Wednesday, July 07, 2021

Track worker housing, 1870's Central Pacific Railroad

From: "Michael Polk"

I am currently researching 1870's Central Pacfic Railroad track worker housing at section stations along the line in Utah (as well as Nevada and California). I know about and have a copy of the 1869 inventory of Central Pacific structures from the National Archives. That is useful, but that document only includes housing for foremen, not the Chinese and other track workers. I have found nothing regarding housing for them, only for 1880 onward.

Without such information, my fallback position is that they continued to use dugouts and ramshackle buildings from construction days as well as Section cars, perhaps set off on detached tracks. In 1880-81 Southern Pacific constructed a hundred or more new bunkhouses and some cookhouses for the workers, but I have no information about how they were housed between the end of railroad construction in 1869 and the end of the 1870's.

Does anyone have information about this 1870's decade or a lead for me on this subject? ...

Mike Polk, Aspen Ridge Consultants


Anonymous Anonymous said...

See related,

19th Century Chinese Railroad Worker Habitation Structures on the Central Pacific Railroad. By Ann Polk, Michael Polk. 2020 ( tDAR id: 457547)

"Following the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869, there was an immediate need to provide maintenance crews along the line. The Central Pacific Railroad met this need, largely, through the employment of ethnic Chinese workers in Utah, Nevada and California, a pattern that continued for more than 20 years. These workers were provided with bunkhouses and, sometimes, cookhouses at many, if not all, section stations along the route. These frame buildings were generally similar to one another. Little is known about the structures, their origin and why specific sizes and types were chosen to be occupied by Chinese workers. ... "

7/07/2021 7:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

See related,

Historians revise book on transcontinental railroad in Utah for 1st time in 27 years. Here's what they added.

Rails East to Promontory: The Utah Stations, by Anan S. Raymond and Richard E. Fike, 1981.

7/07/2021 8:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From: "Larry Mullaly"

In California we can see what the SP (a CP affiliate) was doing during the 1870 on the US Railroad Commissioner Reports going as far back of 1872 (Goshen to Tipton section). I have summarized this material in a unpublished study I did a number of years ago. Photos of the pertinent pages are attached.

The information on the Overland Route is skimpier. However, the California State Railroad Museum has station plat maps of the entire system in various volumes. These date to about 1883 and I have attached example for Carlin Nevada. There must be 50 similar renderings. The measurements of these building show a systematic approach to the housing of "China gangs.” At first look, these buildings seem to predate the 1872-1880 SP buildings.

Something to keep in mind is that the design of these structures was both standardized and came from the same designers. ...

—Larry Mullaly

7/07/2021 1:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is there an internet link or a pdf available for "the 1869 inventory of CP structures from the National Archives"?

7/08/2021 8:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From: "Mike Polk"

While I attribute the document to the National Archives where I am told it resides, I obtained a copy via a rail historian. It is quite an important piece of railroad paper for research purposes since it provides a baseline for infrastructure on the Central Pacific as of August 1869. I can't give you a link to its location in NARA, but will post it here:

CPRR Structures, Sacramento to Promontory, August 1869 - National Archives

—Mike Polk, Aspen Ridge Consultants

7/08/2021 8:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From: "Michael Polk"

Thank you for that Larry. Yes, I am familiar with the US Railroad Commissioner reports. I used them extensively in my recently published revision of the Raymond and Fike 1981 Rails East to Promontory. Chris Merritt (Utah SHPO) and I, along with a number of contributors, put together a much expanded version entitled Rails East to Ogden: Utah’s Transcontinental Railroad Story. It covers all stations from the Nevada border to Ogden in detail as well as providing in depth discussions of ethnic railroad workers for the time period 1869-1920s (Chinese, Japanese, Italian, Bulgarian, Mexican, Albanian, etc.). It is published by the Utah Bureau of Land Management. It will be available from them in electronic form in the near future I am told.

I found fascinating information in those commissioner reports, and they even provided some information not found in the CP Annual Reports. Unfortunately, only snipits of information were found regarding employee housing. Many mentions of section houses (for foremen) and industrial buildings such as roundhouses, coal houses, engine houses, water tanks, etc. These reports seem to be some of the few significant documents detailing infrastructure for the 1870s. Annual reports provide some good information, but Montague (Chief engineer in that time period) in his discussion of construction of buildings sometimes mentions that there is no need to provide details about what the railroad is doing in constructing section station structures and other “minor” buildings. It is quite frustrating, but without the back up Engineering Department documents put together by the railroad itself, it is about all that seems to remain to us in 2021.

I very much appreciate that information from California on another line. That is very interesting stuff. Better than I have seen for the Overland Route. I have gone over the detailed drawings of buildings at section stations on the Salt Lake Division in the 1880 book donated to the CSRRML by Arthur Haig thoroughly. In fact, it is my go to document for most of my work. I understand that there is a sister set of plans to this for the Truckee and Sacramento Divisions working back from Wadsworth to Sacramento which I have not yet seen. All of these, however, seem to begin no earlier than 1880. At the moment, I am focusing on the 1870's period which, apart from the Commissioner reports, annual reports and traveler publications, is about all that seems to describe this period. I have found virtually no photographs from the period. Many, many for May, 1869 (Russell, Hart, Savage, etc.) and then nothing until the early 1880's.

... Thanks again for the great thoughts and information.


7/08/2021 9:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also see, U.S. Railroad Commissioner Reports.

7/08/2021 9:51 PM  

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