comprising, among the number, many of our wealthiest eastern capitalists, was formed, and arrangements immediately made for the commencement of a work, the magnitude of which can hardly be realized at this day, which witnesses the triumphant and successful completion of the greatest enterprises ever inaugurated.

Omaha, Nebraska, located on the western bank of the Missouri River, was selected as the initial point; and here, on the 5th day of November, 1865, ground was broken, with appropriate ceremonies, and the work commenced with vigor.

By the act of 1862, the utmost limit extended, in the completion of the enterprise, was July 1, 1875; and the opinion became general, with a large class, that the labor involved would prevent the work from being brought to a successful issue within the time allotted, though time and subsequent events have fully eradicated that impression.

The work, on its inception, was necessarily slow and retarded, through the absence of available machinery and material essential in the prosecution of so great an enterprise. Shops were to be built, forges erected, and tools to be manufactured, and an army of mechanics and laborers to be procured; all of which occupied time. However, these obstacles were soon met and overcome, and the work pushed forward with alacrity. As an evidence of the rapidity with which the work progressed, it is proper to mention that, by the 1st of January, 1866, forty miles of road had been constructed, which was increased, during that year, to 265 miles; and, in 1867, 285 miles more were added, making a total of 550 miles on January 1, 1868. From that time, the work proceeded with greater energy, and the following May witnessed its completion as far as Promontory Point, Utah Territory, where it met the Central Pacific railroad, the last 534 miles having been constructed in a little more than fifteen months, being an average of one and one-fifth miles per day. Although the world is generally acquainted with the history of the road, yet few can form an adequate conception of the immense amount of labor performed in obtaining the material to construct the first portion of it.

The nearest railroad was 150 miles east of Omaha, and all the road material and supplies for the laboring force had to be brought from the Eastern cities; thus, the only means of transportation to be had was through the agency of freight teams, at the most exorbitant and extortionate prices. The laboring force was transported by the same means. As the country 600 miles west of Omaha is completely barren of lumber, save a scanty supply of Cottonwood in the vicinity of Platte River, the company was obliged to purchase ties cut in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and New York, at prices averaging as high as 82.50 per tie. It was not long, however, before these obstacles were removed, and the work proceeded advantageously, on a more economical basis.

The 10th day of May, 1869, was an eventful one in the history of the Union Pacific railroad; for it was then that the connection was made that joined the Union with the Central Pacific road.

At a place called Promontory, a town (?) composed of about thirty board and canvass structures, including a number of saloons and restaurants, the great work of weary months was brought to a final and successful completion. The ceremonies of laying the last tie, and driving the last spike, were not only impressive, but attended with the utmost enthusiasm. It was a curious and motley group that gathered on that bright May day, to view the consummation of one of the grandest of modern enterprises-an occasion of great national importance. It was a day that was to demonstrate the final triumph of the friends of the road over their croaking opponents; and it was resolved to give the utmost effect to the proceedings, and arrangements were made accordingly, and carried out with great eclat.

It will be remembered, on this occasion, that the last tie laid was manufactured from California laurel, with silver plates bearing suitable inscriptions, while, of the last spikes driven, there was one of pure gold, one of silver, and another of gold, silver and iron.

When the locomotives of the two lines approached, and finally came together and "kissed," the excitement was great, and the flow of wine The cost of this gigantic enterprise has been variously estimated; but the estimate we publish is correct, as showing the amount of material used. In the construction of the whole line, there were used about 300,000 tons of iron rails, 1,700,000 fish-plates, 6,800,000 bolts, 6,126,375 cross-ties, and 23,505,500 spikes. Besides this, there was used an incalculable amount of sawed lumber, boards for building, timber for trestles, bridges, etc. Estimating the cost of the road, complete, by that of other first-class roads ($105,000 per mile), we have the sum of $181,650,000 as the approximate cost of this work.

The number of ties to a mile is 2,650, on this road but, on the eastern roads, the number is far less.

The rails are "fished," making one continuous rail, thus adding to the smoothness of the road, and securing an easy and pleasant motion to the cars. Since its completion, the companies have been active in finishing up and ballasting their tracks, so that, today, there exists no better road-bed in the United States than that of the Union Pacific.

The principal works of the company are located at Omaha, and consist of machine shops, round-house, blacksmith shop, foundry, car and paint shop, stationary engine and water tank, and store-rooms.

The company is now actively engaged in the erection of a railroad bridge across the Missouri, from Omaha to Council Bluffs, Iowa. The bridge is of the pattern known as the "Post patent," and will be of iron, a half mile in length.

There will be eleven spans, of 250 feet each. It will rest fifty feet above high water, and seventy feet above low water. The piers are to be hollow cylinders, instead of stone, filled in with concrete, rocks, etc., and similar in construction to the bridge crossing the Harlem River. New York. This work will involve a cost of $2,000,000, and will be completed this year. The railways which connect at the eastern terminus of this road, at Omaha, and form, with it, a continuous line of communication to all the great commercial centers of the Atlantic, Middle, and Southern States, are. The Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific; Chicago & Northwestern; Burlington & Missouri; and St. Joseph & Council Bluffs. At the western terminus, the Central Pacific forms the giant link in this monster chain that binds together the shores of a continent. Its connection which is most important to the inhabitants of Colorado, is that with the Denver Pacific, at Cheyenne By this, the first railway communication was made between the great cities of the east and the queen city of the plains, Denver. It is impossible to calculate the importance of this line, which has already done more toward developing our unrivaled resources than all other causes combined, and has placed our vast extent of agricultural lands, and untold mineral wealth, within the reach of all mankind.

The management of this road is, at present, entrusted to the following officers, with their principal business office at Omaha:

President, Hon. Oliver Ames
Vice-President, John Duff
Treasurer, M. S. Williams
Assistant Treasurer and Secretary, E. H. Rollins
Chief Engineer, T. E. Sickles
Auditor, J. W. Gannett
General Superintendent, T. E. Sickles
Assistant General Passenger Agent, W. C. Thompson
General Freight Agent, H. Brownson

To these gentlemen, and, more especially, to the present efficient superintendent and chief engineer, the traveling public are largely indebted, as the road is always kept free from delays by snow, or other causes, and in excellent condition ; thus ensuring safety and comfort. Freights over this road are always pushed forward rapidly, as the rolling-stock is ample, and thoroughly adapted to meet all requirements.

Rocky Mountain Directory & Colorado Gazetteer

Source: Rocky Mountain Directory and Colorado Gazetteer, 1871, S. S. Wallihan & Company, Compilers and Publishers, Denver, 1870.

 

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