Sunday, January 21, 2007

Union Pacific Railroad was not of "first-class construction"

From: "Josh Dulberg"

I have a few questions regarding the construction of the Union Pacific Railroad.

I recall reading – in a letter from the Commissioner of the Railway Commission to President Lincoln [sic], that after inspection, the railway was not of "first-class construction." I also believe that he said that it would cost another 11,000,000 dollars to make the railway of "first-class" construction. Did the government give the $11 million he estimated, or did they give something else? Or, was the railroad left how it was, or was more construction done on it?

—Josh Dulberg


Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...


The Railroad Commissioners had two purposes; 1) to inspect the railroad prior to the release of the bonds and land grants, 2) other inspections as directed by congress or the president. I believe your reference comes from a special inspection commissioned in early 1869, to review the entire line, including the locations.

The railroads (CP, UP, or WP) were to build the line first, then the land and bonds were released. The amount of bonds and land was fixed, there was no additional money, what was in question was whether the line for which bonds had been paid was up to the standards expected. The standards were in flux during the early stages of the construction of the original line. Even the gauge choice was questioned. Generally the Commissioners were comparing the line to eastern construction, frequently to the B&O. Additionally the initial inspections occurred as the line was open, but not always finished. While trains might be running, the line frequently needed additional ballast, sidings, or in UP’s case, they were known to build temporary wooden bridges with the intent of rebuilding them later. In the case of the UP, it appears that they built their portion of the line to the minimum standard to get the bonds released, while the CP built to a higher standard.

This is best illustrated by comparing the two parallel lines built in April and May 1869, just East of Promontory, especially CP’s big fill next to UP’s trestle.

—Randy Hees

1/21/2007 12:28 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...


The winter of 1871-1872 was quite severe and the Union Pacific, Laramie Division was blockaded for almost a month.

Western newspapers claimed that the problem was that the U.P. had been cheaply built on the ground rather than on raised embankments over the praries where everyone knew that snow drifted to enormous heights. U.P. claimed that they did not know about the snow problem.

This clip from the Gold Hill Nevada Daily News gives the Omaha Tribune's description of what had to be done to "winterize" the Laramie Division.

—Charlie Siebenthal



The last Winter in the mountains was one of the most terrible that has been known. It was not confined to that locality alone, but it was of great severity all over the country. Trains were everywhere more or less delayed by the storms and drifting snow.

There are a good many reasons why the Winter could not be provided for besides that of the intense severity. The Rocky Mountains are as yet comparatively little known. The laws which govern storms and drifting snows in the East, to a certain extent, do not apply to that country. It is like all things else in this world—its lessons must be learned and experienced. The same precaution which would be amply sufficient in the East, would utterly fail there, not so much in the amount of work as in the proper application of the work to the different parts of the road. Those who manage this road have had this experience, and they are prepared to overcome obstacles now easily, which, at first thought, seemed insurmountable. The Union Pacific Railroad Company has been active, diligent and successful in preparing for the Winter. The preparations greatly excel those of previous years, and should the winter prove as severe as the last, of which there is no possibility, there would be no more detention than in Iowa or Illinois.

On the Laramie division, where the greatest trouble was experienced last Winter, the track has been raised for one hundred miles through the light cuts, and the tops have been leveled off so that the snow cannot find a resting place. A very large force of men have been employed, besides railway equipments, in doing the work for several months.

The snow sheds have been boarded and tightened so as to prevent the snow from sifting through, and several miles of new sheds have been built in such a way as to prevent their being crushed by the snow.

More than fifty miles of snow sheds have been built and placed in the best positions, governed by the experience of the past Winter. One difficulty to be overcome last year was the want of fuel at convenient points along the line. To obviate this, twelve new coal-houses have been constructed, and coal enough stored for any emergency. Hundreds of men have been employed in this work. This coal is kept for emergencies, and that for daily use is taken mostly from the mines.

Two enormous snowplows have been constructed, each weighing forty tons, and so arranged that it is believed they will be powerful enough to throw the snow from the deepest cuts.

These precautions render it certain that there can be but little detention of the trains. The officials have the fullest confidence that there will be no delay either for freight or passengers, and it seems that this confidence is well founded, because, with their ripe experience, they have been able to make provisions for storms which will insure the most complete success. No men could have worked more faithfully on intelligently, or with better prospect of complete success, than have the managers of this great road, and we speak with the fullest confidence when we say that we are sure that the line will have no interruptions of travel during the present Winter. –Omaha Tribune.

1/21/2007 12:50 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

Is it true that the Union Pacific built 50 miles of snowsheds, or does this newspaper article (supposedly about the UP) include the CPRR's snowsheds in the total?

1/21/2007 12:53 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

For more information about the fixed bond payments, see the previous discussion.

1/21/2007 1:12 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...


I agree with Randy's overall point, but I don't think that his example ["the two parallel lines built in April and May 1869, just East of Promontory, especially CP’s big fill next to UP’s trestle"] is the best. By the time the UP was building the approach to Promontory they already knew that the final junction would be in Ogden, so you would expect Promontory construction to be cheap.

On the other hand, Weber Canyon construction was permanent. The Howe truss at the Devil's Gate bridge was built knowing it would be temporary (too short for the span, with footings in the stream) – and in the event it didn't even last long enough to carry Durant's full train in May 1869 (the cars being uncoupled and pushed across individually, with UP loco #119 collecting them on the West side in place of the originally planned UP loco stuck on the East side). The bridge was soon replaced with the newer Post truss bridge. Using the example of the Central Pacific's Howe truss Truckee River bridges, these remained in service for many years, covered for protection.


1/21/2007 6:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just visited the Promontory area and looked at some of the grades there. A question: Was the UP grade up the east side of the Promontory Mountains actually used? There is a photo of a UP engine sitting on the temporary trestle at the Big Fill site, but it remains a little unclear as to whether the UP's grade was actually used, considering the current shape of the grade, allowing for erosion over the past 140 years.

11/11/2007 7:47 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Randy Hees"
Subject: Promontory grade

On May 10th 1869 the rails ran on the Central Pacific grade West of Promontory, and on the Union Pacific grade to the East.

Soon after the golden spike ceremony the Central Pacific leased the Union Pacific line from Promontory to Corine, with trackage rights from Corine to Ogden. The Central Pacific chose to move the rails from the Union Pacific grade to their own soon afterward, so yes there were rails laid on the Union Pacific grade as far as Promontory.

—Randy Hees

11/13/2007 11:52 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

Subject: Promontory grade

To add a bit more, the Union Pacific continued to run to Promontory until late 1869 or Jan 1870.  Prior to that the junction continued to be at Promontory.  After that, the junction was moved to Ogden.  UP used their own track as long as they were running to Promontory.

11/13/2007 11:19 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

Subject: Promontory grade

To add to the discussion, the UP-CP agreed to a removal November 19, 1869 (per agreement between Ames and Big Four), but CP schedule gives date as December 6 for official start for CP use of UP grade down East side of the Promontory Range. At the same time Stanford announced the CP would rebuild the line down the east slope since all knew it (the UP grade) was poorly (quickly) constructed.

Bob Spude – Historian – Cultural Resources Management – National Park Service – Intermountain Region – 505.988.6770 Voice – 505.988.6876 Fax

The National Park Service cares for special places saved by the American people so that all may experience our heritage.

11/14/2007 10:36 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

Quality of construction:

By comparison to the UPRR's bad, shoddy, and temporary construction, inspection by Federal Commissions showed that the Central Pacific Railroad instead was excellent:

CPRR: "well and substantially built ... "

CPRR: "a first-class railroad and is constructed of the best materials and in a most durable and permanent manner".

1/29/2010 4:57 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

UPRR: " ... the temporary bridge at Devils Gate in Weber Canyon ... was a problem. It almost washed out, and had to be temporarily shored up. Even then no locos crossed it. Each individual car in Durant's special was pushed across [to get to the May 10, 1869 joining of the rails ceremony at Promontory] – with most of the passengers walking across separately on a foot bridge instead of riding the cars across."

1/29/2010 5:07 PM  

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