Friday, October 25, 2019

UP Through Nebraska and Wyoming by Zina Abbott


On September 6, 1862, the board commissioned Peter A. Dey to survey possible routes from the Western end of the Platte River Valley to the Eastern base of the Rocky Mountains. There were many factors to consider. Wherever possible, the road needed to be near streams or wells, since the steam engines, as well as the workers and livestock, needed a reliable source of water. Because a nineteenth-century train could not run up or down an incline of more than 2% or go around a sharp curve, they looked for a route that would require the fewest cuts, fills, and bridges.

Using records from Grenville Dodge's previous surveys, they followed the Oregon Trail along the Platte River until they reached its confluence with the South Platte, which is at the present town of North Platte, Nebraska. At that point the route left the Oregon Trail and continued to the present towns of Julesburg, Colorado, and Sidney, Nebraska. From there it ran almost straight west across Wyoming through the present communities of Cheyenne, Laramie, Rawlins, and Evanston. The surveyors had outlined the most direct route possible. Interstate 80 follows the same route today.

With the finances somewhat improved and the route to Nebraska and Wyoming selected, surveyor day recruited to find Engineers, Samuel B. Reed and James A. Evans, to locate a passage through the Wasatch. Reed and his men headed west in April 1864. The arduous stage ride from Omaha to Salt Lake City took thirteen days

Reed met with Brigham Young who recruited fifteen men, furnished equipment, and paid the expenses of the entire party. The surveyor and the Utahns headed up Weber and Echo Canyon and continue northeast to present-day Evanston. In November, after four months of exploration, Reed returned to Omaha by stage.

In 1865 Reed returned to Utah and surveyed a route south of the Great Salt Lake and westward for 209 miles to the Humboldt River. He was not in favor of it because the alkali flats had neither water nor timber.

By the time the Civil War ended on April 9, 1865, the Union Pacific had failed to lay a single mile of track. This was unsettling because the Central Pacific had already completed its first thirty-one miles and was planning to start passenger service. Inflation was a primary deterrent. The cost of living rose 69 percent during the war, and there was no market for railroad bonds. Materials were in short supply and extravagantly priced, and all classes of labor were scarce.

Construction begins:

General Sherman Locomotive
On July 8, 1865 the first locomotive arrived at Omaha. It was the General Sherman, named for the war hero who was a strong friend of the Union Pacific. It had been hauled by rail to St. Joseph, Missouri. From there, it was shipped 175 miles up the Missouri River to the Omaha ferry landing. Rails, locomotives, and supplies also had to be shipped up river during the spring and summer when the water was deep enough for navigation. As required by the UP charter, the rails were of wrought iron and made in America.

By October 18, 1865, the first passenger train took two dozen guests on an excursion to Elkhorn, twenty-nine miles west of Omaha. Forty miles of track were completed by the end of the year. From then on, the race with the Central Pacific would not cease until the two lines met at Promontory Summit in Utah.

By mid-April 1866, supplies began pouring into Omaha, and 3,000 workers were put to work in earnest. By June 4m the tracklayers had reached the hundred-mile post/ In late July 1866, the gangs passed Grand Island, 153 miles west of Omaha.

Good lumber for the cross ties, bridges, locomotive fuel, and other purposes was scarce and costly. About 2,500 ties per mile were needed. One-third were made of oak and walnut, but the rest were of softer cottonwood which bordered many of the streams and was in fair supply. The cottonwood did not hold the spikes well and wore out quickly. The process of decay was slowed somewhat by the patented method of "Burnetizing." After water was drawn from the ties by a vacuum machine, they were impregnated with a pressurized solution of zinc chloride. A year after driving the golden spike, however, 300,000 softwood ties had to be replaced.

Major General Grenville Dodge was mustered out of the Army in May 1866 and resumed his work with the Union Pacific as chief engineer. He contracted with two famed and experienced tracklayers, Jack and Daniel Casement. The labor force consisted of a heterogeneous, largely Irish, group of about one thousand men. Most were Union and Confederate veterans, but there were also immigrants, farmers, disappointed miners, newly freed slaves, muleskinners, herdsman, hunters, cooks, and ex-convicts. While working for the railroad, these men lived a rough, dangerous, dirty, hardworking, free-spending life….They worked long hours under a fiercely burning sun in the summer and in bitter cold in the winter. They were motivated by the relatively high pay of $2.50 to $4.00 per day and the prospect of an exciting life in a new location. Many of the ex-soldiers looked forward to the prospect of battling with the Indian tribes they might meet.


Dignitaries at 100 Meridian

The army of workers pushed west along the Platte River Valley. In August 1866, Dodge laid out the town of Kearney, 191 miles from Omaha. The price of corner lots was set at $150 and inside lots at $100. On October 6, the line reached the 100th meridian with 247 miles of track laid. Jack Casement rewarded the men with pouches of tobacco.

Chief Engineer Dodge explored every option to speed the work along. He heard that Jefferson Davis had imported camels to the West when he was secretary of war, and Dodge hoped to use them as pack animals for the construction. He wrote to Brigham Young in November 1866 asking what had happened to the camels. Young had no idea of their whereabouts (they had gone wild and were living in New Mexico), but he offered to do whatever he could to help the railroad.

On December 3, 1866, the Union Pacific reached North Platte, 305 miles from Omaha. After building a 2,300-foot trestle bridge across the river, they laid track seventeen miles farther and stopped for the winter. North Platte then became the first of the notorious “Hell on Wheels” towns. The population swelled to more than 5,000 in 6 months. Traders, miners, and railroad workers went there to have a good time—gambling, drinking, and shooting each other. Proprietors attended to their customers while holding loaded revolvers.

In January 1867 the Cedar Rapids and Missouri River Railroad completed its line to Council Bluffs from the east. The Union Pacific finally had the long-awaited railroad connection with the east coast, and the price of rails at Omaha dropped from $135 a ton to $97.50.

The railroad established towns along the Platte River across Nebraska Territory, including Fremont, Elkhorn, Grand Island, North Platte, Ogallala, Sidney.


As the Union Pacific moved west in the Dakota Territory, much of which is now the state of Wyoming, it built the new towns of Cheyenne, Laramie, Rawlins and Evanston as well as many more fuel and water stops.

Building across Wyoming
The UP reached Cheyenne in November of 1867. Meanwhile, 100 surveyors and 3,500 graders were working as far as 200 miles in advance of the terminus. In the spring of 1868, the construction army of nearly 10,000 men set out from Cheyenne. On April 5, the track reached the Sherman Summit at an elevation of 8,424 feet, and the nearby town of Laramie was opened a month later.

In spite of scorching sun, cold nights, and skimpy, bad-tasting water, the Irish tracklayers average 2.3 miles a day with a record of eight and a half miles in one day. On July 21, 1868, they were beyond Rawlins, and they reached Bridger Station in mid-November. They arrived in Evanston on December 4; and before year's end, they had dropped down into Echo Canyon in Utah.

During 1868, 446 miles of track and telegraph were laid, complete with sidetracks, bridges, tunnels, station houses, machine shops, and town plots. In comparison, only 536 miles had been completed during the three previous years combined. Ever mindful of the race with the Central Pacific, Union Pacific surveyors were staking out a line across Utah and Nevada to the California border. At the same time, the Central Pacific had its surveyors running lines north of the Great Salt Lake and east of Ogden into Weber and Echo canyons. In many cases the lines were within sight of each other. 

Building bridge across Green River
The Green River was bridged on October 1, 1868. It was the last big river to cross. Evanston became a significant train maintenance shop town equipped to carry out extensive repairs on the cars and steam locomotives.

My new Christmas novel, Two Sisters and the Christmas Groom, is now available.

 Escape from Gold Mountain, which was released last month, is now available on Kindle Unlimited. 
Please CLICK HERE for the book description on Amazon. The print version is also available on Barnes & Noble, which you can reach if you CLICK HERE.

Museum Memories, Volume 1 (Salt Lake City, Utah: International Daughters of Utah Pioneers, 2009), Pgs. 408, 410-414.
Wikipedia- History of the Union Pacific Railroad


GiniRifkin said...

Thank you for a great post, very informative and handy info for research.

Alicia Haney said...

This is so very interesting and informative, I always learn a lot of good things from you. Thank you so much for sharing this and for making History a lot more interesting and fun for me. God Bless you.