Monday, May 01, 2006

"Blind Tom," the UPRR horse

From: "Diane Wilson"

I have a book called "Animals Who Have Won Our Hearts" [by Jean Craighead George] that says a horse named Blind Tom "hauled every rail in the eleven hundred miles of Union Pacific roadbed. No other horse helped him." Is this true? Do you have any other information on this horse or the other horses that worked on the railroad? ...

—Diane Wilson

Carbutt Stereoview #233, detail, showing Blind Tom.  Courtesy Barry Swackhamer Collection


Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...


I find the story unlikely. Such a horse would certainly have been photographed, but in fact in construction photos of rail laying I don't see any horses at all – although that certainly doesn't mean there weren't any. the horse certainly didn't figure into any of the ceremonies at Promontory. But this story with all its specific uniquenesses sounds like fiction – and 20th century fiction at that.

I do know of a horse who worked on the construction of the Northern Pacific, a black horse named Ol' Nig as I recall. He supposedly pulled rail during the entire construction. He wasn't blind, and he wasn't the only horse. And he was photographed, shortly after the completion of the railroad.


5/01/2006 11:26 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

This apparently is unrelated to the "Blind Tom" (Thomas Bethune also known as Thomas Wiggins), an autistic Black Pianist-Composer prodigy (1849-1908) who was quite famous in the 19th century.

5/01/2006 11:27 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Don Snoddy"

There is a photograph of Blind Tom in the Carbutt stereo views of the 1866 excursion. As the men in front are putting down the rail Blind Tom is in the background pulling the carts loaded with rail. Whether he was the only horse who did this or not I don't know. I do know it was a story that I heard often and I remember reading somewhere in the vast bits of trivia about the railroad construction. I too can't believe he was the only horse, considering these carts were tossed aside and the next ones brought up. But it's a great story and I think we should perpetuate it. If those few Irishmen could handle all the rail for the CP during the 10 miles in one day, certainly one American horse could have done what he is credited with.


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5/02/2006 8:41 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

A.A. Hart stereoview CPRR images show horses or mules used to haul dirt in dump carts.

5/02/2006 9:09 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

Stories about Lewis Metzler Clement's white mule:

"I was sent to the summit with a message to Mr. Clement telling him we had broken through. He read the message, got on his white mule and started for our camp. He got there before I did , although I took a fast freight team. I did not see him on the road, but we will leave that to the white mule, for he could go almost anywhere and had a way all his own in getting there, as he could pick his way up a mountain or go down one as well as a man, and when it became too difficult to walk he would slide. Anyway, Clement and his mule were there when I arrived, which was late in the day, and Mr, Clement spent the night at our camp. I tied his muleship to the stable. Next morning Mr. Clement, Mr. Phelps and the party went up to the tunnel, tried the centers from both ends and found that it was just two inches out. It was a wonderful piece of engineering at that time." —J.O. Wilder

"After the inspection they started up the line. I was told to ride Mr. Clement's white mule, and what that mule didn't know was not worth knowing. For instance, he knew that had something of light weight and seemed to enjoy it, but not so with yours truly, for I had been in the habit of riding on the back of wagons or a street car. While he trotted along with his nose close up to the light wagon I would have given my last five dollars for a pillow. When we reached a watering trough near Emigrant Gap I found myself standing in the stirrups and was glad to get off his back to unloosen the check rein on the horses. I then led his muleship to get his drink. He would drink and then take a sniff at me, as much as to say, "What have I had on my back?" In fact, he had never seen a boy before." —J.O. Wilder

5/02/2006 9:11 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

Lewis Metzler Clement's horse, Roan:

"While Charlotte Eliza Clement raised their young family in the towns along the side of the expanding railroad, Lewis would be away for weeks at a time riding horseback over the rugged mountains and deep cañons, resting where night overtook him using his saddle as a pillow. His favorite horse was a magnificent Roan, a powerful animal with a mind of its own and difficult to ride. A strong, high swimmer and apparently afraid of nothing, the horse would bite, strike and kick if ridden near a group of people, and always insisted on being mounted from the right side."

—Bruce C. Cooper

5/02/2006 11:33 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

Horses were present at the Laying of the Last Rail, Promontory, Utah, May 10, 1869.

5/02/2006 1:43 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

Newspaper report of horses being used in laying track for the first transcontinental railroad:

"A light car, drawn by a single horse, gallops up to the front with its load of rails. Two men seize the end of a rail and start forward, the rest of the gang taking hold by twos, until it is clear of the car. They come forward at a run. At the word of command the rail is dropped in its place, right side up with care, while the same process goes on at the other side of the car. Less than thirty seconds to a rail for each gang, and so four rails go down to the minute ... close behind the first gang come the gaugers, spikers, and bolters, and a lively time they make of it. It is a grand 'anvil chorus' ... It is played in triple time, 3 strokes to the spike. There are 10 spikes to a rail, 400 rails to a mile, 1,800 miles to San Francisco — 21,000,000 times those sledges to be swung: 21,000,000 times are they to come down with their sharp punctuation before the great work of modern America is complete."

Dr. William Abraham Bell, Newspaper, 1866

5/02/2006 1:48 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

Search of the Making of America 19th century digital library of books and magazines was not successful in finding any mention of the railroad horse, Blind Tom.

5/02/2006 2:12 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

See the additional comments by Kyle Wyatt.

5/29/2006 9:15 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

See the newspaper article describing the use of a horse for SPRR track laying in Arizona.

6/05/2006 2:13 PM  

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