BELIEVERS in the “manifest destiny” of the universal Yankee nation were favored with one of the most conclusive and gratifying confirmations of their cherished theory, when that most stupendous work ever undertaken by man, the Construction of the Pacific Railway, was finally consummated by the laying of the last rail and the memorable ceremony performed by officials of clasping together the iron girdle about the loins of the nation; — in the winding of which mighty coil across the continent, mountains were tunneled which made one’s head giddy to gaze upon; rivers were bridged which, since the primeval days of creation, had rolled in majestic solitude; gulfs, frightful and tumultuous, were spanned; frowning heights were climbed and leveled; and abysmal depths were fathomed. And all this was accomplished in a period of time, and on a scale of magnitude, the recital of which is fairly calculated to stagger credulity.
Notwithstanding the necessity of such a line of communication had for years been repeatedly urged, it was not until 1859 that a bill was carried through congress, authorizing the grand scheme. This bill, — according to the Chicago Times’ exhaustive account of the history of the enterprise, which is here abridged, — comprised no less than three great lines, namely, the northern, the southern, and the central. But the breaking out of the civil war checked the enterprise. The astonishing development, however, of the precious metals in Nevada and the travel and traffic that inevitably followed, embodied for the mines of Californians that imperious need of a cheaper and easier conveyance, into a plan of a continental railway, which had always been popular there.
The assumed impracticability of crossing the Sierras did not discourage a few daring, far-sighted engineers, prominent among whom was Mr. T. P. Benjamin, the character of whose surveys decided the state legislature to charter the Central Pacific railroad company in 1862. In a short time, success crowned the efforts of the friends of the enterprise in congress; and so, in July, 1862, the great continental railway from the Missouri to the Pacific was an assured undertaking. In 1865, forty miles were built; in 1866, two hundred and sixty-five miles; in 1867, two hundred and forty-five miles; in 1868, four hundred and twenty-five miles; in 1869, one hundred and five miles. East of Salt Lake City, the elevation of the road averages about seven thousand feet above the sea. Most of the country is very rough, destitute of wood and water, and a large portion of the way is through an alkali desert. Tremendous snow-storms in the mountains presented another great difficulty.
The spirit of rivalry did its share in stimulating the activity of the Union Pacific company. The efforts of this company had so far languished during the earlier history of their corporation, that little was done till after the close of the war. The Central Pacific, however, immediately commenced work, so that, in January, 1863, the first grading was done, — the occasion being signalized with great rejoicing as a general holiday, — and even so early as June, 1864, thirty-one miles of track had been laid to New Castle, nearly one thousand feet above the sea at the foot of the Sierras. But, owing to financial difficulties, it was not until September, 1866, that progress was made to Alta, seventy miles east of Sacramento, and neatly six thousand feet above the sea. In November following, the track reached Cisco, some six thousand feet above the sea, an average elevation of about one hundred feet per mile being overcome in twenty-three miles.
Work on the Union Pacific did not commence till eighteen months after the Central had inaugurated their section of the enterprise. In the spring of 1867, when the snows had melted, the work was resumed by both companies, with great vigor, the race being kept up with an ardor that constantly gathered head. The Union was far ahead in respect to distance, but they had to fight against continually increasing difficulties, while the Central had already overcome the great ones of their undertaking in crossing the Sierras, and could look forward to an open and easy route. The first passenger train reached the top of the Sierras, November 30, 1867. By the time the western end of the route had reached the lower Truckee, one hundred and forty miles east of Sacramento, the Union had reached a point in the Black Hills, five hundred miles west of Omaha.
At the opening of the summer of 1868, the two companies were nearly equally distant from Monument Point, at the head of Salt Lake, and the emulation between the two gave rise to prodigious efforts. About twenty-five thousand men and six thousand teams were engaged along the route between the foot of the Sierras and Evans’s pass. The competition increased as they neared each other, and at last the struggle arose as to the point of junction. The Central company wished Ogden fixed as the point of junction, and the Union urged Monument Point; the matter was at last settled by a decision in favor of the former. The dangers to which the laborers were subjected, and the imperious necessity of vigilant protection of the track and material of the road, were great and unceasing, owing to the inveterate hostility of the Indians. From Fort Kearney west, up the Platte river, to the foot of the Black Hills, the road was subject to a continual succession of fierce attacks. Several battalions of United States troops were scattered along the line, and found full employment in adequately guarding the object of their vigilance.
That the completion of such a vast enterprise, unparalleled in magnitude and grandeur, should be hailed as one of the most memorable achievements in the material progress of the country, was certainly to be expected. Nor is it to be wondered at that the original pick and shovel employed in commencing such a work, should still be looked upon, by every patriot, with historic interest. They are carefully preserved, and bear the following inscriptions:
“Pick that struck the first blow on the Union Pacific railroad, Omaha, December 2, 1863. Pickers: Thomas Acheson, Wilson F. Williams, George Francis Train, Peter A. Day.”
“Shovel used by George Saunders, to move the first earth in the Union Pacific railroad, Omaha, Neb., December 3, 1863. Shovelers: Alvin Saunders, governor of Nebraska; B. E. B. Kennedy, mayor of Omaha; I. M. Palmer, mayor of Council Bluffs; Augustus Kountze, director of U. P. R. R.”
The following table of distances on the two lines will show the magnitude of this great channel of continental communication: From New York to Chicago, 911 miles; from Chicago to Omaha, Neb., 491 miles. From Omaha, by the Union Pacific line, to Ogden, 1,030, and a branch of forty miles to Salt Lake City. From Ogden, by the Central Pacific line, 748 miles. From Sacramento to San Francisco, 120 miles. Thus, the grand distance, by the iron track, from Omaha to San Francisco, is 1,898 miles; from Chicago to San Francisco, 2,389; from New York to San Francisco, 3,377 miles.
In less than one-half or one-third of the time predicted at the outset of the enterprise, the road was completed, — a great feat, indeed, when it is considered that the workmen operated at such a distance from their base of supplies, and that the materials for construction and subsistence had to be transported under such a variety of difficulties. Thus, the transportation of one hundred and ten thousand tons of iron rails, one million fish-plates, two million bolts, fifteen million spikes, three and a half million cross-ties, and millions of feet of timber not estimated, for the construction of roads, culverts and bridges, made one of the minor items of the account. The moving of engines and machinery for stocking manufactories, of materials for foundries and buildings of every kind, not to speak of the food for an army of thousands of workmen, all of which belong to the single account of transportation, may also give an impression of the activity and expense required in bringing such a road to completion in so short a time.
Of course the irregularities of surface characterizing a distance so immense, and particularly that portion of the line running among the Sierra Nevada mountains, necessitated tunneling, cutting, and trestle-bridging, on a large scale. The well-known Bloomer Cut, sixty-three feet deep and eight hundred feet long, is through cemented gravel and sand, of the consistency of solid rock, and only to be moved by blasting. The trestle-bridging constituted one of the most important features in the construction of the road, and the work, on completion, was pronounced of the most durable description. Among the most famous of these structures may be mentioned the trestle and truss bridge, Clipper ravine, one hundred feet high; the Long ravine, Howe truss bridge and trestle, one hundred and fifteen feet high; and the trestle at Secrettown, one thousand feet long, and fifty to ninety feet high. The highest engineering skill was demanded, from first to last, and the triumphs of science, in this respect, were complete.
The total mileage of the roads built under the direct authority and by the aid of the national government, was two thousand four hundred miles. The government subsidy in aid of these works, amounted to about $64,000,000, of six percent currency bonds, the companies being also authorized to issue an equal amount of bonds. Both companies had also a land grant from congress, in alternate sections, equal to twelve thousand eight hundred acres per mile.
Ninety million dollars was the cost of the Union Pacific railroad, up to 1869; that of the Central Pacific, seventy-five million. This enormous sum, especially in its relation to the government indebtedness, alarmed some timid economists. But a sufficient answer to their arguments was, that millions upon millions of acres of government lands, hitherto lying idle, would come into the market, and very speedily appear as productive farms tilled by the hand of industry; that towns, villages, cities, manufacturing, mining, and all the appliances and evidences of material progress, would at once take a start, the wealth of the East be poured into the West, and emigration westward populate territories and turn them into states as if by magic. By means of this new and wonderful highway, the distance from New York to San Francisco would be traversed by passengers in six or seven days, instead of three weeks or more via Panama. From San Francisco to Japan is nineteen days, or twenty-five from New York, and some thirty-six from London, a speed exceeding that of the British mails to Yokohama, via Suez, by upwards of twenty days. And thus, San Francisco, on the Pacific, the travel and commerce of the nations of Western Europe with the hundreds of millions of people of Eastern Asia, and the great island of Australia, would pass over the railway, — the land that built it thereby reaping the benefit of being the world’s highway.
On the tenth of May, 1869, the grand historic event took place at Promontory Point, Utah, of uniting the two great divisions of the trans-continental railway. Early in the morning, says the Chicago Tribune, Governor Stanford and party from the Pacific coast were on the ground; and at half-past eight, an engine with a palace and two passenger cars arrived from the east bringing Vice-President Durant and directors Duff and Dillon, of the Union Pacific railroad, with other distinguished visitors, including several Mormon apostles. Both parties being in readiness, the ties were thrown down on the open space of about one hundred feet, and the employes of the two companies approached with the rails to fill the gap. Mr. Stenbridge, subcontractor, who had been in charge of the building of the Central Pacific from the laying of the first rail on the bank of the Sacramento, commanding a party of Chinese track-layers, advanced from the west with assistant – general superintendent Corning.
The Chinamen, conscious that the strangers from the far east were watching their movements with curious eyes, wielded the pick, shovel and sledge, with consummate dexterity; but their faces wore an appearance of unconcern and indifference wonderful if real, and not the less so if affected. White laborers from the east did their best work, but with more indication of a desire to produce an effect, and at eleven o’clock the European and Asiatic private soldiers of civilization stood face to face in the heart of America, each proudly conscious that the work was well done, and each exultant over so noble a victory. Engine No. 119 from the Atlantic, and Jupiter, No. 60, from the Pacific, each decorated with flags and evergreens for the occasion, then approached within a hundred feet from opposite directions, and saluted with exultant screams. Superintendent Vandenburgh now attached the telegraph wires to the last rail, so that each blow of the sledge should be recorded on every connecting telegraph instrument between San Francisco and Portland, Me. It was also arranged so that corresponding blows should be struck on the bell in the city hall at San Francisco, and the last one fire a cannon in the batteries at Fort Point. General Safford, on behalf of the territory of Arizona, presented a spike composed of iron, gold and silver, as an offering by Arizona, saying:
“Ribbed with iron, clad in silver, and crowned with gold, Arizona presents her offering to the enterprise that has banded every continent and dictated a new pathway to commerce.”
The crowd fell back at the request of General Casement, and the artist for the Union Pacific railroad photographed the scene, with the locomotives confronting each other, and Chinese and Caucasian laborers confronting the work. It was now announced that the last blow was to be struck. Every head was uncovered in reverential silence, while Rev. Dr. Todd, of Pittsfield, Mass., offered up a brief and deeply impressive invocation.
The magnificent tie of laurel, on which was a commemorative plate of silver, was brought forward, put in place, and Doctor Harkness, in behalf of the state of California, presented Governor Stanford the gold spike. President Stanford, of the Central Pacific railroad, responded, accepting the golden and silver tokens, predicting the day as not far distant when three tracks would he found necessary to accommodate the traffic which would seek transit across the continent, and closing with the happy summons — “Now, gentlemen, with your assistance, we will proceed to lay the last rail, the last tie, and drive the last spike.”
General Dodge, in behalf of the Union Pacific railroad, responded as follows: “Gentlemen, — The great Benton prophesied that some day a granite statue of Columbus would be erected on the highest peak of the Rocky mountains pointing westward, denoting this as the great route across the continent. You have made that prophecy this day. Accept this as the way to India.” Mr. Tuttle, from Nevada, presented a silver spike on behalf of the citizens of that state, with the following remarks: “To the iron of the East and the gold of the West, Nevada adds her link of silver, to span the continent and wed the oceans.” Thereupon, Superintendent Coe, in behalf of the Pacific Union express, presented the silver hammer, or sledge, with which to drive the last spike.
Governor Stanford and Vice-President Durant advanced, took in hand the sledge, and drove the spike, while the multitude stood silent. Mr. Miles, of Sacramento, who was chairman of the meeting, announced the great work done! The silence of the multitude was now broken, and a prolonged shout went forth, which, while it yet quivered on the gladdened air, was caught up by the willing lightning, and borne to the uttermost parts of the earth. Cheer followed cheer for the union of the Atlantic and Pacific, the two Pacific railroad companies and their officers, the president of the United States, the Star Spangled Banner, the laborers, etc. A telegram announcing the grand consummation was sent at once to President Grant, and one to the associated newspaper press immediately followed, worded thus:
“The last rail is laid! The last spike driven! The Pacific Railroad is completed! The point of junction is 1,086 miles west of the Missouri river, and 690 miles east of Sacramento City.”
There was a great deal of interest and excitement in Washington, and a large crowd assembled at the telegraph office, as soon as it was known that the driving of the last spike would be announced by the wires. Mr. Tinker, the manager, fixed a magnetic ball in a conspicuous place, where all present could witness the performance, and connected the same with the main lines, notifying the various offices throughout the country, that he was ready. New Orleans, New York and Boston, instantly answered that they were ready. Soon afterward, many of the offices in different parts of the country began to make all sorts of inquiries of the office at Omaha, from which point the circuit was to be started. That office replied:
“To everybody: Keep quiet. When the last spike is driven at Promontory Point, we will say “Done.” Don’t break the circuit, but watch for the signals of the blows of the hammer.”
After some little delay, the instruments were all adjusted, and 2.27, in the afternoon, Promontory Point said to the people congregated in the various telegraph offices — “Almost ready. Hats off; prayer is being offered.” A silence for the prayer ensued. At 2.40 the bell tapped again, and the office at the Point said — “We have got done praying. The spike is about to be presented.” Chicago replied — “We understand. All are ready in the East.” Promontory Point — “All ready now. The spike will soon be driven. The signal will be three dots for the commencement of the blows.”
For a moment the instrument was silent, and then the hammer of the magnet tapped the bell, one, two, three — the signal. Another pause of a few seconds, and the lightning came flashing eastward, vibrating two thousand four hundred miles, between the junction of the two roads and Washington, and the blows of the hammer upon the spike were delivered instantly, in telegraphic accents, on the bell in Washington. At 2.47, in the afternoon, Promontory Point gave the signal, “DONE!” — the announcement that the continent was spanned with iron. The time of the event in San Francisco was 11.45, in the forenoon. A telegraph wire had been attached to a fifteen-inch gun, and as the first stroke on the last spike was telegraphed from Promontory Point, the gun was fired by electricity, and by the same agent all the fire bells in the city were rung.
The news of the completion of the road created, of course, great enthusiasm in all the cities of California. In San Francisco, the event was celebrated in a manner long to be remembered. The day was ushered in by a salute of one hundred guns, and congratulatory messages were transmitted to the directors of the Central and Union roads by the “California Pioneers.” All the Federal forts in the harbor fired salutes, the bells being rung and the steam whistles blown at the same time. Business was suspended, nearly every citizen exhibiting a hearty interest in the demonstrations. The procession was the largest and most imposing ever witnessed in San Francisco. In addition to the state militia, all the available United States troops participated in the pageant, while the civic societies turned out with full ranks. The shipping was dressed in fine style —both the city and harbor, indeed, presenting a magnificent sight. During the day, the principal buildings were festooned with the banners of every nation, and the streets were thronged with an excited and joyous people. At night, the whole city was brilliantly illuminated.
At Sacramento, the event was observed with marked demonstrations. The city was crowded with a multitude of people from all parts of the state and Nevada, to participate in or witness the festivities, particularly the grand odd-fellows’ procession. The lines of travel to and from Sacramento were thrown open to the public free, and an immense number of people took advantage of this arrangement and flocked thither. The Central Pacific company had thirty locomotives gaily decked, and as the signal gun was fired announcing the driving of the last spike of the road, the locomotives opened an overpowering chorus of whistles, all the bells and steam whistles of the city immediately joining in the deafening exhibition.
In Chicago, the celebration was the most successful affair of the kind that ever took place in that city, and, probably, in the West, although it was almost entirely impromptu. The procession was unique in appearance and immense in length, being, at the lowest estimate, four miles, and representing all classes, associations and trades. During the moving of the procession, Vice-President Colfax, who was visiting the city, received the following dispatch, dated at Promontory Point: “The rails were connected to-day. The prophecy of Benton is a fact. This is the way to India.” A very interesting feature in the procession was an array of mail-wagons with post-office employes, and several tons of mail matter in bags, labeled and marked as if bound for some of the large cities both on this side and beyond the Pacific ocean. Some of these were marked as follows: ‘Victoria, Australia;’ `Washington, Oregon (G. D. P.-0.);’ ‘Yeddo, Japan;’ ‘Pekin, China (G. D. P.-0.);’ Golden City, Colorado;’ ‘Denver, Colorado;’ ‘Santa Fe, New Mexico;’ ‘Hong Kong, China, via Chicago;’ ‘Yokohama, Japan.’ In the evening, Vice-President Colfax, Lieut. Gov. Bross, and others, addressed a vast assembly, speaking eloquently of the great era in American history ushered in by the event of the day. The marine display was also very fine.
On the announcement of the completion of the road in New York, the mayor ordered a salute of one hundred guns, and himself saluted the mayor of San Francisco with a dispatch conceived in the most jubilant spirit, — informing him that “our flags are now flying, our cannon are now booming, and in old Trinity a Te Deum imparts thankful harmonies to the busy hum about her church walls.” The Chambers of Commerce of the two cities also exchanged congratulations, the New York chamber recognizing in the new highway an agent that would not only “develop the resources, extend the commerce, increase the power, exalt the dignity and perpetuate the unity of our republic, but in its broader relations, as the segment of a world-embracing circle, directly connecting the nations of Europe with those of Asia, would materially facilitate the enlightened and advancing civilization of our age.” The services in Trinity were conducted with great solemnity, in the presence of a crowded congregation. After prayer, and the reading of a portion of the Episcopal service, the organ pealed forth in its grandest fullness and majesty, and, as the assembly dispersed, the church chimes added to the joyousness of the occasion by ringing out “Old Hundred,” the “Ascension Carol,” and the national airs.
In Philadelphia, the authorities improvised a celebration so suddenly, that the ringing of the bells on Independence Hall, and at the various fire stations, was mistaken for a general alarm of fire, till the news was announced. The sudden flocking of the people to the state-house resembled that which followed the reception of the news of Lee’s surrender to Grant. In many other towns and cities throughout the union, the event was celebrated with great spirit. Even as far east as Springfield, Mass., the jubilee spirit was carried out. The entire force of workmen of Wason’s car manufactory in that city formed a procession, headed by a band and accompanied by a battery, and marched from the shops of the company through the principal streets, each man bearing some tool or implement of his trade. Banners bearing ‘Our cars unite the Atlantic and Pacific,’ Four hundred car builders celebrate the opening of the Pacific Railroad’, ‘For San Francisco, connecting with ferry to China,’ etc., were conspicuous.
Returning to the scenes at Omaha, that interesting and important point on this trans-continental highway, the day was there observed by such an outpouring of the people as had never before been equaled. The morning trains from the west brought the fire companies and the masonic fraternity from Fremont, and large delegations from towns and settlements as far west as North Platte. Before noon, the streets were filled with a multitude anxiously awaiting the signal from Capitol hill, where a park of artillery was stationed in the neighborhood of the observatory, to enable it to fire a salute the moment the telegraphic signals announced that the last spike had been driven. A grand procession was one of the marked features of the day; and, at about half-past one, the booming of one hundred guns, the ringing of bells, and the shrieking of the whistles of steamers and locomotives, proclaimed that Omaha and Sacramento were forever united by iron bands, and that now had been opened a highway from the gates of the east to the realms of sunset itself.
Thus, in the consummation of this mightiest work of utility ever undertaken by man, a journey around the world became a tour both easy and brief. The city of San Francisco could be reached from New York, in less than seven days, running time. Arrived there, the finest ocean steamers in the world, each one of some four or five thousand tons, awaited the traveler, to take him, in twenty-one days, or less, to Yokohama, and thence, in six days more, to any part of China. From Hong Kong to Calcutta required some fourteen days by several lines of steamers touching at Singapore, Ceylon, Madras, or ports on the coast of Burmah. From Calcutta, a railroad runs far up into the north of India, on the borders of Cashmere and Affghanistan, and running through northern India, Benares, Allahabad, etc. Another road intersects at Allahabad, more than six hundred miles above Calcutta, running some six hundred miles to Bombay, where it connects with the overland route to and from Egypt, in twelve or thirteen days by steamer and rail from Bombay to Cairo. From Cairo, almost any port in Europe on the Mediterranean could be reached in from three to five days, and home again in twelve days more, making the actual traveling time around the world only seventy-eight days.
More wonderful still, a trans-continental train, which left New York early on the morning of June 1st, 1876, reached San Francisco at twenty-five minutes past nine, June 4th, in the morning; thus accomplishing the journey in eighty-three hours and twenty minutes, without stoppages and without accident.