The Sins of Stephen E. Ambrose
Compiled by G. J. "Chris" Graves, Edson T. Strobridge, Charles N. Sweet
A review of Ambrose's new book, Nothing Like it in The World, and the summary of errors, misstatements and made-up quotes it contains. Compiled by G. J. "Chris" Graves, Newcastle, Calif., Edson T. Strobridge, San Luis Obispo, Calif., and Charles N. Sweet, Ogden, Utah, under the auspices of The Committee For The Protection Of "What is Truth" In Railroad History, G. J. Graves, Chairman. Minor editing and reformatting by Don Strack, Centerville, Utah.
December 19, 2000
Mr. Ambrose, one of our nations preeminent historical authors, who has a wonderful reputation for putting our historical past in a perspective that has advanced the interest in our nations history by making it easy and enjoyable for all to read has just published a new book:
"Nothing Like It in the World"
The Men Who Built The Transcontinental Railroad 1863 - 1869
At first reading of this new book it appears that the editors had missed a few typographical errors, however, the further one gets into the book the more it became obvious that the errors are not merely typographical, but the result of the lack of good historical research, careless reporting and extremely poor editing. As a result this book--being presented as a great new work on the building of the Pacific railroad--reads more like a novel than an accurate historical review. Apparently Mr. Ambrose did little more than read a number of histories of the railroad and rewrite their words with the occasional embellishment of some quotes taken from primary sources. However, poor documentation and a failure to understand either his secondary or primary sources undermines the value of this new work. It is full of errors and distortions and is offensive to many railroad historians who had looked forward to seeing Ambrose correct the bad historical writings of the past on this, one of our nations greatest accomplishments. In fact, Ambrose has only added to the misinformation that already exists.
To make things worse, most of the nation's book reviewers continue to praise Ambrose's efforts to the sky. One can only believe that these critics have little or no knowledge of the history of the time, know nothing about the building of the Pacific railroad and are intimidated by such a popular author. It appears that they are afraid to be critical of such a well known and popular historian. Perhaps their reputations would be effected by those that worship at Ambrose's feet, better to be politically correct appears to be the safe way out. It is also hard to believe that the professional railroad consultants Mr. Ambrose attributes much of his information to have not corrected these errors, or worse yet, if they did he did not heed their advice. One only needs to read the reviews by the purchasers of his book on Amazon.com to get a better feeling about what readers really think of Ambrose's efforts.
Mr. Ambrose recently read a review of his new book to a large audience that was broadcast on the TV channel for C-Span. He came across unprepared, stumbled over his text and it soon became obvious that he did not have a good first hand knowledge of what he had just written. At a recent book signing at the California State Railroad Museum a number of people, after listening to his review of his book, were observed walking out without out buying a copy. In this case a grievous error has been made by Ambrose by assuming that his fans would accept what he has written as being historically correct. For the first time he has written a history that has and is being reviewed by a great many railroad scholars and historians that know far more about the building of the Pacific Railroad than does Stephen Ambrose. These are his toughest critics and they do not plan to let him "get away" with his distortions of what really happened.
Forbes ASAP magazine recently invited some of "The World's Best Writers" to contribute to their Big Issue V featuring the theme "What is True". Mr. Ambrose contributed an article entitled "Old Soldiers Never Lie" and a few passages are quoted from his text:
"Nothing is relative. What happened, happened. What didn't happen, didn't, and to assert it is a lie. Historians are obsessed with what is true. They have to prove what really happened; in quoting someone, they must demonstrate that person really did speak or write those exact words. The problem is that facts are never sufficient. They require interpretation. And interpretation makes us hostage to histories yet written."
"Does that mean that everything is relative? No. As I said, facts are facts. And both historians and their subjects should never forget that." (Stephen E. Ambrose, Forbes ASAP magazine, October 2, 2000, pages 110, 111)
The use of the term "historians and their subjects" is an unfortunate choice. Webster's College Dictionary describes the word subject used in this context as "a person who owes allegiance to, or is under the domination of, a sovereign or state." If in fact Mr. Ambrose perceives himself in this context then he has greatly failed his subjects. He is correct in saying "What happened, happened. What didn't happen, didn't, and to assert it is a lie," but he has not proved the historical accuracy and in fact did not seek out the facts. He has forgotten the historian's responsibilities that he so eloquently describes and as a result his book is full of "lies".
Mr. Ambrose has failed to live up to his own high standards with his new book on the history of our nations first transcontinental railroad. He has used his reputation to foist on his readers a history that one should have a right to expect to be as close to being true as an expert can interpret it. In this case he not only has failed in that regard but it is obvious that Ambrose knows very little of his subject having taken most of it from second rate histories written in earlier years. Rather than build on the research and writings of past historians he has used the lowest common denominator without verifying his facts, coming to wrong conclusions and using interpretations that are not born out by any documented evidence. The tragedy in all this is that his "subjects" and fans who respect his writings will come to believe what he has written is true. It is a far cry from the truth. In the opinion of many railroad historians this history can be relegated to the list of some of the worst examples of the true history of the Pacific Railroad yet published. He should be ashamed of himself.
Mr. Ambrose being recognized as one of our most popular and eclectic historians, especially for his ability to make our history come alive and interesting in this generation of mass media, television and bad movies, must be held to a higher standard. He has been commended for some of his earlier writings but with this new book he has cast doubt on the accuracy of his previous works and has not enhanced his reputation as one of our foremost authors. His new book appears to have been produced for the masses by Ambrose and his publisher in order to capitalize on his reputation and make a quick buck. What could have been a great work has fallen far short of what his fans have a right to expect. Too bad, we are all the losers for it.
For those interested, a partial list of errors and inaccurate historical references follows along with the facts that were apparently never considered.
Page 18, paragraph 2:
"added California and Nevada and Utah to the Union in 1848."
Ambrose may mean that the territory encompassed by today's California, Nevada and Utah became a part of the United States under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo signed in 1848. If so he confuses the reader who may rightly consider the word "Union" to refer to the Union of American States. Under the latter understanding, California was admitted to the Union in 1850. Nevada in 1864, and Utah in 1896. Congress created the territories of Utah and Nevada in 1850 and 1861 respectively. California never existed as a territory. Strictly speaking, none of the present three states were "added to the Union" in 1848.
Page 20, paragraph 2:
"Except for Salt Lake City, there were no white settlements through which the lines were built. No white men lived in Nebraska west of Omaha, or in Wyoming, Utah or Nevada There was no market awaiting the coming of the train."
The Central Pacific never ran through Salt Lake City; its eventual railroad connection was the Utah Central built in 1870. However, the Mormon settlements--with a population of over 60,000--did present the transcontinental railroad with both a major market to serve as well as a significant source of labor for its construction. Furthermore, a population of over 16,000 in Nevada also provided a market for the Central Pacific to serve. The Dutch Flat and Donner Lake Wagon Road--a toll road constructed by the Big Four--brought the railroad millions of dollars of revenue from freight hauled from California to the Comstock mining district of Nevada as well as to the mining districts of Idaho.
Page 21, paragraph 2:
"The dirt excavated for cuts...removed one handheld cart at a time. The dirt filling a dip or a gorge in the ground was brought in by hand cart. Some of the fills were enormous, hundreds of feet high and a quarter mile or more in length."
The Central Pacific's crews moved excavated material by one horse dump carts along with wheelbarrows. The Mormon contractors on the Central Pacific used horsedrawn scrapers. Ambrose uses the same term "handcarts" again on Page 110, paragraph 4. Few fills on the entire line were over 100 feet high.
Page 43, paragraph 3:
"the discovery of gold on a branch of the American River about forty miles west of present-day Sacramento."
The gold discovery that started the California Gold Rush was made at Coloma, 35 miles northeast of present-day Sacramento.
Page 55, paragraph 2:
"The need for an experienced railroad engineer became obvious, and in 1853, the President of the [Sacramento Valley Railroad] sailed to New York to find such a man. He conferred with Governor Horatio Seymour of New York State and his brother Colonel Silas Seymour, who knew and recommended Theodore D. Judah."
NY Governor Horatio Seymour and "Col." Silas Seymour were not brothers, they were related but no closer than fifth cousins and there is no evidence that they even knew each other (Seymour Family Genealogy)
Page 58, paragraph 3:
"On August 9  the first rail laid west of the Missouri [River] and the first in California was laid."
There were at least two railroads in California with iron rails before 1855. A contractors railroad in San Francisco even provided California's first railroad fatality in July 1851 with one S. Mellison crushed between a trains iron wheels and the iron rail. In 1853 a mining railroad with iron rail hauled ore from Virginia Hill to Auburn Ravine in Placer County.
Page 65, paragraph 2:
"Judah worked on a bill incorporating the wishes of the Sacramento Convention"
The 1859 Pacific Railroad Convention was held in San Francisco.
Page 69, paragraph 1:
"[Theodore D.] Judah, the man who built the suspension bridge at Niagara Falls"
Theodore D. Judah was the Chief Engineer of the Niagara Gorge railroad which ran from Niagara Falls to Lewiston. The Niagara falls suspension bridge was designed and built in 1853 by John A. Roebling, who later built the Brooklyn Bridge.
Page 105, paragraph 3:
"So Charlie Crocker drew up a contract awarding the Charles Crocker Contract and Finance Company and several minor companies the right to build the first stretch of road."
There was no Charles Crocker Contract and Finance Company. Charles Crocker had resigned from the Central Pacific's Board of Directors in 1862 and was not part of approving the awarding of contracts. As a contractor he did receive several construction contracts as Charles Crocker & Company. The Contract and Finance Company was formed in late 1867 and was awarded the contract to build the Central Pacific eastward from the California/Nevada State line.
Page 106, footnote:
"* His place on the board was taken by Hopkin's brother E.B. Hopkins, who had just been named interim chief justice of California by Governor Stanford, who was also president of the CP."
Mark Hopkin's brother was named Moses and had nothing to do with the railroad. It was Charles Crocker's brother Edwin B. Crocker, who was also one of the "Associates" was named as chief justice of California by Governor Stanford.
Page 109, paragraph 2:
"Governor Stanford managed to prod the California legislature into donating to the CP millions of dollars in state bonds to be issued at the rate of $10,000 per mile after the completion of specified amounts of track."
The California legislature only agreed finally to pay the interest on $1.5 million of Central Pacific 7% bonds. Ambose does manage to state this correctly on page 121, paragraph 3, but in doing so appears to contradict himself.
Page 115, paragraph 2:
"On Oct. 3rd, 1863,[Theodore D.] Judah and Anna set off on the steamer St. Louis. Unknown to the couple, a few days later, while sailing south, they passed the [ship] Herald of the Morning, which was coming north after leaving New York months ago, carrying the CP's first hundred tons of rail, the first locomotive, and other assorted hardware."
The first rail arrived in San Francisco on September 20, 1863 aboard the Clipper ship Herald of the Morning, nearly two weeks before Judah's departure. The first locomotive arrived on a different ship, the Artful Dodger, whose arrival was reported in the October 6th edition by the Sacramento Union as having arrived in Sacramento on October 5th. George Kraus, High Road to Promontory [op. cit.] Page 71 states this event occurred "four days before he [Judah] sailed".
Page 118, paragraph 3 and 4:
Referring to "Junction, today's Roseville, sixteen miles out of Sacramento ... Back behind Newcastle, where the track was being laid, ... Others (the men who did the work) dropped the rails ... and spiked them in with their heavy sledgehammers ... and connected the ends with fishplate."
Roseville is 18 miles from Sacramento. The rails for the first approximate eighty miles were connected with railchairs, metal brackets in which rail ends were held and then spiked down. Fishplates, iron bars punched with holes, used to bolt together the ends of rails, were not used on the Central Pacific until they had reached a point above Blue Canyon in late 1866 some two years later and approximately eighty miles from Sacramento. (US Railroad Commissioners report to the U.S. Sec. of Interior)
Page 119, paragraph 4:
Page 120, paragraph 1, 2, and 3:
paragraph 4:"Bloomer Cut, just beyond Newcastle, would take months to complete...composed of naturally cemented gravel...moved out one wheelbarrow at a time. The working men used black powder to loosen up the gravel at Bloomer. As much as five hundred kegs of blasting power(sic) a day in early 1864 - more than most major battles in the ongoing Civil War - at a cost of $5 to$6 per keg."
paragraph 1: "...with the rock so hard that it was sometimes impossible to drill into it for a sufficient depth for blasting purposes. Shot after shot would blow out as if fired from a cannon."
paragraph 2:"After the blast the men used picks and shovels to fill their wheelbarrows or one horse carts to move the gravel out."
paragraph 3:"Strobridge lost the sight of his right eye at Bloomer Cut, when black powder was delayed and ended up exploding in his face."
These four paragraphs are another example of the recorded facts taken out of context which result in a complete distortion of the actual events that occurred. Ambrose cites from sources that are second and third generation descriptions used without any source documentation and are so exaggerated that they have largely been discounted by railroad historians. He writes on page 119 that the material was "moved, one wheel barrow at a time" and on page 120 he allows that either "wheel barrows or one horse carts" were used. The attention to this conflict is important as this is the first time he gives credit to the use of horse drawn carts for removal of excavated material since his claim on page 21; "dirt for cuts was removed by one handheld cart at a time." The claim of using "more Black powder a day in early 1864 - more than most major battles in the ongoing Civil War" is unimaginable. Ambrose cites the figure of 500 kegs a day (25 lbs.per keg), which represents 12,500 lbs of black powder a day and he writes it "would take months to complete". By no stretch of the imagination could black powder in the quantities Ambrose cites have been used. "What happened, happened. What didn't happen, didn't and to assert it is a lie," (Stephen E. Ambrose, Forbes Magazine ASAP, Oct. 2, 2000).
There is no supporting evidence that as many as 500 kegs of blasting (Black) powder was used a day in Bloomer Cut. Indeed, it is unreasonable to believe that even that much blasting powder was used in the entire 800 foot long Bloomer Cut excavation. The Placer Herald of July 30, 1864 reported "that the number of men at work in Bloomer Cut did not exceed forty as that was all that could be worked to advantage." Bloomer Cut itself contained no more that 25,000 to 30,000 cubic yards of material removed for construction. Typically, after drilling a hole to some depth, a small charge of powder of up to 50 lbs was used to open up seams in the rock and earth. Powder was then poured into the open seams in larger quantities and ignited. Kraus, High Road to Promontory, page 135 writes: "When Mountain construction was at its height more than 500 kegs of powder a day were used." He refers to the entire line which included eight tunnels being worked simultaneously and heavy rock work east of the summit. Ambrose includes in his statement "Shot after Shot would blow out as if fired from a cannon". This statement is taken from Henry Root's recollections of May 1866, "In the vicinity of Cisco, the rock was so hard that it seemed impossible to drill into it a sufficient depth for blasting purposes. Shot after shot would blow out as if it were a cannon." Cisco is 60 miles above Bloomer Cut and was not reached until two years later.
Strobridge did lose his right eye in a blast that occurred when he and two of his workmen were attempting to open up a seam that had earlier been loaded with powder which had failed to go off . The normal practice on a failed shot was to reopen the seam and fill it with water in an attempt to float the powder to the surface. One of the workmen, using a crowbar or drill, apparently struck a rock which caused the powder to prematurely explode, killing one and injuring the other two men.
Page 146, paragraph 3:
"The Sierra Nevada that King described [in his 1866 exploration] are the principle topographical feature of the American Far West. The summits, many enveloped in glaciers, run from six thousand feet in the north to ten thousand feet west of Lake Tahoe in the center."
Glaciers do not envelop anything south of Mt. Hood in Oregon with the possible exception of Mt. Shasta which is pushing the word envelop. (Dr. Andrew Fountain, US Correspondent to the World Glacier Monitoring Service, Departments of Geology and Geography, Portland State University.
Page 147, paragraph 4:
"Rail delivered at San Francisco cost $147.67 a ton. Then came the charges for transfer from ships at San Francisco to the lighter, then unloaded at Sacramento, then for transportation up the Sacramento River."
Ambrose's statement--like that cited above relative to the discovery of gold--suggests that he lacks a clear understanding of California geography. Rail would never have been transported up the Sacramento River after being unloaded at Sacramento. His source, Lewis Clement, actually said "the rail costing, delivered at Sacramento, $143.67, not including transfer from ships at San Francisco to the lighter, nor for transportation up the Sacramento River" [to Sacramento]. The Sacramento River runs northerly from Suisun Bay to Sacramento. The American River runs east from there however rail was never sent by river east. They used wagons and the railroad.! (see US Pacific Railway Hearings, exhibit No. 8, July 21, 1887, page 2576; Clement to Stanford)
Page 148, footnote:
Referring to Bloomer Cut: "The line now runs through tunnels to the north"
The No.1 track of the Southern Pacific (now Union Pacific RR) which is on the original line of the Central Pacific still is an active westbound track and still runs through Bloomer Cut. The 1910 track ( The No. 2 track, eastbound) runs through two tunnels to the north.
Page 150, paragraph 3:
In a discussion of Charles Crocker relating to the hiring of Chinese workmen Ambrose writes:
"Stro, as he was known to his friends, was opposed. He said all the whites currently working with him would take off, and anyway what did the Chinese know about railroad construction? "I will not boss Chinese!" He declared, "They built the great Wall of China didn't they," replied Crocker. "Besides, who said laborers have to be white to build railroads?""
In sworn testimony in the United States Pacific Railway Commission hearings in San Francisco in 1887 Charles Crocker's testimony is recorded as describing his discussions with J.H. Strobridge in his efforts to convince him to hire Chinese.
What Crocker did say is: "I recollect that I had a great deal of trouble to get Mr. Strobridge to try Chinamen. At first, I recollect that four or five Irishmen, on pay day, got talking together, and I said to Mr. Strobridge, "There is some little trouble ahead." When I saw this trouble impending a committee come over to us to ask for an increase in wages. I told Mr. Strobridge then to go over to Auburn and get some Chinamen and put them to work. I said, "There is no particular hurry. You can get Chinamen." The result was that the Irishmen begged us not to have any Chinese come, and they resumed work. It was four or five months after that before I could get Mr. Strobridge to take Chinamen."
This is a far cry from the statements used by Ambrose. He has either misquoted his sources or taken them from second and third generation stories fabricated and embellished by his cited sources. Ambrose's quote: ""They built the Great Wall of China didn't they," replied Crocker, "Besides, who said laborers have to be white to build railroads"" is taken completely out of context. What Crocker did say was: "I recollect that Mr. Strobridge said once, "Make Masons out of Chinamen?" and I said, "Did they not build the Chinese wall, the biggest piece of masonry in the world.?""
The statement "Besides, who said laborers have to be white to build railroads" is a made up quote, with no basis in fact, cited from a third generation source that used the statement as a photo caption without citation and published in a "Coffee Table" book collection of railroad photographs.
Ambrose has used and quoted from many secondary sources, some with third generation quotations and many of whom have little credibility among serious railroad historians. Why he has not used the sworn testimony in the Senate Pacific Railway Hearings is a mystery as he has used it as a source for other of his comments. Mr. Ambrose has recently published his opinion; "Historians are obsessed with what is true. They have to prove what really happened; in quoting someone, they must demonstrate that person really did speak or write those exact words." "What happened, happened. What didn't happen, didn't, and to assert it is a lie." Mr. Ambrose has failed to follow his own high standards.
Page 155, paragraph 5:
"the longest tunnel ...at 1659 feet...twenty six feet wide and 20 feet high... would bore through the summit itself (6)."
The Chief Engineer's Report of July 1st, 1869, signed by Sam Montague, and taken from the 1887 Pacific Railroad Hearings clearly states that all of the tunnels through solid rock which did not require lining (which includes tunnel No.6) were 16 feet wide and 11 feet to the springline with an Arch of an 8 foot radius. The greatest height then was nineteen feet with a width of 16 feet for unlined tunnels.
On page 232, paragraph 2, Ambrose does use the correct dimensions and uses citations from and Engineers speech as quoted in his source, George Kraus, High Road to Promontory. Another example of an obvious conflict that does not help the reader.
Page 156, paragraphs 2, 3, and 4:
The following are extracts from Ambrose's description of the construction of the Central Pacific roadbed around "Cape Horn".
paragraph 2:"One of the most feared stretches ran three miles along the precipitous gorge of the North Fork of the American River, nicknamed "Cape Horn". The slope was at an angle of seventy-five degrees. The grade would be built on the side of the mountain which required blasting and rock cuts on the sheer cliffs. Men had to be lowered in a bos'n's chair from above to place the black powder, fix and light the fuses, and yell to a man above to haul them up."
paragraph 3:"One day in the summer of 1865, a Chinese Foreman went to Strobridge, nodded, and waited for permission to speak, when it was granted he said that men of China were skilled at work like this. Their ancestors had built fortresses in the Yangtze gorges. Would he permit the Chinese crews to work on Cape Horn? If so, could reeds be sent up from San Francisco to weave into baskets?"
paragraph 4:"The reeds came on. At night the Chinese wove baskets similar to the ones their ancestors used. The baskets were round, waist high, four eyelets at the top, painted with symbols. Ropes ran from the eyelets to a central cable. The Chinese went to work-they needed little or no instruction in handling black powder - with a hauling crew at the precipice top."
"The precipitous gorge of the North Fork of the American River, nicknamed Cape Horn" is not three miles long. At best it is no more than 1200 feet* where the railroad builtits track and 1322 feet** above the American River, not twenty two hundred feet. The American River Canyon is not a "gorge" and the river is a mile distant as viewed from the Cape Horn vista.
* As measured from the Southern Pacific R/W map between Engineers Stations 3032+00 to 3044+00 along the original Central Pacific line.
** USGS Map, Colfax Quadrangle, California, 7.5 Minute Series
The construction of the railroad around Cape Horn is the basis of much legend, and it is difficult to separate fact from fancy. There is no mention of the Cape Horn construction in the internal papers in the Collis P. Huntington collection, no records found in the archives of the Southern Pacific Co., no description in the 1887 Senate Pacific Road Commission Hearings and no descriptions found in the contemporary newspapers that were covering almost daily the construction activities of the Central Pacific railroad. There are at last five publications that date between 1869 and 1884 that each describe "daring workman" as having been "lowered by ropes", "securely tied around their bodies", "held by ropes," etc., one railroad guide quoting Leland Stanford "with ropes around their waists, picking away in that solid granite to make places to put their feet to begin drilling and blasting for the road." The theme of all these early references describe the first workman being let down the precipitous slope, suspended by a rope firmly tied around their bodies while they hammered away to make for themselves standing room on a narrow ledge from which to work. None of them describe the use of baskets for suspending the workmen.
Ambrose repeats the legend of the baskets as fact which is a reckless conclusion. It is not unreasonable to conclude that the first workman were used to cut away a narrow bench from which to start the blasting for the wider roadbed for the railroad while being suspended from above by a rope sling of some kind. Men still may have been tied with ropes around their bodies for safety reasons but once a shelf had been established from which to work the road bed construction advanced at a rapid rate being worked from the top and both ends. The effort was uneventful enough for the Engineers, C. Crocker and J.H Strobridge that there has not been found any documentation, comments or newspapers stories regarding the Cape Horn work with the exception of Chief Engineer Samuel Montague's comment that the work was "less difficult and expensive than was first anticipated." No contemporary sources have been located relating that any workers were suspended in baskets. Indeed, this seems unreasonable given that the slope at Cape Horn was less than vertical and it was not necessary to suspend workers in mid air.
Author Corinne Hoexter in her "From Canton to California, The Epic of Chinese Immigration" 1976, has written a story about Cape Horn which appears to have been paraphrased by Ambrose however he does not directly cite her work as a reference; "nearly perpendicular cliff,"..."rose 1400 feet at an angle of seventy five degrees", ... "Chinese waiting to talk to Strobridge to gain permission to make reed baskets",..."with four eyelets, printed with symbols" and goes on to embellish the original stories handed down from 1869. Hoexter cites no authority for her source of information. Based on this new "interpretation" artists have sketched and painted scenes depicting Chinese workman, swinging over the face of a vertical cliff, standing in baskets suspended from ropes which are all "interpretations" of the artist based on wildly imaginative historical reporting. The entire Cape Horn story that has evolved over the years is just another example of historians accepting local myths as being fact.
"Historians are obsessed with what is true. They have to prove what really happened. In quoting someone, they must demonstrate that person really did speak or write those exact words." (Stephen E. Ambrose, Forbes ASAP magazine, Oct. 2, 2000, Page 110)
Page 187, paragraph 4:
"Exaggeration is endemic to railroad historians."
Mr. Ambrose has made a point with the above statement but he is more guilty than many historians for his endemic exaggerations, especially in this self proclaimed railroad history. Mr. Ambrose, by his own admission, has taken on a subject he knows nothing about and has had to use the work of many earlier railroad historians for the bulk of his text. And he still got it wrong! He has stated that he believes that "Maury Klein's two volume history of the Union Pacific, is a model for scholarship, for writing, and for thinking his subject through before making a statement and that George Kraus, High Road to Promontory: Building the Central Pacific Across the High Sierra, is the basic source on the subject. The two who have my gratitude and respect ahead of all others are Maury Klein and George Kraus."
Why then does Ambrose go on to make most of his references and citations using secondary authors, many who have written grossly exaggerated histories and which most dedicated "railroad historians" have discounted long ago. Was it for the interest value to grab his readers attention, a technique that authors enjoy using to make a history more readable, whether it is accurate of not. That is in fact why he thought that he "believed that railroad builders were models for Daddy Warbucks, made obscene profits which they used to dominate state and national politics." He mentions "The Octopus: A History of Construction, Conspiracies & Extortion" about the way the Big Four ruined California and on and on. He"wanted nothing to do with those railroad thieves. (Page 7, paragraph 1)"
He was guilty of believing these endemic exaggerators of the past, he, a professional historian who preaches that " What happened, happened. What didn't happen, didn't, and to assert it is a lie." So Mr. Ambrose spent six months reading the major items in literature, so he could see if there was a reason for a new or another book on the subject. Most serious historians write because of their love of the subject and become extremely knowledgeable and want to write to tell the story. Ambrose does not practice what he preaches and needs to be held to the high standard that he espouses. One thing is obvious, he does not include himself in the statement on "Exaggeration" as he certainly is not a railroad historian.
Page 198, paragraph 5:
"Strobridge lived in a manner that all others, even Crocker envied. His wife, Hannah Maria Strobridge, and their six adopted children were with him, living in a standard passenger car pulled by the headquarters locomotive, which stayed right behind the end of track. Strobridge made it into a three bedroom house on wheels. - She was the only women on the CP line. And Stro was the only man with a family life."
Crocker hardly envied Strobridge living at the Front with all the hardships that were encountered. Ambrose places this description during the period of mid 1866 when Strobridge was actually living at Alta (see AA Hart photo #75) where he maintained his headquarters. Strobridge never lived in a passenger car and did not have a car at all until sometime after June 19th, 1868 when the Camp Cars, along with Strobridge's Car, which had been built at the CP Shops in Sacramento were finally able to be transported over the Summit. This occured after the final gap was closed on June 16th of that year and the first through trains arrived in Nevada. Strobridge adopted two children in early 1866 and the other four of his adopted children were not born until after the completion of the Pacific Railway on May 10, 1869. Strobridge's car did have three apartments. He and his wife lived in one, Mrs. Joseph Graham, a close friend of Mrs. Strobridge and wife of the Contract and Finance Co.'s Asst. Chief Engineer, lived in another and the third was used for an office. When Crocker was in the area one of the Apts. was used by him, but rarely for more than a few days at a time. The two Strobridge children did live aboard the Camp train after mid 1868 but that is another story.
Page 199, paragraph 3:
Ambrose discussing the excavation the 8x12 shaft over the Summit tunnel: "By hand, the Chinese began to cut it through, haul the debris (mainly granite chunks) up from the bottom, and lower the timbers in place to shore it up."
Tunnel No. 6 was totally unlined and needed no timbers for shoring or lining. It had been driven through a very hard granite. The construction of this tunnel is reported in the Chief Engineer's Report, op cit., page 155. Engineer Gillis' report to the American Society of Engineer's on Jan. 5, 1870 reports that "the shaft was divided by planking into two compartments" so as to aid in hauling up from the two separate tunnel faces at different times which may be the source of Ambrose's confusion on the use of timbers for shoring. The granite debris was hoisted to the surface using a common hand derrick at first and later using a steam hoist. This part of the operation was done using white labor. The only work done by hand was the drilling of holes in the granite for blasting and the loading of hoisting baskets to remove the debris.
Page 204, paragraph 2:
"The Chinese laborers dug snow tunnels from fifty to five hundred feet long to get to the granite tunnels. Some were large enough for a team of horses to walk through. Alternatively, a temporary railbed was placed on top of the snow and material was lowered from the surface by steam hoist, sometimes as much as forty feet. The waste was hauled out the same way."
The above description is an example of a story told and retold until it no longer represents the original report. Ambrose cites a source that tells a story that was originally taken from "Report to the American Society of Civil Engineers, Jan. 5, 1870" by Engineer John R. Gilliss. This report is quoted in George Kraus, High Road to Promontory, a source that Ambrose credits as "the basic source on the subject" (construction of the Central Pacific) and yet he obviously does not use it to verify his own writings.
John A. Gilliss was one of the Central Pacific Engineer's that worked on the Summit tunnels during the actual construction and through the winters he describes. The following is quoted from his report:
"Before the snow had acquired a depth enough to interfere much with the work, the tunnel headings were all started. The cuts at their entrances soon filled with snow, but drifts were run through them, in some instances large enough for a two horse team. Through these snow tunnels, whose lengths varied from 50 to 200 feet, the material excavated was hauled in carts or on sleds to the waste banks. These snow tunnels kept settling at the crown, so that they had to be enlarged from time to time..."
There is no evidence that a "temporary railbed" was placed on top of the snow "and material lowered from the surface by a steam hoist as much as forty feet" The first and only "Steam Hoist" ever reportedly being used in the Sierras was the Steam Engine, hauled over the snow and set up over the Shaft at the center of the Summit Tunnel . It would have been impossible to have constructed a "railbed" on top of the snow tunnels, that kept settling at the crown. "Material was lowered forty feet through the snow and waste hauled out the same way." Considering a maximum grade used for a track of 1.5%, to raise a "railbed" forty feet above the track excavation already on a 1.5% grade would have required a half mile or more of approach track. Not likely! Ambrose's reporting of this event is preposterous on the surface and is not supported by any reliable source.
Ambrose's use of the term "railbed" is not clear. If he is describing the roadbed superstructure he would have better used the term "track" which includes the ties and rail.
Page 204, footnote:
"More snow falls there (Donner Summit) than anyplace in the United States south of Alaska."
The highest average recorded annual snowfall in the United States is at Mt. Washington, N.H., at 258.6 inches per year, the second highest average snowfall is recorded in Blue Canyon, CA, located 27 railroad miles west of Donner Summit at 240.3 inches per year. (NOAA) Note: The Southern Pacific Trans. Co. kept annual snowfall records at Donner Summit, however since the recent merger with the UP it is not known if the records still exist or where they may be found.
Page 231, paragraph 3:
In a discussion of drilling blasting holes in the granite inside the Summit tunnels in the Sierra Nevada mountains, Ambrose states: " Two men pounded. The man with the drill was turning it constantly - the men pounding did so with sledgehammers weighing fourteen to eighteen pounds each. They could drill four inches of holes, one and three inches in diameter, in eight hours."
Three men drill one and three quarters inch holes four feet in eight hours. (See CPH Papers, letter, EBC to CPH, Jan. 14, 1867, and Feb. 15, 1867) (sic)
This shows that Ambrose did a careless reading of his source documents.
Page 243, paragraph 2:
"E.B. Crocker held out an intriguing possibility to Huntington." "I have an idea that in six months or a year from the time the roads [CP & UP] are completed," he wrote, "the two companies will be consolidated."
"It was almost 130 years after the roads were completed before the two lines consolidated." (Ambrose's statement)
After C.P. Huntington's death in 1900, Edward H. Harriman of the Union Pacific Railroad acquired controlling interest in the Southern Pacific Co. which had earlier leased the Central Pacific Railroad. Thirty two years, not 130, after the CP and UP met at Promontory the two lines operated as one system after they were united under the control of Harriman, but were they were not consolidated. Theodore Roosevelt's U.S. Dept. of Justice filed suit against the Union Pacific in the "1915 Unmerger Case" and as a result the Supreme Court ordered the UP to sell allits interests in the Southern Pacific Company. (Refer to page 379, paragraph 2)
Page 244, paragraph 4:
"Work on the tunnel (Summit Tunnel) had begun in 1866."
Work on the Summit Tunnel began in October 1865 and had been suspended and restarted in August 1866.
Page 248, paragraph 2:
"They had organized a vast laboring force, drilled long tunnels, shoveled away snow, set up sawmills, hauled locomotives and cars and twenty tons of iron over the mountains by ox teams."
Crocker's forces did haul three locomotives, iron for forty flat cars and aprox. 4,000 tons of rail over the Summit in beginning in good weather beginning in July 1867. Rail continued to be hauled over the summit after the first heavy snow fell snow in December on sleighs, sleds, mud wagons and wagons until there was enough to construct over 40 miles of track east of the Summit prior to the final connection at Cold Stream Canyon. (see testimony of James H. Strobridge, Page 3155, Charles Crocker, Page 3646, 1887 Senate Pacific Railroad Hearings [op. cit.] and many letters between EBC and CPH July 10, 1867 and June 16, 1868)
If Mr. Ambrose was describing rail in the above "twenty tons of iron" quote had just considered what twenty tons of iron (rail) represented he would have soon realized that the 1200 feet of track it would have built was not enough to even set up the three engines and forty flat cars hauled over the mountains much less extend any track.
Page 282, paragraphs 4 and 5; Page 283, paragraph 5:
Ambrose quotes an offer by Durant by telegram to Brigham Young for a contract "to take a portion or all our grading between Echo Canyon and Salt Lake, if so please name your price per cubic yard." Ambrose goes on to comment: " A remarkable offer. Young could name his price and set other conditions. What Durant wanted was work, to be started "at once."" He continues: "Neither the directors (of the UP) nor those who worked for them or, come to that, those who put up the money cared what it cost. Win now, pay later was the motto, just as it had been for the North during the Civil War."
Mr. Ambrose leaves his reader believing that Durant would pay any price Brigham Young offered and that the UP backers did not care what things cost. This conclusion couldn't be further from the truth. Oliver Ames and others responsible for raising money were having great difficulty in raising enough money for the Union Pacific and very critical of Durant's squandering the company's resources. Bills were not being paid. Even Jack Casement expressed concerns in a letter to his wife concur that the UP would soon be unable to raise enough money to continue. A more likely interpretation is that Durant's telegram was an invitation to bid, not an offer to pay any figure Young set. There is no evidence Ambrose's quoted "motto" was in fact a motto of the Board of Directors of the Union Pacific.
Page 292, paragraph 2:
"George B. McClellan's uncoded orders were captured by the Confederates before the Battle of Antietum, giving Robert E. Lee a chance to read them."
Ambrose has completely erred in this part of his history, It was Robert E. Lee of the Army of Northern Virginia that lost his orders near Frederick, Maryland, not the Union Army's George McClellan. It was the Union Army' troops who found them.
" On the 13th an order fell into my hands issued by Gen. Lee, which fully disclosed his plans, and I immediately gave orders for a rapid and vigorous movement" [towards Sharpsburg] (see "McClellan's Own Story by George B. McClellan, 1887, page 573)." It was not McClellan who lost the orders, but Gen Robert E. Lee.
Page 304, paragraph 3:
"CP engineer Joseph Graham was in charge of building the road through Nevada."
The Contract and Finance Co. had the total control over the construction, including the construction surveying and engineering, after reaching the Calif./ Nevada border. Joseph Graham was employed by the C&F Co. as one of the Division engineers on construction. J.H. Strobridge, Supt. of Construction was in charge of building the road and Graham was one of many construction engineers employed. (see letter EBC to CPH, Jan. 16, 1868.)
Page 326, paragraph 4:
"Anyone can see for himself in the twenty first century by driving Interstate 80 from Omaha to Sacramento. Nearly all the way, the automobiles will be paralleling or very near the original grade as the surveyors laid it out."
In Utah, with the exception of a few miles, between Echo and the Wyoming border I-80 does not come within a great many miles of the original Pacific Railroad grade. From Echo the railroad built north through Ogden and around the north end of Salt Lake and down into Nevada through the Pequop Mountains of Nevada. I-80 is located south of the Great Salt Lake and does not come close to the grade until it reaches the Moor, Nevada off ramp, a distance of over 225 miles. In Wyoming there are a number of locations where I-80 is not close by a great many miles, between Laramie and Rawlins, a distance of over 100 miles as an example and so it goes as Nebraska too has many places a great divergence. Again Ambrose misleads his readers by his claim of "nearly all the way" and could have given a better description without the exaggerations.
Page 327, paragraph 3 and 4:
paragraph 3:"On the rocky eastern slope of the Promontory Mountains, a large gang of Strobridge's Chinese were grading east, while Casements graders were grading west. - The UP's crews were mainly Irish. They tried to shake the persistence of the Chinese by jeering and throwing frozen clods at them, - with no visible effect, so they attacked with pick handles."
paragraph 4:"A day or two later when the grades were only a few yards apart the Chinese set off an unannounced explosion on the Irish, several of whom were buried alive"
There is no evidence that the Chinese did any grading "on the rocky eastern slope of the Promontory Mountains" and the stories that there had been fights and blasting alongside the UP and CP's parallel grading between these crews has long been accepted as fiction by most railroad historians. Klein in his history of the Union Pacific, 1862-1893, page 218 says, "The tales of violence between them seemed to have originated in the imaginations of later writers." David H. Bain in his recently published "Empire Express", page 658, goes on to say: "There is no evidence in all the telegrams, letters, reports, journals and contemporary newspapers to support this myth of corporate race warfare so gullibly repeated in many accounts. Besides, much of the parallel grade work was done by Mormon contractors." Ambrose, in a footnote, makes an attempt to discount this myth but misleads the reader by leading them to believe that the UP and CP grading crews worked alongside each other. He totally misunderstands how the parallel grading was accomplished. It never happened in the way he suggests.
"What happened, happened. What didn't happen, didn't and to assert is a lie." (Stephen E. Ambrose, Forbes Magazine, Oct. 2, 2000)
Page 328, paragraph 5:
"The CP spent January laying track from Elko (Nevada) toward Humboldt Wells. On the 28th of that month, the tracks were 150 miles west of Elko.
Humboldt Wells is east of Elko. On January 28th, the track was within 7 miles of Humboldt Wells.
Page 332, paragraph 2:
"The line was forty miles east of Humboldt Wells, almost into Utah, but it was still 144 miles from Promontory."
Using George Kraus" High Road to Promontory, Ambrose's " basic source on the subject (CP)" the distance remaining to Promontory was 124 miles (this reference provides a mileage chart between all the major points on the Central Pacific railroad.)
Page 332, paragraph 3:
Ambrose discussing construction on the eastern slope of the Promontory Mountains. "on the eastern slope the ascent required ten torturous miles of climbing at eighty feet to a mile, including switchbacks."
There were no switch backs on the Pacific Railroad by either the CP & UP except for the Union Pacific's flimsy eight mile long temporary track laid over a ridge so steep that a switch-back had to be used., known as the "Z-Line". It was used only to keep the track laying construction moving forward while they were awaiting the completion of the Tunnel #2 located west of Wasatch on the eastern slope of the Wasatch Mountains in Utah . It was abandoned and the track removed as soon as the tunnel was opened to through traffic. (see Union Pacific, The Birth of a Railroad 1862-1893, by Maury Klein.
Page 332, paragraph 4
Page 333, paragraph 1 and 2:
In Ambrose's discussion of the construction on the eastern slope of Promontory Summit he describes a "Gorge of about 170 feet in depth and five hundred feet long." "In November 1868 , Stanford and two of his engineers arrived to see it. He took one look at the projected line and ordered Clement to lay out a new one to avoid an eight-hundred foot tunnel through solid limestone." and relates that "the CP put 500 men, Mormons and Chinese, to work, supplemented with 250 teams of horses to pull the carts that carried the earth to the fill sites", (to make the "Big Fill" east of Promontory) ..."They used nitroglycerin and black powder to make the cut".
Ambrose's description of events and locations are completely confused here.
The "Big Fill" was only 55 feet high at the center line of the track, althoughits lower edge would exceed 100 feet.
The CP "Big Fill" is about five miles east of Promontory summit and was not in a "gorge" but a small valley. The contract for the grading from Monument Point to Ogden was granted to Benson, Farr & West, Mormon contractors. The Mormons never employed any Chinese and there has been no evidence found that the Central Pacific employed Chinese to work either with or for the Mormons. Charles Crocker never used nitroglycerin after he cleared the Sierras as it was too dangerous and the Mormons did not have any available. On January 22, 1869 Stanford, in a letter to Huntington, advises him that about 2/3 of the grading was done. The eight-hundred foot tunnel Ambrose refers to is not east of the Promontory Summit near the "Big Fill" but was located fifty miles west in the Ombey Mountains near a station subsequently named Ombey established ca-1870-1874. (There is much of this information available in source documents)
Page 337, paragraph 4:
Ambrose in discussing railroad photographers: "Russell and Hart, who had seen and photographed great numbers of men in battle and in camp (during the Civil War), were inspired to do some of their best work here."
Russell was a commissioned military photographer during the war, but the biography of Alfred A. Hart, the official photographer of the Central Pacific Railroad, does not mention that he ever photographed any scenes of the Civil war. It does say that Hart "in the early 1860s lived in Cleveland where he operated an Art Store. He left his family in Cleveland and in 1863 left for California where he is recorded as living in La Porte and working as an itinerant photographer. On April 9, 1864, he took a photograph of the Central Pacific's engine, C. P. Huntington, crossing the American River Bridge (see Kraus, op cit., p. 82 and Mead Kibbey, Alfred A. Hart, Artist, pg.52) A.A. Hart remained in California for many years after the Civil war had ended.
Page 338, paragraph 4:
"Strobridge decided he would save time by building a trestle bridge, to be called the Big Trestle, about 150 yards, east of and parallel to the Big Fill."
Strobridge was the Supt. of Construction for the Contract & Finance Co., contractor to the Central Pacific and had nothing to do with any Union Pacific construction. On March 28th Union Pacific's Superintendent of Construction, Samuel Reed, ordered Leonard Eicholtz, UP's bridge engineer, to build the "Big Trestle". (see Kraus, op cit, p. 244)
Page 345, paragraph 1:
"The CP was moving ahead briskly...On April 9, it was 690 miles east of Sacramento. By April 17, it (the track) had reached Monument Point, a quarter mile north of the lakeshore"
On April 10th the track was 23 miles west of Monument Point which is at Mile Post 674 and 16 miles from the meeting point at Promontory. Promontory is 690 miles from Sacramento. Monument Point was not a quarter mile offshore but was connected to land by a narrow peninsula over which a wagon could be driven as shown in the contemporary A. A. Hart's photographs #352 & #353. Hart was the official photographer of the Central Pacific. Ambrose would have been more accurate if he had the limestone promontory, which was nearly surrounded by the saline brew, as being a quarter mile south of the track. (See Kibbey, op. cit. p. 147; Kraus, op. cit, left p. 267)
Ambrose's description of the events of April 1869 regarding the status of tracklaying by the Central Pacific are the result of careless recording of the facts which only make it confusing to the reader.
Page 347, paragraph 5; Page 348, paragraph 1:
Ambrose in discussing the laying of rail on the record ten miles of track in one day:
"After the spikes were driven, five to a rail, would come the straighteners." "One man sees a defective place and gives it a shove and passes on."
This sentence is without quotation marks or citation. The description of "five (spikes) to the rail" is a made up quote and has been inserted into a quoted narrative of Charles Crocker's and taken from his memoirs. What Crocker is quoted as saying in his memoirs is: "Then you are going to have your men to spike: the first man drives one particular spike and does not stop for another; he walks past that rail and drives the same spike in the next rail. Here another man follows him and drives the next spike to that in the same rail; and another follows him and so on. You must have spikes enough so that no man stops or passes another; then you have the rail straighteners. One man comes along, he sees a defective place and gives it a shove and passes on."
The rails were completely spiked down, the track straightened and leveled as the crew moved forward. It would be impossible for a heavily loaded construction train to stay on the track with a rail only spiked down with five spikes. Twelve to fourteen ties to a thirty foot long rail would require a minimum of 48 spikes to spike down that length of track. At the end of the day when the track was completed the Central Pacific ran a construction locomotive over it "at a clip of forty miles an hour just to show how well the job was done."
See C. Crocker Memoirs, Bancroft Library, U.C. Berkeley and Kraus (op. cit.) pp. 249-252
Page 353, paragraph 2 and 3:
"From April 1, 1868 to May 1869, Dodge, the Casements and their workers had laid 555 miles of road and graded the line to Humboldt Wells." "Today people can still drive - cautiously - down from Promontory eastward on the curving sections of the abandoned UP roadbed"
The Casement brothers were track layers, that was their expertise. They did take a few grading contracts, none of any consequence and none in Utah or Nevada. The Union Pacific used the Mormon contractors to construct a parallel grade from Ogden to Monument Point in Utah, 148 miles from Humboldt Wells, and no further. The UP did not complete any grade west of Monument Point in Utah. The Union Pacific authorized sending six teams with scrapers and some of their Irish graders to Humboldt Wells, Nevada in September 1868. Beginning their grading at Moors Summit, approximately eight miles east of the town of Wells, these crews prepared some of the heavier work, consisting of large fills. After grading a distance of about four or five miles to Holborn and beyond a short distance, they were pulled off and returned to Utah. The Union Pacific parallel grading is disconnected and sporadic consisting of partially completed fills, rock and earth cuts and associated barrow pits. These isolated areas of work are separated by stretches with no grading present. These unused fills constructed for roadbeds by the Union Pacific Irish graders can still be seen from the long abandoned original Central Pacific grade now used as a county access road through the Pequop Mountains. (See letter Sept. 29, 1868, EB Crocker to CPH & Central Pacific's Chief Engineer's Report by Sam Montague dated July 1, 1869)
Today one can still drive on much of the 90 miles of the Central Pacific's original roadbed westward from Promontory which is now owned by the National Park Service and the BLM which maintains the road as the "Backcountry Byway".
Page 360, paragraph 4:
"The spike was a gift by David Hewes of San Francisco." "It was reported as six inches long, had a rough gold nugget attached toits point (later used to make rings for President Grant, Secretary of State William Steward, Oakes Ames, Stanford, and some others) and weighed eighteen ounces. It was valued at $350."
Ambrose reports his reference source as J.N. Bowman, "Driving the Last Spike at Promontory, 1869" California Historical Society Quarterly, , Vol. 36, 1957, pages 98, 99. What Ambrose did not say in quoting Bowman is "Its actual description is: 5 5/8 inches long overall and 17/32" square (the exact dimension of the iron spikes used at that time) and 14.13 ounces in weight, 13.377 ounces of gold." He was describing the gold spike without the nugget attached. The spike with the attached nugget whose length was described in the Sacramento Bee of May 5, 1869 3:1; "as about as long as the spike." "When the last tie is laid the nugget will be broken off by Governor Stanford, to be used as mementos of the completion of the road. Spike and nugget are worth $414." This would have made the overall length of spike and nugget about 10 or 11 inches. The Gold nugget intended "to be broken up as souvenirs" was removed from the spike before Stanford presented it for the ceremonies at Promontory. What became of the rest of the souvenir nugget is unknown but presumably it was given to various officers and key members of the Central Pacific or their friends. Bowman only reported "the nugget was to broken off to be used as souvenirs". Ambrose's claim that the nugget, only valued at aprox. $64 and weighing between 2-3 ounces, was "Later used to make rings for President Grant, Secretary of State William Seward, Oakes Ames, Stanford, and some others" is without support. Ambrose cites Bowman as his source however Bowman does not make any statement in regard to the disposition of the nugget. It is extremely doubtful that, even if the nugget was large enough to make all the rings claimed, that Stanford would have given them to men who were not friendly to the Central Pacific. It was claimed by the family of J.H. Strobridge that he wore a piece of this gold nugget as a fob on his watch chain for the remainder of his life. (Interview with Edward K. Strobridge, his grandson, 1977).
There was a claim made by Tilden G. Abbott, nephew of David Hewes, the original donator of the spike, that Hewes had been given the "sprue" that had been removed from the Gold Spike and had four small rings and seven one inch long watchfobs made from it. The rings had been given to Stanford, Ames, Pres. Grant and Steward and the seven watchfobs were given to Hewes relatives, one of which is on display at the Golden Spike National Historic Site.
Stanford did return the gold spike to Hewes who later donated it to Stanford University in 1892. Since the J.N. Bowman analysis of all the documented evidence of the "Driving the Last Spike" there has been no credible evidence found that suggests what became of the "Nugget". If this was Ambrose's source than he has added another made up quote to this claim by adding "and some others" to his list of four names. Any reader could easily assume that at least six rings had been made from this "nugget" only weighing 2-3 ounces plus the seven watchfobs claimed by Abbot. None of this information is with support and no rings or watch fobs, except for the one claimed at the National Historic Site has ever surfaced. None of Ambrose's facts are born out with any reported evidence.
Page 371, paragraph 5:
"But just as the CP had to abandon grade it had made from the summit to Ogden (but it did use the Big Fill, ignored by the UP), so did the UP have to abandon everything west of Ogden, all the way to Humboldt Wells, 222 miles from Ogden...Congress had watched as more than two hundred miles of the overlapping grade-work was being done. Not until April 10, 1869, did it step in to halt this."
The CP did abandon their parallel grade east of Promontory and on April 14th stopped all grading east of Blue Creek, the eastern base of the Promontory. The UP did not "abandon" their grade from Promontory to the agreed upon terminus within a few miles west of Ogden; it sold the grade to the Central Pacific and was paid in full for their costs of construction. The UP did abandon their parallel grade west of Promontory to Humboldt Wells in Nevada which amounted to no more than a total of 19 miles.(sixteen miles from Promontory at MP 690 to Monument Point at MP 674 and the sporadic grading over the five total miles east of Humboldt Wells that they had long before stopped work on.) The Central Pacific, by agreement, paid the Union Pacific one half the cost of the abandoned grading between Promontory and Monument Point so the UP had little loss in this abandoned grading.
The Big Fill "ignored by the UP" was not used by the Central Pacific until several years after the completion of the Pacific Railroad when they built a four mile line change in 1872 which then eliminated the "High Trestle" and moved the track onto the "Big Fill".
The agreements to "settle all existing controversies between the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific Railroad Companies, of fixing the place of meeting between the two roads, and of securing harmonious and united action between them in the future" which included the amount of money to be paid by the Central Pacific to the Union Pacific Railroad was reached in a private meeting on the evening of April 8th, 1869 between Collis P. Huntington of the CP and Grenville Dodge of the UP along with two backers on the UP, R.G. Hazard of Rhode Island and Samuel Hooper of Boston. News of the agreement was rushed to Congress on the morning of April 10th . Within hours a Joint Resolution was passed by both Houses ratifying the agreement reached by the two companies. Congress was more than happy not to have been the ones to force a final agreement as many of them had long before sold their influence to one or other of the two railroads. (see Kraus, op cit. pp. 241, 244; Klein op cit. p.209.
Page 378, paragraph 2:
" In 1993 , it acquired the Southern Pacific and named all the roads it controlled the Union Pacific."
The Union Pacific bought the Southern Pacific on September 12th, 1996
Page 378, paragraph 3:
"The men who built the CP were mainly Chinese. For the most part, as individuals they are lost to history."
That statement is a true one but most of the men who worked on the CP and UP, both Chinese and Irish, as individuals are lost to history
Page 378, paragraph 5:
" Firemen, brakemen, engineers, conductors, mechanics, welders, carpenters, repairshop men, the clerical force, the foreman, directors, supervisors and everyone else who worked for either the UP or CP stayed with the railroads."
Unless Ambrose meant Blacksmiths who were capable of forge welding, the term Welder did not exist in 1869. Acetylene welding was not developed until c. 1895 and electric welding in c. WWI.
Page 379, paragraph 2:
" (Charles Crocker) in 1884 brought about the consolidation of the Central Pacific and Southern Pacific roads."
Collis P. Huntington, more than any one of his associates brought about the changes in the corporation. There was no consolidation. A new corporation was formed and in turn leased the Southern Pacific Railroad Co. in 1884 and the Central Pacific Railroad Co. in 1885. Both railroads operated and retained their individual identities until they were finally internally merged into the SP Co.; the SPRR Co. in 1955 and the CP in 1959.
Mr. Ambrose apparently does not understand the operations of the company he is attempting to describe. It seems if Ambrose is going to report on the company history of the company then he should do enough research to determine his facts are accurate. He publicly espouses this requirement for historians yet fails to follow his own advice.
(thirty-two unnumbered pages of photos located between pages 192 and 193)
4th photo page, photo caption:
"Samuel B. Reed in Echo City, Nevada"
Echo City is in Utah
22nd photo page, photo caption:
Bloomer Cut, "500 kegs of powder a day; line now runs through two tunnels to the north"
See comments for pages 119, 120 and 148 for comments and facts concerning this photo caption
23rd photo page, photo caption:
"A freight train rounding Cape Horn"
This is a copy of an original A. A. Hart photograph #57 that was originally captioned "Excursion train headed East at Cape Horn". Ambrose has dropped the photographers description and has changed the description which is totally in error. It should have been obvious that the train in the photograph is not a freight train. See comments for page 156.
27th photo page, photo caption:
"This is a Howe truss bridge across river at Eagle Gap."
This is another of A. A. Hart's original photographs (#274) which was originally captioned "Bridge at Eagle Gap". The bridge is more accurately described as an "Improved Howe truss bridge" because of the heavy arches connected to the lower chord. All bridge spans over fifty feet were built on the Howe plan. The only bridges built with a supporting arch as used on the Central Pacific were with spans over 204 feet and known as the "Improved Howe truss" as patented by William Howe in 1852.
30th photo page, photo caption:
"Doc Durant and Strobridge at Emigrant Gap, California."
J. H. Strobridge is misidentified in this photograph. Not only does the photograph not resemble Strobridge but there is no evidence that he ever met Durant nor is there any evidence that Durant was ever on the Central Pacific work in California.
31st photo page, photo caption:
"Camp Victory 10-1/4 mi. in a day"
Original photograph by A.A. Hart, #350. A photograph of James Harvey Strobridge, Superintendent of Construction standing on a platform car next to his track Foreman, H.H. Minkler, the man who supervised the track gang on the record making day of installing 10 miles and 56 feet of track.
The Committee For The Protection Of "What is Truth" In Railroad History, G. J. Graves, Chairman.
G. J. "Chris" Graves, Newcastle, California
Native Sons of the Golden West, Auburn Parlor #59;
Sacramento Corral of Westerners, International;
Folsom, El Dorado Sacramento Historical Railroad Association;
California State Library Association;
Edson T. Strobridge, San Luis Obispo, California
Biographer of James Harvey Strobridge
Member: Order of Minor Historians, C. L. Sonnichsen Chapter, San Luis Obispo, California
Charles N. Sweet, Ogden Utah
Student of the history of the construction of the Pacific Railroad