Railroads And Growth Of The West Essay

, Research Paper


The Railroad affected The United States in its own unique way.

One of the most notable railroads of its time was Union Pacific Railroads first transcontinental line, the greatest and most daring engineering effort the country had yet seen. This particular line was built in the mid to late 1860 s. During this time period it is said that America had a Railroad Fever. The goals of the transcontinental railroad were varied. The railroad was seen as a new form of transportation for people a, new form of trade, and a more efficient way to help protect the country. The government set aside a land grant to help fund the railroad, but after the high-profit epoch of the Civil War it was realized that it would not be enough to complete construction. The solution was The Pacific Railroad Act of 1864. This Act liberalized the funding available to construction by doubling the land grant and providing for land grant bonds, using the land grant as a backing for finance. After The Pacific Railroad Act of 1862 and The Pacific Railroad Act of 1864 all that was needed were workers and a route. Southerners in Congress wanted a southern route and Northerners wanted a northern route. The future of the transcontinental was undecided. With the South seceded, due to the Civil War, the North was left to do as it pleased and they chose a northern route, although it was the most southern route possible within the free states. This area was barren and with no urban centers around is was wisely stated that, Not in all that distance, not in 1,700 miles, was there a single settlement of any appreciable size except at Salt Lake. The railroad would join what essentially were two different countries: California and back East. This would turn out to be a large and expensive endeavor. The Union Pacific Railroad Company would need many workers at an inexpensive price. To bridge the wilderness with rails took six years and 20,000 men, most of who were immigrants from Europe and China. The nearly 2,000 miles of track were all laid out by hand. To this day it is still unclear how many lives were lost in its construction. However by the end of 1865 Union Pacific, (led by Thomas C. Durant- the vice president and general manger of Union Pacific as well as the President of the Credit Mobilier), had only laid out 40 miles of track and spent over $500,000 to do it. Criticism was so bad one paper read two streaks of rust across the Nebraska Prairie. In order to salvage the fortunes of construction, Durrant placed a new chief engineer in charge of building the railroad. The railroad needed financial supporters. Oakes and Oliver Ames, two brothers from Boston, invested more than a million dollars of there own money into the building of the railroad. Their shovel business had flourished during the goldrush and they had provided many of the cannons used in the Civil War. The railroad showed their appreciation by purchasing and using the Ames brothers shovels. The workers who were building the railroad from California to the East were mainly Chinese. Nine out of every ten workers on that part of the line were Chinese. Building on the Westward construction were many Irish Immigrants and Civil War Veterans, both were paid an average of a dollar per day. The transcontinental proved to be extremely difficult to build because of attacks from Native Americans, severe heat in the desert, and extreme cold in the winter. In the desert the tempeture would reach 110 degrees, and inside the engine cab it topped out at 150 to 160 degrees. During the winter of 1866 it took nearly 9,000 men, just to keep the track shoveled. The crews eventually built enclosed wooden snow sheds around the track, enabling them to continue making progress. With the railroad complete, it was time to start running the railroad. Settlement of the vast interior of the West moved full steam ahead. Land was cheap, railroad towns boomed, and industry flourished. Early on, acreage along the Union Pacific was perceived as better suited to grazing than farming, so it was natural that Union Pacific became the major carrier of grass-fed beef to Chicago markets. Other markets, such as that of coal, developed along similar lines. Today, the Union Pacific is one of the largest and fastest growing transportation companies in the United States. It is also the oldest Railroad Company in continuous operation under its original name west of the Mississippi River. Every day of the week, several hundred trains travel through Union Pacific territory, aided by state-of-the-art telecommunications services, advanced fiber optics, and the Harriman Center’s computerized dispatching capabilities. Though passenger travel came to an end for the Union Pacific in 1971, it’s interesting to speculate on what the future may hold. On this point, John Stilgoe, author of “Metropolitan Corridor” writes, “If the age of the motorcar ends in a succession of fuel shortages, if Americans look once again to the railroad train for swift, reliable, luxurious travel, the corridor will emerge into public view not as wreckage, but as a wildered antique; something to be restored and modified as enthusiastically as the wildered rural Northeast in 1915. Once again, its components will deserve notice, and once again the environment unique to the high iron will prosper. Once again, Americans will hearken to the locomotive whistle, the sound of the metropolitan corridor.”