The Transcontinental Railroad

What it was like for the first travelers

I see over my own continent the Pacific railroad surmounting every barrier, I see continual trains of cars winding along the Platte carrying freight and passengers, I hear the locomotives rushing and roaring, and the shrill steamwhistle, I hear the echoes reverberate through the grandest scenery in the world… BridginRead more »

Steam Road To El Dorado

Mile for mile, it cost more in dollars—and lives—than any railroad ever built

It was not long after the completion of the Panama Railroad in 1855 that Bedford Clapperton Pirn declared with perfect composure that of all the world’s wonders none could surpass this one as a demonstration of man’s capacity to do great things against impossible odds. Read more »

Death Stalked The Grand Reconnaissance

Our half-known new western empire was mapped, in a great mass exploration, by the Army’s Pacific Railroad Surveys of 1853

The Pacific Railroad Surveys of 1853 —a grand national reconnaissance extending over half a continent and led by men who would later be counted among the most prominent soldiers and scientists of the Republic Read more »

Railroad In A Barn

Snowshed crews on the Central Pacific, battling blizzards and snowslides, built “the longest house in the world”

The Boomer Brakeman, a Paul Bunyan of western railroad lore, is supposed to have made the run over the Sierra Nevada mountains just once. For nearly forty continuous miles, in the 1890’s, the main line of the Central Pacific Railroad was covered by wooden snowsheds—a railroad enshrouded in one long, twilit forty-mile tunnel protecting the tracks and the transcontinental trains against some of the heaviest snows known to man.