Chapter Five

JUDAH AND THE ELEPHANT 1862-1864

IMMEDIATELY after the Pacific Railroad Act of 1862 had passed the Congress and been signed by the President, Judah had gone to New York to purchase materials and supplies for the Central Pacific. Three weeks later, on July 21, he had left matters in the hands of an agent and, together with Anna, set sail for California. His intention had been to make certain that the merchants from Sacramento who owned or controlled most of the bonds and stock of the Central Pacific Railroad Company—Crocker, Huntington, Stanford, and Hopkins (the Big Four, as they were beginning to be called) could indeed harness the elephant.

They couldn’t do it without Judah. As he had told them in his report, “The principles which produced this result were control and harmony.” On June 30, 1862, he had already filed with the secretary of the interior a map of the route he had picked, because the bill provided that, upon such filing, the federally owned lands for fifteen miles on either side of the projected route would be withdrawn from pre-emption, meaning that a citizen could not buy or make a claim on them. This was a first step in clinching the bargain between the CP and the federal government.1 Judah had gotten started.

There were many people depending on him. Word of the passage of the Pacific Railroad Bill had spread through Sacramento, causing great excitement. On July 12, the Sacramento Union reported that “the firemen’s parade last evening in honor of the passage of the bill was the most brilliant affair of its kind that has ever taken place in this city. The procession was a mile long and the route was one blaze of torches and fireworks … and there were 100 mottoes carried in the line, all of them appropriate and pithy.” One read, “Little Indian Boy, Step Out of the Way for the Big Engine.” Another said, “The Pacific Railroad—Uncle Sam’s Waistband.” And a third: “Fresh No. 4 Mackerel, Six Days from Belfast.”2

On his way to California, Judah had written a report on his activities in New York after the bill passed. He said he had found that prices had advanced rapidly with the coming of war. Iron rails, for example, that went for $55 a ton in 1860 now cost $115 a ton and were going up. Common spikes had climbed from 2.5 cents per pound to 6.5. Blasting powder had risen from $2.50 to $15 a keg. Shipping was costing much more: each ton of rails fetched $17.50 in shipping charges to San Francisco. Insurance premiums had also soared. Huntington had gone to New York to handle purchases “upon the best terms he could get, before further advances [in prices] took place.”3

Judah hoped to lay the first fifty miles of track by the fall of 1863, more than a year away. His agent had managed to get a contract for eight locomotives, deliverable in January 1863, to be paid for entirely in government bonds—when these were issued. Also a contract for five thousand tons of rail, and for eight passenger, four baggage, and sixty freight cars. Huntington had paid for all this with pledges from himself and the others, relying on his and the other members of the Big Four’s reputations for never walking away from a debt. But although he had fistfuls of stocks and bonds, he had no buyers. Besides, the federal law making paper money (“greenbacks”) legal tender almost killed the bonds: the value of the paper money sank with each Union Army reverse, sometimes to as low as 35 cents on the dollar, and in California, by legislative fiat, only silver or gold could be used in contracts, to pay workers, or to buy goods.

Huntington was described by an acquaintance as a man who was “something tigerish and irrational in his ravenous pursuit. He was always on the scene, incapable of fatigue, delighting in his strength and the use of it, and full of love of combat…. If the Great Wall of China were put in his path, he would attack it with his nails.”4 But he still couldn’t get anyone in the East to buy his railroad bonds.

In 1862, Huntington worked New York, Washington, and Boston, spending three days in New York, two in Boston, and two in the capital, where he “borrowed, hocked and huckstered.” In Boston, he walked into the office of Oliver Ames, older brother of Representative Oakes Ames and fellow owner of the Ames shovel factory, the biggest and best in the country, from whom Huntington, Crocker, and Hopkins had bought thousands of shovels for California’s gold miners. The Ames shovel was declared to be “legal tender in every part of the Mississippi Valley” and was known even in South Africa. At the beginning of the Civil War, the business was valued at $4 million, and the war enormously increased its prosperity.

Huntington didn’t try to sell Ames any bonds. Instead he offered a fistful of them as security for a loan of $200,000, promising that he and his partners would guarantee the interest payments on the bonds if the CP failed to meet its semiannual obligations. Huntington had with him “a paper testifying to our responsibility and our honor, as men and merchants, that whatever we agreed to we would faithfully adhere to.”

Ames told Huntington to come back tomorrow. Meanwhile, he checked on the record and found not a single instance of an overdue bill. The next morning he made the loan and gave Huntington a letter of introduction. On a similar promise, Huntington managed to purchase $721,000 worth of rolling stock.5

IN mid-August 1862, Judah arrived at Sacramento. McClellan was pulling the Union troops out of the Virginia Peninsula, and the Second Battle of Bull Run was less than two weeks away. Still, two pieces of good news greeted Judah. First, the secretary of the interior had telegraphed the government’s acceptance of his location map and withdrawn from sale, pre-emption, or private entry the federal land and the promised land-grant acreage along the route. Second, the city of Sacramento had given to the CP thirty acres along its levee (thirteen hundred feet of riverfront) for the company’s headquarters, depots, shops, and roundhouse.

That gift brought on the first dispute between the Big Four and their chief engineer. Judah insisted that the company build a handsome office building in Sacramento, and he personally designed an impressive brick edifice that he claimed could be built for $12,000. He was peremptorily voted down at a board meeting. Instead, at Huntington’s telegraphed orders, an unpainted shack was raised in one working day at a cost of $150. CP business was as always conducted in an office over Stanford’s grocery store on K Street.6

At the same time Judah was disagreeing with Huntington and Stan-ford, the Central Pacific was being criticized by men who had a monopolistic interest in this or that aspect of the railroad. For example, the company that brought ice from Alaska to the San Francisco market feared that the CP might replace it with ice from the Sierra Nevada. Those who ran freight lines within the state, most especially the Sacramento Valley Railroad, jumped on various aspects of the CP. A major criticism, repeated by the state’s most prestigious newspaper, the Daily Alta California, charged that all the CP intended to do was build its line to Dutch Flat, where it would end, and from which everyone would have to use the wagon road owned by the Big Four to get to the sprawling markets in Nevada. On August 22, 1862, just after arriving, Judah took out an advertisement in the Sacramento Union asking anyone who knew of a better route over the mountains to step forward with the facts. No one did.7

JUDAH spent the early fall working on his annual report. Meanwhile, the Battle of Antietam had been won by the Union, but the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia had escaped. And on September 22, 1862, Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

Judah issued his report on October 22, 1862. It was primarily a puff piece designed to sell shares and bonds. He claimed, for example, that the government’s use of the road would be so great as to repay the company’s own bonds, along with other stretchers. He badly underestimated the cost of driving tunnels through mountains ($50 a foot, he said; $1,000 per foot was closer to the reality). He said that the CP had been given the privilege from Congress of building its line easterly from the California-Nevada line until it met the UP’s line coming from Omaha, which wasn’t true but allowed him to write, “I am positive in the opinion, that it will be found advisable to undertake the construction of about 300 miles easterly”—that is, halfway to Salt Lake City. He also noted that the CP would make a fortune from the business within California and from the Nevada trade. “The conditions which produce these results are extraordinary,” he admitted, “unlike those which govern the business conditions of any other railroad ever built.”8

Judah believed what he said. He wanted more stock. So did others. In November, he and his friends James Bailey, who had accompanied him to Washington, and grocer Lucius Booth purchased more stock (Judah was being paid as chief engineer in small amounts of stock), although not nearly so much as Charles Crocker, who, along with Huntington, Stanford, and Hopkins, “resolved [in Crocker’s words] that we would go in and subscribe enough stock to organize the company and control it.”9 Each bought an additional 345 shares. Crocker eventually ended up with a hundred thousand shares.

JUDAH spoke of the Central Pacific as “my railroad,” but it wasn’t, any more than the railroads back east he had built, or the Sacramento Valley Railroad, were his. He had thought of it, dreamed of it, laid out the line for it, gone to Washington to convince the Congress and the President to get behind it. He had invited in the men who financed it. But it wasn’t his.

With the onset of winter in 1862-63, the men whose railroad it was went to work. The Big Four wanted to make big money, just like Doc Durant, George Francis Train, and their cohorts. Big money meant the same as with the UP, milking the construction. So Charlie Crocker drew up a contract awarding the Charles Crocker Contract and Finance Company and several minor companies the right to build the first stretch of the road. That would be Sections 1 to 18, from Sacramento to today’s Roseville. This was later amended, but its essence remained.

It was an almost identical device to the Crédit Mobilier. The Big Four awarded to Charles Crocker & Company the contract for building the road as well as for supplying all materials, equipment, rolling stock, and buildings. Even better than the Crédit Mobilier, according to railroad historian Robert E. Riegel, was the ability of Crocker & Company “to get its accounts into such shape that no one has ever been quite able to disentangle them.”10

All the Big Four were involved in Crocker’s company, but not Judah. Huntington was in New York, which became his permanent home as he raised money and bought needed equipment and supplies, leaving Hopkins with his power of attorney. Judah and Bailey protested, and Judah said at a board meeting of the CP that he openly doubted Crocker’s ability to do the work. But two days after Christmas, the board awarded Crocker & Company the contract. Two days after that, Crocker resigned from the CP board (keeping his stock) to avoid charges of conflict of interest.* His contract named him the general superintendent and called for paying him $400,000 for the first eighteen miles of track, with $250,000 in cash, $100,000 in CP bonds, and $50,000 in stock.

This was almost too much for Judah. He felt “his” railroad was being stolen from him. He suspected, correctly, that all the Big Four were owners of the construction company. He feared they might bankrupt the CP to profit from its building. He wondered why the CP’s treasury was either low or bare while there was always plenty of money for the wagon road out of Dutch Flat, in which he had no interest.11

Judah had a right to complain and he used it often, but, then, the Big Four were also putting in their time and reputation, plus their money. In an interview years later, Crocker pointed out, “We actually spent our own money building that road up to Newcastle [beyond Roseville] and it left every one of us in debt.”12 (Crocker sold his store for the money.) Stanford was trying to get funds from cities—Sacramento and San Francisco especially—and counties and the legislature. Huntington was selling stocks and bonds in the East. But except for loans from the Ames brothers and a few others, the Big Four were operating on their own.

But operate they did. On January 8, 1863, the company had its groundbreaking event. Governor Stanford was there, and Crocker—but Huntington was in New York, Hopkins declined, and Judah was in the Sierra Nevada. Though it rained and was otherwise miserable, there was a large crowd representing every section of the state, high officials, preachers to bless the work, and many ladies. The Sacramento Union called attention to the stands, with the national flag adorning each end, a brass band playing “Wait for the Wagon,” and a large banner bearing a representation of hands clasped across the continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific, with “the prayer of every loyal heart, ‘May the Bond Be Eternal,’” printed on it.

Crocker introduced Stanford. The governor gave a long and dull speech, including this pledge: “There will be no delay, no backing, no uncertainty in the continued progress.” After he was done and a prayer made, Stanford took up a shovel and turned the first earth for the road. Then Crocker turned a spadeful and made a short speech. He promised, “All that I have—all of my own strength, intellect and energy—are devoted to the building [of this road].”

The rhythmic “thud, thud,” of the CP’s steam pile driver—its only modern technology—could be heard working on the banks of the American River. The little ten-horsepower driver was lifting a nineteen-hundred-pound hammer three times a minute and placing thirty-foot pilings into the riverbed at the rate of seven a day. Crocker picked up on the sound and told the audience, “The work is going right on, gentlemen, I assure you.”13

After four decades of agitation, promotion, boosters, politics, demands, concerns, embarrassments, alarm, consternation, delays, and more, the first transcontinental railroad was under way. As the Sacramento Union put it, “Everybody felt happy because, after so many years of dreaming, scheming, talking and toiling, they saw with their own eyes the actual commencement of a Pacific Railroad.”

NOT until February did the ground dry out sufficiently for Crocker to get to work making a grade for the road. The only other work actually under way was the construction of the bridge over the American River at Sacramento. Getting laborers was devilishly difficult. “Most of the men working on the road were merely working for a stake,” Stanford recalled. “When they got that, they would go off to the mines, and we could not hold them, except in rare instances, more than a very little while.” Small wonder in California, where their base pay was less than $3 a day. The Union announced that there were two hundred men at work on the grading, but the work they did was widely separated, and as the diggings went upriver and thus got closer to the gold and silver deposits more men walked off the job.

Crocker decided to take charge himself. He would learn railroad construction by doing it. He later said, “If it becomes necessary to jump off the dock in the service of the company, instead of saying, ‘Go, boys!’ you must pull off your coat and say, ‘Come on, boys!’ and then let them follow.”14 He put all of his 250 pounds into it, bringing energy and dynamism to the job. And he so loved doing it he even gained weight over the next few years.

He shortly had redwood pilings up to thirty feet long stacked on the Sacramento levee, waiting to support the future railroad bridge over the American River, along with timbers for trestles, and imported ties as well Soon the materials were coming in at the rate of a schooner-load a day. Judah, meanwhile, in New York, had ordered forty-two freight cars, six locomotives, six first-class passenger coaches, along with switches, turntables, and other track equipment for the first fifty miles of the CP—leaving Huntington to find some way of paying for them, which he did, despite having to bid against the federal armies.15

THE Pacific Railroad Bill specified that the Sierra Nevada would commence where Lincoln said they commenced. This was a matter of great importance to the men paying the bulk of the cost of building the line. They decided to work on Lincoln, the man responsible, first of all through officials in California. Governor Stanford asked the state’s official geologist, Josiah D. Whitney (after whom California’s highest mountain is named), where was the point at which the mountains began.

Whitney set off in a buggy with Charles Crocker as his guide. Whitney felt that of course the Sacramento River was the ultimate base of the region’s tilt, and thus the place where the mountains began, but the land to the east was as flat as it could be. Crocker took him to Arcade Creek, about seven miles to the east, and there showed Whitney a fan of reddish earth that came out from the foothills. Whitney said that seemed to him as fair a place to begin as any, and put that opinion down on official paper.

If the CP could get Lincoln to accept that opinion, it would move the Sierra Nevada fifteen miles west, thus bringing the railroad an extra $240,000 in government bonds.

Aaron Sargent, Judah’s old friend, was no longer in the Congress but still in Washington, and he took the information to the President. He showed Whitney’s report to Lincoln and argued for Arcade Creek as the beginning point for the Sierra. Lincoln said that seemed about right to him. As Sargent commented, “Here you see, my pertinacity and Abraham’s faith moved mountains.” (Another report has Lincoln saying, “Here is a case in which Abraham’s Faith has moved mountains.”)16

Judah was opposed. There was no way the mountains began at Arcade Creek. He refused to sign an affidavit, telling Strong he could not because “the foothills do not begin here.”17 But his protest went unheeded. The Big Four were glad to get the extra subsidy. Judah complained to Anna, “Icannot make these men appreciate the ‘Elephant’ they have on their shoulders, they won’t do what I want and must do.” He went on, “We shall just as sure have trouble in Congress as the sun rises in the east if they go on in this way. They will not see it as it is. Something must be done.” But as to what, he couldn’t figure. He certainly couldn’t come up with the money to pay for that something. Nevertheless, he told Anna, “I have brought them a franchise and laid it at their door. Rightly used it gives them unlimited credit throughout the world, and they would beggar it!”18

DESPITE Judah’s misgivings, there was more money coming in. In April 1863, as Lee’s army prepared to swing into Chancellorsville to fight General Joe Hooker’s army, Governor Stanford managed to prod the California legislature into donating to the CP millions of dollars in state bonds, to be issued at the rate of $10,000 per mile after the completion of specified amounts of track. In return, the railroad agreed to transport, without charge to the state, convicts for prison, inmates for insane institutions, materials for the state agricultural fair and indeed for all state buildings, and state militia. Stanford also got the legislators to authorize Sacramento and Placer Counties to vote on the issuing of bonds for the purchase of stock from the railroad, as well as the city of San Francisco. In the event, Sacramento voted for $300,000 and thirty acres of city land for the CP’s use. Placer gave $250,000, and San Francisco voted for $600,000.

Many were jealous of the CP and more than a few were determined to wreck it. A typical slander: “The whole matter resolves itself simply into this: Leland Stanford & Co. have … bamboozled the people out of a stupendously magnificent franchise, worth hundreds of millions …. It is to them, and to them alone, that all the benefits, all the profits inure.” To which the editor of the Sacramento Union quite rightly replied, “If it is worth so many millions, why should not the county of Placer become a subscriber, and thus obtain an interest in those millions?”19 Nevertheless, the sums voted for were not immediately available. They were held up by various court actions. It took more than a year and a half to get San Francisco to pay up.

WORK on the railroad proceeded, slowly. Judah was out in front of the graders, laying out the exact line through Dutch Flat and over the summit. In the mountains he was always happy. In this case, even happier, because he had hired two young engineers who were proving to be godsends. One was the thirty-three-year-old Samuel Skerry Montague, lured by Judah away from the Sacramento Valley Railroad. Montague was a rangy, slim, black-bearded New Hampshire man. He had failed at gold mining in California but taught himself location engineering. He had an undoubted skill as a surveyor and railroad man, especially with such a master as Judah to teach him. The other was Lewis M. Clement, a Canadian canal engineer hired by Judah because, like Montague, he had an ability to learn.

One day Judah sent Clement off by himself to do some surveying, to see how he would do. When Clement returned much earlier than anticipated, Judah said sternly, “I did not expect to see you back until you had finished, young man.”

“I have finished,” Clement replied, as he handed to Judah a complete report. Together that summer Montague and Clement helped Judah and the crews solve many of the engineering problems in building a railroad in one of the world’s toughest mountain ranges.20

Down in the American River Valley, progress was painfully slow. Still, Crocker was learning. The labor problems were excruciating. Only the bridge over the river went as planned. For the rest, Crocker had to wait until fall for the first rails to arrive, which meant that some of the original grading washed out in heavy rains and had to be redone. That meant more shoveling for the graders, more loading of dirt and debris onto handcarts, more dumping, more cash to be paid out by the CP.

In the war, meanwhile, at the beginning of May 1863, the Army of Northern Virginia defeated the Union forces at Chancellorsville, and General Robert E. Lee began his preparations to invade Pennsylvania. In the Western theater, Grant began the siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi. In California, despite the Union’s heavy losses in battle and the perilous state of the war, work on binding the Republic together east to west continued.

IN early May 1863, Judah came down from the mountains to attend a directors’ meeting in Sacramento. There the Big Four announced that they were tired of bearing all the costs themselves and wanted every director to be equally responsible for the money required to build the road. Judah was unwilling and unhappy. On May 13, he wrote his friend and Dutch Flat resident Doctor Strong, “I had a blowout about two weeks ago and freed my mind, so much so that I looked for instant decapitation. I called things by their right name and invited war; but counsels of peace prevailed and my head is still on.” Only barely. Meanwhile, “my hands are tied.” Judah reported, “We have no meetings of the board nowadays, except the regular monthly meeting, which, however, was not had this month, but there have been any quantity of private conferences to which I have not been invited.” Thinking it over, Judah added, “I try to think it is all for the best, and devote myself with additional energy to my legitimate portion of the enterprise.”21He and his assistant Lewis Clement were working at the railroad offices regularly until past midnight, making estimates of the costs of eventual repair shops and other buildings.

In early summer, Judah had his next report printed and distributed. He used it to reply to a severe criticism raised by L. L. Robinson, who was one of the owners of the Sacramento Valley Railroad and one of the leading figures charging that the CP intended only to build the railroad to Dutch Flat and thereafter make money off the wagon road. Robinson also charged that Judah had made his original surveys over the Donner Pass while he was working for the Sacramento Valley line. Further, he wanted to know why the CP had not used the older line from Sacramento to Auburn and thus saved money. Because, Judah said, first of all the Sacramento line was eight miles longer than his location from K Street in Sacramento to Auburn. Second, the congressional appropriations in the Pacific Railroad Bill of 1862 did not apply to any already constructed road. Third, the bill required American iron rails, whereas the older line was constructed with English rails. Fourth, the Sacramento Valley line was heavily mortgaged, and the federal aid in the bill was to constitute a first lien on the road. Fifth, because the old road needed a great deal of repair and rehabilitation work. There were other reasons, but this was enough.22

Judah’s report saved the CP, and thus its principal owners, the Big Four. Nevertheless, trouble persisted, and got worse. Judah did not approve of Crocker’s construction methods and was suspicious—rightly—that the other three in the Big Four were sharing the stock of the CP that Crocker & Company were receiving. That July, Huntington returned from New York for a short but squalid visit. The Union had won a three-day battle at Gettysburg and thus turned back the Confederate offensive. On the next day, July 4, Grant had forced Vicksburg to surrender. Still, there was trouble in California.

Judah wrote Strong, “Huntington has returned and has … more than his usual influence…. The wagon road seems to be a tie which unites them [the Big Four] and its influence seems to be paramount to everything else…. They do not hesitate to talk boldly, openly before me, but not to me, about it. They talk as though there was nobody in the world but themselves who could build a wagon road.”23

Huntington walked along the riverbank to observe Crocker’s grading and was furious. “I had given orders that the railroad was to go up I Street to Fifth and thence to B Street and out to the levee,” he later said. But Judah had his own ideas and was running over the slough beyond I Street to Sixth and E Streets, and then out to the new levee, where the line diverged to the north and crossed the American River. According to Huntington, at the slough “water overflowed every year,” and Judah’s route would require more of the riprap-stone ballasting to protect the embankment. Work had been going on for several days when Huntington saw it. He admonished Judah, who told him that the other directors had approved his route. “I replied,” said Huntington, “it will cost $200,000 more at least to put the road here, and I then ordered him to move the road.”24

Huntington was pigheaded, but Judah was also stubborn. He refused to carry out Huntington’s order, and the road is today on his line.

Huntington and Judah argued about everything. Judah felt that he was being pushed to a back seat as a hired hand on “his” railroad. Huntington was almost contemptuous of Judah. Some five years later, he said in a letter to E. B. Crocker, “There never were two peas more alike than Gen’l Dodge and T D. Judah.” He was one of the very few men who knew them both, and the only one to compare them to two peas. “If you should see Dodge you would swear that it was Judah,” he went on, “and if you had anything to do with him you would be more than satisfied. The same low cunning that he [Judah] had. Then a large amount of that kind of cheap dignity that Judah had.”25

In Huntington’s view, Judah had nothing to complain about. The CP had picked him up when no one else would. The directors had raised his salary from an initial $100 a month to almost $500 per month and given him a stock-option plan that let him purchase five hundred shares of $100 stock at half-price. And he still demanded deference. To hell with that.

At a stockholders’ meeting in mid-July 1863, the crisis came to a head. Huntington proposed adding to the board, while Judah and Strong, along with their friends Bailey and Booth, resisted. By the end of the meeting, the board’s two new members were Asa Philip Stanford and Dr. John Morse, the former Leland Stanford’s brother and the latter Huntington’s friend.

Judah wanted to mortgage, at 2 percent interest per month, the equipment that Huntington had bought in the East. Huntington argued that such a course would create a crushing interest load for the CP and impair the credit standing he had relied upon with Ames and other eastern men who had loaned the company money. Better to assess the stockholders for additional money to pay up on their stocks more rapidly than originally intended. The directors agreed. Hopkins began demanding that the directors pay for their stock in full, something the others in the Big Four began to do, even as they bought out other shareholders at sharply discounted prices. Hopkins asked Judah to pay at least 10 percent on the stock he had been given in lieu of salary. Judah protested that this was a tax on money already paid him, but he managed—just barely—to do it. Then he returned to the mountains, determined to turn the tables on the “shopkeepers.”26

Judah felt that the Big Four were outright cheating—especially in the matter of where the Sierra Nevada began, and on the Dutch Flat wagon road—and were guilty of misusing the public trust and public monies.

Huntington’s next actions deepened his anger. The day after the shake-up of the board, Huntington later recorded, there was “a good deal of hubbub.”27 He overruled Judah on some engineering decisions and, when Judah objected, said bluntly, if Judah and other objectors didn’t like it why not buy out the Big Four? This degenerated into a shouting match. Huntington said, in a snide manner, that Judah could have all the stock of all the members of the Big Four at $100,000 each if he could raise the money.

As Huntington well knew, Judah and Bailey did not have the money to take that option. But the two men were determined that the Big Four had to go. They went into San Francisco to see if banker Charles McLaughlin, who owned the Western Pacific Railroad, might be willing to buy out the Big Four. But although he was interested, when McLaughlin heard that Huntington was willing to sell he sent Bailey a telegram: “If old Huntington is going to sell out, I am not going in.” Bailey, discouraged, sold out himself, which left Judah standing alone.28

There were some obvious lessons here. First, how hard it was going to be to raise money for a railroad that so far didn’t run anywhere. Second, Huntington’s reputation was as high on the West Coast as on the East. Third, neither Huntington nor any other member of the Big Four had the slightest intention of selling out unless he had to do so, and even then wouldn’t unless someone had a gun at his head. But for Judah the only lesson was that he could not raise the needed funds in San Francisco and it was necessary to go to New York if he wished to persist.

Huntington insisted that, since Judah and his friends could not come up with the money to buy out the Big Four, they must sell.29 Judah apparently did, at least to the extent of trading in his five hundred shares of the CP for $100,000 in the CP’s railroad bonds. He also may have sold his share of the franchise of the Nevada Central Railroad to Charles Crocker for $10,000 cash. And Bailey, who did sell out, was replaced on the board by a friend of Mark Hopkins.30

Judah was still the chief engineer, drawing a salary that was now up to $10,000 a year, although not necessarily paid in cash. At this time he also received $25,000 from the board, though in stock, not bonds.

But Anna later wrote, “Oh, some of those days were terrible to us! He felt they [the Big Four] were ungrateful to their trust and to him.”31 Judah made contact with money men in the East, most of all Cornelius Vanderbilt, who may have told Judah he was ready to buy out the Big Four but before he did so he wanted more details about the railroad. Probably using the $10,000 he had received from Crocker for Nevada Central Railroad stock, Judah bought tickets for Anna and himself to New York.

DESPITE the victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, the summer of 1863 went badly for the Union. There was no follow-up in Virginia against Lee’s army. Out west there was better news: on July 9, the Union forces captured Port Hudson, Louisiana, and thus opened the Mississippi River. But less than a week later, a four-day draft riot took place in New York City, marked by burning, looting, and other outrages. Irish immigrant laborers, lowest paid of all, attacked African Americans and lynched several of them. Regular-army troops were sent from Gettysburg to the city to put down the rioters. There were other antiblack riots in other Northern cities, notably Detroit. At the end of the summer, the Confederates won a major victory in the two-day Battle of Chickamauga, Tennessee, and drove the Union forces back into Chattanooga, where a siege began. The Union had expected victory after Gettysburg. That did not happen. The war still had a long way to go, and many Northerners were beginning to wonder if victory was worth the price in men’s lives.

Nevertheless, in California the fight going on was over who would own the Central Pacific Railroad. Determined to bring about a change, on October 3, 1863, Judah and Anna set off on the steamer St. Louis. Unknown to the couple, a few days later, while sailing south, they passed the Herald of the Morning, which was coming north after leaving New York months ago, carrying the CP’s first hundred tons of rail, the first locomotive, and other assorted hardware. Three more of the CP’s cargoes were not far behind, carrying three more locomotives. The first came onto the Sacramento levee four days later, with the others soon after. The four locomotives were named the Governor Stanford, the Pacific, the C. P. Huntington, and the T. D. Judah, weighing (respectively) twenty-five tons, thirty tons, nineteen tons, and nineteen tons. Judah knew none of this, but he had arranged to meet Vanderbilt in New York and was confident he could have his way.

Napoleon, asked what qualities he looked for in his generals, replied, “Luck. Give me generals who are lucky.”

Judah, up to now, had been lucky enough to cross the Isthmus several times without suffering a single day of sickness. But on this trip, he was caught in a rainstorm and got soaked in helping the women and children on board the steamer. Anna wrote, “I feared for him and remonstrated, for I knew he was doing too much—but he replied, ‘Why I must, even as I would have some one do for you—it is only humanity.’ That night he had a terrible headache and from that time grew worse and worse.”

He apparently had contracted yellow fever. Anna sat by his bed “night and day to care for him—but it was terrible.”

One night he roused himself and said, “Anna, what cannot I do in New York now? I have always had to set my brains and will too much against other men’s money—now, what I cannot do!” He also managed to write a letter, with a shaking hand, to Dr. Strong. He said he had a “feeling of relief in being away from the scenes of contention and strife which it has been my lot to experience for the past year, and to know that the responsibilities of events as regards the Pacific Railroad do not rest on my shoulders.” But if he were successful in the East, “there will be a radical change in the management of the railroad and it will pass into the hands of men of experience and capital,” unlike the corrupt and incompetent men then in charge. If he failed, he warned, the Big Four would “rue the day they ever embarked on the Pacific Railroad.

“If they treat me well,” he went on, referring to the Big Four, “they may expect similar treatment at my hands. If not, I am able to play my hand.” He expected to return from New York with Vanderbilt and others in his party.32

On October 26, 1863, the same day Charlie Crocker saw the first of the CP rails spiked to the ties, the Judahs arrived in New York. Anna managed to get her husband transported to a hotel on Wall Street. There the surgeon of the steamer left them alone. She kept Judah awake by dipping her finger in the brandy bottle and having him take it that way. A doctor at the hotel cared for him, but, as Anna wrote, “we will pass over that terrible week.” The doctor said that Judah was an overworked man and that such men fell victim to the fever. In a week he was dead. Anna put up a monument for him that contains his name, dates—March 4, 1826-November 2, 1863—and the words “He rests from his labors.”33 She buried him in a quiet country cemetery outside Greenfield, Massachusetts.

Specifically what Judah had hoped to accomplish in New York is not clear. He wanted to persuade Vanderbilt and others to buy out the Big Four. Why he wanted them to do so is plain enough, but how he thought they could manage the building of the biggest railroad in the country from a continent away is not. He hoped to bring Vanderbilt, his baggage bulging with money, to California with him to buy out the Big Four while he became the chief of construction as well as the chief engineer. With Montague and Clement working for him, he had two of the finest engineering assistants in the country, and he was certain he could do it.

But there is no indication that Vanderbilt was prepared to plunge into a California-to-Nevada railroad, much less move to the West Coast.

Luck. Had Judah lived, the history of the country might have been different. Speculation can go in all directions. There might have been no Big Four, or any of their legacies. The railroad from Sacramento over the Sierra Nevada out to the Salt Lake would have been built, but by whom, when, where, and with what name is pure guesswork.

It is impossible to say what Judah might have become, what he might have done. What we do know is that he had a fierce determination; that he could dream the biggest dreams; that he was a superb engineer with the keenest eye for terrain; that he knew his profession as well as anyone; that he could pick able assistants (Montague and Clement stand out); that he had married exceedingly well; that he could be amazingly convincing with his wife, with businessmen like the Big Four, with politicians either in California or in Congress, with the President of the United States, with other engineers, and with the public; that he was honest and trustworthy; and more.

But we also know that, although he could convince the Big Four and others to put their money and talent into the building of the Pacific railroad, he could not manage them. With those four he could never achieve harmony. Judah knew how stresses and strains worked on bridges, curved tracks, anything mechanical, but not how they worked on human beings. The Big Four wanted to build the railroad fast, at the greatest possible profit to themselves. He wanted to build it well. They got it done their way and he was squeezed out.

ON October 26, 1863, Charlie Crocker’s men spiked the first rails to their ties. There was no ceremony, because of Huntington’s telegram: “If you want to jubilate over driving the first spike,” he wrote, “go ahead and do it. I don’t. Those mountains over there look too ugly. We may fail, and if we do, I want to have as few people know it as we can…. Anybody can drive the first spike, but there are many months of labor and unrest between the first and last spike.”34 Nevertheless, the Sacramento Union noted the occasion and commented, “Nothing looks to the public as much like making a railroad as the work of laying down the iron on the road bed.”35

By November 10, the first CP locomotive to arrive in California, named the Governor Stanford, made the first run ever for the Central Pacific.36 The engine cost $13,688. It was more than ten feet tall and fifty feet long, with four driving wheels of four and a half feet in diameter. The driving rods and pistons were of wrought iron. The bell, made of brass, was painted maroon, green, red, orange, and yellow. Gold initials, “C.P.R.R.,” were on the red tender. Locomotive and tender, with a full load of wood and water, weighed forty-six tons, making the Governor Stanford the biggest man-made thing in California. A twelve-pound cannon fired to mark the occasion.

It wasn’t much of an occasion. The crowd was there—hangers-on mainly—to participate by climbing aboard the freight cars or cheering the train, but it went only as far as Twenty-first Street, where the tracks ended.37 At least the war was going better for the Union: on November 25, General Grant’s army won the Battle of Chattanooga and drove the Confederates back into Georgia.

The CP’s acting chief engineer, meanwhile, appointed by the directors, was Samuel S. Montague. His first job was to survey the route as far as the Big Bend of the Truckee River, more than forty miles east of the California-Nevada line. Montague and a small team of surveyors completed this job in December 1863. Despite this achievement, Montague remained “acting” until March 1868. (He then stayed with the CP as chief engineer until 1883.)38

ROLLING stock arrived in Sacramento on a haphazard basis. Ships that brought the cut lumber for the car bodies did not have the iron frames and wheels for the cars. Tools were not delivered. Platform cars, used to deliver rails and ties to the end of track, came in ahead of passenger cars. By February 1864, however, enough had arrived for Stanford and Hopkins to show off Crocker’s achievement. They took a party of thirty prominent men, including politicians, to see what had been accomplished. The rails by then reached to Junction (today’s Roseville), sixteen miles out from Sacramento. There the passengers took horse-drawn carriages to seven miles beyond Newcastle.

They saw the graders at work and were filled with admiration for men who could perform such a demanding task. Engineers might do the surveys while Crocker oversaw the whole and bossed it, but it was the men who did the work—bending, digging, shoveling, throwing the dirt up on the embankment, bringing in the ballast by the cartload, and dumping it—who impressed people. Back behind Newcastle, where the track was being laid, it was the men who picked up the ties from the horse-drawn wagons, dropped them on the grade, lined them up. Others dropped the rails and made certain they were the requisite spread apart (four feet eight and a half inches), spiked them in with their heavy sledgehammers—three blows to a spike—and connected the ends with a fishplate. This was work fit to break a man’s back, and they did it for $3 or so per day, plus board.

Many of the men were Irish immigrants who had just arrived in America. Crocker signed them up through agents in New York and Boston and had them shipped west at a terrific expense, plus time. There was some drunkenness, strikes, and slowdowns. Crocker petitioned the War Department for five thousand Confederate prisoners of war, without luck. He tried for newly freed African Americans, again with no luck. He tried for immigrants from Mexico. Same result. Some nineteen hundred out of a two-thousand-man crew he hired that summer fled for the Nevada mines almost as soon as they arrived at the end of track and had been fed a warm meal. They drove Acting Chief Engineer Samuel Montague nearly mad.39

GRADING work, as Lynn Farrar, a Southern Pacific historian described it, uses pick-and-shovel work most efficiently when low cuts or fills—one and a half to two feet—are required. Fills are made by what is called “casting”—i.e., shoveling. If there are over three feet of material, it can be double-casted—that is, it requires two “throws” to get the material into place for the grade. In most cases earth was plowed by heavy steel plows drawn by up to twelve oxen (it is more efficient to use an earth scraper, but the CP never used one). For distances greater than five hundred feet it was economical to “waste and borrow”—that is, dispose of cut material by “wasting” it and then “borrow” material for an adjacent fill. The location surveyors always tried to find a line that would “balance” the grading between cuts and fills so that there would be a minimal amount of moving of material.40

For seven miles beyond Newcastle, the cuts and fills were said by the Sacramento Union to be as great as any found in the nation. In the thirty-one miles from Sacramento to Newcastle, the grade of the roadbed rose steadily until, after Rocklin, it reached 105 feet to the mile, then grew to nearly 116 feet per mile (the steepest allowed by the Congress, and steeper than any other ascent in the Sierra Nevada). As the Union put it, “The labor of ascending the mountains is fairly begun.”41

Bloomer Cut, just beyond Newcastle, would take months to complete. It was a sixty-three-foot-deep cut that ran eight hundred feet long, composed of naturally cemented gravel that had to be moved out one wheelbarrow at a time. The workingmen used black powder to loosen up the gravel at Bloomer. As much as five hundred kegs of blasting power a day in early 1864—more than most major battles in the ongoing Civil War—at a cost of $5 to $6 per keg.42 Every foot of the way through this cut had to be blasted with gunpowder, with the rock so hard that it was some-times impossible to drill into it for a sufficient depth for blasting purposes. Shot after shot would blow out as if fired from a cannon.

After the blast the men used picks and shovels to fill their wheelbarrows or one-horse carts and to move the gravel out. The wedge they cut had almost vertical walls. This was the first of the obstacles to be overcome by the CP’s workforce before it would meet with the UP’s rails coming west, wherever that might be. How many sore, blistered, bleeding hands the Bloomer Cut required was not recorded, or how many damaged backs or crushed knees.

The men’s boss on the spot was James Harvey Strobridge. He was thirty-seven years old, out of Ireland, over six feet in height, agile, energetic. He could curse with the men and lose his temper at any moment. He had worked on railroads in the East, then come to California, where he had worked for Crocker before being promoted. Crocker later recalled, “I used to quarrel with Strobridge when I first went in. Said I, ‘Don’t talk so to the men. They are human creatures. Don’t talk so roughly to them.’ Said he, ‘You have got to do it, and you will come to it. You cannot talk to them as though you were talking to gentlemen, because they are not gentlemen. They are about as near brutes as they can get.’ I found out that it was true.”43 More bad news. Strobridge lost the sight of his right eye at Bloomer Cut, when black powder was delayed and ended up exploding in his face.44

The Sacramento Union didn’t write about such things. It was always upbeat. This was because it wanted the railroad built. Furthermore, the Big Four had decided on a policy that would later be widely adopted by twentieth-century corporations, which was to do everything possible to attract favorable mention from the media. In this case little or no money changed hands. But the editor of the Union did accept $2,000 worth of CP stock in 1863 and another $1,600 worth in 1864. His reporter in Washington got another ten shares. These bribes, called “gifts,” were charged to the CP’s construction account. Given the CP’s many enemies and the terrible things being said about it, the directors judged that the favorable publicity was worth it.

Excursions were a way to generate excitement. On March 19, 1864, the CP provided an excursion to the end of track—then twenty-two miles out—for nearly two-thirds of the California state legislature, plus their families and friends. Two brand-new passenger cars, painted yellow on the outside and quite plush within, plus seven platform cars (a freight car with seats nailed down crosswise, but without a roof or sides), provided the transportation. Governor Stanford led the way, along with a brass band. The weather was fine. The legislators voted a month later to guarantee the CP’s bond interest.

DESPITE the forward-looking publicity, however, the CP was going broke. The state had not paid what it had pledged, and the bonds from the U.S. government could not be collected until forty miles of the road had been completed and approved. Charlie Crocker later said about this time, “We could not borrow a dollar of money. We [the Big Four] had to give our personal obligations for the money necessary to carry us from month to month. There was not a bank that would lend the company a cent.” For seventeen consecutive days there was nothing in the treasury—yet California law required that the men be paid in gold. Crocker, Hopkins, Stanford, and Huntington had to give their personal obligations for money to pay workers and to buy rails and other materials, putting up the bonds of the company besides as security. Crocker was not paid for the first eighteen miles until he took company bonds at 50 cents on the dollar. Meanwhile, his labor force continued to disappear into the mines. “I had become thoroughly warmed up to the building of this road,” he later told an interviewer for H. H. Bancroft. “My whole heart was in it. I was willing to do anything to push it forward and I took great risks in doing it.”45

The state legislature finally had agreed to guarantee the interest on $1.5 million of CP 7 percent bonds, but Hopkins managed to sell only a few before a suit was brought against the bill on the grounds of unconstitutionality. Though the company eventually won the suit, its bond sales were blocked until January 1865.46

On March 25, 1864, the locomotive Governor Stanford pulled into Sacramento with a load of granite from a quarry twenty-two miles to the east. This was the Central Pacific’s first freight train. Exactly one month later, the company began regular passenger service to Roseville, three trains per day in each direction. On inaugural day, the train made eighteen miles in a bit less than forty minutes. Later, it averaged twenty-two miles per hour. In its first week, the CP carried 298 passengers and earned $354.25. A pittance, but a heartening reversal of constantly paying out money without ever taking any in.47

The lack of money was an embarrassment, but the Big Four managed to overcome at least some of it with their own money. One employee who was worth his salary and more was Alfred A. Hart, a photographer hired by Stanford in 1864 to make a record in film of the construction of the road. He did a superb job, beyond anything any of the Big Four could have imagined, at the very least the equal of what a modern photographer could do with modern cameras. He got started right, making several memorable photographs of the locomotive C. P. Huntington as it crossed the American River Bridge.48

By the end of the first week of June, Crocker’s men had laid track to Newcastle. Passenger trains began the run from Sacramento to Newcastle. There horse-and ox-drawn stages met the train and carried customers to Auburn; Dutch Flat; Steamboat Springs, Colorado; Virginia City, Nevada; and intermediate towns.

Huntington came back to California in June, to straighten things out. He persuaded the others that each man could do a little more. “Huntington and Hopkins,” he said, “can, out of their own means, pay five hundred men for a year. How many can each of you keep on the line?” They said 150 men each. The result was an agreement to keep eight hundred men working for a year.49

ON June 14, the Dutch Flat and Donner Lake Wagon Road opened. It belonged to the Big Four, who had paid $350,000 for it out of their own funds. It would soon be doing a million-dollar-a-year business. The owners of the Sacramento Valley Railroad, much put out, published a pamphlet entitled The Great Dutch Flat Swindle!! It claimed once again that the CP had no intention of going beyond Dutch Flat, that its only plan was to build to that point, stop, and make money through the wagon road. The pamphlet ignored the surveys by Montague beyond the California-Nevada border, but it did cause some consternation among the stockholders of the CP.

CHARGES from L. L. Robinson and others who owned the never-built San Francisco & Washoe railroad had to be met. They were accusing the Big Four of personal corruption. So effective were their charges that the Placer County Board of Supervisors, which held some $250,000 in CP stock, appointed two of its members, A. B. Scott and D. W. Madden, to investigate the Central Pacific’s books. They worked their way through the books and concluded that the charges against the company were “evidently a machination of the brain of some individual who has no regard for the true interests of Placer County.”50

IN March 1864, Lincoln appointed Grant as commander-in-chief of all Union forces. At the beginning of May, Grant sent the Union Army of the Potomac into the Battle of the Wilderness, which was indecisive despite horrendous casualties. But he still continued the offensive in northern Virginia, fighting a five-day battle at Spotsylvania in which he lost about ten thousand men, and he still continued after Lee. On June 1-3, he fought the Battle of Cold Harbor, losing about seven thousand men in one hour. But he continued to attack, and by June 18 he was besieging Petersburg, south of Richmond. General Sherman, meanwhile, started from Chattanooga into Georgia and by July was besieging Atlanta. On September 1, he captured and later burned the city. This victory raised Northern morale, as did the Union Navy’s capture of Mobile, Alabama, on August 23. So did the early-October victory over Confederate cavalry at Winchester, Virginia. On October 31, Nevada became the thirty-sixth state. And on November 8, Lincoln was re-elected. It now appeared certain that the Union would be saved, North and South. It was up to the railroads to bring it together East and West.

THE CP may have been broke, but as Huntington liked to brag, at any one time it had an average of about $1 million worth of equipment in transit. At the beginning of July 1864, the Big Four got some rare good news. Huntington had returned east and he sent a telegram from Washington informing his partners that the Pacific Railroad Bill had been redrawn and they could begin collecting their government bonds for every twenty instead of forty miles of track laid and approved by the government inspectors. There were many other favorable provisions in the bill. They were not home free, but things were looking up. Collecting what was their due from the government, however, proved to be difficult.

In November, the company put out a report on the condition of the line. The CP had some earnings, about $110,000 from passengers, the mail, and freight. Stock sales, however, were a scrawny $723,800 (not counting the subscriptions from Placer and Sacramento Counties). There was no cash on hand. A month later, Sam Montague published his annual report. Bloomer Cut had been finished but not yet tracked. He said that the 396,800 acres of land grants due from the government (but not yet granted) would bring in far more than $1.25 per acre, because it was mainly superb agricultural land. Further good news: his own survey had revealed that he could cut back on Judah’s original route and eliminate several tunnels, thus saving time and money.

The bad news was that the cost of building the first thirty-six miles in 1863 and 1864 was nearly $3 million, or what Judah had anticipated spending for the first fifty miles. And not a single tunnel had yet been started. But as for the gaps, Montague had decided to bridge them with trestling, which, if made properly of pine, would last from eight to ten years. They could then be replaced with embankments, transporting the material on the cars at much less expense. Montague went on to report that the CP now had five locomotives, six first-class passenger cars, two baggage cars, and fifty freight cars.51

CP stock was then selling, if it sold, for 19 cents on the dollar. Its bonds went for half of par. Crocker, who admitted that he was suffering from severe insomnia, later recalled of the last part of 1864, “I would have been glad, when we had 30 miles of road built, to have got a clean shirt and absolution from my debts; I would have been willing to give up everything I had in the world, in order to cancel my debts.”52 The day after Christmas 1864, he lamented, “If we only had the Gov. Bonds in hand, that would help our credit amazingly, and crush out our enemies.” But it would be five months before the company got those bonds.53

The Big Four were now fully aware of the prophecy of Judah’s remark to Anna: “I cannot make these men appreciate the ‘elephant’ they have on their shoulders.”54 What they would do about it remained to be seen.

* His place on the board was taken by Hopkins’s brother E. B. Hopkins, who had just been named interim chief justice of California by Governor Stanford, who was also president of the CP.

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