The First Intercontinental Railroad 150 Years Ago

The first Union Pacific Railroad train rolled into Cheyenne, Dakota Territory, on November 13, 1867. (Wyoming would not be designated a separate territory until July 25, 1868.) General Grenville M. Dodge, Chief Engineer of the Union Pacific, had selected the site for the town of Cheyenne on July 4, 1867, and bestowed the name of the dominant local Indian tribe on the place he selected to serve as a principal railroad depot and repair facility. When the UP’s construction activity of late 1867 brought the tracks forward from Julesburg, Colorado, Cheyenne became the latest iteration of Hell on Wheels, and its population shot up from 600 to 4,000 overnight. It immediately became the “Magic City of the Plains.”

Cheyenne, Dakota Territory

A few days later in California, on November 30, 1867, the Central Pacific Railroad finished the grading through Summit Tunnel, laid track, and drove their first locomotive across the highest point they would have to cross in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. This longest of the CP’s 15 tunnels, known as No. 6, lay a few hundred feet south of the famous Donner Pass. The Chinese workforce labored for two years to blast and dig their way through solid granite for 1,659 feet. To complicate the tunneling effort, the work was started at both ends, with the gradient dropping 30 feet from the east to the west portal, and included a curve in the center. In the beginning, using black powder, they managed only 14 inches a day. With the introduction of more dangerous nitroglycerine, progress accelerated. When finished, the converging tunnels met almost perfectly. It was the largest project of its kind that had ever been attempted by that time in the U. S.

[/media-credit] Tunnel 6 is located a few yards to the right of this photo taken from Donner Pass Summit..

Winter was fast approaching, and both railroads would be limited in the work they could undertake until better weather arrived in the Spring of 1868. These two accomplishments in November 1867 represented significant moments for the competing companies who were building the first transcontinental railroad. I wrote about these and other exciting events in The Iron Horse Chronicles trilogy.

This entry was posted in Bear Claws - Book Two, Central Pacific, Eagle Talons - Book One, Geography, Golden Spike - Book Three, The Iron Horse Chronicles, Transcontinental Railroad, Union Pacific and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The First Intercontinental Railroad 150 Years Ago

  1. frannie461 says:

    Oh Mr. Murphy, I love reading all of your posts. You make me feel like I am experiencing these terrific places you speak of. I have loved all of your books. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.
    Fran, Spencer County Kentucky

  2. Mr. Murphy, I am writing a Western involving a planned railroad heist that takes place in July, 1868, (When the westward expansion is still in its infancy,) and if I could occasionally correspond with you for helpful insight and pick your brain for accurate realism, it would mean the world to me. I think you’d like the tale I have to tell, and credit will absolutely be served in your name if you would became my partner in crime in this endeavor. Its a tale that would make Sergio Leone and Louis Lamour proud, and I’d love to have you on board. (Pun intended.)

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