This week in the Wild West

The construction of the transcontinental railroad was one of the greatest achievements of the Old West. On April 28, 1869 the greatest achievement of the construction of the transcontinental railroad took place.

The transcontinental railroad started with the Central Pacific Railroad coming east to meet up with the Union Pacific Railroad coming west.

In addition to the problems of mountains, rivers, weather and Indians, there were the logistics.  It required about 40 carloads of materials to build one mile of track. The tracks and spikes had to be transported by boat and then rail.  Ties were cut locally, that is, when there were trees in the area.

During the year of 1866 the Union Pacific laid only 250 miles of track. Finally, they got things “on track” so to speak, and during 1868 they averaged 35 miles per month.

The Central Pacific was doing no better.  It cost $23 million to lay 690 miles of track, much of it was through the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

But by 1869 things started picking up.  In the spirit of good ol’ American competition, the Union Pacific laid six miles in one day; the Central Pacific wired back that they had laid 7.5 miles. Having enough of this bantering back and forth, the Central Pacific boasted that they could do 10 miles in one day. Union Pacific wired back: “Ten thousand dollars says that you can’t do it before witnesses.”  

At 7 a.m. April 28, 1869, a crew of Chinese started laying track. During that day 25,800 ties were placed, and 3,520 rails were spiked.  The eight men who were transporting the rails carried a total of 1,000 tons of steel in that one day. A grand total of 10 miles and 56 feet was laid.

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