Friday, August 23, 2019

Creation of the Union Pacific Railroad by Zina Abbott

Unlike the Central Pacific, which was incorporated by private investors in 1861, men who risked their personal fortunes, the Union Pacific Railroad Company came into existence as a direct result of the 1862 Pacific Railroad Act. The name was probably inspired by the fact that Congress was sponsoring the Pacific Railway and believed that the Union (remember, this act was passed during the Civil War) would be strengthened by the railroad. The Railroad Act empowered 163 men to organize the company and appoint directors.
Pres. Abraham Lincoln and creating the Pacific Railway Act of 1862
Financial incentives were quite impressive. For the roughest stretches of track in the western mountains, the builders were granted up to 6400 Acres of public land and $48,000 in government bonds for every mile of track. Lower, but still substantial, land grants came with each mile of track on easier sections.

During a meeting held early in September 1862, the Union Pacific board of directors issued stock and advertised it for sale. Unfortunately, it was widely believed that the company was doomed to failure. Only 45 shares were sold to eleven men of foresight. Brigham Young, the biggest buyer, was the only one who paid in full for his 5 shares, making him the first stockholder in good standing and earning him a seat on the board of directors.
Thomas C. Durant, UPRR Vice President

On November 17th, UP Vice President Thomas C. Durant convinced President Lincoln to move the eastern terminus to Omaha, Nebraska, instead of Council Bluffs, Iowa, making it unnecessary to wait until a bridge could be constructed over the Missouri River. Durant believed that it was urgent to get the project going since the Central Pacific had held is groundbreaking ceremony eleven months earlier. He scheduled ground-breaking for the Union Pacific on December 2, 1863. On the same day, Brigham Young telegraphed the following message to President Lincoln: “Let the hands of the honest be united to aid the great national improvement.”
Grenville Dodge, Chief Engineer

No rails were laid until July, 1865, after the end of the Civil War. Construction really began in earnest in 1866. Two former Union Generals oversaw the work. Jack Casement was a superintendent of construction, and Grenville Dodge was appointed as chief engineer. For the Union Pacific work crews, access to the east coast brought in European immigrant laborers to add to the Civil War veterans and former slaves.

John S. "Jack" Casement
While the survey team was busy in the west, the board of directors undertook the organization of the Union Pacific Railroad. At the meeting of stockholders on October 9, 1863, John A. Dix was elected president. Dr. Thomas C. Durant was chosen as vice-president, but he was the real leader of the corporation. He threw all of his constructive genius and fortune into the great national enterprise.

From Omaha, the Union Pacific's route crossed the Nebraska territory, touched the Colorado territory, and continued into the territories of Wyoming and Utah, running nearly 1,100 miles. Hundreds of miles of their route ran across flat plains that presented no engineering problems.
Jack Casement overseeing building the Union Pacific RR
The Union Pacific as well as the Central Pacific each had several stages of work going on simultaneously. Surveyors went ahead to map the paths of the Rails. Following them were crews assigned to build bridges, culverts, or tunnels. Next were the graders, who shaped the track bed. Except when blasting was necessary, the work was done by hand with laborers using picks, shovels, and wheelbarrows. Other crews cut timber for lumber, ties, or fuel.

Building the tracks was done with a combination of hand labor and assembly line positions. Fifty teams of mules hauled ties (often called "sleepers" back then) for laborers, who placed the ties every two feet along the rail bed. To finish track mileage as quickly as possible, the ties were planted directly onto the ground, and gravel for ballast was added later. Following the tie carriers were other men who dropped spikes and plates for fastening the rails.

Horse and UPRR Construction Train

“Blind Tom,” a sightless horse became famous in the newspapers. He drew countless thousands of rails in a flat car to the head of the track being laid. The Union Pacific's rails were 28 ft long and weighed 700 pounds apiece. Every fifteen seconds, two teams of five “ironmen” each picked up a rail from the flatcar, and then they walked to the end of the track. When the foreman shouted “Down!”, they dropped the rail on to the ties. As the ironmen walked back for another rail, other workers straighten the rails and spiked them into place.

Working at top speed, the crews could lay over 100 feet of track per minute. It took less than one hour to lay a mile of track. In practice, this sort of speed could not be maintained for long. It was impossible to bring enough rails and ties for the work on the single line of functioning track. Each mile of track required about 380 rails, 2600 ties, and 10,000 spikes.
UPRR Workers laying track
This post on the first Transcontinental Railroad is a continuation of my series of posts across three blogs to which I contribute. All of them will be compiled on my own Trails & Rails blog on a Transcontinental Railroad page you may access by CLICKING HERE. (BTW, the train in the Trails & Rails blog banner image was taken at the Ogden Union Station near Promontory Point where the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads joined.)

I’m very excited about my upcoming release, Escape from Gold Mountain, which is now on ebook preorder at both Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Right now, it is at a sale price of $2.99, but will move to its regular price on September 5, 2019, the day after it is released on September 4th. Later in the month, I will disable the Nook version so I may list the Kindle version on Kindle Unlimited for at least 90 days. The paperback versions will continue to be offered on both vendors.


“Linked by the Golden Spike: Building the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads”; History  of Railroads (Moorshead Magazines, Ltd.:Toronto, ON, Canada & Niagara Falls, NY, United States, 2013) page 14-16.

Museum Memories, Volume 1 (Salt Lake City, Utah: International Daughters of Utah Pioneers, 2009), Pgs. 408-409.

1 comment:

Licha said...

Such a very interesting blog about the railroad, and all the pictures are awesome! Your book sounds like a very good read and the cover is Beautiful! Thank you for teaching me so much on this blog. Have a Great weekend. God Bless you.