Tuesday, September 25, 2007

"Len Harris: Sierra Railroad Detective - Echoes From the Past"

"Len Harris: Sierra Railroad Detective - Echoes From the Past" by Gordon Richards, © Sierra Sun, September 25, 2007. (News Article)

"The Central Pacific Railroad, once construction was complete and the trains running, found itself with a unexpected crime problem ... including car robberies, arson, vandalism, assault and battery. They caused several major derailments in the Sierra and burned major bridges and snow sheds. ... To combat this flow of vagrants, hobos and tramps, as they were often called, the Central Pacific hired its own detectives to combat the criminals at their own level. These detectives quickly proved their worth, when in 1869, a gang of unhappy former railroad employees burned more than 8,000 feet of wooden snow sheds between Tunnels 4 and 5, overlooking Donner Lake; set the Cisco bridge on fire, and burned the Truckee roundhouse down. It took a couple of months, but the pioneer detectives solved the cases, and sent the gang to prison. By 1876, the detective corps had learned how to deal with the rolling crime wave. They always had a few men following under cover, town to town, behind the Central Pacific Pay Car. Much of the drinking and crime occurred in those few days after payday, and criminals followed the pay car, preying on the railroad workers. It took a special breed of veteran detective to deal with excesses of the Donner Grade. Veteran railroad detective Len Harris was assigned to the Sierra beat around 1875. ... " [More]

[Courtesy Google Alerts.]


Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

Is Gordon Richards correct when he states:

"The transcontinental railroad was a great disappointment to the average person in the West, because of the high rates charged for passenger and freight service."?

If true, why would people be disappointed or outraged that with the arrival of the railroad, transportation prices dropped by "only" 90%, but not by 95%?

9/25/2007 1:13 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Kevin Bunker" mikadobear45@yahoo.com
Subject: "a great disappointment"

Strangely simple, really. Most people hoped for the boon to shipping and travel that had been promised and touted by Pacific railroad boosters since the 1850s. Yet once the Union Pacific, and especially the Central Pacific railroads got settled into routine operations in late summer 1869 and into 1870, they exercised their largely unchecked power to charge whatever they wished for transportation of goods and passengers. It wasn't cheap, although it was marvelously more convenient than what had passed for transcontinental transport before 1869 – or ever before for that matter.

In the end, it was price gouging – as the public saw it – and legislative manipulation (through hevay handed lobbying) of laws and early attempts at government regulation by the large railroads that drove the public to demand serious "public utilities" regulatory laws, but these did not come – in California – until the rise to power of Hiram Johnson to governor of the Golden State. Thus, there was a roughly 30-35 year period before the public began to see railroads behaving toward them they way the public expected to be treated.

Rates eventually stabilized through regulation and competition as other railroads established transcontinental lines, first by the Northern Pacific across the plains from St.Paul-Minneapolis to Portland and Seattle, then the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe by extending its Chicago-Kansas stem across the Great Southwest to Los Angeles and San Diego, and eventually to Richmond and Oakland. Finally, the Western Pacific completed its portion of the next-to-last transcontinental line from Chicago to Oakland that was formed through a partnership involving the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy, the Denver & Rio Grande Western and the WP. The WP drove it's last ceremonial spike completing the railroad in 1909, not quite two years before Hiram Johnson's inauguration as California governor in January 1911.

While there was one last transcontinental railroad built, by extension of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St Paul Railroad from the Great Plains west to Seattle, this occured in the early 20th century. By this time, railroad rate regulation had already been fairly well established by individual states and the federal government.

9/25/2007 10:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From: "Chris Graves" caliron@cwnet.com

This ... "Railroad story I thought you might like" ... came to me today. I am recoupering from the reading of same in the NewCastle intensive care ward.


10/02/2007 3:37 PM  

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