On the Railroad 150 Years Ago

The following was originally posted on January 9. It did not get distributed to various social media sites with which I share my posts, so I’ll repost it.

In January 1869, Charles Francis Adams, Jr., grandson and great-grandson of U. S. presidents, published an article in the North American Review (the oldest literary magazine in the US) entitled “The Pacific Railroad Ring.” He was making public the financial shenanigans of the Crédit Mobilier of America, the Union Pacific’s construction company. Adams exposed numerous Congressmen, bondholder trustees, corporate directors, and construction contractors who were getting rich off a scheme concocted by Thomas “Doc” Durant, the UP’s vice president/general manager. Crédit Mobilier charged the UP more money than it cost to build the railroad, then issued construction contracts at lesser amounts allowing the stockholders to pocket the difference. Some estimates put the illicit profit at more that $50 million. Durant and Oakes Ames, a member of the House of Representatives from Massachusetts and a member of the board of directors of the UP, distributed stock in Crédit Mobilier to thirty Congressmen and several bureaucrats who could influence the issuance of the government bonds used to finance the railroad. The growing scandal created embarrassing moments during the Presidential election of 1872.

Not as well known until several years later, it was eventually revealed that the Central Pacific Railroad had a similar contractual scheme. Their construction firm was known as the Contract and Finance Company and was managed by Charles Crocker. The big difference between the CP’s company and the UP’s was that the stock was owned only by the Big Four founders of the Central Pacific, plus Charles Crocker’s brother E. B. Crocker, an associate justice of the California Supreme Court. The records of the Contract and Finance Company were so convoluted that no one has been able to untangle them.

Donner Summit Historical Society

Drawing of snow sheds in various stages of construction.

Out on the lines, both railroads continued to build through the winter weather. The ground was so frozen they used black powder to blow it into chunks which they then used to create roadbed. In the spring thaws, the tracks sagged and slid as the ice melted, requiring reworking large segments of the tracks. Still, they were able to show they had laid many miles of track during January and were thus able to collect government bonds. The Central Pacific had the further complication of battling heavy snowfall in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. They solved that problem by erecting miles of snow sheds.

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On the Railroad 150 Years Ago

The following was originally posted on January 9. It did not get distributed to various social media sites with which I share my posts, so I’ll try again.

In January 1869, Charles Francis Adams, Jr., grandson and great-grandson of U. S. presidents, published an article in the North American Review (the oldest literary magazine in the US) entitled “The Pacific Railroad Ring.” He was making public the financial shenanigans of the Crédit Mobilier of America, the Union Pacific’s construction company. Adams exposed numerous Congressmen, bondholder trustees, corporate directors, and construction contractors who were getting rich off a scheme concocted by Thomas “Doc” Durant, the UP’s vice president/general manager. Crédit Mobilier charged the UP more money than it cost to build the railroad, then issued construction contracts at lesser amounts allowing the stockholders to pocket the difference. Some estimates put the illicit profit at more that $50 million. Durant and Oakes Ames, a member of the House of Representatives from Massachusetts and a member of the board of directors of the UP, distributed stock in Crédit Mobilier to thirty Congressmen and several bureaucrats who could influence the issuance of the government bonds used to finance the railroad. The growing scandal created embarrassing moments during the Presidential election of 1872.

Not as well known until several years later, it was eventually revealed that the Central Pacific Railroad had a similar contractual scheme. Their construction firm was known as the Contract and Finance Company and was managed by Charles Crocker. The big difference between the CP’s company and the UP’s was that the stock was owned only by the Big Four founders of the Central Pacific, plus Charles Crocker’s brother E. B. Crocker, an associate justice of the California Supreme Court. The records of the Contract and Finance Company were so convoluted that no one has been able to untangle them.

Donner Summit Historical Society

Drawing of snow sheds in various stages of construction.

Out on the lines, both railroads continued to build through the winter weather. The ground was so frozen they used black powder to blow it into chunks which they then used to create roadbed. In the spring thaws, the tracks sagged and slid as the ice melted, requiring reworking large segments of the tracks. Still, they were able to show they had laid many miles of track during January and were thus able to collect government bonds. The Central Pacific had the further complication of battling heavy snowfall in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. They solved that problem by erecting miles of snow sheds.

 

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On the Railroad 150 Years Ago

Both the Union Pacific Railroad and the Central Pacific Railroad hoped to beat their competitor to the opposite border of Utah from where they would enter the state in order to maximize the amount of government bonds they could claim. By the end of December 1868, the CP’s survey reached eastward across Utah all the way to the head of Echo Canyon at the Wyoming border. By year’s end, the UP had surveyed in the opposite direction as far as Humboldt Wells, Nevada, well beyond the Utah border.

Leland Stanford

Throughout December, the Central Pacific remained busy grading from Monument Point in central Utah to Ogden. Leland Stanford, CP’s president, demanded that Brigham Young get his contract graders working faster. Stanford wanted to beat the Union Pacific to Ogden, where he believed the two lines would eventually join. Stanford’s fellow “Big Four” owner thought otherwise.

Collis P. Huntington

Collis Huntington wanted to drive the CP on into Wyoming. The two men got together in late December to resolve their different objectives. Stanford traveled to Omaha, Nebraska, where he met Huntington who had come west from New York with his wife.

The Union Pacific went out of its way to provide a private car for the three passengers to make their journey west. However, the UP would not let them travel on the rails beyond Green River, Wyoming, because they did not want their competitors to see how bad the UP track work was for the next 110 miles westward.

UP Train on bridge crossing Green River in Wyoming

Stanford and the Huntingtons traveled from Green River to Salt Lake City via Wells Fargo stagecoach, where they spent Christmas in the company of Brigham Young and the saints. Then, the Huntingtons continued on stagecoach to Reno, Nevada, where they boarded a private CP car for their onward journey to Sacramento, California.

The year came to an end without a resolution on a joining place for the two railroads. In Golden Spike, The Iron Horse Chronicles–Book Three, I wrote about Jenny McNabb providing at meal for Stanford and the Huntingtons at a Wells Fargo Stage Station.

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Great South Point Book Signing

On Saturday, December 8, 2018, I had a great book signing at the South Point Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. My daughter Beth, dressed as Jenny McNabb, the principal female character in The Iron Horse Chronicles fascinated all folks, especially the little ones, who passed our table. My wife, Barbara, provided cashier services and made sure the candy bucket was filled with Hershey kisses.

We all three returned to South Point the next day for dinner at Don Vito’s, one of the casino’s many outstanding restaurants. Beth and I are standing beside the Benny Binion equestrian statue which is located just to the right side of the above picture of our book signing table.

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South Point Book Signing Event

Saturday, December 8, 2018, I will be autographing all three volumes of The Iron Horse Chronicles at the South Point Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, from noon until 4PM. This is the fourth consecutive year that South Point has hosted this most significant book signing event of the year for me. It occurs during the midst of the National Finals Rodeo. My wife, Barbara, will assist me, and our daughter Beth will come from California to help, as well. As in past years, Beth will be dressed in costume as Jenny McNabb, the principal female character in the trilogy. The good folks at South Point have produced a wonderful poster to advertise the event. If you are present, you will see the poster in prominent locations in the casino. However, since many of you will not be in Las Vegas at this time, I will share the great poster with you here.

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SCA Winter Club Fair

On December 1, 2018, I participated in the Winter Club Fair at the Recreation Center in Sun City Anthem, Henderson, Nevada, from 9 AM until 12 PM. Ten fellow members of Anthem Authors joined to offer their books as Christmas gifts for the residents of our community. A grand time was had by all.

Next on the agenda will be the fourth annual book signing at South Point Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, mid-way through the National Finals Rodeo. My wife, Barbara, will assist me during the event. Also helping will be our daughter Beth who will fly in from California to reprise her role, in costume, as Jenny McNabb, the principal female character in The Iron Horse Chronicles. If you are in the Vegas area on Saturday, December 8, 2018, stop by South Point Casino between noon and 4 PM and say hello.

 

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On the Railroad 150 Years Ago

Orville Hickman Browning, Secretary of the Interior during the Andrew Johnson administration, had the responsibility of issuing government bonds used to finance the building of the first transcontinental railroad. Browning had earlier completed the senatorial term of Stephen A. Douglas, after the latter’s death in mid-1861. In 1844, as a lawyer in Illinois, Browning had successfully defended the accused murderers of Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Latter-day Saints. In 1868, charges of poor construction were made against the Union Pacific. Before he would issue more bonds, Browning appointed three men to a special commission to inspect the railroad.

Gouverneur K. Warren Statue at Gettysburg

One member was Major Gouverneur K. Warren, considered by some to have saved the Union Army at Gettysburg in 1863 when he was a Major General of Volunteers and Chief Engineer of the Army of the Potomac. After the war, he reverted to his Regular Army rank of major and served in the Engineer Corps. The second member was James Barnes. A Brigadier General of Volunteers at Gettysburg, it was one of his brigades (which included the 20th Maine) that held the Union’s far left flank on Little Round Top. The brigade was placed there at the insistence of Warren over Barnes’s objection. Prior to the war Barnes had been a construction engineer for various railroads, and it was to that profession he returned after the war. The final member was Ohio engineer Jacob Blickensderfer. He had been appointed by Secretary Browning in 1866 to determine where the base of the Rocky Mountains started. His recommendation established the point at which the Union Pacific received the highest value paid by the government for each mile of track laid. He later accepted a position as a construction engineer on the staff of General Grenville M. Dodge, the UP’s Chief Engineer. Blickensderfer had to take a leave of absence from his Union Pacific job to serve on the commission. Really!

General Dodge served as a guide for the three men on their inspection tour. In November 1868, the commission reported to Secretary Browning that “. . . few mistakes were made . . . few defects exist . . .” and “. . . this great work . . . [is] rapidly approaching completion under . . . favorable auspices.” More bonds were issued.

Bear River City, Wyoming.

In November 1868, another of the infamous Hell on Wheels towns appeared overnight. Bear River City, Wyoming, lay close to the Utah border, 890 miles west of Omaha, Nebraska. Following the vigilante lynching of a suspected murderer on November 19, a mob of two hundred men burned down the printing office of Bear River City’s Frontier Index, generally attempted to annihilate the town, and killed sixteen people. A company of soldiers were dispatched from nearby Fort Bridger, Wyoming, to impose martial law. A couple of weeks later, Bear River City disappeared. The railroad had moved on.

Meanwhile, out in northern Nevada, the Central Pacific kept chugging steadily eastward toward the Utah border. Their ultimate objective was to beat the Union Pacific to Ogden, Utah, and perhaps push up Echo Canyon as far as the Wyoming border.

Grenville Dodge and Jacob Blickensderfer appear frequently on the pages of The Iron Horse Chronicles.

 

Posted in Army, Bear Claws - Book Two, Central Pacific, Eagle Talons - Book One, Geography, Golden Spike - Book Three, Iron Horse Chronicles' Characters, The Iron Horse Chronicles, Transcontinental Railroad, Union Pacific | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Golden Spike Wins Silver Will Rogers Medallion!

Golden Spike, The Iron Horse Chronicles, Book Three, has been awarded the 2018 Silver Will Rogers Medallion in the category of Younger Readers. I went to Fort Worth, Texas, to receive this prestigious award and enjoyed wonderful fellowship with the other award recipients while there. On Friday evening, October 26, a great reception, hosted by Charles Williams, the Executive Director of the Will Rogers Medallion Award Committee, kicked off the celebrations.

During the day on Saturday, October 27, the finalists joined for a book signing at the Fort Worth Stockyards as part of Red Steagall’s Cowboy Gathering. I received a lot of help from the Will Rogers mascot and banner while autographing my books.

Saturday evening, October 27, we gathered at the Cattlemen’s Steak House in Fort Worth to be wined, dined, and entertained before and during the award ceremonies.

All three books in the Iron Horse Chronicles have received a Will Rogers Medallion. I thank Charles Williams and all the committee members for the honor.

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SCA Fall Arts & Crafts Fair 2018

On Saturday, October 20, 2018, I sold and autographed books at the Sun City Anthem Fall Arts & Crafts Fair. Eight members of Anthem Authors participated in the event. The turnout of residents seemed to be larger than usual for this annual event. I attribute this to the fact that many people came to the Recreation Center to cast their votes on the first day of early voting in the State of Nevada.

I was pleased with the interest in The Iron Horse Chronicles. As you can see from the stacks in front of me, I had all three volumes available: Eagle Talons, Bear Claws, and Golden Spike. The books in the foreground are the hardcover editions from Five Star Publishing. Slightly visible behind the stack of Eagle Talons (to my right) are some large print editions from Wheeler Publishing.

 

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On the Railroad 150 Years Ago

Jack Casement

During October 1868, the Union Pacific contract workers, under the direction of General Jack Casement, increased the pace at which they laid track. The typical rate averaged two to three miles per day, occasionally five. On October 26, however, they placed a record-setting eight miles in a single day. Casement paid his men triple time. He had staged this special effort because the Central Pacific had managed to lay more than six miles in one day a few weeks earlier. Doc Durant, the UP’s vice president and general manager, was so pleased he bragged it was “the achievement of the year.”

Charles Crocker

This naturally incensed Charles Crocker, the Central Pacific’s construction supervisor, who had set the earlier six-mile record. He began to plan revenge, but he would bide his time before he attacked—saving his surprise until May 1869, just before the golden spike was to be driven. In the meantime, he continued to push the CP across northern Nevada. On October 1, their tracks had reached Winnemucca, Nevada. From there on, the CP would have to push across virtually uninhabited land until it joined with the UP at Promontory Summit, Nevada.

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