On the Railroad 150 Years Ago

In September 1868 both the Union Pacific and Central Pacific had departed the high mountains and were building across relatively level but difficult terrain. In Wyoming, the UP worked to cross the Red Desert between the two continental divides—one west of Rawlins and the other east of Rock Springs. Water in this Great Basin flows neither to the Atlantic nor the Pacific—it simply sinks into the earth. By the end of the month the UP’s tracks would be approaching Green River, beyond Rock Springs, over 700 miles from Omaha. In Nevada the CP picked up its pace as it headed into the northern desolation of that state. The Truckee River flowed north at the new railroad town of Wadsworth, and no surface water existed until the tracks were well past the Humboldt Sink. By the end of September, the CP’s tracks extended over 300 miles from Sacramento.

Central Pacific Water Tank Car Train

Both railroads were large consumers of water. Locomotive tenders had to be replenished every ten to twelve miles to produce the steam that drove the engines. The railroads erected water tanks at refueling stops spaced along the tracks at that necessary interval. Several of these locations expanded into the towns and cities of today. Not only did the locomotives require water, but the thousands of workers and the hundreds of animals needed the life sustaining liquid. Horses and mules pulled the supply and maintenance wagons that accompanied the graders and the tracklayers. The UP trailed a large cattle herd alongside the construction train to feed the Irish workers. Because the Chinese workers were not large beef consumers, the CP did not have this requirement.

CP Water Tank Car

In the Red Desert of Wyoming there was no surface water and drilling wells was problematic for the UP. In Nevada, what little water flowed in the streams was so alkaline that it was not usable. Animals refused to drink it, while humans did so only for survival. Boiler tubes corroded rapidly, diminishing or halting the performance of the locomotives. Both the UP and the CP resorted to hauling water long distances in tankers. Unlike modern tank cars, in the 1860s a flat car (called a platform car at that time) was altered to carry three large wooden tub-like water tanks.

Bear Claws, the second book in The Iron Horse Chronicles trilogy, follows Will Braddock as he works to help build the first transcontinental railroad across Wyoming.

 

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Golden Spike Available in Large Print

Golden Spike, The Iron Horse Chronicles, Book Three, has been released by Wheeler Publishing in a Large Print edition. Now all three books in the trilogy are available in Hardcover edition, Kindle version, and Paperback Large Print. Please click on the links under Favorite Websites to the right to take you to either Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Golden Spike is a finalist for the 2018 Will Rogers Medallion Award in the category of Younger Readers. Eagle Talons won the 2015 Bronze Will Rogers Medallion Award for Younger Readers and Bear Claws won  the 2016 Silver Will Rogers Medallion Award for Younger Readers.

The award ceremony will be in Fort Worth, Texas, on October 27. I plan to be there.

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On the Railroad 150 Years Ago

One hundred fifty years ago, in August 1868, the Union Pacific Railroad’s tracks in Wyoming extended almost seven hundred miles west from Omaha, Nebraska. End of track was now thirty miles beyond the new bridge over the North Platte River near Fort Fred Steele. The nearby hell on wheels town of Benton turned out to be among the worst ever erected. Because of a lack of potable water, it was one of the shortest-lived.

Hell on Wheels
Benton, Wyoming

In late July, General Grenville M. Dodge, UP’s chief engineer, had convinced General Ulysses S. Grant, republican presidential candidate, to support him in his argument with Thomas “Doc” Durant, UP’s general manager, about where and how to lay the rails. Doc Durant did not cease sending conflicting instructions from his New York headquarters to Silas Seymour, his consulting engineer, who remained in Wyoming. Dodge and Seymour remained at odds until the completion of the first transcontinental railroad.

Chinese Workers
Central Pacific Railroad

Out west, the Central Pacific picked up its pace after completing the arduous task of crossing the Sierra Nevada Mountains. In western Nevada, the new town of Wadsworth sprang up to serve as the supply base for the work across the Nevada desert. Charles Crocker, construction supervisor for the CP, had to tackle a workforce problem in late July that had threatened to bring CP’s tracklaying to a halt. Rumors circulated that in the Nevada desert fifty-foot snakes and twenty-five-foot tall Indians would devour the Chinese workers. About a thousand “celestials” walked off the job before Crocker sent a delegation of Chinamen into the desert to meet real Indians and disprove the fake news.

Brigham Young

On August 14, 1868, General Dodge met with Lewis M. Clement, the Central Pacific’s chief engineer, in Salt Lake City, Utah. This was the first official meeting to discuss where the two railroads should join. The next day, Dodge met with Mormon leader Brigham Young and informed him the railroad would not pass through the capital city. Young was not pleased. On Sunday, August 16, Dodge and his wife and children, who had traveled west with him from end of track by stagecoach, sat beside Silas Seymour in the New Tabernacle and listened to Young berate the railroads. Mormon workers held grading contracts with both the Union Pacific and Central Pacific. Young and his church elders had expected a better outcome from their efforts. Young eventually took the position that the decision to route the railroad north of Great Salt Lake was God’s will.

In Bear Claws, The Iron Horse Chronicles, Book Two, Will Braddock witnesses the debauchery in Benton, lends a hand to Chinese workers on the Central Pacific Railroad, and meets Brigham Young in Salt Lake City.

Bear Claws won the Silver Will Rogers Medallion for Younger Readers in 2016, and the Wyoming State Historical Society awarded the book first place in fiction in 2016.

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On the Railroad 150 Years Ago

One hundred fifty years ago, one of the most significant events in the construction of the first transcontinental railroad took place. The incident did not involve the physical laying of any track, but it influenced the final work on the Union Pacific Railroad.

Thomas “Doc” Durant

Thomas “Doc” Durant served as the senior executive officer for the UP, and General Grenville M. Dodge was the company’s chief engineer. Two years earlier, Durant had enticed Dodge to join the Union Pacific to bring his military organizational skills to bear on the UP’s construction. The two men gradually drew apart in their concept of what should be done. Durant favored cheapening and lengthening the line to collect more money in the form of government bonds. Dodge believed in building a quality product covering the shortest route. Their disagreement came to a head on July 26, 1868.

Ulysses S. Grant

General Ulysses S. Grant, recently nominated as the Republican candidate for President, came west for an inspection tour of the Union Pacific. His entourage included several other important Army generals who wanted a quick finish to the work. They anticipated its use in moving troops and supplies more expeditiously around the west in the growing conflict with the Indians. After the generals traveled to the end of track at Benton, Wyoming, they returned to Fort Sanders outside the newly established town of Laramie.

Grenville M. Dodge

In the Officers’ Club there, Doc Durant met with Grant and demanded Dodge follow the plans dictated by Durant’s consulting engineer, Silas Seymour (whom the UP workforce called the “insulting engineer”). Dodge informed Grant that if anyone interfered with his efforts, he would resign. Grant, having witnessed Dodge’s capabilities as a general officer during the war, informed Durant that Dodge must be retained in his position until the job was done. Anticipating Grant’s election, and knowing he would be in a position to withhold government financing, Durant sheepishly withdrew his objection.

Fort Sanders’ Officers’ Club
Photo by Andrew J. Russel

Andrew J. Russel, official photographer for the UP, took this shot of all the participants standing in front of the Fort Sanders’ Officers’ Club, where the meeting took place.

Will Braddock, the youthful protagonist in The Iron Horse Chronicles, witnessed the whole thing. You can read about it in Bear Claws, the second book in the trilogy.

Will continues to work for General Dodge until the railroad is completed on May 10, 1869.

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Independence Month

On July 19 I posted an article entitled “Independence Month” on the Mad About MG History website. No such “month” exists, of course; but, I pointed out that two of the world’s greatest democracies celebrate their independence from tyrannical monarchs during July. The US celebrates on July 4th and France on July 14th.

You can read the article by following this link: http://madaboutmghistory.blogspot.com/

In the article I recommend several books for middle-grade students about the struggles for independence, including what I consider to be the best historical novel ever written for younger readers: Johnny Tremain.

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Golden Spike Nominated for 2018 Will Rogers Medallion Award

It is a great thrill to announce that Golden Spike, The Iron Horse Chronicles, Book 3, has been nominated as a finalist for the 2018 Will Rogers Medallion Award in the category of Younger Readers. The winners will be announced at the annual banquet in Fort Worth, Texas, on Saturday, October 27, 2018. I am making plans to attend the ceremonies.

Eagle Talons, The Iron Horse Chronicles, Book 1, received the Bronze Will Rogers Medallion Award for Younger Readers in 2015, and Bear Claws, The Iron Horse Chronicles, Book 2, received the Silver Will Rogers Medallion Award for Younger Readers in 2016. Followers of this blog will recall that Bear Claws was also awarded first place in fiction in 2016 by the Wyoming State Historical Society.

You can see the complete list of finalists for the 2018 Will Rogers Medallions in all categories at this website: www.willrogersmedallionaward.net/press-release-wrma-2017

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Western Writers Hall of Fame

I attended the 2018 Western Writers of America Convention in Billings, Montana, from June 20 through June 23. On the final day of the convention, I joined two bus-loads of fellow WWA members for a trip to Cody, Wyoming, to visit the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. A recent addition to the McCracken Research Library, located within the center, is the Western Writers Hall of Fame. I am not a member of the Hall of Fame, but as a part of the display, current WWA authors are included in the display. It was a great thrill to stand beside the entry for my trilogy, The Iron Horse ChroniclesGolden Spike, Book 3, is not yet included in the display. I will take steps to get that corrected.

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MG Books About Native Americans

On Sunday, May 20, 2018, I posted a new article on the website Mad About MG History, entitled “MG Books About Native Americans.” Since the one hundred forty-ninth anniversary of the driving of the Golden Spike occurred a few days ago on May 10, I suggested to readers of the blog that this coming year would be a good time to learn more about the lives of the original inhabitants of our continent. My posting recommends several award-winning, middle-grade novels about American Indians. All of these books are suitable for adults, too.

Follow this link: http://madaboutmghistory.blogspot.com/

The National Park Service will be planning major celebrations when the sesquicentennial celebration of the completion of the first transcontinental railroad takes place next year. Those who can make the trip to Promontory Summit, Utah, for the festivities will be well rewarded. Whether or not you do, you can read my trilogy, The Iron Horse Chronicles, about how this important historical event contributed to ending the traditional way of life of the nomadic Indians.

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Writing a Historical Trilogy

“Writing a Historical Trilogy” is the title of an article I wrote for the Spring 2018 issue of WriteRiders, the quarterly newsletter of the Nevada chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators. Link to the article (it’s on page 4 of the newsletter) https://nevada.scbwi.org/files/2015/01/WriteRiders-Spring-2018.pdf. While there, you can enjoy other articles written by fellow members of SCBWI from Nevada.

 

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Sun City Anthem Spring 2018 Book Signing

On Saturday, April 21, 2018, I joined seven other members of Anthem Authors at the 2018 Sun City Anthem Spring Arts & Crafts Fair in Henderson, Nevada.

I was pleased to have all three books of my historical fiction trilogy The Iron Horse Chronicles available to offer the many readers who visited my table.

In this photo, I am unfortunately standing in front of my own sign. You can see the Anthem Authors banner off to my right side.

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