Great Race To Ogden – The Central Pacific And Union Pacific Railroads


GOLDEN SPIKENational Historic Site The race is on!The starter”s gun has fired.Spurs dig in the racers” sides,They run for all or nothing.One prize, the far Great Basin.One Spur, the greed for trade.Another prize: The Nation”s eyesWould fix upon the winner!The longer line to junction pointWould gain the greater honor.The Great Railroad RaceAlthough the loose language of national lawmakersmade possible the great railroad race, it was motivated by practicalconsiderations far removed from the halls of Congress. Every mile oftrack, of course, brought its reward in subsidy bonds and land grants.But there were other compelling reasons for speed. Above all, bothcompanies aimed for Ogden and Salt Lake City, for the railroad thatcaptured these Mormon cities would control the traffic of the GreatBasin. If the Central Pacific won, it would carry the trade of the GreatBasin over its tracks to San Francisco; if the Union Pacific won, thiscommerce would flow east to the Mississippi. Each contender, therefore,strained to reach Ogden and shut the other out of the Great Basin.Each company, moreover, bore a constantly mountinginterest on the Government loan and on its own securities. Although the1864 Act gave them until 1875 to finish the road, every day that tied upcapital in construction without the offsetting returns of operation madethe burden of interest heavier. The Central Pacific faced the hardreality that the line over the Sierra Nevada had been expensive to buildand would be expensive to maintain and operate. Without a compensatingmileage on the level country of Nevada and Utah, the railroad would beunprofitable. Finally, the surge of public interest that focused on thePacific Railroad provided a less tangible but no less powerfulincentive. Both companies were convinced that the one that built thegreatest length of railroad would enjoy the greatest prestige in theeyes of the Nation.The Railroad Act of 1866, produced largely by thelobbying of Collis P. Huntington, cleared the way for the race. Itrestored the provisions of the 1862 Act by authorizing the CentralPacific to “locate, construct, and continue their road eastward, in acontinuous completed line, until they shall meet and connect with theUnion Pacific Railroad.” This act did not specify where the point ofjunction would be, and from president down to spikers and gaugers, themen of the U.P. and the C.P. set out to advance that point as far intothe territory of their competitor as possible.Two provisions in the acts of 1864 and 1866 helped.One permitted the companies to grade 300 miles ahead of end-of-track.The other permitted them, upon completion of acceptable grade, to drawtwo-thirds of the Government subsidy bonds before the track had beenlaid.As soon as Congress passed the 1866 Act, ChiefEngineer Montague sent C.P. surveyors to run lines north of Great SaltLake and east of Ogden in the Wasatch Mountains. By the spring of 1868they were working next to the flags of the U.P. survey near FortBridger, Wyo. Union Pacific surveyors, meanwhile, had staked out a lineacross Utah and Nevada to the California border.During 1868 and 1869, the decisive years of rivalry,both companies put grading crews far ahead of track; the Union Pacificeven leap-frogged some graders as far west as Humboldt Wells, Nev. inJune 1868 Leland Stanford took the stage to Salt Lake City. During thenext 6 months he contracted with Brigham Young and other prominentMormons to grade the line of the C.P. from the vicinity of HumboldtWells to Ogden, Utah, a distance of about 200 miles. The U.P. hadalready let a $2 million grading contract to Young for work between EchoSummit and Promontory Summit.Thus Mormon crews worked on parallel grades, derivingconsiderable profit from the rivalry and perhaps a measure ofsatisfaction at the discomfiture of the companies that had bypassed SaltLake City. In the final reckoning, the Union Pacific and Central Pacificspent about $1 million on grade that was never used. Also, since theU.P.

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in the end could meet only half of its financial obligation to theMormons, Brigham Young obtained $600,000 in U.P. rolling stock to equiphis own Utah Central Railroad.By the end of 1868 the Union Pacific had finishedgrading to the mouth of Weber Canyon and was laying rails down EchoCanyon. The Central Pacific, its track still in eastern Nevada, had madegood progress on grading between Monument Point and Ogden. Bothcompanies forged ahead. Expense was a secondary consideration. Theimportant thing was to reach Ogden first.In October the Central Pacific had worked a cleverstratagem which came very near succeeding. It had filed with theInterior Department maps and profiles of its proposed line from MonumentPoint to Echo Summit. Secretary of the Interior Orville H. Browning, whohad been hostile to the Union Pacific throughout, accepted thedocuments. Stanford then proceeded on the theory that the CentralPacific line was the true line of the Pacific Railroad, and the only oneon which subsidy bonds could be issued. In Washington, Huntington filedapplication for an advance of $2.4 million in subsidy bonds, two-thirdsof the amount due for this portion of the line.The Union Pacific, of course, protested mightily.Dodge and the Ames brothers hurried to Washington and used all theirinfluence to block the move of the Central Pacific. Browning retreatedand in January 1869 appointed a special commission, headed by Maj. Gen.Gouverneur K. Warren, to go west and determine the best route throughthe disputed territory. Congressmen friendly to the Union Pacificexacted a pledge from Secretary of the Treasury Hugh McCulloch that hewould not issue the bonds until the commission had reported the resultsof its investigation.They failed, however, to take account of Huntington”spowers of persuasion. As the administration of President Andrew Johnsondrew to a close, the Treasury Department prepared the bonds for issue.By March 4, 1869, when Ulysses S. Grant took office as President, it hadturned over $1.4 million to Huntington. When the Warren Commissionreached Utah, it found that the Union Pacific was almost to Ogden andhad obviously won the race. The commissioners therefore confined theirinvestigation to the line between the two railheads. But the issue wasto be resolved in Washington, where the new President and the officialsof both railroads had been brought by events to appreciate the necessityof working out a compromise.Dodge and several others interested in the UnionPacific met with Huntington in Washington on April 9, 1869. They drew upan agreement “for the purpose of settling all existing controversiesbetween the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroad Companies.” Theagreement gave both railroads access to the Great Basin, with theterminus to be located west of Ogden at a point to be agreed upon byboth companies. The U.P., however, was to build west from Ogden toPromontory Summit and there unite with the C.P. Then it was to sell thissegment of the line to Central Pacific. Subsidy bonds were to be issuedto the Union Pacific as far as the terminus near Ogden, and to theCentral Pacific from the terminus west. The following day, April 10,Congress by joint resolution put its stamp of approval on theagreement.


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