Nothing Like It in the World The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-1869

Nothing Like It in the World The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-1869 by Stephen E. Ambrose, Karolina Harris, Union Pacific Museum Collection Read Free Book Online

Book: Nothing Like It in the World The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-1869 by Stephen E. Ambrose, Karolina Harris, Union Pacific Museum Collection Read Free Book Online
Authors: Stephen E. Ambrose, Karolina Harris, Union Pacific Museum Collection
booming, and where engineers who knew what they were doing were in great demand.
    In 1854, Judah was in Buffalo, building part of what would later become the Erie Railroad system. An urgent telegram from the Seymour brothers summoned him to New York City. He went, had a meeting, and three days later sent Anna a telegram: “Be home tonight; we sail for California April second.”
    He got back to Buffalo that evening. “You can imagine my consternation on his arrival,” Anna wrote. He burst through the door and blurted out, “Anna, I am going to California to be the
pioneer railroad engineer
of the Pacific coast. It is my opportunity, although I have so much here.”
    She was not about to stand in his way. He had read and studied for years the problem of building a continental railway, and talked about it. “It will be built,” he used to say, “and I am going to have something to do with it.” 26
    Big talk for a young man still in his twenties. But he was a quick study, hard worker, inventive, sure of himself, not much on humor, and supremely competent—which is why nearly every railroad then being built in the East wanted Judah to be its engineer. Besides being fully employed, Judah had reason to be suspicious of California—everything had to be imported, and his brother Charles, already there, had told him in correspondence something of the harshness of life there. He went anyway, not so much to build the little Sacramento Valley Railroad as to find the route, and the money, and the construction gangs, to build the first transcontinental railroad. 27
    He could hardly wait to get going. In April 1854, three weeks after meeting with the Seymours and the president of the Sacramento Valley Railroad, he had swept up Anna, returned to New York, and was off by steamer for Nicaragua. The ship was crowded, mainly men searching for wealth. But Judah found a number of men returning to California, and he sat at the dining table with them, soaking up all he could about the new land. At Nicaragua he and Anna proceeded by the Nicaragua River and Lake for the Pacific Ocean, where they boarded a crowded Pacific Mail steamer bound for San Francisco. In the middle of May, they arrived in San Francisco. Judah proceeded at once to Sacramento, where he immediately got to work for the Sacramento Valley Railroad.
    Until that time, no train whistle had ever been heard west of the Missouri River. Nevertheless, the Californians wanted, needed, had to have a railroad connection with the East. The state legislature passed resolutions demanding that the federal government make it possible. This wasn’t calling for the impossible, for by 1854 train technology had advanced far enough to make a transcontinental railroad feasible.
    The track structure of a railroad is a thing on which everything else depends. By 1850, Robert L. Stevens’s development of all-iron rails in place of wooden rails with a strap-iron surface had been adopted everywhere—and in form and proportion it is still in use today. Stevens also developed the hook-headed spike for fastening the rail to the wooden ties, and connected the rails together at the ends by a rail chair, a device in the rough shape of a “u” that was spiked to the joint tie. Another development: wooden ties surrounded by ballast had replaced the stone blocks (which gave a too-rigid support). Locomotives, developed mainly in the United States, had by 1850 increased in weight and power (by 1860, they were up to forty to fifty tons, with four lead wheels and four driving wheels, thus designated a 4-4-0). New devices were constantly being added, including the reversing gear, the cab for engine driver and fireman, the steam whistle, the headlight, the bell, the equalizing levers and springs, engine brakes, and more, even the cowcatcher on the front of the locomotive. New passenger and freight cars had evolved. Bridges were built to carry trains across

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