Monday, April 03, 2006

William Letchworth Patterson, UPRR Contractor

From: "Gail Whistance"

... I have visited your A.J. Russell steregraph catalog and found listed there several images of the Union Pacific construction relating to my great grandfather's work. He was the Patterson of "Miller and Patterson" which is mentioned in the captions of several images. It was very exciting to find that there are images of the actual work my ancestor did. ...

You might be interested in a bit of research I have done to verify that my great grandfather William Letchworth Patterson is in fact the contractor who worked with William Miller on Cut #5 at Red Buttes and at Tunnel #2 at the head of Echo Canyon. Even in Barry Combs' book, the first names of these two contractors were not specified. I found a U.S. Supreme Court case involving the two men, and in the opinion there is a reference to Miller's work in the construction of the Union Pacific in 1868.

Here are the specific images ... related to either Cut #5 at Red Buttes or Tunnel #2 at Echo Canyon.

Large-format 33, 34, 102-106, 120, and stereographs 145, 227-231, 265-266, 267A-267C, 270, 274.

—Gail Whistance

UPRR Pass 1869.

UPRR Pass 1869.


Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Gail Whistance"

... I don't have as much information on William L. Patterson as I would like. Here is what we do have: portraits, a silverplate coffe/tea set engraved with "P" presented to him upon leaving the UPRR project, a diary (which is not from the time working on the RR, unfortunately), and a UPRR construction pass issued March 18, 1869 which takes him from Omaha to Echo. At that time, the Echo Canyon #2 Tunnel was still under construction. It was finished so late that the track was routed around it until it was completed just before the last rail was laid. The construction pass is the only one known by the UPRR museum folks. In fact, my mother loaned it to the museum in 1939 for a special exhibition for the Golden Spike Days celebration. It is my grandmother's writing on the back (W.L.'s daughter). ...

Other than these few artifacts, we have only a few stories, one being when W.L. Patterson would come home to Council Bluffs to visit, he would always complain about the Irish work crews he hired to fufill the contract. W.L. was a teetotaler himself and objected to the rather loose drinking habits of his crews! He made a lot of money on the UPRR contract but then promptly lost it in bad business deals. The court case I referenced mentions that Miller went bankrupt ... My mother said that her grandfather made and lost a lot of money several times over. Apparently, Patterson had no formal civil engineering education but he was experienced in coal and ore mining in Pennsylvania and used his on-the-job training to good use on the UPRR project.

Here is another reference to Miller and Patterson in a letter to Gen. Dodge. Apparently, they were never referred to by their first names!

J. Blickensderfer, Jr. to Gen. Dodge, Red Dome, Utah, October 12, 1868:
Since writing my previous note I have been thinking more about your account of Durant, Seymour and Co., and their statement in regard to location &c. You will remember that I telegraphed you at an early day that contractors were making no preparations to begin work in Weber narrows and at the tunnels, and it is true that the location of both those places was ready before contractors were on ground or had shanties or tools. Weber Canyon was ready on 19th of June as I have heretofore advised you, and I say head Echo, rim of Basin and all important points were ready before contractors were ready or had men and tools on ground, unless we make an exception of Miller and Patterson and John W. Young, who might possibly have worked a few men 24 or 40 hours before they did, but not more. Seymour's and Reed's interference with my parties kept Weber narrows, tunnels and Weber Canyon back at least a week or ten days; but the fact is, they would not work in Weber Canyon when it was ready, simply because they had determined not to construct my location if they could avoid it, and hold off in hopes of compelling or accomplishing a change. I want to see you and have a talk with you about this commission but this can I presume be had at a future time. As I consented to accept, it matters less when I can see you, but would have preferred it should be before I had accepted. Will you notify Reed that our line is destroyed by work of C.P. Company? When retraced it might perhaps in some cases be changed a little, and thus kept away from their line if desired, and at the same time improved. Will note such cases. I think one occurs on eastern slope of Red Dome. If straight lines are the rage now I hope you can gratify them, and what will they say to your improvement of Hudnutt's line over Salt Flat east Promontory and Hodges' V line? Perhaps we should abandon 6% curves on Promontory and give them the work; and what about eastern slope Black Hills? Straighten that line?

—Gail W.

4/03/2006 4:55 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Gail --

I'm certainly glad that you posted comments about William Letchworth Patterson. You may be interested to know that a small cache of letters to Patterson from various UPRR officials relating to his work in Echo Canyon will be sold in our June auction of important Historical Americana. You'll be able to view the entire catalog online at within the next few weeks.

The letters are fairly routine -- but they paint a picture of the logistical issues that the construction engineers faced as they blasted the tunnel in Echo Canyon.

Wes Cowan

4/20/2007 6:05 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Gail Whistance"

... My keenest interest is in getting a photograph of William L. Patterson at the Golden Spike ceremony or on the job at Echo. This is unlikely as contractors were not identified by individual and many of the men at that time had full face black beards! In my online research into Patterson, I read that the work on the Echo tunnel was complicated by the weak structure of the rock at the beginning of the tunnel. They ended up having to shore up the walls and ceilings of the tunnel with shipped-in timbers until they hit solid rock. ...

—Gail Whistance

4/20/2007 10:10 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Wes Cowan"

Here's the catalog entry ...

William L. Patterson, UPRR contractor, 19 ALS', 12 covers, receipts, primarily March-December, 1867.

William Patterson, a native of Sterling, Illinois, along with a partner, William Miller, was one of the many contractors who worked west from Omaha to complete the Union Pacific link for the transcontinental railroad. This small, but fascinating clutch of correspondence provides a glimpse into Patterson's work – and the problems he faced – working in Wyoming along the Green River and then driving the Echo Canon, Utah tunnel through the Wasatch Range outside of Salt Lake.

The correspondence begins with a November 11, 1867 letter from Miller, written from Chicago telling Patterson that he has ordered derrick towers and drills for shipment West, along with rope and tackle for lifting blocks. He also relayed news that a National Bank was to be started in Cheyenne, and that he had instructed an acquaintance to rent a house in Fort Saunders. By March, 1868, Miller and Patterson were "on the ground." In a letter written from the UPRR office in Salt Lake, Thomas Morris writes Miller to inform him of the upcoming work season, though he cannot yet give him many details as to depths of cuttings or lengths of tunnels. Clearly sensitive to making certain that enough teams of mules, horses and oxen are available for the coming season, he instructs Miller to find Whether there are any teams needed by the men who now have any contracts ... and ... whether they are supplied with teams or no ... I can furnish from 30-50 teams now & could increase that quantity if required ... . By April 27 Miller was more certain of the work that lay ahead. I have decided about the line from Bitter Creek ... across Green River & up to the high ground between Green River & Black's Fork. This is the third line run – the other have grades of 120-80 ft for mile ... All the rock on my section some 70-80 miles (they say) will be slate of a clayey nature ... There will be one cut of this clay slate of 85,000 c.yds and two embankments of about 100,000 c.yds each. All good work. Perhaps warning Patterson of the preliminary nature of his plans he emphasizes that nothing has been decided.

July 14 found the Miller and Patterson crews decidedly "underway." Writing from an office in Weber, Utah, Morris the UPPR agent penned a letter beginning simply with I will furnish you with 50 head of good young beef in very good order at your camp at 11 cents pr lb ... I would like to furnish you with 30 head per month for next six months. Revealing the fluctuating price of beef on the hoof, Morris then goes on to project how the price/lb. will change in the months ahead. And then, perhaps revealing how the relationship between the UPRR and its sub-contractors operated, Miller baldy asks: How about hay? I want you to let me have the contract for beef and hay if I will do as well by you as others ... If you want flour send me the price you are willing to give what will you give for 100 sack good flour?. Finally, in a PS, Morris reminds Patterson – Don't forget what I told you about prices – Brigham Young will have "some work down here. It will not give him much spare time.. Alluding to the notion that the Mormons might get the contract for the head of Echo Canyon, he indicates that he (Young)will fail, and that UPPR official " ... will want Brigham Young west". This is the last letter from Morris. In July, S.B. Reed, another UPRR Engineer, writes from the Laramie Office of the Superintendent of Engineering and Construction delivering some bad news. Dear Sirs – The Company does not accept your proposition for work at the head of Echo and wishes to know what part of your outfit for that work you wish to dispose of.

Sometime between this letter and October, 1868 the partnership managed to find more Echo Canyon work – and was running up bills on the UPRR account. A 1p letter sent from Benton [Montana Territory] by shipping agent H. Brownson requests payment for 12 orders shipped from Omaha. Before the freight can be shipped, however, Brownson warns Miller and Patterson that he must have a signature of UPRR Engineer S.B. Reed. On the same day, October 5, 1868, Patterson received a letter at the Salt Lake House from Miller who was in the field, attempting to clear up some differences of opinion regarding their beef contract, closing Send flour. Men all at work good & strong. A week later, in a matter relating to Miller's request, Patterson received another letter from "Echo Summit", this time from John Lehner, presumably one of his foremen. The amount of flour on hand is 20 sacks. The number of sacks used daily is 6 ... all is well at Camp. Men are coming in fast and seem inclined to stay. The roof in the east end of tunnel is good does not require any timbers. Can make good lead way from both sides ... .send along William the cook if you can engage him in the winter. P.S. Since writing the above there was 6000 lbs grain come in ...

The logistics of running a work camp – and the problems of getting enough flour and grain – seems to have been a constant problem. Two days after Patterson received the above letter, his partner wrote from "Camp" on October 15, that grain was still tied up at Fort Benton, and that in spite of having recently received a $3000 payment " ... it [money] melts away like snow in July. As for grain we are bad off ... and that their supplier in Green River [Wyoming] " ... had none there but ... were engaging all the teams they could get hold off & shipping corn this way." And Reed, it seems was being negligent in getting his signature to the freighters in Benton: "I wish you would have Mr. Reed to send at once ... to have all freight forwarded ... ". And later on the same day Miller wrote again, in a separate letter describing a visit by none other than UPRR Engineer S.B. Reed himself. " ... he told me he had made our freight bills all right, so we should have no more further trouble." Miller found Reed " ... in great good spirits & said get timber & pay whatever it costs it mattered not how much it must be had.

On the same day another letter was written by Lehner to Patterson, and the issue of money and grain was the main topic of discussion. The $3000 you sent is all gone. I paid more than half to men from the old tunnel ... I will pay off the stone masons in full. The total amount due all of them is $2525.25 ... .The tunnel is trotting through ... I think we can depend on getting flour & grain from the East. A copy of a RECEIPT FOR SPECIAL TAX from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service is included in the collection, indicating that in August of 1868, Miller and Patterson were required to pay a tax of $10 for their work as contractors, specifying their work was being conducted in Echo Kanyon[sic].

The correspondence does not continue again until December, 1868, and by this time it is clear that both the partnership of Patterson and Miller, and the fortunes of Patterson personally, was in trouble. Two letters are included from Patterson's presumed brother-in-law (his salutation is Dear Bro, an attorney working for an insurance company back home in Sterling, in which he offer legal advice. While Patterson's complaint is never spelled out completely, it seems that he was sacked at Echo Tunnel and sent to the Black Hills at a reduced rate and put on a daily, instead of monthly salary. There are intimations that Patterson and Miller's work was not proceeding quickly enough: You write your bid or proposition was accepted in writing by Durant[sic] and Dillon ... The fact that no time was specified by you in your bid or by them in their acceptance relieves you from exercising any other than ordinary diligence and if the track layers are up to you and in waiting for you they will be compelled to keep doing so (that is wait)."

The correspondence is silent again until March, 1870. Two letters, point to debts and legal issues that arisen out of the Echo Tunnel project; it is clear now that the partnership has dissolved. Miller, writing from Omaha, tells his old friend of his new life as a farmer/rancher "It would do you good to see me plow and chop wood my cattle is doing well ... I want 400 acres planted & 100 more broke if I can." Then he gets to the matter at hand; the UPRR and the money they own the partnership. "Sir I am surprised that you think me so extravagant in my estimate of what the UPRR owes us ... if you can't get 50,000 or 70,000 dollars let us take the next best thing ... " Whether their disagreement was ever settled is unknown, but as late as July 5, 1870, Patterson was still trying. Included in the collected is a retained letter he wrote to Brigham Young asked for a copy of the Mormon's contract with the UPRR.

Collections documenting the nuts and bolts of individual contractors for the early UPRR are especially scarce, and this small but meaty collection reveals much about the logistical problems they faced, not only in the field, but politically, working with their employers.

C. Wesley Cowan
President and Principal Auctioneer
Cowan's Auctions, Inc.
673 Wilmer Ave.
Cincinnati, OH 45226

Tel. 513-871-1670
FAX 513-871-8670

4/24/2007 11:35 AM  
Anonymous mensajes claro said...

Thanks for sharing the letter @CPRR Discussion Group

1/12/2012 10:44 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Recent Messages