|August 11, 2008 – Monday:
So here is what we heard on the radio this morning: A Salt Lake City woman is going to be fined if she doesn’t start watering her lawn to keep it green. This is so foreign to us easterners where you can get fined if you do water your lawn. It is desert here, and the only way to have any kind of lawn or garden is to water.
Ogden and Salt Lake City are on a flat plain between two mountain ranges on the east and west sides of the plain. It is flat – pancake flat between the ranges.
We did trains today, and then more trains. First we drove about an hour to Promontory, UT and the Golden Spike National Historic Site. This is where the Golden Spike was driven joining the Central Pacific (from the west) and Union Pacific (from the east) Railroads on May 10, 1869. This was really interesting, and we spent several hours there.
In 1862 Congress authorized the Central Pacific RR to build a railroad eastward from Sacramento, and in the same act chartered the Union Pacific RR in New York. This was during the Civil War, and there was a debate over the eastern terminus location. Following the end of the war, Omaha was chosen as the eastern terminus. Each railroad received loan subsidies of $16,000 to $48,000 per mile, depending on the difficulty of the terrain, and 10 land sections for each mile of track laid. Not a bad incentive.
The CPRR started building in January 1863 and the UPRR in December of that year, but progress was really slow because all the attention was on the Civil War. The leaders of both railroads visited Washington with enough cash to help congressmen understand their problems. The Railroad Act of 1864 doubled the land subsidies. Still, little track was laid until labor and supplies were freed at the conclusion of the Civil War.
The CPRR crew faced the more challenging task of crossing the rugged Sierra range, while the UPRR started on the easier terrain of crossing the plains, but they had to contend with Indian raids. Each mile of track required 8 flatcars of material. The CPRR had to ship every rail, spike, and locomotive 15,000 around Cape Horn. When you begin to think about that, you can begin to understand the logistical nightmare each railroad faced. So the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad is a true testament to American imagination, ingenuity, and know how.
The surveyors worked hundreds of miles ahead. Water sources determined where the railroad went. There was a water tower every 14 miles. After the surveyors came the graders. No grade was steeper than 116 feet-of-rise per mile. The graders also built high wooden trestles and dug tunnels. The track laying gang laid 2,500 ties per mile. The 30-foot rails weighed 560 pounds each. Spikers drove 10 spikes per rail, three blows per spike. All the rails were straight, so the gangs had to bend them for curves.
Congress never determined where the two railroads should meet. As the two work forces neared each other in Utah, they raced to grade more miles and claim more land subsidies. Both pushed so far beyond their railheads that they passed each other, and for over 200 miles competing graders advanced in opposite directions on parallel grades. Congress finally declared the meeting place to be Promontory Summit. The CPRR’s Jupiter and the UPRR’s No. 119 pulled up to the one-rail gap left in the track. California Governor Leland Stanford represented the CPRR and Thomas Durant represented the UPRR. Stanford took the first swing at the golden spike – and missed. Durant took the second swing – and missed! So someone else took the symbolical tap, and a final iron spike was driven to connect the railroads.
Nothing did so much to join the east and west lands of the United States as the Transcontinental Railroad. A journey that had taken six months by ox-drawn wagon now took six or seven days by train. The railroad facilitated the rapidly growing western rail trade, and a vigorous, interlocking economy developed.
As luck would have it, we arrived just as the #119 engine was coming into the station. What a great little engine! And the Jupiter is even more colorful. We thought they might have been painted those colors for display purposes, but we were reminded that they were built during the Victorian Era, and even utilitarian objects and machinery were decorated. We talked with the men manning the two engines. They know the last little detail about their locomotives, and we enjoyed learning from them.
No. 119 is a coal burning locomotive. The engineer can tell a lot about how the engine is running by the color of the smoke. If the engine is burning efficiently, the smoke will be a light grey. On the Jupiter, a wood burning engine, the smoke will be white when it’s working well. The engines run at about 140 lbs. of steam pressure. The original engines were scrapped in the early 1900’s for $1,000 each. The locomotives we saw today are exact reproductions down to ¼ inch.
As we left the historic site we drove along part of the old Central Pacific grade. There are no tracks there, just a gravel road. We were impressed by how narrow it was. In some cases I thought we’d fall off the road and in other cases the cuts were so close that there was just room for us to get through. That was an interesting drive and gave us a real feel for what train travel must have been like back in the 1870’s.
We drove back to Ogden and spent the rest of the afternoon at the Ogden Union Station. The Utah State Railroad Museum had some neat things. There was a small representation of the trestle from the Ogden-Lucin cutoff. The original Transcontinental RR went north of Great Salt Lake because that’s where the water was. In the early 1900’s they built a track from Ogden on the east across the lake. They built a miles-long trestle across the lake that cut off about 45 miles from the line going through Promontory. Since the lake is only 10-28 feet deep, the trestle wasn’t very high. But it was pretty shaky, so in the 1930’s (I think) they built a causeway for the track and dismantled the trestle.
Another interesting fact we learned was that it was the railroad companies that pushed Congress for time zones across the country. The problem was that different railroad lines used different times with the result that sometimes passengers missed trains and sometimes trains were on the same track at the same time. The railroads proposed time zones in 1884. Finally, in 1918, Congress passed the Standard Time Act which made time zones official. Didn’t take them very long, did it.
They have many old trains outside, so we toured them also. They have a hospital car from WWII. It could accommodate 33 patients with doctors, nurses, and orderlies. The kitchen could serve 200 meals a day using a coal stove! There was also a mail car with all the slots for the mail to be sorted in while en route. When the train came to a town, they kicked the mail bag out the door and then used a hook to pick up the waiting outgoing mail bag without stopping the train. The mailmen wore side arms while they worked. That harks back to the days of train robberies. The yellow X-26 engine was so big and powerful that it could haul a train 7 miles long! That’s almost impossible for me to fathom. The other engine that I liked was the one with the 11 foot diameter snow blower on the front. It’s hard to imagine that much snow. Glad I don’t live where that equipment is needed.