Friday, August 30, 2019

CPRR Through Nevada & Utah by Zina Abbott

On an earlier blog post, which you may find by CLICKING HERE, I talked about the Chinese laborers who worked years grading, using explosives, and building track for the Central Pacific Railroad through the Sierra Nevada Mountains—a construction feat many engineers of the 1800s said could not be done.

August 28, 1867 – The Sierra Nevada Mountains were finally "conquered" by the Central Pacific Railroad, after almost five years of sustained construction effort by its mainly Chinese crew about 10,000 strong, with the successful completion at Donner Pass of its 1,659-foot (506 m) Tunnel #6 (a.k.a. the "Summit Tunnel").

December 1, 1867 - Central Pacific opened to Summit of the Sierra Nevada for a total of 105 miles.

June 18, 1868 - The first passenger train crosses the Sierra Nevada to Lake's Crossing (modern day Reno, Nevada) at the eastern foot of the Sierra in Nevada.

However, the CPRR did not stop at eastern foot of these mountains.  The year 1868 was one of feverish activity for both railroads. Two years earlier, the Central Pacific has successfully lobbied Congress to add an additional Amendment to the Railroad Act. The CPRR was no longer bound by a 150 mile limit from the California border, and the companies were permitted to grade 300 miles ahead of the end of track with the meeting point still undetermined.
Last remaining passenger car at Promontory Summit, May 10, 1869. Note the terrain.
The two railroad companies—Central Pacific RR and Union Pacific RR—could draw two-thirds of the government bonds as soon as the grade had been completed and before the track was laid. Congress had utilized the power of competition within the free enterprise system to speed construction. Both railroads took advantage of this provision. Once they reached the Promontory Mountains in Utah, they both kept grading track while they passed each other, sometimes within shouting distance. For the sake of the money involved, they probably would have continue building until they reached the opposite oceans if some sane heads in Washington D.C. had not called a stop to the travesty and insisted on a central meeting place.

Once they reached the relatively flat country of Nevada, Charles Crocker, the CPRR construction manager, announced a construction goal of a mile of track every working day. The route ahead was over a terrain that offered none of the difficulties encountered in the mountains, and the "mile-a-day" push went into high gear. Over 10,000 employees responded with almost superhuman effort. Approximately six thousand horses sped the work along. Canvas towns sprang up as the railhead was pushed steadily eastward. On October 1, 1868, the line reached Winnemucca, 325 miles from Sacramento.
End of track taken in 1868 in Nevada
They continued through the territories of Nevada and Utah. From 1865 to 1869, as many as 20,000 Chinese laborers worked on the Central Pacific Railroad, which ran from Sacramento to Promontory Summit, Utah.
Construction train in Alkali desert - ctsy of Union Pacific RR Museum, Ogden, Utah
I did not find a lot of information about the work effort through this region. What I know from traveling along Interstate I-80 which pretty much follows the route of the railroad tracks (as well as the earlier California Trail and the First Continental Telegraph) is that there is a whole lot of desert and very little water or vegetation other than scrubby sage in places. Out of necessity because the railroad needed water for its steam engines, the track was laid as close to water sources as possible.

Railroad in Nevada 2018, early summer after an exceptionally wet spring

Chinese Railroad Workers
Because of discrimination, the tens of thousands of Chinese workers—at one point constituting over 80% of Central Pacific's workforce (some estimate as much as 90%)—have been mostly forgotten, despite their contribution to an enormous feat of civil engineering and the terrible hardships they endured. While the Irish workers were paid $35 per month and provided housing, the Chinese were only paid at first $27 and then $30 per month but not provided housing. All of this in spite of the freezing temperatures, avalanches, and the dangers of their work that cost perhaps thousands of their lives. The Chinese workers likely put up with these injustices because many of them had come from Guangdong Province in China, which at the time was stricken with poverty and political upheaval. To them, laying tracks for the transcontinental railroad might have seemed a better place to be than back home.

Although originally, there was speculation that the Chinese were too small in stature to make good rail workers, this group proved all the nay-sayers wrong. The Chinese took daily sponge baths. Since they drank only tea made from boiled water, they were not subject to the diseases caused by drinking from contaminated streams and lakes. Young Chinese employees carried tea to the workers by means of yokes over their shoulders with clean recycled powder kegs hanging from each end. Thus, their tea was known as “powder tea.”

They also had their own cooks, and their healthful provisions were purchased from Chinese merchants. While the Americans dined on boiled beef and potatoes, beans, and coffee, the Chinese ate a variety of food, including oysters, fish, abalone, Oriental fruits, and scores of vegetables, including bamboo sprouts, seaweed, and mushrooms. Although they used opium on Sundays, they did not drink alcohol and returned to work on Mondays free of the hangovers that plagued their American counterparts. As a whole, the Chinese remained healthy.
Chinese Railroad Workers
Unfortunately, even though the Chinese workers had been essential to the success of building the Central Pacific Railroad, the owners and managers had no more respect or consideration for these laborers than most Americans. Once the railroad was completed, the workers were dismissed from employment without provisions to transport them back to California. They were forced to make their own way.

(Author’s note: Many of them chose to stay in Utah, even working their way down to Salt Lake City and probably points south. While perusing the microfilm of the early Salt Lake County death records for death and burial information on my great-great grandparents as well as other family members, I noticed several entries over the decades for single Chinese men who had found work in the county.)

I found this interesting personal story in Museum Memories, Volume 1, published by the Daughters of Utah Pioneers:

Nearly all of the Chinese laborers saved money while working for the Central Pacific. Some returned to China with their savings, and other settled in California where they raised families and became an integral part of the population.

Frank Woo said that his great-grandfather saved almost every cent that he earned while employed by the railroad and took it home to China. While working in Nevada and Utah, he raised chickens which were able to live off the land. Woo traded eggs for rice and other foods. He improved his diet by eating red berries from the wolfberry plant, which was indigenous to the Great Basin. He understood herbal medicine and knew the pharmaceutical properties of native plants. For example, he used dandelions to heal bruises. He obtained unclaimed clothing from his buddies who were doing laundry for the construction crews.

CPRR Locomotives

Until the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad and the Central Pacific Railroad's opening of its own shops, all locomotives had to be purchased by builders in the northeastern U.S. The engines had to be dismantled, loaded on a ship, which would embark on a four-month journey that went around South America's Cape Horn until arriving in Sacramento where the locomotives would be unloaded, re-assembled, and placed in service.
Governor Stanford 4-4-0 locomotive
The Central Pacific's first three locomotives were of the then common 4-4-0 type. With the start of the American Civil War in the East, the CPRR had difficulty acquiring engines from eastern builders. What was available to them were the smaller 4-2-4 or 4-2-2 models. 

CPRR#113 FALCON, a Danforth 4-4-0, at Argenta, Nevada, March 1, 1869 (Photo: J.B. Silvis)
Locomotives at the time came from many manufacturers, such as Cooke, Schenectady, Mason, Rogers, Danforth, Norris, Booth, and McKay & Aldus, among others. The railroad had been on rather unfriendly terms with the Baldwin Locomotive Works, one of the more well-known firms. It is not clear as to the cause of this dispute, though some attribute it to the builder insisting on cash payment (though this has yet to be verified), which was particularly difficult until after the line had been built to a point where the railroad qualified for the Federal grant money.

The CPRR eventually purchased 53 miles of UPRR-built grade from Promontory Summit to Ogden, Utah Territory, which became the interchange point between trains of the two roads. 

Escape from Gold Mountain will initially be offered on more than one vendor. The release day is scheduled for September 4, 2019. It is currently on a pre-order sale on both Amazon and Barnes & Noble. On September 5th, the book will move to its regular ebook price. If you are a Nook reader, the book will only be available for Nook purchase for a short time before it will be offered digitally exclusively on Amazon and in the Kindle Unlimited program.

The book will also be offered in print format and will continue to be offered for sale as a paperback on both vendors.

Here are the purchase links:


Museum Memories, Volume 1 (Salt Lake City, Utah: International Daughters of Utah Pioneers, 2009), Pgs. 404-407.

Monday, August 26, 2019


By Caroline Clemmons

There are several towns in the Southwest that are (in my opinion) unique—Santa Fe, New Orleans, San Francisco, and San Antonio. Choosing a favorite among them is difficult, but San Antonio wins. I have many happy memories of visits to this central Texas city. However, research for a recent release provided surprises.

San Antonio is located in south central Texas about 200 miles southwest of Houston and 150 miles north of the Mexican border. Spanish explorers first visited the site, then a camp of the Payaya Indians (which the Spaniards interpreted to have the name Yanaguana), on the Feast Day of Portuguese Franciscan friar Saint Anthony of Padua.

The year 1691 has been recognized as the beginning of a network of trails (caminos reales) that came to be known as the San Antonio-Nacogdoches Road or Old San Antonio Road. With stretches most likely developed from existing Indian trails, the road developed into a main artery for commerce and immigration.

But, San Antonio was not founded until 1718, when its first mission and first presidio known as San Antonio de Béxar were established at San Pedro Springs. The Mission San Antonio de Valero, later called the Alamo (Spanish for “Cottonwood”), was one of five founded in the area. The other missions are Concepción, San Juan, San Jose (called the Queen of Missions), and Estrada. Concepción Mission is the oldest continually functioning stone church in the United States. This Mission Trail has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Rose Window at the
San Jose Mission

Here is one of the truly surprising facts I encountered: In 1731 settlers from the Canary Islands laid out the town of San Fernando de Béxar near the presidio. Why did I not know this? I grew up in Texas and love Texas history. During its early years the settlement suffered from raids by Apache and Comanche tribes. By 1837 when it became a county seat of the Republic of Texas, it had been renamed San Antonio.

When the Alamo was built it included a large compound surrounded by walls. At that time the mission did not have the arch facade it now has. The arch was added when the mission was restored. At one time, there was speculation about demolishing the chapel. Fortunately, the Daughters of the Republic of Texas negotiated the mission's restoration.

Although I have never stayed at the Menger Hotel, I have wished I could. Our youngest daughter stayed there when she was in San Antonio for a conference. She was a bit disappointed that she did not encounter one of the ghosts rumored to be residing there. <g>

Early photo of the Menger Hotel

The Menger Hotel was built in 1859 by William and Mary Menger and has been in continuous operation since then. Their opening was so successful that they immediately added fifty more rooms. Mary cooked food served in the dining room. She received acclaim for her delicious food. One of her specialities was mango ice cream, flavored with mangoes growing in the hotel courtyard. 

During the Civil War, it was used as a hospital but did not close its doors. After William's death in 1871, Mary and her son Louis William continued. They sold not too long afterward so that Louis William could concentrate on the family brewery next door. Over the years the hotel has sold several times and gone through numerous renovations to retain its status as a luxury hotel.

Vendors in the plaza

One of the places I enjoy in San Antonio is the River Walk. I also love the river taxis one boards at the Casa Rio Mexican Restaurant. Of course, I could eat Tex-Mex food every day given the chance, so I look forward to eating at Casa Rio when we visit. The plans for what would become the River Walk were designed by Robert Hugman in 1929. I admit I am grateful for his vision.

1839 sketch of the Alamo

On February 23, 1836, Texas soldiers garrisoned in the Alamo began their fateful stand against the larger Mexican army under the command of Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna, who ordered the siege and ultimately the final assault that took place on March 6, 1836. The battle of the Alamo, which Alamo historian Stephen Hardin has characterized as the “most celebrated military engagement in Texas history,” immortalized San Antonio’s converted first Franciscan mission and its Texan defenders as symbols of sacrifice, and generations would recognize the rallying cry of “Remember the Alamo.” 

Facts about San Antonio abound. Due to museums, sports, theme parks and events it’s a popular tourist destination.

One of my favorite songs about San Antonio is “San Antonio Rose” by Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys. Enjoy!


If you would enjoy reading a fictional book with historically correct facts 
about San Antonio, AN AGENT FOR MAGDALA, a Pinkerton Matchmaker Series romance, is available from Amazon in e-book and print and is in KU. The buy link is