Chapter X. The Signal Gun and the Steel Trail
"What, build a railroad over those mountains, with their terrible winter snows and landslides, across the desert, where there is absolutely no water? It is impossible, and these men know it; they only want to get the people's money." Such was the type of article one might read at any time in the papers of the day.
Still, Mr. Judah's talk had its results. One June day in 1861, Leland Stanford, a young lawyer, who was at that time Sacramento's chief grocer, Mark Hopkins and Collis P. Huntington, hardware merchants, and Charles Crocker, proprietor of the leading dry-goods store, met and organized the Central Pacific Railroad Company, with Stanford as president, Huntington as vice-president, Hopkins as treasurer, Judah as engineer, and Crocker as one of the directors.
This action seems sensible enough as we write of it, but it was one of the most daring undertakings ever attempted by any body of men. None of the four was rich, all had worked hard for the little they had; but they felt that the country must have the railroad, that without it California could never become a great state. But if they could only push forward, as soon as they had themselves accomplished something, help would come to them from the East and their success would be assured.
Again Mr. Judah went to Washington, and this time he was successful. The war had made the government feel the need of the railway, not only to bind the Pacific coast closer to the eastern half of the continent, but to transport troops to defend its western shores. There were many now ready to vote for the road, and in July, 1862, the bill, having been passed by both houses, was signed by Abraham Lincoln.
It provided for the building of two roads, one from the Missouri River westward, the Union Pacific, and one from the Pacific coast eastward, the Central Pacific, the two to be continued till they met and formed one long line.
On the day that Leland Stanford was inaugurated governor of California, he had the further satisfaction of beginning the construction of the overland railroad by digging and casting the first shovelful of earth. This took place in Sacramento, in the presence of a large gathering of the leading people of the state; and from that time the work went speedily on. It was estimated that the road would cost an average of eighty thousand dollars a mile, though in the mountains the cost was nearer one hundred and fifty thousand.
Not only the right of way, but a large portion of the near-by public lands, were granted by the government to each road, and at the completion of each forty miles of track there was to be further aid. The state of California, the city of San Francisco, and the counties through which the railroad passed, each gave generously to the Central Pacific; but all this did not bring in enough ready money. Huntington in the East and Stanford in the West almost worked miracles in getting funds to begin the work.
In the death of Mr. Judah, which occurred at this time, the company suffered a great loss. Although the enterprise went on to a successful ending, his name dropped out of sight; but those who know, feel that to him California owes a great debt of gratitude. Though she was sure to have the overland sometime, it might have been years later in its accomplishment, but for the faith, energy, and perseverance of Theodore D. Judah.
Charles Crocker now took charge of the building of the road; to accomplish the work he imported Chinese, whom he found peaceable, industrious, and quick to learn. They were arranged in companies moving at the word of command like drilled troops - "Crocker's battalions" they were called. There was need of the greatest haste to get the different portions completed in the time allowed.
"Why," said Crocker, "I used to go up and down that road in my car like a mad bull, stopping along where there was anything wrong, raising Cain with the men that were not up to time."
Neither Mr. Crocker nor Mr. Stanford ever recovered from the strain of that time. It is said that it eventually caused the death of both men.
Meantime the Union Pacific was pushing overland westward as fast as possible. Each road was aiming for the rich plains of Utah. If the Central stopped at the eastern base of the mountains, it would make this road of little value except for Pacific coast traffic; but if it could reach Ogden, the line would pay well.
It was a mighty race all through the winter of 1868 and 1869, Crocker and his men working like giants. What he accomplished then was scarcely less wonderful than Napoleon's passage of the Alps.
All the supplies for his thousands of workmen, all the materials and iron for the road, even the locomotives, he had to have hauled on sledges over the mountains through the winter snows.
Ogden was finally made the place where the two roads joined; but they first met, and the last work was done, at Promontory, a point fifty miles northwest of Ogden. There in May, 1869, the last tie was laid. It was made of California laurel, handsomely polished, and on it was a silver plate with an inscription and the names of the officers of the two roads.
It was an eventful meeting on that grassy plain, under the blue Western sky, while all around rose the rugged peaks that had at last been conquered by man's energy. The telegraph at this spot was, for the occasion, connected with all the offices along the line and in the leading cities of the country, where crowds were in waiting to hear that the great work was finished.