By A. J. Wells
The last spike in the great pioneer road across the continent was driven May 10, 1869. The first Mission in California was founded at San Diego July 16, 1769. In the century that rolled between these two dates, the Old California began and disappeared, and the new was born. One of the youngest of the states of the Union, California's history is marked by three distinct epochs. The Spanish occupation gave us a pastoral age, in which the silence of the great sunny empire was broken only by the sound of Mission bells, and the quiet stirred only by the unheralded and infrequent arrival of a sailing vessel trading in hides and tallow. It was a slumberous land, "where it seemed always afternoon." Then Marshall's discovery in 1848 gave us the Days of Gold, and the world broke into the meditations of the padres with the rush and roar of a mountain torrent. But after ten years, there was no promise of a permanent community based on the hazards of mining, while the exhaustion of the placers, the more abiding character of the quartz lodes and the deep gravel beds, and the growth of business and population necessitated the cultivation of the soil and the development of herds and flocks.
The era of agriculture came silently, with no flourish of trumpets, but it quickly took possession of the land, and presently the farms of California were telling of the richness of the soil and the beneficence of the climate.
The mines contributed $600,000,000 in a few years to the world's wealth, but not until farms were mapped out and business began to build on other foundations than that of adventurous industries, were the necessities of an organized society seriously considered.
The bottom industry of society is agriculture. It abides, and in all countries civilization is built upon the farm. The pastoral days would never have created a railroad; it did not want one. The mining industry in time would have organized to secure local transportation, but would hardly have undertaken a railroad across the continent. But it was inevitable that the very dawn of the abiding and permanent life of California should be signalized by the demand for just such a line, providing at once for rapid communication with the homes left behind, and with the industries in the east, which for a time must supply the necessities of the west. Men were now here to stay; business must expand; the resources of a region rich in everything that tends to make a prosperous and independent community must be developed, and rapid and adequate transportation was a matter of necessity. This was the foundation.
The evolution of a great enterprise is slow. It may start into being suddenly; but back of it are long years of preparation. There are dreams. All the temples and the statues in them; all the galleries of art and the paintings hanging there, all the dramas and lyric poems, all the great reforms and material triumphs of the blossoming ages were first dreams.
"We figure to ourselves The thing we like, and then we build it up As chance may have it, on the rock or sand."
There is a wide interval often between the dream and the task. Many never get beyond the conception. Over and over again visionaries planned the great road in airy projection. There are always pioneers forerunners, voices in the wilderness, the crying of men who want to be heard; who are full of ideas, convictions--men in advance of their times, the prophets of a new day, eager spirits who outrun Progress itself.
Dr. Samuel Barton was one of these in 1834, and Hartley Carver is 1835, and John Plumbe in 1836, and Asa Whitney in 1845. John C. Fremont, building paths in the western wilderness, meditated a road to California, a land he loved, and dying, called his home. Thomas H. Benton, the father of Jessie Benton Fremont, in 1849 became the advocate of Fremont's route. This proviso was in the plan: the road was to be a railway "wherever practicable." Until now the difficulties of the adventure had hardly been dreamed of. Fremont's road was to be driven as far as possible, and horses and carriages were to bridge the gaps--a giant highway one hundred feet wide, and free to toll or charge. In one of his speeches on the subject, the great senator said: "There is a class of topographical engineers older and more unerring than mathematics--the wild animals; buffalo, elk, deer and bear. Not the compass, but instinct seeks the correct passes, the shallowest fords, the best practicable routes. There are migrations back and forth. Indians follow, pioneers and lumbermen come, and finally the railroads of civilized man."
What these creatures of the wild were to the actual route, the dreams of Carver, Whitney, Fremont and others were to the realization of the great scheme itself. They started discussions, resolutions, legislation in Congress and elsewhere, and prepared the way for the actual builders.
It is a curious and interesting study now to recall the reasons which appealed to men. The discovery of gold turned all minds toward California, and the need was felt, of course, for providing for the surge of travel and traffic. But Whitney anticipated this emigration. He was in China when he read of the first experiments in railroad building in England, and he began to speculate upon the possibility of a railroad across the American continent. His chief thought seems to have been the trade with China, Japan and India, and he never rested until he had obtained a hearing before Congress, and well nigh secured a land grant for his project. The first appropriation made for surveys, made in 1853, was due almost wholly to Whitney's persistent efforts, and he only retired, baffled and discouraged, when his private fortune was exhausted and his hope worn out. But his idea of a vast oriental commerce had fastened itself in the public mind, and this became the real objective point in subsequent discussions. Senator Benton expressed the hope that he might "live to see a train of cars thundering down the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains, bearing in transit to Europe the silks and spices of the Orient." When the road was actually completed, at the driving of the last spike, General Dodge said in his address: "Accept this as the road to India," and Bret Harte, moved by the picture of the two engines:
"Pilots touching head to head Facing on the single track, Half a world behind each back,"
makes the Western engine say:
"I bring the east to you: All the Orient, all Cathay Find through me the shortest way, And the sun you follow here, Rises in my hemisphere."
The Far East, and no way traffic, the development of the vast territory to be traveled was not in any one's mind, save, perhaps, as a contingency. "The main thing," Sidney Dillon said, "was not to develop the country and make it hospitable, but to get across it as quickly as possible."
Then presently a new factor arose. In those days events moved swiftly, and the east and the south in the shadow of the dark days just at home, lost sight of the question of traffice, and bickered jealously over the route to be chosen. Then another question arose with the breaking out of Civil war. It was no longer the Orient and its trade, but an undefended and imperilled western coast. The south was out of the contest, and a central and direct route was demanded by the political situation. The Pacific coast was imperilled. The "Trent Affair" had aroused fears of a war with England, whose Asiatic fleet found convenient harbor at Victoria, Vancouver's Island, while a hundred whaling vessels belonging to the north. It was felt to be a critical time, and that the nation might easily lose her pacific coast states for want of a railroad. The wealth of the nation would not suffice to supply a large army on that coast in the event of a foreign invasion, in the absence of quick overland transportation facilities.
Meanwhile, California was not idle. Sacramento at this time was but a small inland town of 12,000 people. It had a little river traffic with San Francisco, but its chief dependence was upon its mountain commerce, and great mule teams threaded the defiles of the Sierras, and crossed even to the silver lodes of Nevada. These freighting teams, straining on the dusty roads, were objects of picturesque interest, but slow and poor substitutes for the locomotive and the shuttling train behind it. And Sacramento, at least, was ready for the railroad idea.
But the difficulties were imense. It was more than 2,000 miles to the nearest railroad in the middle west. Two great mountain ranges had to be crossed, and intervening deserts. The route would traverse from the west but a few acres of arable land. Not a navigable river ran between the Sacramento and the Missouri. There was no immediate and but little remote prospect of way business; the common estimate was that of a rough country to be traversed, and not capable of being developed; the expense of building would be enormous, and the completed line might be "as unproductive as a bridge."
Then there were the hopeless and the unbelieving. They are always in evidence. Human nature has not changed since Nehemiah rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem in the face of the jeers of "Sanballat the Horonite" and his associates. The story of the opposition which the great idea encountered in the country most to be benefited is told in the newspapers of the period. Two musty scrap books in the archives of the Southern Pacific are alternately irritating and comforting, humorous and pathetic in the light of to-day, but they tell of a time of storm and stress that rocked the young commonwealth. "The voice of the people is the voice of God!" No, there are times when the convictions of one man must be taken against the hostility of ten thousand. A crowd is not wiser than the wisest man in it. the Boston town meeting, Curtis says, was not more sagacious than Sam Adams. Antagonism to the railroad was but part of the history of all progress--the history of the printing press, the cotton-gin, the power loom, of agricultural machinery in England, of the conservative in the face of reform, of the old striving to strangle the new. But here in those days, men might well doubt the wisdom of attempting to scale the Sierras with a locomotive. A railroad had never been built under such conditions, driven to success in the face of such obstacles, and by a community so feeble. it was a task without a parallel. Unusual ability, unusual courage, indomitable will must confront the difficulties and push a way through the uncharted wilderness.
As early as 1856 a railroad had been projected from Sacramento to Placerville, and a young engineer called from Connecticut. His name was Judah, and he was to build the first railroad in California. That he was familiar with the idea of a trans-continental road is clear, for when called to the west he said at once to his wife, "I am going to California to be the pioneer railroad engineer of the Pacific coast, to know the country and to help build a great railroad." Even earlier than this he seems to have had some premonition of his future. "The railroad," he said, "will be built, and I shall have something to do with its building,." Was he a man of Destiny? He was a man for the hour, and the history of the Central Pacific cannot be written without recognizing the place and the importance of this man in the conception and execution of the great work.
Always a great work waits until the man is found to do it. Always the man strikes the hour. From Watts and Stephenson pondering the locomotive, to Field laying the Atlantic cable, and Judah surveying the passes of the Sierras for the first overland line; from Washington at the birth of the nation to Lincoln in the crisis of its history, always a man for a definite and necessary work is found. God, the poet tells us,
"Could not make Antonio Stradivarius violins Without Antonio."
And the Central Pacific railroad could not get over the Sierra Nevada without Theodore Judah. It waited for the inspired engineer.
No matter where his inspiration came from, or how his convictions grew into power; they did grow until they mastered him; and perhaps the man whom the people called "railroad crazy" was the one man fitted by his enthusiasm, his poetic spirit, his professional skill and natural ability, to cope with the difficulties of the incipient legislation and the actual construction of a road across the Sierras.
The Sacramento Valley road did not get far. The cost of materials and labor, and the exhaustion of some of the placer fields of the region stopped the work at Folsom; but during its progress Judah pondered the problem of the greater road across the defiant mountains at whose feet he was toiling. He studies the topography of the range, the canyons and water sources and climatic conditions, and he settled, as firmly as the granite bases of the mountains, his convictions that a practicable route could be found over their summits.
There is a curious electrical quality in some men. It communicates itself to other men. Judah had a fine intelligence, nobleness of spirit, the enthusiasm of the poet backed by the solid furnishings of the civil engineer; had an unconquerable will and the qualities of a leader, and it followed as the night the day that other men should be fired by his convictions and drawn into the circles of his sympathies and activities.
The editor of a Sacramento journal becme the voice of Judah, uttering his convictions, rehearsing his plans, "putting his whole heart into Judah's enterprise," and presently the Railroad idea had taken possession of certain merchants in Sacramento who caught the engineer's enthusiasm, and saw as he did, "the great beckoning to them across the mountains." The names of these men were then almost unknown, and are now forever linked with the history of the enterprise which they carried, through storms in the Sierras, and storms of calumny in the plains, to a trumphal end. Their names are part of the history of the state and the nation. They were Leland Stanford, Collis P. Huntington, Mark Hopkins and Charles and E. B. Crocker. They were young men, and untried, "shop-keepers" as England would call them, and without riches. Perhaps the wealth of these men combined did not exceed one hundred thousand dollars, but they had character and so had credit; they had youth, health, ability,--organizing, executive, financial ability,--unknown to themselves the qualities of leadership. They have been called "foundation men of our coast," and it is impossible to look over the cities and plains of California without recalling the men whose energy and enterprise underlie the fair structure of the commonwealth.
In 1859 a meeting of citizens was called in San Francisco to discuss "the Railroad," its route over the Sierras, and measures for securing congressional action. The route by way of Dutch Flat and Donner Lake was chosen, and, because Judah was an engineer, with personal knowledge of the route,--he was sent to represent the wishes of the convention before Congress and the Cabinet. Armed with plans and with definite and positive information, the engineer went to Washington hoping to secure the passage of a bill that would provide for grants of lands and funds sufficient to insure the building of a transcontinental road. But in spite of heroic labors the bill did not pass. Congress, in 1860, was alive to the importance of a western road, but it was a time of excitement and much sectional feeling, and the heart of the nation was troubled and afraid.
Mr. Judah accepted the situation without complaint, wrote a report of his fruitless mission, and though his personal expenses, apart from his time, were over $2,500 he presented no bill to the convention, and unshaken in purpose returned to work. "Facts and figures, backed by my own honest convictions, will convince them next time," he said, and with a determination to be at the next Congress he took up the difficult work of deciding beyond question the best route across the Sierras, and was soon surveying among the wild canyons and spurs in the heart of the mountains.
In June, 1861, in advance of any action by Congress, and in the face of the Civil war, Judah called a meeting of the citizens of Sacramento, and the Central Pacific was organized under the laws of California, with a nominal capital of eight million of dollars. Leland Stanford was chosen president, Collis P. Huntington, vice president, Mark Hopkins, treasurer, James Bailey, secretary, and Theo. D. Judah chief engineer. The board of directors included those just named and E. B. Crocker, John F. Moore, D. W. Strong and Charles Marsh. The subscriptions to the capital stock were not large.
Perhaps never in the history of railroading has a gigantic and expensive undertaking been faced with so little capital and so much courage and hope. The physical and financial difficulties were enough to daunt the stoutest heart. When the little group of men whose names now are historic were actually engaged in the work of construction, an experienced railroad builder, then freighting across the mountains, said of the men behind the movement, and said it in testifying before the Senate committee: "Well, the men who were constructing the Pacific railroad were a little off-yes, that is what we all thought." It was the general conviction that such fortunes as the projectors had would be sunk in the canyons of the Sierras, and the scheme abandoned as hopeless, Judah said that the route was practicable, but if his associates had been trained railroad men, they would have hesitated, refusing assent to his judgment. They were all young men, the adventurous spirits of a land of adventure, and enthusiasm may have outrun prudence, but the sequel showed that they were men of good judgment, clear-sighted, far-sighted men, whose intelligence pierced to the heart of difficulties, whose curage was equal to any strain, and they ventured fortune and reputation not as speculators, but as men of business, on a proposition which their judgment approved. They made five preliminary surveys and knew the difficulties of the situation. They anticipated the aid of the government, but went ahead without it and much work was done while as yet there was no certainty of government action. Judah spent August and September in the mountains studying, making profiles, mapping the surveys, and in October, armed again with specific information, went to Washington. If "the stars in their courses fought against Sisera," they fought for Judah. Sargent was the newly elected representative from California, and he traveled eastward in company with the ardent engineer. The sea voyage of more than three weeks made Sargent familiar with the mountain routes, the engineer's maps being studied by day, and the subject talked over on the deck in the warm still nights, and when the new member at lost got the Pacific Railroad bill before the House, he made an impressive presentation. The breaking out of the Civil war had prepared the way, and Congress was ready to act. Three thousand millions more were to be spent before the close of the war, and it seemed an unfavorable time to consider the expenditure of a hundred millions more for a railroad, but is was a time of excited feeling, the building of the road was "a war measure," and it was important to bind the east and the west together. On July 31, 1862, Congress passed the Pacific Railroad bill, and the Central Pacific and Union Pacific were authorized to construct the first trans-continental road. Judah returned at once to California, reported to the company, and the government was notified immediately of the acceptance of the provisions of the bill.
In the east capital shrank from the undertaking. It was a thousand times more promising than in the west, but most people looked upon the scheme as visionary, and nothing was done beyond effecting an organization until two years after actual work had been begun in California.
In 1864 the charter was amended, theland grant doubled and the bonds of the government made to issue to the company on the completion of twenty miles instead of forty as at first proposed. The Central Pacific wa limited to 150 miles east of the California boundary, a curious discrimination being thus made in favor of the eastern company. When Mr. Huntington saw this, he said, "that ought not have gone into the bill," and he added with characteristic positiveness, that he "would take that out as soon as he wanted it out" and he did. The roads were to build toward each other, and the length of each line would be determined by the meeting place,--a good arrangement to develop rivalry and ill feeling, and a bad one if the equities of the case are considered. For the eastern end of the line had much level country and good arable land, the the promise of way traffic, while the west had the giant wall of the Sierras and the deserts of Nevada and Utah.
Meanwhile in October, 1863, Mr. Judah had started to Washington again, but in Panama was stricken down by fever, and seven days after landing in New York he dropped forever the great work to which he had given the ardor of his youth and the energies of his whole being. It is idle to say that but for this man the road would not have been built. It might have been delayed a little, but a transcontinental road was inevitable, and some other man would have come to the front. But any other man must have had Judah's convictions, his quenchless enthusiasm, his courage, his persistence in the face of discouragement, his indomitable will, and because Judah had these qualities, he saw the great undertaking well begun, and the glory of its final triumph belongs largely to him. One who knew him well, Judge C. C. Goodwin, said of him, "When the names of the strong men and the great men who found California a wilderness and then caused the transfiguration which revealed a glorified state, are called over, close to the very head of the strong list should be the name of Theodore Judah."
Mr. Huntington took up Judah's duty before the congressional committees; S. S. Montegue was made chief engineer, and the quartet of giants in the west buckled down to their chosen work. "Circumstances make the man," we are told. Yes, true; but it is equally true that the masterful man antedates the circumstances. Difficulties but call out unsuspected forces. It was so with these pioneer rialroad builders in California's infancy. Huntington in the east and Stanford in the west looked after finances and legal questions. Crocker proved a great organizer and had the push of one of his mountain locomotives; Hopkins was a man of judicial mind, forceful but careful, the balance-wheel of the organization. Mr. Huntington said of him, "I always feel sure of thing when I have Hopkins' judgment in its favor."
These men took their places not by chance, not by caprice, nor by force of circumstances, but by divine right of foresight, by strength of character, by ability to lead, and sagacity to interpret Opportunity when it came.
In January, 1863, the first shovelful of earth ws thrown, Leland Stanford, being the governor of the state.
It was a time of rejoicing, and the people seemed to be of one mind. But they put little money into the great undertaking, and presently were broken up into factions, and railing at the enterprise as "a great swindle." After the ceremony of "breaking ground" came the struggle. Men had to be gathered and organized, money provided, material accumulated, difficulties surmounted. Everything save cross ties had to come around the Horn and then be reshipped at San Francisco. No government subsidy bonds were available, but by the sale of stock, by using their own individual funds and their credit, the four determined builders began to climb the foothills of the Sierras. The political situation, the necessities of commerce, the exigencies of the company itself, which must build far toward the east or have a profitless road,--all called for rapid work. But from the first hour a thousand difficulties sprang into being, and when Newcastle was reached, 31 miles from Sacramento, the company's treasury was depleted, and work had to be suspended. It was not an auspicious beginning, and must have seemed to the men most interested as "the hour and power of darkness." For all the hostility which had been directed toward the undertaking now found voice. "I told you so" was in all the air. It was in the press. The opposition that had been outspoken and half vindictive--that gathered bitterness as the work went on, now rejoiced openly.
There were troublesome complications. Certain cities and counties of California delayed or refused their aid. San Francisco went into the courts on the question. Placer county sent a committee to examine the books of the corporation on the absurd charge that the grants made to the Central Pacific were made to the individuals names in the act as incorporators, who in turn had sold their rights to the corporation for paid capital stock, amounting to several million dollars. The committee went back satisfied,--perhaps ashamed, but suspicion had been engendered, and suspicion is often deadly.
About this time another rumor was set afloat. A whisper at first, it soon grew into a roar. Before the incorporation of the Central Pacific, the principal members of the company were promoters of local mail routes, and had built a toll-wagon road from Dutch Flat to Reno and Virginia City. There were opposition toll roads, and so it was asserted that the Central Pacific was not headed for the east, that it did not intend and never had intended to build an overland road, but merely a local "feeder" to the Dutch Flat Wagon Road. This was the origin of the hostile epithet, "The Dutch Flat Swindle," thrown at men who had always been honorable. It became the cry of the populace, and the head lines of bitter editorials, and under this opprobrium Stanford and his associates rested for many months. But though graders' camps were abandoned, and construction trains stood still, the company was not idle. With iron resolution these men borrowed money on their personal security; they endorsed paper in the east to one party to the extent of $1,250,000, and this enabled them to procure funds for their own enterprise; counties and cities that had subscribed for stock proposed to surrender it and issue bonds for a lesser amount, and as these bonds were negotiale, fresh capital accumulated, and work was resumed. Up to this point California, in spite of opposition, may fairly be said to have been paying for the railroad. Certainly there was no abatement of interest or paralysis of purpose on the part of its organizers.
Then came the amended act of 1864 which enlarged the land grant, modified the conditions upon which the government bonds were issued, and virtually made the United States as indorser of the company's bonds, and presently it was impossible to get men enough to drive the road as fast as the condition of the treasury warranted. Then coolies were imported. Miners were drifting about, but they were unreliable. These sons of excitement found the routine of railroad work distasteful; stories of great strikes were in the air; on each side of the route lay the great placer fields of Gold Run and Iowa Hill, and before the allurement of the "new diggings" about which rumor was continually rife corwds of men melted away into the hills and were lost to the company. Coolie labor was a necessity. This presently became a new source of hostility to the company, and demagogues sought to make capital out of it. The railroad was not the friend of "honest labor;" it had introduced for its own enrichment "Chinese cheap labor," and long after the completion of the road this flame of anarchy was blown about the sand lots of San Francisco by every windy orator who could gain a hearing from the idle or the vicious.
The building of the railroad created a demand for laborers which could not be met. That this demand hastened the coming of the Chinese, no one doubts, but so did the discovery of gold. The opportunity to work abandoned placer mines brought many a Chinaman to Calfornia, and the man who thinks that the problem of Asiatic labor could have been avoided, in the absence of laws expressly framed to exclude them, has not studied the situation very deeply. The Burlingame treaty opened the door wide, and the coming of Chinese to the Pacific coast was among the inevitables. The building of the railroad only offered immediate employment. After the passage of the Amended Act of 1864, Governor Stanford was enabled shortly to say that "The financial problem has been solved," and with improved finances the company quickly became independent, and gathered in stock instead of selling it. They dismissed sub-contractors, organized a construction company under the name of Crocker & Company, and thus saved the profits arising from construction for their own treasury. It was a wise stroke, but made necessary by the general skepticism as to the outcome. Contractors would not take the work. Meantime the victories of endeavor were telling and the public sentiment was turning toward the builders. When the new road had passed beyond Newcastle to where Colfax now stands, the speaker of the House of Representatives, Schuyler Colfax, making the trip across the continent, stopped at Virginia City and made an address. "When men paid by the government talked about the amount of money the road would cost, I said, it is not an iota in the balance in comparison with its national benefits. It will pay back to our national treasury far more than the bonus which may be given for its construction; it will add t the national wealth."
Samuel Bowles, the editor of the Springfield Republican, was here the same year and wrote a stirring appeal back to his paper. "The new road would create a new republic; it would marry to the nation of the Atlantic an equal if not greater nation of the Pacific. Here is payment of your great debt; here is wealth unbounded, but you must come and take them with the locomotive."
Out of San Francisco came a voice, not quite solitary, but sufficiently strong to be heard at this juncture. Rev. Dr. Horatio Stebbins expressed the best thought of the city, the sanest and noblest life of the young metropolis, when he said to his congregation: "As the condition of a noble social life and progress we need an unbroken and swift communication with the places which we still fondly call home. The longing for this comes like the sigh of the night wind over the habitations of men. When the continental railway is complete we shall be nourished by the blood of the heart of the world. Intelligence will be increased, society liberalized by intercourse, and extemporized adventure driven out by better industries. No great impulse of human affairs having breadth, and height, and depth of permanent and enduring progress, can be felt here until the great highways ae opened over sea and land, and the world, the many sided sorld of industries and arts, of commerce and letters are imported to us. And the people of California can make no better investment of their time, their talents, their money and their public spirit, than in turning all the power of the state to overcome the barriers which lie betwen her and the nation's hearthstone, between her and the heart of the world." These were weighty words, backed by a vigorous and commanding personality, and if heard in the heights of the Sierras would have heartened the engineers and the energetic men behind them. the difficulties of construction were enormous. At Cape Horn, where the present day tourist from a solid road-bed looks down 2,000 feet into the blue canyon of the American river, the engineer found an almost perpendicular mountain, a great circular precipice-face with no foothold even for a survey. Men must be let down by ropes and a place to stand picked out of rocks while swinging above the depths, and then a pathway slowly and laboriously constructed along the sheer walls of the crags. It was treacherous rock, loose and shaly in places, and the road-bed must be protected from slides from above. At a point beyond a similar formation was found and when the road-bed was constructed the hillside slid in and obliterated it. For weeks gangs of men were kept at this point while construction was pushed on ahead.
Many tunnels had to be constructed, and the granite framework of the Sierras was hard. The Burleigh drill and the high explosives of today were unknown, and the work was slow. Nitroglycerine was manufactured by the company at a camp on the summit, but it was too dangerous for general use and reliance was had upon common black powder. The hard rock shot out the blast again and again like a cannon. Winter came to add to the dangers and difficulties of the work. The road must get on--on over the mountain barrier, on over the deserts of Nevada, into the Salt Lake Valley, or be handicapped fatally for want of traffice, and this compelled work to go on in stormy mountains in the face of cold and under great depths of snow. Retaining walls in the canyons were built, roadways constructed, and ties and rails laid in the snow, and sometimes under it. A dome or archway was shoveled out of the white mass, a shaft lifted up through it, and material lowered from above to the buried workmen. Snowslides were frequent, an avalanche on one occasion burying forty-two Chinamen, killing half their number. It was security to be inside the rock and men were set to tunneling, but before this could be done another slide swept over the men and eight or ten white laborers were killed. Combs of frozen snow curbed over the precipices in great masses, and when they could be reached were blown up and their menace averted. The faces of rock to be pierced were reached by tunneling through the snow, and then the borings went on. On the heights of the Sierras and its slopes fifteen thousand men were sometimes at work and it was no small task to keep this industrial army officered, organized, efficient, and to keep the commissary at the front as they went onward.
The camp and the terminal remained at Cisco for two years.
Water in the desert was hauled over long distances--at one place forty miles. Much money was spent in boring for water, and at one point it was piped eight miles. The maximum haul for ties was six hundred miles, and the longest for rails and materials was 740 miles.
In the inter-mountain region but little wood could be found for fuel, and much had to be carried forward from the Sierras. Not a coal bed on the line was then known.
In the mountains, snow sheds had to be constructed to keep the tracks from being buried under drifts. About forty miles had to be thus protected, 665 million feet, board measure, of lumber being used, and 900 tons of bolts and spikes. All that entered into the construction of the road was expensive. "Five years later," the engineers testified before the commission, "The work could have been done for from 30 to 75 per cent cheaper." The average price of rails in New York was eighty dollars per ton. Freights to San Francisco averaged $17.50. Insurance ranged from 5 1/2 to 17 per cent. Material came around the Horn, or across the Isthmus, and had then to be transported to Sacramento by boat and sent forward on the line. Rails laid down by the graded track cost $125 per ton. One locomotive by way of the Isthmus cost $8,100 freight. The first ten cost over $190,000, the second ten $215,000, an amazing price, compared to today.
Material for a year's construction was constantly in transit, and the company had stock for the road on the coean most of time valued at from one to three millions, at interest of from 12 to 15 per cent.
Wages were high, and provisions. Hay cost over the mountain $120 per ton, coast and barley $200 to $500 per ton, and all other supplies in proportion.
By 1866 the two companies were approaching each other, the Centrl Pacific building from the west, the Union Pacific from the east. The fight for a meeting place had begun, and the eyes of the world were being drawn to the mid-continent. The great difficulties of the Central Pacific had been surmounted, and the work was driven ahead with great speed. The value of the road would be enhanced by every mile traveled, and the goal was Ogden. It became certain that the Union Pacific would reach there first. The Central Pacific had been authorized to continue its road eastward in a continuous line until it should meet the Union Pacific line. By 1867, it was a race for the trade center of Utah, and for bonds and lands. It was a race of giants. The Central had escaped from the mountains, had ample means and a well organized force of laborers, while the Union Pacific had still some expensive work to do east of Ogden. How keen was the rivalry is seen in one circumstance, and the reprisal which followed. The Union Pacific sought to anticipate a meeting point by pushing a force of graders 500 miles west of Ogden, to what is now Humboldt Wells. There 80 miles were graded and laid with track, but it cost the company a million dollars, for the gap between that portion and the continuous track east of it was never filled. The Central played the same game, but more successfully. It sent graders east of Ogden, filed a map of its route to Echo Summit with the Secretary of the Interior, made a demand for the two-thirds of the bonds due on completion, and by sheer force of argument, persuaded the government to issue $2,400,000 in United States bonds for this portion of the road. Some delay ensued in the transfer of the bonds, and but half of them were delivered. There was no over-issue of government bonds; they had been issued in accordance with the law and the facts, and on the opinion of the attorney-general. This was the testimony before the Senate committee, and though the Secretary of the Interior sought to evade the delivery of the bonds, he yielded to the persistence of Mr. Huntington, and turned them over, saying "You seem entitled to them under the law." This success was of vast consequence to the future of the Central Pacific. To be shut back in the midst of a barren country with a short and difficult piece of road to operate, would have placed the Central Pacific at the mercy of the longer line. It would have put the control of the trans-continental traffic in the hands of men whose interests were all east of Salt Lake, and not in harmony with the interests of the Pacific coast.
As it ws, the point of junction could not be made at Ogden, as the Union Pacific had already passed that point, and the Central Pacific was still seventy miles west of it. It was sought to secure a legal right to make the junction at Ogden, but Congress would not consent. Strenuous endeavors had been made to drive the completed line to Ogden, but the difficulties were insurmountable. Laborers could not be obtained in the west. Negotiations were opened with a firm of Mormon contracts, who undertook to build two hundred miles in a given time. But Mormon labor had been secured by the rival road, and the Mormon contractors were handicapped. Wages went up point by point, until shovelers were getting $3 a day and board, and still the supply was short. It was a work of magnitude to keep the camp provisioned in that uncultivated heart of the continent. Shifts were worked day and night and overtime; superintendents and even officials did manual labor at times with the rest of the men.
In the summer of 1868, the two companies were equally distant from the Great Salt Lake. They had between them 25,000 laborers and 6,000 teams--an army of conquest, but in the interests of peace. As the roads drew together, the excitement mounted until it was at white heat. Men vied with each other in feats of strength and in endurance. Six miles of track were laid in one day by the Central Pacific. The Union Pacific accepted it as a challenge, and laid seven miles. But the Central Pacific forces were organized to move with the precision and regularity of a machine, and its officers were born leaders. They had mastered untold difficulties. Their triumph in the heart of the Sierras was the wonder of the nation. They could not be defeated now in a mere track-laying contest. A day was set. Officials of the west-bound road were invited to be present. Superintendents, foremen, laborers, faced the east. Eight picked men handled the rails, lifting that day 704 tons of material. Others handled the ties, and others the sledges and shovels, and by night, ten miles of track was laid.
The road had long since passed Humboldt Wells, and had paralleled the abandoned grade of the Union Pacific for miles. The wild momentum of the work could not last, and presently the two lines met at Promontory Point, fifty-three miles from coveted Ogden. The date was April 28, 1869, and the ten miles of road wer laid on that last day.
The dauntless leaders of the west were not content. They offered $4,000,000 for the Union Pacific line to Ogden. It was refused. Congress was appealed to, and a joint resolution finally provided that the terminus of the roads should be at Ogden, or near it. The Central Pacific secured at cost price the Union road from Promontory to within five miles of Ogden, and subsequently acquired that link by lease.
On the morning of the 10th of May, 1869, a hundred yards of track remained to be laid. The Wahsatch mountains were greening with the spring; nearly a thousand people had been drawn from the east and west; a fringe of Indians being on the outskirts, dubly pondering over their destiny in the face of the white man's daring. Over the grassy plain between the green hills came trains from the east and the west with garlanded and bannered engines, and with saluting whistles drew up on opposite sides of the unrivaled space. Contractor Strobridge, who had been in charge of the Central Pacific work since the laying of the first rail at Sacramento, advanced from the west with his drilled corps of placid Chinese laborers, who marched and maneuvered as one man. Eager white laborers, their faces shining, advanced from the east to meet the stolid Mongolians. The space was quickly covered by the two hosts, and that last rail and tie waited to complete the girdle that ran gleaming from east to west. California had furnished a polished laurel tie, having in its center a silver plate, bearing the names of the officers of both companies, and that memorable spike of gold; Nevada was there with a spike of silver, and utah with a spike of gold, silver, and iron. Then the gleaming laurel tie was laid, the gold spike set in a cavity made to receive it, and President Stanford, with a silver sledge, drove it home, each blow being recorded on a hundred instruments all over the land, so that bells rang and whistles blew and cheers swelled out on the Atlantic and Pacific shores, on the sonsummation of the great and memorable event. Prayer was offered, addresses made, congratulatory telegrams read. Then the Union Pacific train ran over the connecting rails and returned to its own track; the Central Pacific repeated the ceremony and returned with its face to the front. Cheers and music and banquetting followed. Half a dozen passenger coaches for the Central Pacific arrived next morning from New York, and part of these were attached to the president's car and taken to Sacramento, being the first train across the continent, the precursor of the electric lighted Overland Limited of today.
Thus the long dream of years was realized; the slow movement of evolutionary forces reached another stage, and Puck's girdle around the world in forty minutes was more nearly an actual fact than ever before. For the telegraph had kept pace with the advance of the track, and the east could now speak to the west without waiting the slow and perilous movements of the Pony Express or the Overland Mail.
The rejoicings at Sacramento and San Francisco were hearty and loud. It was sincere. The work was too important to California to be ignored, and skepticism was now dead in the presence of the accomplished fact. The road was finished, but still not complete. The indomitable men who built the Central Pacific saw at once that no trans-continental railway could long stop at Sacramento. The road must reach the Bay of San Francisco and be able to touch directly the commerce of the ocean. When the Western Pacific attempted to build from San Jose to Sacramento via Stockton, and got into dificulty, the Central Pacific bought and finished the road, and so had a connecting line from San Jose to Ogden. Then the Central was consolidated with the short line running from the Bay of San Francisco to Niles, whee it connected with the Western Pacific, and this brought the great pioneer line into San Francisco. Efforts were made to secure Goat Island for a terminus, but this failing, the road was projected into the shallow waters of the bay, a depot erected and a line of ferries established. Steam ferry boats of immense capacity carried freight cars directly to the yards of the company south of Market street, and the terminal advantages of the company were at once adequate and not likely to be excelled by any other line.
In 1868, the state, out of its tide lands, granted sixty acres to the Central and Southern Pacific railroads near the south water front of San Francisco, and this now constitute the great business terminal of the company.
The charter of the Southern Pacific was for a line through the coast counties. It was built but a part of the way and stopped, but the southern end was pushed on from Santa Barbara, and a line extended down the San Joaquin Valley through Los Angeles, Arizona and New Mexico, and finally, by purchase or construction, going into New Oreleans, thus making a new trans-continental line. It is necessary to refer to this, because the building of the Southern Pacific has been severely criticised by those who imagined it to be a rival to the Central Pacific, and built to wreck the aided line and throw it into the hands of the government. On the contrary, it was built to serve the Central Pacific. Without it, the pioneer road would have been destroyed. How? Why? By the competition of other roads, by the building of other trans-continental lines, by the construction of the Suez Canal. It was not expected that other roads would be aided until at least the obligations of the original road to the government were discharged. There was no promise not to do so, and the Central Pacific has always recognized that it was a wise policy so far as the government and the people were concerned, to aid other lines, but the earning capacity of the Central Pacific was "almost totally destroyed." The dreams, as we have shown, were for a large Oriental traffice, but De Lesseps opened the ancient canal, and shortened by thousands of miles the water line from Asia, and the dreams were nearer realization. Then the company, with a generalship seldom equaled, built up lines in California and elsewhere and saved their credit. They built interior lines to strengthen the trunk line. They built to secure the trade of the south and of southern California, and to protect the main line. It was legitimate, it was honorable, and it was magnificent generalship. But when the attention of the public was called to the advantages of the southern route, many thought it a scheme to build up that line at the expense of the Central Pacific. It is safe to say that no man who knew the integrity of the men who built the Central Pacific thought so for a moment. It is safe to say that no man who knew the facts thought so. The best part of the long and complex history of this company's railroad management in California is the unchallenged integrity of the men who organzed the Central Pacific. What Creed Haymond said before the select committee of the United States senate in 1888, can be repeated after years have elasped, and all the actors in the great enterprise have passed away: "This company during all its existence performed every obligation which it undertook to perform. Its projectors have been railroad builders and not railroad wreckers. They have given employment to industry, not plundered it by stock jobbing. No road constructed by them has ever defaulted in meeting its obligations. No person has ever lost in any manner a dollar at their hands, nor have they ever had one they did not honestly obtain. They have developed an empire, but no broken promises have been left in their path."
The busy citizen of today observes that the Central Pacific is no longer in evidence, and that in place of it the Southern Pacific is everywhere visible and active--the dominating system on the Pacific coast--and he wants to know how the change came about. The Central Pacific controlled many lines that were in separate ownership. They sought leave of Congress to consolidate in one company. The anti-railroad feeling in California was at its height, and a hostile resolution was passed by the legislature. Congress was asked not to permit consolidation. Then the Southern Pacific Company of Kentucky was chartered under the laws of the United States--not the railroad company--but a separate corporation, with a large capital stock. "The roads took that stock and became in fact that corporation," and the new organization leased all the roads for ninety-nine years, and became virtually the owners. It owned the stock and held the lease, and for all practical purposes, was the owner. This was in 1885. The Southern Pacific took the place of the Central Pacific, agreeing to discharge the annual obligations imposed upon the Central Pacific Company by the acts of Congress. The indebtedness of the Central Pacific to the government matured in 1898, principal and interest, amounting to $50,812,715.48. The agreement entered into finally provided for the payment of the whole within ten years, in equal semi-annual installments, with interest at three per cent per annum. In order to create the necessary refunding mortgage gold bonds, the financial affairs of the company were reorganized, the new plan providing for the retirement of all outstanding securities of the company, and for the organization of a new company with a sure capital of $20,000,000 4 per cent cumulative stock, and $67,275,500 common stock, with authority to issue $100,000,000 first refunding mortgage bonds and $25,000,000 secured mortgage bonds, the first at 4 per cent gold, the other at 3 1/2 per cent. These bonds bear interest from 1899, free of taxes and run not less than forty-five years. They are secured by mortgage on all the railroads, terminals, and equipments owned by the Central Pacific. The new company was the Southern Pacific, which offered to purchase the entire issue of common stock, and agreed to guarantee unconditionally the payment of principal and interest of the refunding mortgage gold bonds at the stipulated rate of interest.
Thus this great feature of the first great experiment of the government in aiding to build a difficult and expensive road was satisfactorily adjusted without oss to the government, and without involving the honor or integrity of the men whose money, whose energy, and whose reputations went into the undertaking.
It has been called "unrivalled as a wonder of railway engineering achievement, and the best existing example of daring constructive enterprise and skillful execution." Forty years have seen but few changes in the road, and the general testimony has been that it was well built. they determined to build for that day a first-class road. Not a surface road, but a road of the lowest grades and the highest curvature the country would admit, and this not through any excess of virtue, but as a business proposition, such a road offering the greatest commercial value.
It is difficult now to understand the hostility that followed the builders of this pioneer road almost to the last. The antagonism and abuse for years was very bitter. These men, it was said, had become rich at the expense of the government. Suppose it were true. If builders got more profit out of the enterprise than was expected, were the material interests of the government less fully subserved? Every obligation was kept, and the courts have usually decided that the company rightly interpreted the law. But they did not grow rich at the expense of the government. When the road was completed, they had expended all their means, all the aid they could obtain from the sale of lands, and were more than $3,000,000 in debt. And they were personally liable. Their equity in the road was represented by their stock, but this stock could not have been sold for one-third enough to pay off their personal unsecured obligations. It was shown before the Senate committee that after the consolidations the Crockers sold all their stock to their associates at thirteen cents on the dollar, and on credit at that. That later, these associates had to return this stock, because they were unable to carry it. That still later, Huntington, Hopkins and the Crocker brothers offered on the market all the stock they held for twenty cents on the dollar, and no one would buy. "It was not until about 1880 that the stock had a market value, but it then represented not the aided lines, but all the valuable property, branch lines and terminals which the directors had brought in, which constituted, on the basis of its earnings, two-thirds of the value of the whole system" In the testimony gathered by the government, a witness said that "at the time this aided line was consolidated" with other and more valuable lines, "there was no one who would touch a share of the Central Pacific stock if he had to pay for it."
The general public knew little of the peril in which these men stood for years. The Union Pacific was forced into the hands of receivers in 1893, being burdened with obligations in excess of its earning capacity, and only the wisest generalship, by one of the greatest railroad managers, saved the Central Pacific from a like fate. The creation of the Southern Pacific was in absolute terms the largest achievement of Mr. Huntington and his associates, but it was born of necessity and not of greed. The project of a road through Texas to the coast aided by large grants had to be blocked or become a menace to the Central Pacific. The Northern Pacific and the Oregon Short Line on the north, and the Texas road on the south would have deprived the Central Company of a large part of its through business and destroyed the road. The Coast Line lay unfinished,--a great gap in it midway--because all the resources of the company had been expended in blocking the Texas Pacific and getting control of the business of southern California, the southwest and the south, but this business saved the original line. It was out of the new properties which the directors had created and not out of the aided line that two-thirds of the dividends of nineteen years was earned. The original Central Pacific wa not quite "as unproductive as a bridge," but if no other lines had been created by the management they would have been thrown into bankruptcy. They were enabled to create the Southern Pacific--the greatest transportation system in the world--because they had built successfully, out of weakness and in the face of enormous difficulties, the Central Pacific, and had reputation and credit as well as experience, skill, and iron will. Of all their assets "their credit alone was available, and that alone bridged the chasm of bankruptcy open before them."
It was a thorn in the side of fools that "the Railroad" should "go into politics." No doubt some evil was wrought. the railroad was there to fight fire with fire. It was there for self-protection. That is a law of nature which, the principle, "turn the other cheek also," will never supersede. What are the facts? They are stated briefly and forcibly by John P. Irish,--who is not and never has been in the service of the company. "California's new constitution issued out of the Sand Lot period, and was the product of a spiteful attack upon property, a mixture of statute and stump speech. It made two provisions which gave the railroad the chance of going into politics or going into bankruptcy." These two provisions were a State Board of Equalization and a Railroad Commission. The first had authority to assess railroad property without notice and without appeal, and the second was empowered to fix transportation rates, and in all controversies, civil or criminal, its decisions were to be deemed conclusive, just and reasonable. These committees were made elective by the people and at once you had the evils of politics thrust into the private business of a corporation. It does ot matter that this corporation held the relations of a common carrier to the public. The aim of the Railway Commission from the first has been to determine the profit which capital should derive from an investment, and the courts have always held that neither Congress nor state constitutions, nor any committee under either can exercise any arbitrary or despotic power. To fix rates and decide upon their justice, and so limit arbitrarily the earning power of money legitimately invested, is opposed to the supreme law of the land which guarantees to every man and every corporation the right to manage its own business.
"The Railroad" did not go into politics. It was thrust in. The state had devised "a process of raising taxes and reducing income" and on the point of this echelon, to use Mr. Irish's miliary figure, the railroad was in danger of being impaled. It needs no special insight to see that at the angle of contact where the two processes approach a monnon point, lies bankruptcy, and "politics" for the imperiled company was simply self-defensive.
California, it was said again and again, should have ten millions of people. The inference was the railroad rates kept them out. But how many of the states have one-half of ten millions? Production and wealth in California have increased with railroad mileage, and if we have occasion today, in contrast with the past, to recognize a New California, we owe it to the courage, the faith, the energy and wisdom of the men who organized the Central Pacific. Commerce, agriculture, business of all kinds, the increase of population, the growth of morals waited upon the coming of the first trans-continental road, and the growth of property values has been enhanced by every mile of track laid on the coast and in the interior valleys. Practically the United States is twice as large as it was, and California, that would have halted in spite of its charms and the bounty of its fields, is today one of the richest sections of the Union and with the promise of the densest population. This promise is based upon the fertility of the soil and the beneficence of the climate. Irrigation is to be the chief feature of the agricultural life of the state, and this means an era of small farms and intensive culture. It means a population as dense as that of Italy.
Men have been slow to see the splendid promise of the country-side of California. They did not in the days of the padres, when Mexico gave away the land by leagues. Nor did they when the mines began to fail and they turned to the soil for subsistence. Even the railroad people did not appreciate the worth of California soil. When the Central Pacific was offered the land grant of the Western Pacific, which covered part of the Upper San Joaquin Valley, they declined it. It was offered for $100,000.00 and was actually worth millions, but in that day it was considered valueless.
So in "the eighties," when southern California broke out in orchards, and land in the lifetime of a child sold for a thousand dollars an acre that, before water was turned on it, was a part of the desert, central California remained undiscovered and the rich Sacramento Valley continued to grow wheat, men not seeing the magnificent future that was opening even then. But now all this is changed. It is a new day. The general government is behind the great movement to water the arid lands of the west, and under this stimulus the great sunny plains of California are to double and treble population and production. The natural conditions make it the fairest of all the farming regions of the world. And as if anticipating the coming greatness of the state, its pioneer railroad builders have provided an almost unrivalled system of transportation. They bult costly roads in advance of population. If they occupied the best ground for railroadsthat was only natural sagacity. The man who would not do likewise has not ability to serve himself and will only make a mark in the dust. But back of this business foresight, this common sense, was the conviction that California would draw to herself a great population, develop her vast resources, and become one of the great states of the Union. And they cherished this prophetic anticipation to the last, cherished it when there were not half a dozen people to the square mile, held fast to it while development lagged, and long lines of road ran through homeless tracts, and they died, like Moses upon Pisgah, seeing the Promised Land only from afar, but seeing it, and never doubting the coming greatness of the land they served and loved.
Was it self-interest which moved them? Doubtless. it is the great mainspring of human life. But he who uses his powers honestly and to the utmost, can hardly help serving others; and certainly between the railroad builder and the state there is community of interest. Wht gives railways their value? The fact that they are public highways, indispensable means of inter-communication. They enhance the value of all property; they make markets accessible; they promote the settlement of the country; they develop the waste places, and the very deserts disappear from the map. This in turn increases the value of the railroad; every business house, every orchard and farm, every orange grove and field of grain and green meadow, every canal and irrigating ditch helps to increase the income of the transportation company, so that the wealth of the state is in its railroads, and the wealth of the railroads is in the developed and populous state. It is in its source and origin common wealth. This cannot be emphasized too strongly in this state. If California had been Greenland, would the Central Pacific have been built? If it had been less rich in its climate, less inviting in its fertile plains and valleys, would even the courage of these men have faced the mountains and the alkali plains beyond? California explains the railroads, attracted them, made them possible as a business proposition. It was California's promise, the glory shining on its broad valleys, the Gospel of Farms and Homes preached by the Sunshine and the fatness of its fields, that led to the laying of the first rails, and was the inspiration which sustained the courage and produced the money which started the highway of steel over the frowning Sierras.
There are railroads and railroads. They have their distinctive history, and back of them their own personality. They are pioneers and they are inheritors of other men's labors. They are in advance of population, and are at the beginnings of growth and development, and they come in when the struggles of the earlier years are past, and share in the prosperity which comes with population and developed resources. The Central Pacific belongs to the first of these classes. It was here when the state was young. It was here in advance of the people. It was here before way business was profitable, when few were seeking homes in California and travel across the continent was limited. Now this land beyond the west, once remote, isolated, unknown--a land of dreams out of which strayed tales of incredible richness, of perfect climate and glorious scenery, has been made the world's neighbor, and tourists have found a new playground, artists a new beauty, and farmers a land of comfort, while California fruit, California wheat, and wine, and oil, go to feed half the countries of Europe. The Central Pacific has to all intents and purposes doubled the area of the United States, and the nation is richer today, and California more desirable for residence, because the men who planned and executed the great enterprise, fought their battle successfully in the face of envy and detraction. There are two classes of people, capitalists and those who want to be capitalists. Any man is at liberty to attempt a voyage on the River Pactolus if he think he can paddle his own canoe, and keep his head in the rapids. These men did, and we are all richer for their success, not only in our personal holdings, but in our ethical standards. The air is clearer today than when these men were here in the dust and smoke of the struggling rivalries of life, and our eyes are not blinded as once by the mists of passion and prejudice. The whole railroad management of the country is nobler, cleaner, more dignified because of the history of the first trans-continental road. Principles have been evolved in the hard school of experience. Wall Street itself testifies that "the railroad president" now finds "pride in acting fairly by his stockholders and directors," and California is honored by the integrity of the men who built railroads, but never wrecked them, who found California a mining camp and left it a commonwealth, rich in a thousand developed resources.