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.

 

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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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Utah Life Article on Golden Spike

To my surprise and grateful appreciation, Michael Zimmer wrote a wonderful article about my book Golden Spike, The Iron Horse Chronicles, Book Three, in the September/October 2018 issue of Utah Life. Michael’s contribution is more than just a book review, it is a small feature article. Utah Life is published bimonthly and is “filled with real-life stories and captivating photos all about Utah.”

Michael is a friend and fellow member of Western Writers of America. He has been supportive of my writing from the beginning. His blurbs appear on the back cover of each of the books in The Iron Horse Chronicles trilogy.

Michael Zimmer is one of today’s premier writers of western fiction. Amazon lists twenty-one of his books in print. His book Poacher’s Daughter won the Western Heritage Wrangler Award for Outstanding Western Novel in 2015. He is also a two-time finalist for the Western Writers of America Spur Award. If you have not yet read Zimmer, you are in for a great treat. Get over to your local bookstore or log on to Amazon and grab one or more of his engaging titles. Michael has a marvelous website where you can learn more about him and his writing: https://www.michael-zimmer.com/.

Thank you, Michael!

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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.

Posted in Army, Bear Claws - Book Two, Geography, Indians, Iron Horse Chronicles' Characters, The Iron Horse Chronicles, Transcontinental Railroad, Union Pacific | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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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