"“We have lent a huge amount of money to the U.S. Of course we are concerned about the safety of our assets. To be honest, I am definitely a little worried.” "

Chinese premier Wen Jiabao 12th March 2009

""We have a financial system that is run by private shareholders, managed by private institutions, and we'd like to do our best to preserve that system."

Timothy Geithner US Secretary of the Treasury, previously President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.1/3/2009

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Going West - railways and young men... first US transcontinental railroad opened 149 years ago

On May 10, 1869, two railroad companies, Union Pacific and Central Pacific, joined 1,776 miles of transcontinental railway at Promontory Summit, Utah Territory, in the Golden Spike Ceremony in what was extravagantly called "the wedding of the rails".

Not only was this the summit of railway engineering achievement at the time it was also the first major Press / Public relations event designed with much hoopla to drum up both business but also shareholders and investors in what was a massive financial gamble.

It was the result of far seeing men and the plans outlined in Mr. J. J. Warner's Report on Railroads to the Senate of California in early 1851 in which he stated:

"that a Railroad, from some point on the Mississippi, or its tributaries, to some point on the bay of San Francisco, is the best route that can be adopted for the purpose of securing the Commerce of China and India; ... to open a great national highway from California to the Atlantic coast, [and] would be a greater defence and protection than all other military works. It would also be the means of great daily intercourse between the East and West coast of this Republic, ... to prevent those sectional feelings which have ever been the destruction of wide-extended governments. ...[I]t is the duty of this Legislature to encourage the speedy building of a Railroad from the Atlantic to the Pacific, across the territory of the United States."

Abraham Lincoln signed the Pacific Railway Act on July 1, 1862, hoping to bind the Union's East and West. The Pacific Railway Act gave each company loans from the Treasury of $16,000 for each mile of track laid in the flat plains, $32,000 for each mile of track laid in the Great Basin, and $48,000 for each mile of track laid in the mountains. It also provided for each company to receive 10 sections (6,400 acres) of public land grants, mineral rights excluded, on each side of the track for each mile of track built. - which is what excited the investors.

It united a nation (although a favoured more Southern route was ignored)and laid the foundations of east West trade which had previously been dominated by North / South ruiver trading.

Jupiter and the Central Pacific

In September 1868, Schenectady Locomotive Works of New York built Central Pacific locomotives Storm, Whirlwind, Leviathan and Jupiter. All Central Pacific locomotives built until 1870, were dismantled from their frames, loaded onto a ship, and taken around South America’s Cape Horn to San Francisco, California.

There the engines were loaded onto a barge and towed upriver to Central Pacific HQ in Sacramento. Then they were reassembled and commissioned into service on March 20, 1869. Less than two months later, Jupiter (fuelled by wood alone) pulled Central Pacific’s President, Leland Stanford’s,special train to Promontory Summit, for the Golden Spike Ceremony.

Locomotive 119 and the Union Pacific

In November 1868, Rogers Locomotive and Machine Works of Paterson, New Jersey, built Union Pacific locomotives No. 116, through 120. However the journey of Union Pacific Vice-President Thomas Durant and his contingent of dignitaries to Promontory Summit., was not simple or swift.

En route to Promontory for the ceremony, (originally scheduled for May 8th) , the Durant Special was forced onto a siding and stopped at the little town of Piedmont, Wyoming, not far from the Utah border.

Here there were 400 tie cutters to greet Durant, not concerned with historical events but their pay for the last 3 months. They chained his coach to the siding for 2 days until their pay arrived.

During this delay the Weber River continued to rise through continuing rains and at the appropriately named Devil’s Gate Bridge, the locomotive’s engineer saw that the swollen waters had damaged and removed some bridge supports, leaving the bridge usafe to carry the engine.

The engineer (evidently a brave man ) assured Durant's party that the This left the bridge would support the lighter passenger coaches. The engineer gave each
coach a push with his locomotive. The cars laden with nervous dignitaries then coasted safely across the unstable structure to be stranded without an engine.

Sitting in Ogden were the five Union Pacific locomotives and No 119 was cosen to complete the historic but delayed journey.

Both 119 and Jupiter ended up at the scrappers and two reproducion engines were made to re-enact the event for the 110th Anniversary May 10, 1979 which can both be seen at the Golden Spike National Historic Site - and there will again be much hoopla next year on the 150th .

Within the site is a 20-foot limestone arch , which has now been renamed Chinese Arch in honor of the immigrant 19th century Chinese railroad workers who actually did the hard work for 5 gruelling years....and 7 years ahead of schedule... At the height of construction, over 10,000 Chinese were employed by the Central Pacific. The Central Pacific Railroad first broke ground 4 years earlier on January 8, 1863 at Front and "K" Streets in Sacramento, California .

Finally , the CPRR was 742 miles long, extending from Sacramento to Ogden, and the UPRR was 1,032 miles long, extending from Ogden to Omaha. The total length of the first transcontinental railroad was 1,774 miles. The CPPR had 6,213 feet of tunnels compared to only 1,792 feet of tunnels in the UPRR. On April 28, 1869, the men of the CPRR broke all records, before or since, by laying ten miles of track in twelve hours.

Theodore Dehone Judah was the chief engineer, lobbyist, railroader, and surveyor for the Central Pacific Railroad. He was born in 1826 in Bridgeport, Connecticut and lived until 1863, dying in New York from yellow fever contracted during a visit to Panama, without seeing the completion of his dream, the first transcontinental railroad. Today is National Train Day in the US - Across the country, people are riding trains in record numbers. Amtrak reports 25.8 million passengers during fiscal year 2007, the most since the train system began operating in 1971

Click on pictures to enlarge

UPDATE : Useful introduction to the expansion of the railroads , the money made, the corruption and the characters who forged the basis of American capitalism are covered in Jack Beatty's recently published Age of Betrayal- The Triumph of Money in America 1865 - 1900. Knopf . ISBN 97814000402855 Amazon

"Politicians in cahoots with railway executives made it simple. "Of the seventy-three men who held cabinet posts between 1868 and 1896," Beatty calculates, "forty-eight either served railroad clients, lobbied for railroads, sat on railroad boards, or had railroad-connected relatives." Plus ca change

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