Railroad was very
important to the development of the United States. Before the
transcontinental railroad was built the journey from east to west was
very long and dangerous. The travel from east to west could either be
made by land or by water. To travel by land would take about six
months. People would have to cross over difficult terrain, deal with
bad weather, and possibly run into dangerous people. The trip by water
would take less time but was just as dangerous. Travelers would have to
take either the journey around Cape Horn or cross the Isthmus of Panama
from Central America. One of the many dangers of this route was being
exposed to deadly diseases.
The first trains started running on the east coast in the 1830s and grew quickly. By the 1840s the railroad stretched all over the eastern part of the United States, into the South, and out towards the Midwest. With all this progress people were very excited about the possibility of a Transcontinental Railroad. When California was won in the Mexican-American War and gold was discovered in 1848 things really moved forward. California became a state in 1850 and people wanted a safer and faster way to get across the country.
|In 1862, the Pacific
Railroad Act hired the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific companies.
Pacific Railroad assigned the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific
with building the Transcontinental Railroad that would connect the
United States from the East to the West. Over the next seven years the
Central and Union Pacific Railroad would compete against each other
where they would race toward each other from Sacramento, California, to
Omaha, Nebraska, They wanted to compete against each other because
whoever laid the most miles of track would receive the most cash and
land. They had to fight against great risks before they met at
Promontory, Utah, on May 10, 1869.
Did you know that before the Transcontinental Railroad was built it would cost about $1,000 dollars to travel across the country? After the Transcontinental Railroad was built, it only cost $150 dollars to travel across the country.
By the summer of 1867 the Union Pacific was already in Wyoming. It covered nearly four times as much as the Central Pacific. The Union Pacific was laying track down on flat land. The Central Pacific was laying track down on big mountains and had to go over the Sierra’s. It was difficult for the people to go over the mountains because they were not building on flat land. It was easy to build on flat land but not land that was reaching high peaks up on the mountains.
In 1865, the first Chinese workers were hired to build the Transcontinental Railroad. The Central Pacific agreed that it would pay the Chinese $28 per month. The work was slow, difficult and dangerous. It took the Chinese 2 years to lay 50 miles of track. The workers reached the treacherous Sierra Nevada Mountains. They had to face the danger of blasting away the mountainsides so they could lay down track. The workers used explosives to create about 15 tunnels to get the railroad through the mountains. More than 1,200 Chinese workers died from accidents like avalanches and explosions. The Chinese worked so hard that they placed the last 10 miles of track in 12 hours. Leland Stanford said, “Without the Chinese it would have been impossible to complete the western portion of this great national highway.”
On May 10, 1869, at Promontory Summit, Utah, the Transcontinental Railroad was completed. There were over 30,000 Chinese workers used to link the East and West by railroad.
|The Union Pacific and the
Central Pacific companies wanted to
build the railroad quickly. Because the companies wanted to build
fast, the work was chaotic. The supervisors told the workers what to do
from horses. The workers ran forward and back between carts
tracks while carrying ties and rails. The other workers hammered
metal spikes into the rails.
Before railroad companies start to build, the company sends out groups of men called surveyors. Surveyors explore land to find routes to lay the railroad tracks. Surveying was a very tedious task. The surveyors explored new wilderness, climbed up cliffs, hiked through dense forests, and crossed turbulent rivers to find a route. They had to travel through many different kinds of weather while searching for a route.
After the company found a route where the railroad could be built, they would start building. A train took the equipment and the workers to the end of the track. Workers called graders helped by making the ground level. The other workers laid the ties. The workers had to lift the iron to put them into the right spot. This was really hard because the rails were really heavy. When the rails were in place the workers would nail them down with long, metal spikes.