Monday, February 07, 2005

Re: Dates relating to gauge of Pacific railroad.

From: "Randall Hees"

I have a thought, and couple of other dates: Of course, the Market Street Railroad was 5' gauge, and by eventually was controlled by the SF&SJ (the Sacramento Valley was 5' as well, but that line was not as politially connected as the SF&SJ, so is less important for this discussion)

July 15, 1862 Letter from James A McDougall and James H Campbell (chairs of Senate and House committees on Pacific Railroad) to Lincoln, asking him to set gauge, and suggesting 5’ (letter in Lincoln papers, LofC)

January 24, 1863 Telegram from A. Brody to Lincoln questioning choice of track gauge for Pacific Railroad (LOC, Lincoln papers) (this seems to confirm the date of early January for the gauge decision)

This reads in part " I have been informed that the question of gauge of the Pacific Railroad is about to be decided & that a gauge different fro that all the roads in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Northern Missouri is likely to be adopted. I understand that the argument in favor of a five foot gauge as the fact that a portion of the line on the Pacific Coast has adopted that gauge... "

James McDougall is a Senator from California, a San Francisco "war" democrat (supports the Union) and chair of the Senate committee for the Pacific Railroad. He is one of two men (the other being Timothy Guy Phelps, house member from San Mateo) identified as being present when Huntington and Judah agree to release the rights to build between Sacramento and San Francisco (the Western Pacific) toa group of primarily San Francisco business men. This group, while not identical to the groups building the San Francisco and San Jose and later the Southern Pacific, have many common directors. As chair of the Pacific Railroad committee McDougall will appoint Judah as clerk of the committee.

Both Phelps and McDougall will hold board positions with the three San Francisco railroads. I suspect, but so far can't prove that both men were at least peripherally members of Ralston's Bank Ring. (McDougall on one of the earlier boards of the SF&SJ, Phelps on the SF&SJ, and is the President of the first incorporation of the Southern Pacific)

Phelps a Republican runs against Stanford for governor. Later Phelps will be run out of the Republican Party, in an effort lead by E Soule. I am suspicious (but can't prove) that the attack is payback from Stanford. Locally (on the Peninsula) Phelps is well liked and known as an honest man.

E Soule is a Sacramento area blacksmith/wagon builder, who builds some of the push carts used to build the CP, who is one of the organizers of the May 10 1869 celebration in Sacramento, will later purchase part of the Kimball works, and will sue Kimball asserting bankrupcy (The court turns down the claim, and Soule's lawer for the attemp is associated with Stanford) Soule will later be the head of grounds for Stanford University. Finally, Soule and Stanford grew up together in New York...

With both Phelps and Kimball possibly associated with Ralston, can some of this be explained as a conflict between Ralston and the CP?

I am going to have a week in Washington DC next month. I plan on spending time with the Lincoln papers... There may be stuff there. Phelps is supposed to have been a friend of Lincoln, and "had his ear". Last year I went through the Pacific Railroad Committee notes, but only the Standing committee stuff. It was a select committee until 1861, then made a standing committee. The committee records are incomplete, and the archivist not particularly helpful (not bad, just not helpful) and now that I have done more background research I should understand better. I have already read most of the Secretary of the Interior information on the WP, but will go to the archives at College Park to tie up some loose ends. I have identified the WP ledgers in the Bureau of public dept as another target. If people have specific requests I will try to oblige.



Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...


... there were many track gauges among the tramways of Britain. Seems to me the common Welsh gauge was 4-foot (but my memory on that could be wrong). Stephenson's local choice happened to become the primary gauge, I suspect in part because of Stephenson's involvement with the Stockton & Darlington, the first railroad with more than local tramway pretensions. But lest we forget, Britain also brought us Brunel's 8-foot gauge.

And while tracks in Britain certainly evolved to Standard Gauge within half a century (as they also did in the US), the British certainly weren't stuck on that elsewhere. Witness 5-foot 3-inch (I believe) gauge in Ireland – then a British possession, but the gauge is still there today. And weren't there three mainline gauges in India (or was it 4). And Australia, where every province had a different gauge - lasting into very modern times. There are a number of major systems around the world in what I refer to as British colonial gauge 3-foot 6-inch gauge, including still today in such places as Japan (not a colony, but the earliest Japanese railroads developed under British influence) and New Zealand. And of course the several gauges of South Africa.

Turning to the good ol' USA, the triumph of today's standard gauge was far from certain. I've been delving into assorted Pacific Railroad documents, with some interesting finds.

The Pacific Railroad Act of July 1, 1862 specifies that the President shall determine the common gauge for the Pacific Railroad (without any reference to pre-existing gauges made in the act). The Act just covered track west of the Missouri River. See Section 12.

Already on July 15, 1862 Lincoln was being lobbied by James A McDougall and James H Campbell (chairs of Senate and House committees on Pacific Railroad) about the gauge, in this case favoring 5-foot gauge. McDougall is a Senator from California. Also see a transcription.

On Jan 21, 1863, Lincoln set the gauge by Executive Order – at 5-foot gauge (now isn't that a bit of revisionist history, with documentation). Also in transcribed form.

Jan 24, 1863 lobbying Lincoln in favor of 4-feet 8 1/2-inches to match rails already laid in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and northern Missouri. But just a bit late, particularly page 2.

In the Act of March 3, 1863 Congress stepped in and set the gauge at 4-feet 8 1/2-inches.

Some worthwhile discussion on all this from the CPRR Discussion Group.

And finally an interesting write-up on the gauge question which also identifies the narrow rutted roadways in Pompeii and elsewhere as being for hand-drawn cars, not horse drawn vehicles.


[from the R&LHS Newsgroup.]

2/20/2007 7:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois.

James A. McDougall and James H. Campbell to Abraham Lincoln, Tuesday, July 15, 1862 (Gauge for Pacific Railroad)

From James A. McDougall and James H. Campbell to Abraham Lincoln, July 15, 1862

Washington July 15th 1862

Dear Sir:

The undersigned beg leave to remind the President that the bill passed & approved this Session for the construction of of a Pacific Railroad requires the President to fix the guage. This is done that the guage may be uniform from the Missouri river to the Pacific, so that through cars may be run. The necessity exists that the guage be fixed at an early day as some of the companies named in the bill are desirous to contract for material and rolling stock forthwith, so as to press forward the work.

We recommend that the grade guage be fixed at 5 feet, & herewith submit a communication from eminent engineers stating the advantages of that guage.


J A McDougall

Chm Sen. Special Com.

on Pacific R. R.

James H Campbell

Ch'n House Com do

2/20/2007 7:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The American Presidency Project

• Abraham Lincoln
Executive Order
January 21st, 1863

Whereas by the twelfth section of an act of Congress entilded "An act to aid in the construction of a railroad and telegraph line from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean, and to secure to the Government the use of the same for postal, military, and other purposes," approved July 1, 1862, it is made the duty of the President of the United States to determine the uniform width of the track of the entire line of the said railroad and the branches of the same; and

Whereas application has been made to me by the Leavenworth, Pawnee and Western Railroad Company, a company authorized by the act of Congress above mentioned to construct a branch of said railroad, to fix the gauge thereof:

Now, therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States of America, do determine that the uniform width of the track of said railroad and all its branches which are provided for in the aforesaid act of Congress shall be 5 feet, and that this order be filed in the office of the Secretary the Interior for the information and guidance of all concerned. Done at the city of Washington, this 21st day of January, A. D. 1863.


Citation: John Woolley and Gerhard Peters, The American Presidency Project [online]. Santa Barbara, CA: University of California (hosted), Gerhard Peters (database). Available from World Wide Web.

2/20/2007 7:28 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Recent Messages