Chapter Eleven


IN 1867, the UP was coming on, a mile a day, two miles a day, sometimes three miles in a day, racking up miles, collecting the government bonds and selling its land grants. Before the year was over, it was penetrating Utah with surveyors, its grading crews were well into Wyoming, and its track layers were past Cheyenne. The company hoped that before 1868 was out it would have its end of track into Utah. Along with Durant and Dodge, its directors, surveyors, supervising engineers, construction bosses, and multitude of workers thought that the UP would lay track all the way to the California-Nevada border, where it would meet the CP and thus win the race.

In 1867, the CP was still short of the summit of the Sierra Nevada. Its progress was measured in yards, not miles. It was collecting no government bonds, it was not selling land grants, it could not sell much or even any of its own stocks and bonds. Meanwhile, it was spending tons of money. It looked likely that the UP would win the race.

The reason was obvious to any observer. The UP was laying track over a relatively flat country, while the CP was in some of the roughest mountains on the continent. The UP had to haul in ties, rails, food, forage, and more, upstream on the Missouri River, but from Omaha out to the west, it carried the supplies forward on its own railroad line. The CP had plenty of water and wood, but it had tunnels to drive through granite mountains. The UP could draw on the settled portions of the country for its workers. The CP had to rely, for the most part, on the Chinese. But if and when the CP emerged from the Sierra Nevada, it would be on the Truckee River and then the Humboldt, where it could make time in grading and track laying just as the UP was coming up against the Wasatch Range.

By 1868, both railroads would be far from their base. As Henry Poor, editor of the Railroad Journal, explained, “The operations of a railroad company are like those of an army, the cost and difficulty of the maintenance of which increase in inverse ratio as the scene of its action is removed from its base.” Only a completed railroad could supply the road under construction with its materials and labor force. Thus, Poor said, a given amount of work would cost “thrice as much and occupy thrice the time” for a railroad west of the Mississippi River as for one on the east side.1

In the first few months of 1867, the Chinese worked for the CP in gangs, in eight-hour shifts or sometimes longer, around the clock. They lived in quarters dug in the snow, going to work surrounded by snow. They usually operated in teams of three at a time at the tunnel facing, with four teams working side by side. Of the men who held the drills, one reached as high as he could, another held it at waist level, another down at his toes. The fourth team worked from stepladders that allowed the men to reach the top. Two men pounded. The man with the drill was turning it constantly while holding it firm and in place. The men who were pounding did so with sledgehammers weighing from fourteen to eighteen pounds each. They swung, hit the drill at its far end, dropped the hammer, brought it up again behind them, and swung once more. Alternately, at many times a minute. They could drill four inches of holes, one and three-quarters inches in diameter, in eight hours.

They stopped only to drink some tea, or when the hole got deep enough—one and a half to two inches in diameter, a foot and a half or more deep—for another man to put in the black powder, then the fuse. When the three or four holes were filled, the fuses were lit and everyone retreated down the tunnel to a safe distance. After the explosion, the three-man crew trudged back to the facing to do it over again. The crews were bossed by white foremen, usually Irish, who worked a twelve-hour shift. The progress at each facing toward the middle was between six and twelve inches per day. This was done by all three shifts working around the clock. How many fingers or hands were lost to the hammers we don’t know.

Another break for the teams came when the blasted rock at the base had to be removed. At a signal from the foreman, the remainder of the gang—thirty or so men—moved in with their shovels and wheelbarrows. They would load up the rock, wheel it out of the tunnel to a windowlike opening in the snow, and dump it down the mountain.

More than a dozen tunnels were cut this way through the granite mountains. Most were in curves, laid out by Lewis Clement. When the faces met, they were never more than an inch off line, showing the re-markable accuracy of his calculations and instrument work under the most difficult of circumstances. Van Nostrand’s Engineering Magazine said in 1870 that the undertaking was preposterous, but Clement did it.2 The Summit Tunnel was sixteen feet wide at the bottom, eleven feet high at the top of the spring line, which was nineteen feet high to the top of the arch, a semicircle sixteen feet in diameter.3

Tea was brought to the workers by young Chinese employees, carried on a yoke over their shoulders, one keg on each end of the yoke. They used kegs that had originally been filled with black powder and were washed clean before the tea went in. In California it was known as “powder tea.” The men ate before and after their shift, excellent Chinese food, expertly prepared. The remainder of their time off was spent, besides sleeping on mats in the snow tunnel quarters, in washing themselves and their clothes, gambling, talking, reading. They seldom saw the light of day or a blue sky: they walked to and from work inside the snow tunnels, and there they endured their long, grueling shifts in a dim, dank world of smoky lights, ear-ringing explosions, and choking dust.

IN the High Sierra in the winter of 1866-67, there were forty-four storms. Some were squalls, others much bigger. The one everyone recalled began at 2 P.M. on February 18 and didn’t let up until 10 P.M. on February 22. It added six feet of new snow to that already on the ground. The wind raged on for five more days, building huge drifts.

The wind was so strong men and animals could not face it. Engineer John R. Gilliss, who worked on the tunnels, recounted the time when three of his men were walking with the storm at their backs in order to get to their shack. “Two got in safely. After waiting a while, just as we were starting to look for the third, he came in exhausted. In a short, straight path between two walls of rock, he had lost his way and thought his last hour had come.”4

A storm would begin with a fall in the barometer and a strong wind from the southwest The thermometer was rarely below twenty degrees at the beginning, and usually rose to thirty-two degrees before its close. That meant the last snowfall was damp and heavy. Then the wind shifted, which scattered the clouds, raised the barometer, and dropped the temperature all at once. The lowest temperature of the winter was five degrees above zero.5

On February 27, the snow began falling again, and it continued until March 2. This storm added four more feet of new snow. At the eastern approach to the Summit Tunnel, the Chinese had to lengthen their snow tunnel fifty feet in order to get to their quarters and on to work. One of the engineers said that whenever he returned to his shack he had to shovel it out before he could enter. Twenty Chinese were killed in one snowslide. Individual workers simply disappeared. Often enough their frozen bodies were found in the spring, sometimes upright in the melting snow, with shovels or picks still gripped in their hands.6

In early March 1867, the Sacramento Union reported that nineteen Chinamen had been killed by a snowslide on the east side of the summit, but that wasn’t so bad—a much larger number had been reported lost, and in any event the road from Emigrant Gap to Virginia City was open for stages drawn by horses. It was believed this road would stay open.7

COMMUNICATION over the mountain was kept up via the Dutch Flat and Donner Lake Wagon Road, five or six hundred feet below the grade and the tunnels. The rocky sides of Donner Peak quickly became and remained smooth slopes of snow and ice. Even the tops of the telegraph poles were buried by drifts. Up to one-half the CP’s labor force was kept busy shoveling. Sometimes after storms the entire labor force was engaged in removing snow.8

Engineer Gilliss found the scene from the Dutch Flat road to be “strangely beautiful at night.” He was drawn by the sight of “tall firs, which though drooping under their heavy burdens pointed to the mountains that overhung them. The fires that lit seven tunnels shone like stars on their snowy sides. The only sound that came down to break the stillness of the winter night was the sharp ring of hammer on steel, or the heavy reports of the blasts.”9

To those who were struggling to get more blasting powder, drills, food, and other supplies to the men working in the tunnels, the sight was much more daunting than inspirational. The teamsters and their oxen had to make their way through new snow that was soft, powdery, and up to their waists or higher, even to their shoulders. The falling snow or the drifts would cover their tracks. Into this the oxen would flounder. Often they would lie down, worn out, to be roused by teamsters twisting their tails. Bellowing with pain, they scrambled to their feet and went on. Gilliss saw one team so fortunate as to have had their tails twisted clear off and thus to have been spared further agony.

The teamsters at first used Canadian snowshoes, but soon learned to abandon them for Norwegian skis. These strips of light wood—ten to twelve feet long, four inches wide, and tapered in thickness from the center to the ends—were turned up in front and grooved on the bottom. They had a strap in the middle, and the men carried poles in each hand in order to steady, push, and brake. A good man could cover as much as forty miles a day on them—that is, with no oxen to urge on.10

The storms cost the CP time and money, and which was more expensive cannot be said. In January, one snowstorm caused drastic damage to a trestle a hundred feet high about two miles below the end of track, at Cisco. A small lake above the trestle, with a dam at the downslope end, was put under great strain by the snow piling up on it. One warm day started a melt which caused the dam to give way. A thunderous surge of water rushed down the ravine and carried away the center section of the trestle.

The bridge had to be repaired. It was difficult to get to it because of the fifteen feet and more of snow in the woods around it. Loggers and oxen went to work. Swarms of workers cut down huge trees, then whipsawed them into shape for the carpenters, who rebuilt the trestle. In less than a month, by February 4, trains were crossing the trestle once again, bringing on rails and hardware for the three thousand track builders forty miles away on the Truckee River and supplies for the Chinese.11

AT this time, the directors made a costly but necessary decision. One day, over lunch with Crocker, Stanford took out his pencil and began estimating the cost of covering the track with snowsheds in its most vulnerable parts. That meant putting a roof over the track that led through the snow belt. Arthur Brown, superintendent of the bridges, thought the cost to be “almost appalling, and unprecedented in railroad construction.” Yet he confessed that “there seemed to be no alternative.” Huntington was also appalled. “It costs a fearful amount of money to pay all the bills,” he protested to Hopkins, and added, “I sometimes think I would change my place for any other in this world.”12 But it had to be done.

Brown later said, “although every known appliance was used to keep the road clear from snow that winter of 1866-67, including the largest and best snow plows then known, it was found impossible to keep it open over half the time and that mostly by means of men and shovels, which required an army of men on hand all the time at great expense.”13

Lewis Clement designed the snowsheds, which ended up covering almost fifty miles. One of them extended for twenty-eight miles without a break. About five miles were covered in 1867, the rest mostly in 1868.

GUNPOWDER and Chinamen were the only weapons of combat the road builders had with which to fight the earth and stone through which they had to pass, laid in their path centuries ago by the Creator,” according to one of the engineers.14 But the black powder was too slow for Crocker and Strobridge. On January 7, 1867, Crocker wrote to Huntington, “We are only averaging about one foot per day on each face—and Stro and I have come to the conclusion that something must be done to hasten it. We are proposing to use nitroglycerine.” They had read about it in a recent article in the Scientific American.15

As we saw, they had tried nitroglycerin once in 1866, but put it away as too dangerous. It was greatly feared by the workers, except by the Chinese, who had become skillful in using it. Crocker and Strobridge thought it was not proper for general use, and anyway the black powder had certain advantages on rock other than granite. But on the Summit Tunnel, and the next two to the east, nitroglycerin was necessary. Among other things, the nitroglycerin required smaller holes; it was costing the CP $1.19 per Chinese worker for each eight hours, and it took three men an hour to drill one foot. “We are bound to use it,” wrote Crocker, “if we find it will expedite the Summit Tunnel.”

Crocker had it brought up the mountains in its separate ingredients—glycerin and nitric and sulfuric acids. He hired James Howden, a Scottish chemist, to mix them where the nitro would be used. Howden’s brew was a yellow liquid, light and oily, which he made up each day at a cost of only 75 cents per pound. As the Chinese became more accustomed to handling the brew, they grew careless. Consequently, one of the engineers wrote, “many an honest John went to China feet first.” But John Gilliss calmly observed that the accidents “would have happened with powder.”16

Gilliss estimated that nitroglycerin was eight times as powerful as the same weight of powder. And the tunnel cleared of smoke faster than when powder was exploded in it. At the facings, inward progress increased by 54 percent, from 1.18 feet per day with powder to 1.82 feet per day with nitroglycerin. At the bottom of the tunnel shaft, where the workers had their backs to each other as they moved outward, the average daily progress jumped from 2.51 feet with powder to 438 feet with nitroglycerin, a 74 percent increase.

Mark Hopkins told Huntington, “Charles [Crocker] has just come from the tunnel and he thinks some of them are making three feet per day. Hurrah! For nitroglycerine.”17 E. B. Crocker wrote that as of early May there was “only 681 feet left between the headings. Last week they made 60 feet—more than three feet per day. Nitroglycerine tells.”18

Crocker also wanted to use the power of the engine he had transported to the top of the mountain, the Sacramento, to run drills. “We are all alive to the need to get through the Summit Tunnel,” he wrote in January. They had been at it since the fall of 1866 and had so far made only 290 feet, with 1,367 feet of drilling and exploding and carrying out the blasted rock to go. “We have got Strobridge, who lives right up there, roused up. He has talked with the foreman and they are ready to give a steam drill a trial.”19

On February 12, E. B. Crocker told Huntington, “We’ve tried nitroglycerine and it works well.” Drilling smaller holes saved time. “We are beginning to use an electric battery to fire off charges,” he wrote, “and that too at once effects a great savings in time.” And the company was replacing chairs with fish joints to tie rails together. “The section men are delighted with the fish joint.”

Not all the newfangled devices worked. Strobridge had to abandon the electric battery. He also refused to allow steam to be taken from the Sacramento’s boiler to run the drilling machine. His reason was that he didn’t want to stop the engine to make the necessary connections for the drilling machines. Told that it would only take two hours, he replied that he didn’t have two hours to give. E. B. Crocker told Hopkins, “The truth is things have got to such a pass that there can’t be a thing done unless it suits Strobridge.”

A part of the trouble was with Charles Crocker. E.B. said of his brother, “Whenever a man gets Charles’ confidence, he swears by him and all he says or does is right.” Stanford wrote Hopkins, “I fear the drilling machines will prove useless. There does not appear a will that they should succeed, and usually where there is no will there is no way.”20

“Charley says to wait until we reach the Summit before we haul iron over to the Truckee,” Stanford wrote to Hopkins on February 5, 1867. There were about eight thousand Chinese working on the tunnels, but there was also a crew of about three thousand Chinese east of the summit, and they could be laying track. Crocker, however, wanted them to grade, then to lay rail when good weather made it possible to get the rail over the summit.

Construction worker A. P. Partridge spent much of the winter on the Truckee, building grade. He recalled the coming of the Chinese, who took up the old buildings and sheds in the area. One heavy snowfall collapsed an old barn and killed four. Further, “a good many of them were frozen to death.” Once he went up to Donner Lake for a dance at a hotel. When the sleigh returned to Truckee in the morning, “we saw something under a tree. We stopped and found a frozen Chinese. We threw him in the sleigh and took him into town and laid him out by the side of a shed and covered him with a rice mat, the most appropriate thing for the laying out of a Celestial.”21

Through February and March, Partridge worked on putting up bridges over the Truckee River. He and his crew put up two 204-foot spans and one two-span bridge of 150 feet per span. The Chinese, meanwhile, were moved east to get the heavy grading done well in advance of the main force. Some three thousand men with four hundred horses and carts were sent out, a distance of three hundred miles in advance of the track. Hay, grain, and food for the Chinese, plus all the supplies they needed, were hauled by teams of horses over the desert. Water for men and animals was hauled forty miles.22

THE surveyors for the CP were way out in front of the graders, all the way to the east of the Salt Lake, working their way up Weber Canyon, then through Echo Canyon, across the Wasatch Range and on to Fort Bridger, on the eastern slope of the range. By the spring of 1867, they were setting up their flags and stakes right beside those of the UP surveyors. The CP intended to get to Fort Bridger, whereas the UP boasted that it would meet the CP at the California-Nevada border.

E. B. Crocker wished the two lines could work together, but it wasn’t to be. “Our surveys run to Weber,” he wrote, “so we’re confident that well reach Ft. Bridger before they do. It can be done in spite of Durant’s frantic efforts and boasts.”23

The CP was trying to get government approval of its proposed route from the California-Nevada state line to Humboldt Wells in northeastern Nevada, but President Johnson’s secretary of the interior, Orville Hickman Browning, refused to issue the permit. The Crocker brothers wanted it done as soon as possible, and immediately after Browning had approved, they were ready to present him with a route from Humboldt Wells to the Salt Lake, and then with another route from the Salt Lake eastward into Wyoming. “That will be so much gained,” E. B. Crocker commented dryly.24

There was big money at stake. As Stanford wrote to Huntington, “Our real profits lie in the road beyond the Sierra Nevadas and to secure the line to Salt Lake if necessary we can afford to make great sacrifices in getting over the mountains.”25 Salt Lake City was the only settled establishment between the two ends of track, the only place that needed to import goods that could be carried on trains, and the only one that had products to export. Then there was the government loan of bonds for every mile constructed to go to the railroad company that built it. And the government gift of alternative parts of land (which in truth wasn’t worth much if anything in the desert, where most of it was never sold) would increase as more track was laid.

Perhaps most of all, there was the prestige to be considered. Bragging rights were to be had by one or the other of the railroads. That was the way the Congress had set it up. Congress had reserved to itself the right to pick the spot where the roads would meet, but it had not yet done so and showed no inclination to do so. It wanted the roads built as fast and as far as possible. The spot would be chosen after the grading crews had passed each other, and as the rails at the end of track approached each other. Where that would be, no one knew. So the surveyors kept surveying, the graders kept grading, the rail layers kept laying.

•   •   •

BOTH companies were trying, with some success (the full extent of which is not known in any detail), to place moles, or spies, in the other railroad’s camp. The UP sent two engineers to Colfax to snoop around and see what they could pick up. The Crocker brothers knew about this effort and showed them around, filling their heads full of nonsense. The UP engineers “were quite inquisitive” and took in whatever they were told. What they were told was that the tunnels were terribly long and progress was disappointingly slow and it would take a long time to blast through the granite. They went back to Omaha to report to Durant that there was nothing to worry about, that the CP would be blasting away for years. They convinced Durant that it would take at least two more years to get through the Summit Tunnel. E. B. Crocker told Huntington, “While the engineers were here we led them to think that it would take us a long time to get over the mountains. We thought that Durant, while laboring under that idea, would not be apt to be in so great a hurry.”26

Then one of the UP spies told Durant that the CP wasn’t going to wait for the Summit Tunnel to be finished, but was going to haul tracks over the mountains and begin working east from the Truckee. “This news was probably a small bombshell in Durant’s camp,” E. B. Crocker wrote to Huntington. “He saw that if we dodged around the summit in this way that his hopes were dashed.” On the spur of the moment, Durant wrote his spy and told him that he, Durant, would slap an injunction on the CP to prevent any such dodging of the summit. But Crocker commented, “This is ridiculous.”27

The CP, meanwhile, was planting its own spies on the UP. “I have a way,” boasted Huntington, “of finding out what is done in the Union Company’s office.”28 In April 1867, E. B. Crocker heard that “the Union Pacific has had a good deal of trouble with snow this winter—full as much if not more than we have had. The fact is that after this year while they are building between the Black Hills & Salt Lake, they will only be able to work on construction during the summer months. They will be such a high latitude that the snow will fall early and stay late and from now on they will find themselves in the fix we are now in.”29

Still, the UP was so far winning the race. Charlie Crocker said he “felt about like resigning” at the time. He got after Strobridge, told him to hurry up.30

•   •   •

IN mid-May 1867, General James Rusling of the army’s Quartermaster Department got on a CP train at Sacramento, bound for the mountains and beyond. He was going to inspect army posts. When he left, the day was hot and humid, but as he got to Cisco, the chill signified that the train was in the mountains. “We were shivering in winter garments,” commented the general. But the track impressed him and his companions, who were surprised at how well built it was and also at its “audacity.”

Rusling observed grades of over a hundred feet to the mile, “and in many places the track literally springs into the air, over immense trestlework bridges or along the dizzy edges of precipices that seem fraught with peril and destruction.” When the general and his party reached Cisco, the snow reached to the eaves of the hotel.31

Rusling took a “mountain mud-wagon” out of Cisco, through a mixture of slush, mud, and ice. He changed to a sleigh and “then came a long and dreary pull for several miles till we got well across the summit of the Sierras.” Everywhere he looked, there were Chinese at work. They had pigtails coiled around their heads and were wearing blue cotton blouses. Rusling talked to a few of their foremen, who “spoke well of the almond-eyed strangers and praised them especially for their docility and intelligence.”32

One week later, Charlie Crocker was frustrated in his strenuous efforts to put more Chinese on the CP payroll. His brother explained to Huntington that “a want of men” had struck the railroad. “We are scouring the state for men to put on the Truckee, but they come in very slow.” The Chinese had been discovered by the owners of mines and other employments; the CP’s use of Chinese laborers “has led hundreds of others to employ them so that now when we want to gather them up for work, a large portion are permanently employed at work elsewhere that they like better.”

Getting enough Chinese to work on the grades and track was so “very important” that the directors of the CP “concluded to raise their wages from $31 to $35 per month and see if this will not bring them.” It would cost the CP $20,000 more per month, but with the Chinese going to Idaho, Montana, and elsewhere, it had to be done.33

In late May, unbelievably and unacceptably, the Chinese went on strike. “This is the hardest blow we have had,” E. B. Crocker reported. He wanted Huntington “to see what you can do about getting laborers from the East.”34 Initially it was the Chinese who were employed in grading, but they were soon joined by those engaged on the most critical part of the work, the tunnelers. The spokesman for the tunnelers said the Chinese wanted $40 per month rather than the $35 they were collecting, and they wanted the workday reduced to eight hours—which it was supposed to be, but the foremen had not been enforcing that rule. Further, in what was a shock for those (including Crocker and Strobridge) who thought the relations between the CP and its workers were excellent, the Sacramento Union reported that the Chinese wanted to eliminate “the right of the overseers of the company to either whip them or restrain them from leaving the road when they desire to seek other employment.”35

Charles Crocker was convinced that agents of the UP had inspired the strike and issued its demands. The UP’s motive was “to keep us in the mountains while they were building the road over the plains.” But he couldn’t prove it, for the good reason that the UP had nothing to do with the strike, which was inevitable given the shortage of Chinese workers and the manifest need of the CP for more of them.36

The CP tried to entice workers, but it wouldn’t pay $40 per month or reduce the hours. “Charley will go up and attend to it,” E. B. Crocker assured Huntington, because, “if they are successful in this demand, then they control and their demands will be increased.” The CP didn’t want to lose “too much time on the work.” But he also knew that, “when any commodity is in demand beyond the natural supply, the price will tend to advance.” So he had sent a CP agent to the South to try to recruit “5,000 Freedmen. 1 hope it will be successful and they will come soon.”37

It wasn’t to be. The following day, E.B. wrote, “the truth is the Chinamen are getting smart. The only safe way to beat them is to inundate this state and Nevada with Freedmen, Chinese, Japanese, all kinds of labor, so that men come to us for work instead of us hunting them up.” Good luck on that one. The next day, E.B. wrote, “Since my last letter all the Chinamen on the whole line have struck for $45 and a shorter working day.” He still was opposed to paying the expenses of men coming from the East to work, and thought that “a Negro labor force would tend to keep the Chinese quiet as the Chinese have kept the Irishmen quiet.”38

It couldn’t be done. The CP was going to have to deal with the Chinese. Fortunately for the bosses, the Chinese were not militant. Charles Crocker later said, “If there had been that number of whites in a strike, there would have been murder and drunkenness and disorder …. But with the Chinese it was just like Sunday. These men stayed in their camps. They would come out and walk around, but not a word was said; nothing was done. No violence was perpetrated along the whole line.”39

Crocker cut off the men’s provisions. No food got through to them. E. B. Crocker reported, “They really began to suffer.” On July 1, 1867, after a week of such treatment, “Charles went up to them and they gathered around him and he told them that he would not be dictated to—that he made the rules for them and not they for him.” He said that, if they went to work right away, “all would be well, but if they did not, then he would pay them nothing for June.”

The Chinese leaders protested. “They tried hard to get some changes”—a reduction in hours, for example, or an advance of even 25 cents per month. Charlie told them, “Not a cent more would he give.” Most said that they would go back to work, but some of their leaders threatened to whip those who did and burn up their camps. “Charles told them that he would protect any who worked and his men would shoot down any man that attempted to do the laborers any harm.” He would bring on the sheriff and a posse if necessary.

Four days later, E. B. Crocker noted, “The Chinese are working harder than ever since the strike.” They were, at least according to Crocker, “ashamed of the strike. I don’t think we will ever have any more such difficulties with them.”40 Thus did Charles Crocker and his partners show other employers around the nation one way—theirs—of how to deal with strikers.

THE UP and the CP continued to tell tall tales to each other. “I met Durant yesterday,” Huntington wrote to E. B. Crocker, “and he told me that the UP had a tunnel 2,600 feet in length and that it would take two years to get through it. Of course it was a lie.”41The UP also wanted to talk to the CP about jointly building a great central city at the point of meeting of the two roads. But as E. B. Crocker said, “Cities don’t thrive unless there is a big, prosperous country around. It might happen in 30 or 50 years. You can give them all that great city and not give up much.”42

Both sets of directors and engineers were telling lies to Brigham Young. They needed his Mormons to help make grade and lay track, and they knew he wanted the line to come through Salt Lake City, and they further knew that it never would do so, because to go south of the lake was to get into terrible desert. But even as their surveyors assured them that there was no such possibility, they told Young to hang on, that they would do their best to get to his city.

E. B. Crocker held out an intriguing possibility to Huntington. “I have an idea that in six months or a year from the time the roads are completed,” he wrote, “the two companies will be consolidated. This central city matter is an interesting thing to trade on.” It was almost 130 years after the roads were completed before the two lines consolidated, and the great central city never was built.43

“They [the UP] have been pretty smart in building their railroad,” Crocker said at one point, “but they have never yet come up to their bragging.” They said they would be in Cheyenne by September 1, 1867, and they didn’t make it until November 8. Still, “it would not do for us to trust in their laziness.” Thinking about it, he added, “What a loving crowd the Union Pacific men must be.”44

STANFORD had run for governor advocating a stoppage of all immigration from China to California, and in his inaugural address in 1862 had denounced the immigration of Asiatic people. The CP’s need for labor changed his mind. In the summer of 1867, the CP was sending agents to China to recruit laborers. A great many of them, in fact, according to E. B. Crocker. “The [Chinese] agents go to get a large immigration to come over and work. They know all about the work and can explain it to their countrymen. They will induce thousands to come over. We shall follow this up and get others to go over to China to hurry up the immigration.” The CP sent handbills and made arrangements with the steamboat company to provide favorable rates for the passage. “We want 100,000 Chinamen here so as to bring the price of labor down.” He further reported, “The new arrivals from China go straight up to the work. It is all life and animation on the line. Charles and Stro feel greatly encouraged.”45

Leland Stanford loved the idea. So did Collis Huntington, who wrote Charlie Crocker on October 3, 1867, “I like your idea of getting over more Chinamen. It would be all the better for us and the State if there should be a half million come over in 1868.”46

•   •   •

IN August 1867, E. B. Crocker sent a telegram to Collis Huntington: “Summit Tunnel broke through at 4 P.M. Toot your horn. Locomotive on the Truckee is in running order. Track laying commences Monday on the Truckee.”47

The breakthrough was seen by only one single light, and that not the sun but a lantern. There was much broken rock still to be removed from the bottoms. The breakthrough had to be extended up, down, and sideways to complete the whole tunnel. The grade had to be built, the ties put down, the rails laid and spiked.

But that light was exactly where it should have been. Clement had achieved a triumph of the first magnitude in engineering. The Summit Tunnel was 7,042 feet above the sea. This was the highest point reached by the CP. The facings were off by only two inches, a feat that could hardly be equaled in the twenty-first century. Clement had done it with black powder, nitroglycerin, and muscle power. He had not used electric or steam-driven drills, steam engines to power scoop shovels, or any gas-or electric-powered carts or cars to haul out the broken granite. There were no robots, no mechanical devices. Well over 95 percent of the work was done by the Chinese men. They and their foremen and the bosses, Clement and Crocker and Strobridge, had created one of the greatest moments in American history.

The Sierra Nevada had been pierced. The CP had gone through the mountains at exactly the point where Theodore Judah had said it should be done, following a line that he had laid out. Work on the tunnel had begun in 1866. The shaft had been started on August 27, 1866. A year later, the Sacramento Union reported that what “many predicted it would require three years to accomplish has been done in one.”48

Even though they were through the summit, the CP had not a single aid-worthy twenty-mile stretch of continuous track laid. The line east of the summit was not yet connected and would not be until 1868. The UP had built five hundred miles of track since 1865. The CP was 370 miles behind its rival. In 1867, the CP had laid only some thirty-nine miles of track. Although it was beyond the Summit Tunnel, it was only by two and a half miles. There was a seven-mile gap down the mountain to Tunnel No. 13. Crews could not complete the gap until the snow melted. After that gap, there were twenty-four miles laid to the state line. Crocker had managed to get locomotives over to the east side of the summit, and some flatcars and track material But that was all Meanwhile, in October 1867, Huntington wrote E. B. Crocker, “I am sorry to hear your doubts about reaching the Truckee with a continuous line this fall” Still, he said he realized “that all will be done that can be done, and I think Charles can do a little more than any man in America. And if it is not done, I shall know it could not be.”49

The Big Four were telling reporters that the line would close the gap “in two weeks, if the weather holds good.” Charles Crocker told Huntington at the end of October, “The weather is splendid now and the Wise People say we are going to have an open winter, which they also said last winter—from such a winter as last the good Lord preserve us.”50

A few days earlier, Huntington had written to “Friend Stanford” that he had just spent days in Washington getting bonds due the CP from the government. “I had to go to the Interior Dept., then to the President, and then to the Treasury.”51 He was asking for $320,000 in bonds, due the CP since its 1866 report. But the railroad had not laid enough track to justify an examination by government engineers or a grant of bonds. Huntington said, “I was determined to have the bonds if I could. I got a report from the attorney-general that I was entitled to those bonds. I got one from the solicitor of the treasury. I got two cabinet meetings in one week [where] the majority voted that I should have the bonds.”

Huntington stayed at it for nearly a week. “Well,” one Treasury official said to him, “you seem entitled to them, but I can’t let you have them.” Huntington went to see him every day to demand his company’s bonds. He said if he did not get them “I will sit here a fortnight.” After more wrangling, the CP got its bonds.52 But of course they had already been borrowed against, and they could not be sold at par. The CP general counsel Creed Haymund later put it, “I have grown sick and tired of hearing of the generosity of the Government. We built it for them.” Charles Crocker said he would “never have anything more to do with anything that had to be managed in government style.”53

In other words, as was so often the case, the CP was out of money. And it had enormous expenses. Building the snowsheds, for example. In November, E. B. Crocker wrote to Huntington that “you still sneer at pine lumber being stacked up on the line, but if you knew how much it cost us last winter to shovel snow out of those cuts, you would not say another word. Those snow sheds will pay for their cost in a single winter.”

Huntington was also complaining about the cost of keeping the entire labor force at work. Crocker told him it had to be. “All are anxious to complete the mountain work,” he explained, “so as to move into the valley and beyond and not have to come back to the mountains in the spring. They all understand it and cheerfully work Sundays to get through.”54

The Big Four were always looking for another way to make money. Hopkins was thinking about putting out a pamphlet in the German language “to show the value of our land for grape growing.” He thought that the Germans would rush to buy up the land once they knew that “there is no doubt that the grapes raised on our foothills make the best wine in the state.”

Stanford wanted consolidation and monopoly. He once said he expected “to see the time when there would not be more than five great companies in the United States,” and he especially wanted one single railroad. “If all the roads were operated as one road,” he said, “they could regulate prices lower than today and make money, while now they don’t make money.”55 So, through 1867, the Big Four reached out for a monopoly of railroading in California. By the end of the year, the partners owned five railroads—the CP, the Western Pacific Railroad, the California and Oregon Railroad, the California Central Railroad, and the Yuba Railroad—and were considering adding a sixth, the Southern Pacific Railroad. Most of these roads had little finished construction, but they had federal land grants and could be picked up cheap. With them, the Big Four had a near-monopoly on the railroads in California.56

Despite the buying up of other railroads, Charles Crocker & Company was out of money. On October 28, the Big Four plus E. B. Crocker therefore had voted to follow the lead of the UP and the Crédit Mobilier and create the Contract and Finance Company. Charles Crocker became the president. The Big Four hoped to sell some stock in the new company, but as Stanford lamented, “We did not succeed in any quarter in interesting others and finally gave it up.” So each man subscribed for one-fifth of the Contract and Finance Company’s stock. Huntington told Hopkins to “take as much as you are forced to but as little as you can.” The Big Four then signed a contract with the new company that gave it the right to build from the state line to the Salt Lake at $43,000 per mile in cash plus an equal amount of CP stock.57 In addition, it would build most of the line for the recently acquired railroads.58

It was obvious to the Big Four that someday soon the Contract and Finance Company would be making huge profits, so they created phony investors who supposedly owned much of the stock. A half-year later, that stock was “sold” to Charlie Crocker, so that the stockholders of the Contract and Finance Company consisted of Crocker and his brother E.B., Collis Huntington, Mark Hopkins, and Leland Stanford.59

ON November 30, 1867, the grading through the Summit Tunnel was finished, the track was laid, and the spikes were pounded in. Also on that date, the first scheduled train from Sacramento arrived on the east side of the Sierra Nevada.

The next day, Mark Hopkins wrote to Huntington. “Yesterday we all went up to see the first locomotive pass the summit of the Sierra,” he opened. “It was a pleasant sight to reach such a point where a train would gravitate towards the East. For these years past gravitation has been so continually against us that at times it seemed to me that it would have been well if we had practiced a while on smaller and shorter hills before attacking so huge a mountain.” He confessed to feeling that “our UP friends were too highly favored, but still we have worked on up the mountain—the labored and rapid puff of the engine told how heavy and hard the work.”

Now, he went on, “we are on the down grade & we rejoice. The operators and laborers all rejoice. All work freer and with more spirit. Even the Chinamen partake of our joy. I believe they do five extra percent more work per day now that we are through the granite rock work.” Looking ahead, Hopkins predicted that, from that day onward, “we can trot along toward Salt Lake instead of remaining in each camp so long that the Chinese become sick and tired of it.”

Summing up, Hopkins quite rightly said that the Summit Tunnel was “a thing never before done.”60

What had been accomplished was astonishing. Samuel Bowles, in his book on riding the Central Pacific rails in 1869, says of the portion through California, “These miles of road, ascending and descending the great California range of mountains, are without parallel in expense and difficulty of construction, and in variety and magnificence of scenery, among the entire railroad system of the world.” He spoke of the cost—a million dollars in gold for black powder alone—and commented, “This mountain range, with all its doubts and difficulties and cost of construction, reared itself at the very beginning of the whole enterprise on the Pacific side.” It had to be attacked first. Therefore, “the courage and the faith of the California pioneers and executors of this grand continental roadway rise to the front rank.”61

They had transported all their materials around South America or through Central America. They had overcome lawsuits, opposition, ridicule, evil prophecies, monetary uncertainty, and losses. They had organized a vast laboring force, drilled long tunnels, shoveled away snow, set up sawmills, hauled locomotives and cars and twenty tons of iron over the mountains by ox teams. Nothing came easy. But they had done what other capitalists and engineers and politicians and ordinary folks thought impossible, drilled tunnels through the Sierra Nevada, most of all the tunnel at the summit.

Now they were through, and, in Hubert Howe Bancroft’s words, they were ready to enter into the competition with the Union Pacific. Not just for bonds and lands but for prestige. “It was the grandest race that ever was run,” Bancroft wrote. Compared with it, “the Olympics were a pretty play.” The finish line was the completion of “the most stupendous work that men had ever conceived, and one of the most far-reaching in its results.”62

It was a work that was to change the whole world.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!