Monday, May 28, 2007

First train

From: "Noel and Kris Parsons"

In her manuscript autobiography, written in 1924 when she was 76 years old, my great-great-grandmother, Julia Ann Barr Hamilton, wrote that she and Great-great-grandfather William Harrison Hamilton had been living in Omaha when they decided to go to California. She writes:

      So one morning, the first or second day of July 1869, we started to Calif. on the first through passenger train that went across that way from Omaha to Sacramento. Had a very nice trip except Papa had spell sick head ache. We never had to change cars but one time on the trip. I don't remember the name of the place we changed, but we got in the other train. It seems to me it was Agton we changed it. Well we went through mountains, saw snow, sun shining, but we went through a tunnel all the same in crossing those plains. At that time was dangerous. In one place I remember the train went as fast as it could. I guess they didnt have any one outside. Then in one place we went around the horse shoe bend. We went as slow as could go. Could see both ends [of the] train. They had two engines on in one place. I think that was the place. We had our grub box, had plenty to do us. Papa made Coffey on the stove. That is the way they heated the coaches those days.

      Well July 4th 1869, on Sun., we arrived in Sacramento Calif. I remember there was so many men howling, this way, this hotel, or another one. We couldent hardly get to the depot and I don't know if they had a waiting room or not, but Papa left me out on porch sitting on one of our trunks with my two little babies. He went to hunt Bob as the last we had heard from him he was in Sac. I don't think he had street or number but in the eastern part as I remember.

      It seemed to me Papa was gone several hours. After while he come back, hadn't found Bob. Well we had many a laugh years after at how green we was.

(1) Did the first through train (with one transfer) from Omaha to Sacramento leave Omaha on the July 1 or 2, 1869? It is my understanding that trains had been running on the route since early June.

(2) At that time was the trip only three or four days long?

—Noel Parsons, Lubbock, Texas


Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...


A most interesting recollection.  I'll observe the following:

1.  Traveling from Omaha to Sacramento, a person would only change trains once – at the junction between the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific.

2.  In 1869 (starting in May) the junction was at Promontory, Utah Territory, where the Golden Spike ceremony took place.  About January, 1870 the junction was moved to Ogden, Utah Territory.

3.  Even in 1870 riding the Transcontinental train would be considered a very new thing.  My suspicion is that the trip described was actually in 1870, and that in memory many years later riding the "new Transcontinental train" evolved into riding the "first Transcontinental train," and eventually into riding the "first run of the Transcontinental train."

4.  As to travel time, here is info based on UP and CP timetables from the very early 1870s.
On the Union Pacific: Depart Omaha (meal - lunch) via Train No. 3 Express at 10:00 AM (using Omaha time).  Grand Island (meal - dinner) 6:30 PM.  North Platte 1:40 AM.  Sidney (meal - breakfast) 7:25 AM.  Cheyenne (meal - lunch) 12:40 PM.  Laramie (meal - dinner) 5:10 PM (switch from Omaha time to Laramie time).  Green River 7:00 AM.  Bryan (meal - breakfast) 8:15 AM.  Wahsatch (meal - lunch) 1:35 PM.  Ogden (meal - dinner) 5:30 PM (still on Laramie time).
On the Central Pacific (all on Sacramento time):  Depart Ogden (meal - dinner) via Train No. 2 Express at 5:00 PM.  Promontory 7:45 PM.  Toano 4:00 AM.  Elko (meal - breakfast) 8:25-8:45 AM.  Battle Mountain (meal - lunch) 1:05-1:25 PM.  Humboldt (meal - dinner) 5:50-6:15 PM.  Reno 1:00 AM.  Colfax (meal - breakfast) 8:20-8:45 AM.  Sacramento 11:25 AM.  Presumably lunch after arrival.

Looks like about 4 days of travel.  I list meals as breakfast, lunch and dinner, but it is likely they considered them breakfast, dinner and supper.  Also remember this is before time zones were established.  Each town operated on local time, calculated by solar time.  Railroads picked a single time for their own reference (and note the Union Pacific switched reference times at Laramie).


5/29/2007 9:33 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Wendell Huffman"

An interesting recollection – in particular that the hotel/hack "barkers" at the Sacramento depot were so memorable. There is occasional reference to them in the newspapers, and I believe they were eventually banned. I recall one story of a greenhorn arriving in Sacramento and asking a hack driver to take him to a particular hotel – which happened to be within a block of the depot. He was given a long ride all around Sacramento before being deposited at the hotel.


5/29/2007 10:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When did travel start on the Transcontinental Railroad?

5/01/2022 1:38 PM  

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