My inspiration for writing a novel about the building of the first transcontinental railroad came from reading Nothing Like It In The World by Stephen E. Ambrose. Simon & Schuster published his popular history about “The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-1869” in 2000. It occurred to me, as I read Ambrose’s book, that it covered a wonderful aspect of the growth of America that young readers would enjoy in an engrossing, fictional format. I had my own young, grandchildren in mind when I commenced writing seven years ago. They are now in high school. I also hoped that readers of all ages would be interested in learning more about “Manifest Destiny,” the political doctrine of the mid-nineteenth century which espoused our nation’s right to expand westward, without interference, for the betterment of the country.
In order to tell my story, I invented some of the scenes, and imagined undocumented, historical conversations, but I always strived to stay true to the chronology of the building of the transcontinental railroad. I created the Union Pacific’s “survey inspection team” to provide flexibility in placing the protagonist, Will Braddock, at the location of the most significant events during the railroad’s primary construction effort from 1867 to 1869. Originally, I envisioned a single book, but as my writing progressed, I decided there was more to tell than comfortably fit into one volume. Thus, The Iron Horse Chronicles trilogy came into being.
Ambrose’s book did not provide enough material for me to write the factually-based novel I wanted. I had to gather facts about many subjects in order to write a book that could stand up to scrutiny by history and railroad experts. Ambrose’s research has been criticized by some, as will be mine, but I trust my approach has been solid enough to result in a story that does not stray from the facts in significant ways. At latest count, my research has involved reading 103 books and perusing 85 websites. Some of the books are in my personal library, but many were provided by the Henderson (Nevada) Libraries and the interlibrary loan system. Without their help, I would have had a hard time gaining access to several obscure texts.
The most comprehensive coverage of the construction of the transcontinental railroad, in one volume, is David Haward Bain’s, Empire Express: Building the First Transcontinental Railroad, Viking Penguin, New York, 1999.
The best contemporary presentation is the personal recollections of the Union Pacific’s chief engineer: Major-General Grenville M. Dodge, How We Built the Union Pacific Railway, The Monarch Printing Co., Council Bluffs, Iowa, 1866-1870.