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Union Pacific

Union Pacific: Volume I, 1862-1893

Copyright Date: 1987
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 820
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  • Book Info
    Union Pacific
    Book Description:

    Maury Klein, America's foremost railroad historian, re-creates the powerful personalities and dramatic events that led to the construction of the Union Pacific. With over one hundred historic photographs and maps, Union Pacific details the feat of engineering and human strength and also the wheelings and dealings that were waged as dreamers and scoundrels, politicians and patriots forged a pioneering enterprise in transportation._x000B_

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-9663-5
    Subjects: Transportation Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    Maury Klein

    The importance of the railroad to nineteenth-century America is well known. It played a primary role in transforming the country from an agricultural to a complex industrial society. Transportation has always been a catalyst of change in every corner of life. Within a century the modern world has been revolutionized by its progress from horse to rail to highway to airplane. In this process the railroad was present at the creation. It swept away all rival forms of land transportation by routinizing the shipment of goods and people. On regular schedules trains hauled larger volumes of more kinds of items...

    (pp. xv-xv)
  6. Map
    (pp. xvi-xx)
  7. Prologue: The Monument, 1965
    (pp. 3-4)

    The monument sits like an ancient ruin atop a desolate corner of wilderness in Wyoming, its granite blocks weathered and smoothed by a century of fierce storms and raging winds. On every side of the sixty-five-foot pyramid the view is spectacular. To the south the broad tableland of Sherman Pass rolls gradually toward the distant Front Range of the Colorado Rockies, their gleaming crests topped by Long’s Peak. The Medicine Bow Range with its thick stands of forest form a barrier to the west and the Black Hills, tumbled, lumpish mounds of pinkish rock and gray sagebrush, to the north....

  8. Part One: The Challenge, 1862–1869

    • 1 THE VISION
      (pp. 7-16)

      The vision was not new. It was as old as the railroad itself in America, where people had always trafficked heavily in dreams. In 1832, only four years after ground was broken for the nation’s first railroad, a Michigan editor called boldly for the building of a line from New York to Oregon on a route between the 41st and 42nd parallels from the Mississippi to the Rocky Mountains and to the coast along the valley “of that stream, called the southern branch of Lewis’ river.” Half a century later the line projected by this unknown dreamer would be occupied...

      (pp. 17-33)

      The birth of the Union Pacific as a mixed enterprise insured that for decades to come it would remain a creature of politics. All railroads had to deal in politics at the state and local level, but only the Union Pacific (and, to a lesser extent, the Central Pacific) was at the mercy of Congress. This dependence subjected the road to all the whims and passions, the vagaries and shifts in mood of public opinion, the pressures and venality, that gave national politics so distinctive a flavor. It forced the company into the lobbying business, not simply to get what...

      (pp. 34-50)

      The Act of 1864 dangled the prospect of improved federal aid for the Union Pacific but did not solve the problem of generating funds to get construction underway. Two obstacles discouraged investors from subscribing to the enterprise. The charter still required that stock be purchased at par with cash, and stockholders had to accept unlimited liability for the company’s obligations. These handicaps were enough to give prudent investors pause in a known enterprise; they were insuperable for a venture of such unprecedented scale and risk as the Pacific railroad. The costs of construction would be enormous and difficult to estimate....

      (pp. 51-64)

      In 1864 the question of what route the Union Pacific should follow had yet to be answered. The Platte Valley offered an obvious and easy trail from the Missouri to the Rockies. Over the years it had been tramped by buffalo, Indians, fur traders, Mormons, and emigrants bound for Oregon and California. But Dey’s surveys of the previous year did not convince skeptics that a feasible line could be found through the rugged, largely unknown terrain of the Rockies. Several crucial questions demanded answers that only more complete surveys could provide.

      The first difficulty arose at the fork of the...

      (pp. 65-88)

      The first rail went down in Omaha July 10, 1865, on the bottomland near the ferry. Unlike the groundbreaking ceremony eighteen months earlier, the mood was anything but festive. The townspeople were furious with Durant over the ox-bow incident and unimpressed by the laying of a few measly strips of iron. There were no crowds to cheer, no bands to play, and only a small force of workmen to watch because most had been laid oif for want of money to pay them. The first locomotive had arrived two days earlier and sat forlornly like a beached whale. For several...

      (pp. 89-107)

      More than the usual number of Union Pacific men crossed paths in January 1867 on the sloshy streets of New York. Jack Casement came to see Dillon but tarried no longer than he had to, grumbling to his wife that “this town has no charms for me.” He ran into Reed who, barely recovered from typhoid fever, was just as eager to leave but found himself detained the entire month. Hoxie was there, too, seeking a promotion to superintendent or land commissioner but convinced that Reed opposed him because he was a Republican and “to [sic] much of a politician...

      (pp. 108-134)

      The most striking fact about the early history of the Union Pacific was its lack of strong leadership. This shortcoming has gone virtually unnoticed in all that has been written about the company, yet it was decisive in shaping the road’s destiny. During these difficult years a parade of personalities tugged at its management, many of them forceful and capable men. Whatever else they achieved, none provided the sense of direction or unity of purpose essential for a successful enterprise. Some, like the Doctor, left their imprint in the form of scar tissue; others left no mark at all. The...

    • 8 THE PAYOFF
      (pp. 135-157)

      For twenty miles along the track construction trains piled with material sit waiting like the reserve of an army. The eighty-foot boarding cars, fitted with berths, dining hall, kitchen, storeroom, and office, go in first, shoved to end of track. Behind them the first construction train noses into place, ready for unloading. Alongside the track a fleet of wagons, each one drawn by two horses, pulls up to take on a load of forty rails with all the necessary spikes and chairs. Five men spring forward on each side of the wagon to grab the rails, which are thirty feet...

      (pp. 158-190)

      The way Seymour figured it, Durant’s courage needed shoring up. The Doctor had let Dodge blunt the effect of General Order No. 1 by reasserting his authority over the survey parties, thereby leaving Seymour in an awkward position. Blickensderfer, obviously relieved, seldom spoke to Seymour and did not even bother answering his letters. The time spent with Reed, however, convinced Seymour that he had won a new ally. Reed seemed to agree with him on the Utah line and appreciated Seymour’s support in the fight against Evans and Snyder. Thus encouraged, Seymour scolded the Doctor for discarding his views in...

    • 10 THE RACE
      (pp. 191-211)

      For one corps of the Union Pacific army the great adventure had drawn to a close. The survey engineers had finished their work all the way to Humboldt Wells. Dodge made them run a dozen lines over Promontory Point until he got one that satisfied him. As 1868 waned the survey parties were disbanded to cut down expenses and their chiefs relegated to the paperwork of maps, profiles, and accounts. Some of them remained with the company to work with the contractors on location or help lay out towns; others drifted off in search of new challenges on one of...

      (pp. 212-234)

      The stockholders’ meeting on April 22 was brisk and amiable, a gathering of friends in the State Street sanctuary of Glidden & Williams. The move to Boston was approved and the New York office closed; even the company seal was discarded in favor of a new one. Resolutions were passed confirming the new committees to oversee construction and sell bonds. Brooks, Hazard, and John Williams all gave short speeches that made less impression than a telegram from Dodge: CENTRAL PACIFIC RAILROAD, EIGHTEEN MILES FROM PROMONTORY SUMMIT. WE ARE TWELVE MILES FROM SUMMIT. After Williams’s speech the meeting adjourned without transacting...

  9. Part Two: The Quest for Respectability, 1869–1884

      (pp. 237-257)

      The joy of triumph at laying the last rail proved the most fleeting of moods, a night of revelry followed by a hangover of monumental proportions. For more than a year everyone’s energy had been bent, every nerve strained, to completing the road, pushing with blind, almost superhuman effort against the obstacles and complications that barred their way, leaving in their wake an ugly litter of unfinished business and loose ends. Now, on the morning after, collapsed by exhaustion, they awoke bleary-eyed to confront the debris piled high around them and were shocked by the sight. The opening of the...

    • 13 THE BRIDGE
      (pp. 258-284)

      The driving of the golden spike left only one gap in the rail line between the oceans. The Missouri River had to be bridged, a task as formidable as any that confronted the engineers in the West. At Omaha the meandering river was four miles wide with an adjacent floodplain on which it rose as much as ten feet during the high water season. The bedrock was covered with layers of sand, gravel, and silt deposited by a shifting, treacherous current. Before anything could be done, answers had to be found to three questions: Where should the bridge be located?...

    • 14 THE SCANDAL
      (pp. 285-305)

      The storms that roared in every winter always strained the road’s ability to function even if they did not shut it down. Operating men, still haunted by the nightmare of 1869, dreaded nothing more than the appearance of a monster storm. During 1871-72 the blizzards came with a vengeance, raging across the plains with a ferocity even grizzled mountain men had never seen before. The first blockaded the Union Pacific at Rawlins on October 12, and three more followed within a month. Sickels was shocked to find that the snow fences, which had worked well for two years, proved useless...

      (pp. 306-323)

      Although prospects for the fall trade looked good in 1873, there were enough contrary signs to make cautious men uneasy. Money grew tight late in August, a few small houses failed in early September, and an insurance company went down. On September 17 stock prices dropped sharply. Two days later, before the Street could catch its breath, the prestigious banking firm of Jay Cooke & Company suspended and was quickly followed by Richard Schell among others. Thirty more houses folded the next day as prices crashed and panic engulfed Wall Street. Several banks, including Union Trust, closed their doors. Overwhelmed...

      (pp. 324-341)

      It was one thing to plant Union Pacific at a high figure, another to keep it there. The first could be achieved by manipulation; the other required sound management and the development of business over the long haul. To accomplish this, Gould immersed himself in Union Pacific until he acquired an encyclopedic knowledge of its affairs. Some railroad managers were expert at finance, others at operations or development; none rivaled Gould at absorbing and integrating all these aspects. That he did this with the most difficult railroad in America to manage only makes his achievement more impressive.

      There was no...

      (pp. 342-366)

      “I have a dread of branches,” Gould told Clark in 1875, “but . . . it is a very important matter to the future of the road.” He was wise to approach the subject with caution. Railroad managers agonized interminably over the question of whether to build or not to build. Branch lines tapped sources of local business beyond the main line and discouraged invasions from rival roads. Gould regarded these as vital functions, but he shrank from the expense of building and maintaining branches. They were costly and clumsy weapons in a railroad’s arsenal; once employed, they could not...

      (pp. 367-384)

      The political role of railroads has long been misrepresented as a morality play in which powerful, ruthless corporations trampled the public interest underfoot until regulation curbed their depredations. In the folklore of reform the struggle between the railroads and “the people,” like most myths, contains enough truth to mislead. All railroads had an economic impact on the regions they served, which thrust them into state and local politics to protect their interests. The Union Pacific as a mixed enterprise had also to contend with the federal government. This perpetual battle at so many levels of government drained the company of...

      (pp. 385-399)

      To eyes unfamiliar with the nineteenth century it would appear as if society had found in railroads a substitute for war. The correspondence of railroad men rang with the clang of arms. They fought wars, launched or repelled invasions, made treaties and broke them, forged alliances, claimed suzerainty over territories, disputed boundaries, and squandered their resources in hopes of gaining the spoils of victory. Other roads were referred to as foreign lines or simply the enemy, who must be “slaughtered” or “crushed” or “routed” if they would not agree to terms. Every road was a sovereign state whose officials ruled...

      (pp. 400-423)

      Between 1879 and 1881 Gould erected a business empire of such magnitude and with such breathtaking swiftness that the railroad industry would never be the same again. Of all the business titans of his age, none managed to accomplish so much with so little so quickly. The extraordinary chain of events that would elevate Gould into a legendary figure began with his attempt to restore the fortunes of the Union Pacific.

      For six years Gould toiled unremittingly to make the Union Pacific the dominant railroad in the West. As the largest stockholder he reaped the largest rewards from advances in...

      (pp. 424-440)

      The men who actually operated the railroad fought battles quite unlike those seen in Wall Street or Washington. Their foes were more elemental and their struggle against them perpetual. In the winter came the snowstorms, in the spring threats of flooding at a dozen different rivers. Summer’s drought shriveled crops and the water supply for thirsty engines. Lightning ignited fires and an occasional tornado flattened company property; one twister in August 1877 ripped two spans off the Missouri River bridge. Apart from these spectacles, nature had slower, more methodical ways of grinding a railroad down. Rails wore, ties rotted, trestles...

    • 22 THE CRISIS
      (pp. 441-458)

      Everyone knew that expansion costs money and could be paid for only by a significant increase in business which, it was assumed, would come from the opening of new territory to settlers, industrialists, and merchants. More important, each road realized that if it did not seize untapped regions, someone else would. This reasoning doomed the territorial doctrine to extinction even though railroad men still paid lip service to it. Bitter experience had taught them that the surest connections were roads owned by themselves. Having lost faith in cooperation as a means of resolving disputes, they turned increasingly to construction and...

  10. Part Three: The Road to Hell, 1884–1893

      (pp. 461-479)

      The new president seemed the most unlikely of figures to take charge of a western railroad. Urbane, cultured, Harvard-bred, the heir to Presidents and ministers of state, Charles Francis Adams, Jr., survived the immense burden of his heritage better than most of his brothers and was the only one to venture into business. After service in the Union cavalry, he abandoned his original plans to read law on the premise that the country needed “trained thinkers,—men capable of directing public sentiment.” His future would be “business and literature,” hitched not to a star but “to a locomotive-engine” in the...

      (pp. 480-496)

      From the day Adams first took office, the “labor question” occupied his mind. Twice in recent months the company had tried to impose wage cuts or force reductions only to back down at the threat of a strike. All along the line the men were organizing, growing confident of their ability to make their weight felt. The government directors believed the company’s need to drive costs down to survive in the new competitive wars had forced workers to combine in self-defense. “There is no method now,” they lamented, “by which alleged grievances of the employe [sic] may be amicably and...

    • 25 THE SERVICE
      (pp. 497-510)

      War and expansion placed enormous demands on every western railroad. Like a nation mobilizing for war, the Union Pacific harnessed its resources to fight as efficiently and effectively as possible. The first imperative of the new competitive order was that every road do more for less, and none dared shirk that challenge. It was not an easy task. The problems were immense, the solutions expensive. Old attitudes and technologies had to be revised, a difficult adjustment for this most conservative of industries. Money had to be raised and defects of organization corrected. The work of integrating the system was both...

    • 26 THE ASSETS
      (pp. 511-530)

      The policy of development involved more than generating new sources of traffic. Adams was eager to press the work begun by Gould of cultivating the resources throughout the territory occupied by the Union Pacific system. The financial pressures wrought by unbridled competition made it imperative to transform these resources into assets for the company, both as sources of traffic and as separate bases of income. In his zeal to promote local industry Adams did not neglect the opportunities offered by raw materials and new services, but he was not as quick as Gould to exploit them. As the system expanded,...

      (pp. 531-549)

      The deeper Adams plunged into the labyrinth of politics, the more distressed he felt. If there was one place an Adams should have been at home, it was Washington, yet Charles found it a dark, foreboding maze where pitfalls and predators lurked at the bend of every unmarked path. There were two classes of citizens with whom Adams never grew comfortable: politicians and Wall Street men. Both offended his genteel sensibilities with their coarse manners and moral slovenliness and sly ways. Like the class of railroad officers he despised, they were hard-bitten, practical men who were surefooted in slippery, treacherous...

      (pp. 550-565)

      The good commander chooses his battles wisely and avoids a fight until his army is ready. During the expansion wars of the 1880s Adams tried to live by this maxim. He was in no position to fight everyone and everywhere at once. In many respects the Union Pacific was the Russia of railroads, large but weak, hobbled by ancient debilities, unable to harness its size or strength effectively against smaller but more nimble enemies. For Adams personally, the analogy carried one step further. Like the czar, he found himself a prisoner of advisors whose capacity he was helpless to judge...

    • 29 THE SYSTEM
      (pp. 566-583)

      In his grudging way Adams respected Villard, who was, among the jaded inmates of Wall Street, “a wholly different and interesting type.” He was an intellectual of sorts, a fellow member of the American Social Science Association, “the only man who can take an idea and work persistently to it.” Adams considered him the “biggest man of the crowd,” at least compared to the “crafty, dishonest, and grasping” Huntington or the “weak, garrulous and well-meaning” Harris. The fact that he was not a financier by trade made Villard attractive to Adams, gave them a kinship that would in the end...

    • 30 THE WARS
      (pp. 584-600)

      “I tell you,” a disgusted rail official lectured his fellow victims, “a war of rates is about as catching a disease as ever was seen. You gentlemen may think that you can make a barrier of the Mississippi and think that you can cut the rates there, but I tell you that it will creep beyond the Mississippi and will then go to the Rocky Mountains.”

      These words proved more than a prophecy; they became an epitaph for a generation of rail leaders who discovered too late that it was no more possible to fight a limited war than it...

    • 31 THE LEADER
      (pp. 601-621)

      Adams may have come into the Union Pacific as the man on horseback, but he spent most of his time playing the role of man on a tightrope. For six years he stepped gingerly through the perils of finance, expansion, the government debt, and a dozen other problems, seeking some delicate balance among them before he lost his own. The difficulties facing him would have crushed most men; possibly no one could have solved them. In the end, however, the fatal flaw that undid Adams lay not in the stars but in himself. The man on horseback did not know...

      (pp. 622-640)

      Adams had always been a man divided. The braggadocio of the man on horseback could not be sustained because it was a mere façade shielding an inner core riddled with insecurity and self-doubt. Introspection was a hair shirt he could never shed, making it difficult for him to escape his own reflection in everything he did. Adams lacked confidence in what he did because he lacked confidence in himself, and he lacked confidence in himself because he still did not know what he was or wanted to be. Like many men in that predicament, he inched toward a choice by...

      (pp. 641-660)

      Lane tried to follow Adams out the door but was persuaded to remain by Dillon, who considered his services “absolutely necessary.” One talent in particular, that of raising money, was desperately needed as 1891 opened. The company required $622,000 to meet due obligations. A large portion of this came from Gould, who had already loaned the Union Pacific more than $500,000. As the money market eased, Lane was instructed to find time loans to take up maturing sterling loans. In February Gould and Dillon fled south on a six-week tour of the Richmond Terminal system, the one exhausted from illness...

    (pp. 661-662)
  12. NOTES
    (pp. 663-774)
  13. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 775-776)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 777-798)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 799-799)