The inducements offered by the Act of 1862 were insufficient to attract to the Union Pacific individual capitalists desirous to display industrial heroism and save the nation, but doubling the amount of the prizes by the amendments of 1864 had the desired effect, and a beginning was made by the completion of eleven miles of the Union Pacific by September 25, 1865, and of forty miles by the end of that year. On October 5, 1866, the mileage had increased to two hundred forty-seven. By January 1, 1867, the road was finished and operated to a point three hundred five miles west from Omaha. In 1867 two hundred forty miles were built. The year 1868 produced four hundred twenty-five miles; and the first four months of 1869 added the one hundred twenty-five miles necessary to complete the road to its junction with the Central Pacific at Promontory Point.
Work on the Central Pacific had been begun at Sacramento more than a year before it was begun on the Union Pacific at Omaha; and by the time the first eleven miles of the latter had been completed, the former had attained a length of fifty-six miles, increased by January 1, 1867, to ninety-four miles. In 1867 forty-six miles were built; in 1868 three hundred sixty-three miles were added; in 1869 the remaining one hundred eighty-six miles were covered, and Promontory Point was reached. The Union Pacific had built one thousand eighty-six miles from Omaha; the Central Pacific had built six hundred eighty-nine miles from Sacramento.
The natural obstacles presented by the mountains and desert land, the absence of timber on the prairies, of water in the mountains, and of both in the alkali desert, had made the work exceptionally difficult and expensive. The Central Pacific, tho under the necessity of getting its iron, finished supplies, and machinery by sea, via Cape Horn or Panama, had the advantage of Chinese coolie labor and the unified management of its construction company; while the Union Pacific, having no railway connection until January, 1867, was subjected to the hardship of getting its supplies overland from the termini of the Iowa railways or by Missouri River boats, and had to depend on intractable Irish labor and the warring factions of the Crédit Mobilier.
The Sierra Nevada furnished the Central Pacific all the timber needed for ties, trestlework, and snowsheds, but the Union Pacific had little or no timber along its line, except the unserviceable cottonwood of the Platte Valley, and many boats were kept busy for a hundred miles above and below Omaha on the Missouri River in furnishing ties and heavy timbers. Both roads were being built through a new, uninhabited, and uncultivated region, where were no foundries, machine-shops, or any other conveniences of a settled country. The large engine used in the Union Pacific Railway shops was dragged across the country to Omaha from Des Moines. Twenty-five thousand men, about equally divided between two companies, are said to have been employed during the closing months of the great work. Several thousand Chinamen had been imported to California for the express purpose of building the Central Pacific On the Union Pacific, European emigrant labor, principally Irish, was employed. At the close of the Civil War many of the soldiers, laborers, teamsters, and camp-followers drifted west to gather the aftermath of the war in the work of railway construction.
The work was essentially military, and one is not surprized to find among the superintendents and managers a liberal sprinkling of military titles. The surveying parties were always accompanied by a detachment of soldiery as a protection against interference by Indians. The construction-trains were amply supplied with rifles and other arms, and it was boasted that a gang of tracklayers could be transmuted at any moment into a battalion of infantry. . . .
The only settlements between Omaha and Sacramento in 1862 were those of the Mormons in Utah, and Denver and a few mining camps in Colorado and Nevada. Colorado was given over to the Kansas Pacific, and Salt Lake City was left for a branch line; Ogden, a Mormon town of a few hundred inhabitants, was the only station between the termini of the Union Central Pacific. The necessities of the work of construction created new settlements and stations as it progressed, and as fast as the road was completed to each convenient point it was operated to it, while the work went on from the terminus town as a headquarters or base of operations; thus, when the entire line was put in operation, July 15, 1869, such places as North Platte, Kearney, and Cheyenne had "got a start," while other towns, being made the termini of branch lines, secured the additional impulse due in general to junction towns. Some of the "headquarters towns," like Benton, enjoyed only a temporary, Jonah's gourd existence, and nothing is now left to mark their former location. The life in them was rough and profligate in the extreme. . . .
It had been expected that the Central Pacific, chartered by the State of California, would build east to the Nevada boundary, and that the Union Pacific, chartered by the National Government, would build westward from Omaha through the territories to a meeting at the California boundary. But the object of the Pacific Railroad charter was to secure a railway from the Missouri to the Pacific, by whomsoever constructed, and its terms (section 10 of the Act of 1862) had provided that "in case said first-named [Union Pacific] company shall complete their line to the eastern boundary of California before it is completed across said State by the Central Pacific Railroad Company of California, said first-named company is hereby authorized to continue in constructing the same through California until said roads shall meet and connect, and the Central Pacific Railroad Company of California, after completing its road across said State, is authorized to continue the construction of said railroad and telegraph through the Territories of the United States to the Missouri River, including the branch lines specified, until said roads shall meet and connect."
This was changed in the Act of 1864 (section 16) to a provision that the Central Pacific might "extend their line of road eastward one hundred fifty miles on the established route, so as to meet and connect with the line of the Union Pacific road." Of which change Collis P. Huntington, of the Central Pacific, has said: "'One hundred fifty miles' should not have gone into the bill; but I said to Mr. Union Pacific, when I saw it, I would take that out as soon as I wanted it out. In 1866 I went to Washington. I got a large majority of them without the use of a dollar." Accordingly the Act of 1866 renewed the original provision of the Act of 1862, and provided (section 2) that "the Central Pacific Railroad Company of California, with the consent and approval of the Secretary of the Interior, are hereby authorized to locate, construct, and continue their road eastward in a continuous completed line, until they shall meet and connect with the Union Pacific Railroad."
The renewed provision resulted in the greatest race on record. The Central Pacific had to surmount the Sierra Nevada range at the beginning of its course, but the "Big Four," under the legal disguise of Charles Crocker and Company, were plucky, and the rise of seven thousand twelve feet above the sea-level in the one hundred five miles east of Sacramento to Summit was accomplished by the autumn of 1867. The Central Pacific did not wait for the completion of its fourteen tunnels, and especially its longest one of more than one thousand six hundred feet, at Summit, but hauled iron and supplies, and even locomotives, over the Sierra Nevada beyond the completed track, and went ahead with track-laying, to be connected later with the track through the tunnels. The Union Pacific had comparatively easy work from Omaha along the Platte Valley and up the slope to the summit of the Rocky Mountains, and boasted that its line would reach the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada before the Central Pacific had surmounted it. But the boast was not warranted.
In the autumn of 1867 the invading army of Mongolians emerged from the mountains on the west, while the rival army of Celts had reached the summit of the Black Hills and were beginning their descent into the Great Basin on the east. Every mile now meant a prize of $64,000 to $96,000 for the contending giants, with the commercial advantage of the control of the traffic of the Salt Lake Valley in addition. The construction of road went on at the rate of four to ten miles a day. Each of the two companies had more than ten thousand men at work.
For the purpose of facilitating the work, the amendatory Act of 1864 had permitted, on the certificate of the chief engineer and government commissioners, that a portion of the work required to prepare the road for the superstructure was done, that a proportion of the bonds to be fully earned on the final completion of the work, not exceeding two-thirds of the value of the portion of the work done, and not exceeding two-thirds of the whole amount of bonds to be earned, should be delivered to each company; the full benefit of this inducement was sought by each of the contestants. The Union Pacific Company had its parties of graders working two hundred miles in advance of its completed line in places as far west as Humboldt Wells, but financial difficulties prevented its following up this advantage. The Central Pacific Company, on the other hand, had its grading-parties one hundred miles ahead of its completed line and thirty miles east of Ogden.
When the two roads met at Promontory Point, it was found that the Central Pacific had graded eighty miles to the cast that it never would cover, and the Union Pacific had wasted a million dollars on grading west of the meeting-place that it could not use. The Central Pacific had obtained from the Secretary of the Treasury an advance of two-thirds of the bond subsidy on its graded line to Echo Summit, about forty miles east of Ogden, before its completed line had reached Promontory Point; while the Union Pacific had actually laid its track to and westward from Ogden, and appeared thus to have gained the advantage of controlling the Salt Lake Valley traffic from Ogden as a base.
The Union Pacific was pushing westward from Ogden with its completed line about a mile distant from and parallel with the surveyed and graded line of the Central Pacific, and the two companies were each claiming the right to build the line between Ogden and Promontory Point on their separate surveys. The completed lines were threatening to lap as the graded lines already lapped, when Congress interfered and tried to clear the middle by statute. Before Congress could reach a conclusion, the companies compromised their differences, and Congress then approved the settlement by a joint resolution, April 10, 1869, "That the common terminus of the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific railroads shall be at or near Ogden; and the Union Pacific Railroad Company shall build, and the Central Pacific Railroad Company pay for and own, the railroad from the terminus aforesaid to Promontory Summit, at which point the rails shall meet and connect and form one continuous line." In the following year Congress, by further enactment, fixt "the common terminus and point of junction" at a particular point about five miles "northwest of the station at Ogden"; later the Union Pacific leased to the Central Pacific the five miles of track between the station at Ogden and the point fixt by Congress; thus Ogden became the actual point of junction of the two links of the completed Pacific Railway....
The disputed question of the point of junction did not interfere with a due celebration of the meeting and joining of the two "ends of track" at Promontory Point on May 10, 1869. A space of about one hundred feet was left between the ends of the lines. Early in the day, Leland Stanford, Governor of California and president of the Central Pacific, arrived with his party from the west; in the forenoon Vice-President Durant and Directors Duff and Dillon, of the Union Pacific, with other men, including a delegation of Mormon "saints" from Salt Lake City, came in on a train from the east. The National Government was represented by a detachment of regulars from Fort Douglas, with the opportune accessories of ornamental officers and a military band. Curious Mexicans, Indians, and half-breeds, with the Chinese, negro, and Irish laborers, lent to the auspicious little gathering a suggestive air of cosmopolitanism. The ties were laid for the rails in the open space, and while the coolies from the West laid the rails at one end, the Irishmen from the East laid them at the other end, until they met and joined.
The last spike remained to be driven. Telegraphic wires were so connected that each blow of the sledge could be reported instantly on the telegraphic instruments in most of the large cities from the Atlantic to the Pacific; corresponding blows were struck on the bell of the City Hall in San Francisco, and with the last blow of the sledge a cannon was fired at Fort Point. General Safford presented a spike of gold, silver, and iron as the offering of the Territory of Arizona; Tuttle, of Nevada, performed with a spike of silver a like office for his State. The tie of California laurel was put in place, and Doctor Harkness, of California, presented the last spike of gold in behalf of his State. A silver sledge had also been presented for the occasion. The driving of the spike by President Stanford and Vice-President Durant was greeted with lusty cheers; and the shouts of the six hundred persons present, to the accompaniment of the screams of the locomotive whistles and the blare of the military band, in the midst of the desert, found hearty and enthusiastic echoes in the great cities east and west.
1 From Davis's "The Union Pacific Railway." By permission of the publishers, Scott, Forsman Co. Copyright.