On the Railroad 150 Years Ago

Newly elected President Ulysses S. Grant, on his inauguration day in March 1869, put a hold on the issuance of any more government bonds to help finance the Union Pacific Railroad and the Central Pacific Railroad until they agreed on a meeting place. This got the attention of the owners of the two railroads. Collis P. Huntington, the east coast representative of the CP’s “Big Four,” journeyed to Washington City on April 9. There, he met with Grenville M. Dodge, the UP’s chief engineer who had recently completed a term as a U. S. Congressman. These two men were designated by their respective companies to resolve the impasse.

Corinne, a Hell on Wheels town in Utah.

Both railroads were desirous of using Ogden, Utah, as the point where the railroads exchanged passengers and freight. However, in the race to see who could lay the most track, the UP had already moved 25 miles beyond Ogden. On April 7, a UP locomotive steamed across Bear River, near where it spilled into the Great Salt Lake, and established Corinne, Utah, one of the last Hell on Wheels towns. The CP was still laying track several miles west of the north shore of the Great Salt Lake—a long way from Ogden.

Huntington proposed that the CP purchase whatever track the UP laid between Ogden and the eventual meeting point. When Dodge initially refused, Huntington said the CP would therefore continue to lay track all the way into Ogden. Dodge relented, and the two men agreed to meet at or near Ogden. In a night session that same day, Congress passed a joint resolution specifying that the CP buy the UP’s tracks between Ogden and Promontory Summit, Utah, where “. . . the rails shall meet and connect and form one continuous line.”

Welcome Sign at Promontory Summit, Utah.

On April 10 the UP stopped grading west of Promontory Summit, and on April 15 the CP stopped grading east of the designated meeting location. The two railroads had graded past each other for 250 miles, and in five places their lines crossed each other. Now, until May 10, 1869. the final effort to lay rails to the agreed upon meeting point would consume both workforces.

I wrote about these events in Golden Spike, The Iron Horse Chronicles—Book Three.

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.

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