Hardship, accomplishment, and death are 3 words often used to elucidate the First Transcontinental Railroad. The railroad of 1869, or the first Transcontinental Railroad, was a 6-year long project starting in Sacramento California and ending in lowa. The railroad soon turned into a race for money between the Central Pacific Railroad and the Union Pacific Railroad. While the factual account of the Transcontinental Railroad highlights engineering accomplishment, the personal accounts depict the hardship and struggle the crew members faced on their journeys.
The Transcontinental Railroad was an amazing engineering accomplishment for its time that pathed the pathway for many other builds after it. The Transcontinental Railroad, Abe Lincoln’s dream, made a reality by 4 adventurous shopkeepers in Sacremento California. With the shopkeepers having to overcome the Sierra Nevada mountain range, a 14,505 foot peak filled with twists and turns, mixed with the fact that “the government would not give any money before the first 40 miles of track were laid” this railroad looked like it would stay a dream (Gale Encyclopedia of U. S. Economic History).
Once the shopkeepers found a quick working group of Chinese immigrants and hired Crazy Judah and James Harvey Strobridge to plan the route “the Central Pacific were able to lay the 40 miles of track unlocking millions in government aid” (History. com 2). The Union Pacific were fast they were able to “place 40 miles of track every month” (Gale Encyclopedia of U. S. Economic History). To catch up to the Union Pacific the Central Pacific began using nitroglycerin instead of gunpowder to break through rock faster but it was no good “by this time the Union Pacific had laid 250 miles while the Central Pacific had aid 80” (Gale Encyclopedia of U. S. Economic History).
On December 1st, 1867 the Central Pacific reached the summit and from here “they were able to lay up to 10 miles of track in one day” (Gale Encyclopedia of U. S. Economic History). This track will forever be recognized as an amazing achievement because “to this day 10 miles of track is the longest stretch of track that has been built in one day” (Gale Encyclopedia of U. S. Economic History). On May 10th, 1869 the Union Pacific and Central Pacific met in Promontory, Utah where they came together to lay the last stretch of track thus completing the Transcontinental Railroad.
Crazy Judah, the director of the Central Pacific Railroad, describes the many hardships and death while planning and on route to the summit and beyond in his journal. In his journal, he “calculated that [they] will need up to 50 bridges [.. ] just to get to the summit and then some 13 or 14 tunnels” making this project a true masterpiece when completed (Gale Encyclopedia of U. S. Economic History 1). The team made a promise to the Chinese that they would send bodies back for burial but they often found themselves unable to due to the avalanches.
He described how frequent avalanches swept equipment, track, and men so many men in fact that they “don’t know how many are dead [and they] don’t keep track anymore” (Cooper 4). This caused pain to not only the Central Pacific team but to the families of the workers. Judah and Strobridge had to tunnel through hundreds of feet of solid rock so they started to use nitroglycerin. Although this was a major engineering accomplishment and it sped up work Judah describes how the explosive was extremely unstable and it caused a lot of men to be crushed by falling rock.
He forced Strobridge to “get rid of the stuff and go back to using black powder” (Cooper 14). This was a huge set back because now their “average progress [was] 12 inches a day” (Cooper 14). Walter Scott Fitz was a worker transporting materials to the Central Pacific Railroad and every day he would write to his mother describing his monstrosity of a day. He describes how the weather was the main attribute to him and his crewmates suffering during this 36-day journey from Boston to San Francisco.
He describes how the first storm made the men “obliged to dig [their] way almost foot by foot” in order to allow the train to move (Cooper 3). With the storm not lightening up and the wind “blowing heavily and fearfully cold. Men refused to work” so progress getting to San Francisco was slow and tedious (Cooper 3). The weather was not the only thing to worry about the train itself rendered many problems. As the train ran on coal many fires broke up amounting to “considerable excitement and alarm amongst those who had not gone to bed” (Cooper 5).
The train was also carrying a few passengers they had picked up along the way. Since the train was not made for passengers “the conditions [were] even worse than a pig sty. Such a mess of filth, foul air and dirty people [he] never [wanted] to see again” (Cooper 8). This caused diseases to spread throughout the workers and passengers killing many. While the factual account of the Transcontinental Railroad highlights engineering accomplishment, the personal accounts depict the hardship and struggle the crew members faced on their journeys.
The factual account and the personal accounts have many similarities within them but the idea wanting to be conveyed are completely different. The factual accounts wanted to highlight the good times during this project and the personal accounts wanted to highlight the good and bad times. With the factual accounts, we are able to learn the struggle the workers faced back then and even today. We are able to have an idea of what a bad work environment looks like and we can stop it from happening today. Even though a bad work environment like this is very unlikely with all the new technology and laws it is still possible.