"Promontory" is a documentary by Ken Verdoia that answered the question, "Why wasn't Brigham Young at Promontory on May 10, 1869?" The program was first broadcast on KUED (PBS), Channel 7 in Salt Lake City on May 7 and May 10, 2002. (A DVD of the program was produced and sold, but is no longer available.)
(View the program by online streaming) (as of September 2016)
Don Strack is an historian and writer whose work is motivated by a life-long love affair with Utah's railroads. He has written numerous articles about the history and construction of Utah's rail lines, and maintains his own web site on the subject. Don was interviewed on September 8, 2001 in Salt Lake City by "Promontory" producer Ken Verdoia.
Comments by Don Strack are at time stamp 10:03 and 17:48 (a total of about 15 seconds of air time).
Verdoia: Let's try and take this 21st century audience back in time to the mid-1860's and the way the concept of the transcontinental railroad might have been viewed. It's importance literally to the heart and soul of America.
Strack: It would have enhanced the transportation possibilities for the people coming to Utah tremendously because most people who came to Utah in the previous ten years would have at least ridden, or at least seen one of the railroads east of the Mississippi River. So a lot of them would know what a railroad was and the ease that the transportation brought for getting from one point to the next. So the way they came west from the Mississippi River by wagon, or by handcart or whatever method was available to them, a lot of them would have wished for a train. So when the word reached them, probably in 1864 or 1865, that the railroad was definitely coming to Utah and going through Utah headed for California, they would have been quite excited.
Verdoia: So that explains how it might affect the people that were interested in immigrating to Utah, but what did a transcontinental railroad mean for this nation especially in light of the fact that it is coming out of epic conflict that had torn the fabric of the nation?
Strack: The railroad was planned long before the civil war was. There were several individuals in Congress, in Washington, and lobbyists from California, I think Asa Whitney, if I pronounce his name properly from Wisconsin, he'd been working on trying to get a transcontinental railroad for quite some time. David Bain covers it quite well in his Empire Express book. But the effort to get the railroad built started long before the civil war. There were conflicting ideas of which route to take, a northern route, a central route, or a southern route. Having the civil war start kind of took the southern route out of consideration. So it made it easier to get the central route through. There was a lot of consideration being built to building the railroad before the war.
Verdoia: It really begins to take light in many respects in terms of the actual construction. The notion of laying tracks and some people viewed this as a tangible bond that is A) helping to heal the nation in the years after the civil war and B) helping in the fullest expression of manifest destiny. A nation that is practically ungovernable without that communication ability through the telegraph and the transcontinental railroad can you consider that for me.
Strack: There was a pretty high level fear that because California was becoming so economically powerful because of the minerals, the gold and silver and the potential agricultural growth. I think there was a fear in the eastern states that California was going to leave the Union because there was really no benefit for California to remain with the Union. So there is a desire to tie the nation together. Unfortunately there is 1500 miles of what many people determined to be nothing between California and the Mississippi River, so there were a lot of interests. The capitalists got involved and saw a chance to make some money. The politicians got involved and saw a chance to enhance their own standing. I think it all came together in the mid 1860's.
Verdoia: So as we begin with these two great enterprises coming from the west, the Central Pacific, coming from the east, the Union Pacific, how did Utah come into the mix? When does Utah start to become a figure in the discussion of the railroad?
Strack: Everyone agreed that the central route had to go through Utah. Of course, with Salt Lake City being the largest city between the Mississippi River and San Francisco or any of the other California cities, it was a foregone conclusion that it would come through Salt Lake. But when the engineers and the surveyors explored the various routes through Utah they unfortunately went on the north end of the lake instead of the south end. But Utah was seen as a kind of a resupply point to buy supplies, water, a place to maintain the equipment once you got there. There was a general feeling that Ogden would be the junction city. The dual interests of the Central Pacific wanting to go east and the Union Pacific wanting to go west that kind of fell by the wayside for a brief period of time. But then Ogden obviously became the only choice because that was where the settled part of Utah was.
Verdoia: Now, Union Pacific, the engineers, vice president Thomas C. Durant, they viewed Utah as almost a necessary aspect of their plans for construction.
Strack: They could see that Brigham Young and all of the people in Utah, because of their ties to the church, they needed an ally. There is no way that they could get the railroad built without the cooperation of the Mormons. It just would not have happened.
Verdoia: And that leads me to the consideration of Brigham Young. How is he involved in this?
Strack: There are some quotes from some of the early pioneers that were with him on that first trip in 1847. There was a constant source of discussion, we will put the railroad through this pass, we will put the railroad here, we will cross this creek here. I think President Young was fully aware of the potential route for the railroad 25 years before.
Verdoia: But as we rolled into the early months of 1868 there is a call that starts to come out for an involvement of his people and the possibility for a rather extraordinary undertaking by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. From that standpoint Brigham Young as business leader as a powerful figure marshaling the work force. His interactions to be specific.
Strack: Leonard Arrington wrote about the School of Prophets, where the church leaders got together and decided that if they didn't do this economic development, or provide for or at least plan for it, someone else would. And they did not want to keep the foreigners out. They wanted to at least have some control over how it was developed and where the various lines went. How the development took place.
Verdoia: So tell me what kind of work these Mormon laborers undertook for the Union Pacific. Was it easy stuff, walk in the park stuff?
Strack: Oh, no. If you've driven up Weber Canyon or Echo Canyon, there is some pretty rough country up there. You can drive it now at 70 mph on Interstate 80 and Interstate 84, but it was a much rougher trip in those days. Probably the biggest obstacle would have been Devil's Gateway, right there about two miles up Weber Canyon. That was a tremendous geographical block. When Hastings did his original guide for immigrants in 1846 he had yet to travel his projected route. He rode that route on horseback that summer of 1846 and he discovered the difficulty of going through it; that the gorge right there where the Weber River is, is about the only thing that would be able to go through it. He hurried to try to meet the Donner-Reed party and other parties that were on their way to California. He didn't get to them in time. He left a message for them to not go through that route because you couldn't get a wagon through there. So they went over Big Mountain Pass and Little Mountain Pass with the subsequent delays, but bypassing the difficulty of the route through Devil's Gateway. Also down in Echo Canyon itself, because you are not really following a river, you are following a creek, and there is some big sandstone crests that are so scenic nowadays, would have been tremendous difficulties for travel down the canyon.
Verdoia: Now, I want to ask you most specifically, what were these workers charged with doing? What was their job?
Strack: Build the railroad, on contract. There was a gray area about who the contract was with and who benefited financially from the contract. There was probably several contracts involved. That is one of the things I would really like to research and nail down with comments from diaries and journals and Brigham Young papers, and other papers that might be available. Because it really is a gray area depending on whether or not you want to prove something against the Mormons or in favor of the Mormons, different people tell the story from different angles. And I do like to find out exactly what really happened. It is very possible we will never know.
Verdoia: I want you to try to help a viewer understand the nature of the work that the Mormon people did in Weber and Echo Canyon, literally what were they asked to do, asked to knock holes in the side of the mountain drilling tunnels, whatever.
Strack: First they would have to survey it and decide on some sort of even grade, which is the grade of ascent, the grade of climb. Most railroads would prefer to stay less than one foot of rise for every hundred feet of length. That is called a one percent grade. In Weber Canyon and Echo Canyon the maximum grade is about one and a quarter foot for every hundred feet, so you can imagine a railroad car that is about a hundred feet long. If you take one end and raise it up a foot, or fifteen inches, and then you can basically see that. That is quite bit of rise.
Verdoia: And tell me what difference that makes, why that grade is so important.
Strack: It makes it easier for the locomotives to work. The locomotive can pull a longer train, it can lift more commodities, more people on passenger trains. As a matter of fact the grade in Weber Canyon and in Echo Canyon is such a significant part of the Union Pacific construction that every locomotive they purchased up until probably the mid 1960's was designed specifically to be able to climb Weber and Echo Canyon without helpers.
Verdoia: And I would imagine this notion of a grade influences the direction that Union Pacific chooses to come into Utah.
Strack: Definitely. Any railroad surveyor will also try to follow a water course or creek or a river because that is much more of a normal flow down to a larger body of water. There are a couple gorges in Weber Canyon. There is one that we know today as Taggart and there is another at Gateway, where there is a rest area today. Of course it was a small obstacle for the Interstate 80 constructors, but in the 1930's 1940's when the built the US Highway 30, they went through the Devil's Gateway gorge and it was a tremendous difficulty. If you are able to look, there is a concrete retaining wall that keeps the highway from falling into the river. As to the construction in the earlier years, it is just a matter of moving dirt, using two horses hitched to what is called a tip scraper. I think most scrapers were about a half of cubic yard capacity and the people who knew how to operate them, they were to furnish the horses and the railroad would have furnished the equipment. They would scrape a small amount of dirt that we would see nowadays just like a pile, maybe a foot high and two feet around. That is as much as that scraper would hold. They would scrape that up and then they would have the horses move to a different location and they would dump that. And then they would just turn around and come back.
Verdoia: I would imagine to affect the nature of the grade all the way through Echo and Weber Canyon there must have been an army of workers.
Strack: There is some estimates of five to eight thousand men. I am sure the number fluctuated daily depending on the circumstances of each individual involved. But the contracts would have called for a certain number of cubic feet to be moved within a certain period of time. The high spots you scrape off to fill the low spots. It's just a process that you have an army of men and an army of horses and you just work at it. There is a part in a Laura Ingalls books where her father takes her out to the one point where the railroad is being constructed there in Minnesota and they just watch this army of men and horses. And the description of it, when my daughter had me read it, I immediately thought of the grading that took place here in Utah.
It was a tremendous effort. So when you see comments that two grades were constructed side by side, I doubt the fact that there two hundred miles of parallel grade. I know a couple of people who are in the engineering departments of the railroad, and they tell me that you would try to locate the grade at the strategic spots, the narrow spots. You wouldn't be able to construct a complete parallel grade. There is some out at near Promontory, but that is about the only spot to where they really exist.
Verdoia: Well, there are those spots out in Promontory that speak to this notion of the race that was affected in the final months of construction of the transcontinental railroad. Can you describe what went into that because it sounds like a fascinating time when both these competing interests literally are racing as fast as they can to the future of the nation?
Strack: I don't want to diminish it but the race was to get the railroad competed. A completed railroad meant the bonds, the government bonds, the land grant bonds, would be available for use as collateral to borrow money to build more railroad. It simply meant more money for the coffers of each of the corporations.
Verdoia: That did not diminish it by the way, because what you are alluding to is this, this delicate balance that exists, maybe so indelicate at times between the driving commercial interests that exists on the hands on the parts of financiers and this romantic national interest of joining a nation together. And those two things really do coexist, don't they?
Strack: Yes. While researching the book that I wrote about the railroads in Ogden, I found a quote from a historian Wallace Foreman. He talks about how the race for Promontory didn't really end at Promontory. It didn't really end at Ogden. It ended at Samuel Hooper's house in Washington DC where Dodge for the Union Pacific and Huntington for Central Pacific were in some very serious negotiations to decide where the meeting point would be. Because even though each company was frantically trying to get as much land as possible, as much route as possible, as much railroad completed as possible, they saw the reality. They didn't want to spend any money more than they had to, because it would just be wasted money. They saw the reality of it. I think I did find in my research a quote that Grenville Dodge, the chief engineer for the Union Pacific, had a friendship with President Grant and Grant had just been sworn into office in March of 1869. Grant probably told him on a personal basis if you guys don't find a meeting point, we will decide it for you. And anyone involved in that realized that neither side would want that. So they went into some serious negotiations at Samuel Hooper's house in Washington DC on April 8th and they came out the next morning with an agreement and Congress approved it in a non-binding resolution the next day. There is some comments that the Congress decided the meeting point on April 10th through that same resolution. That is not true. The meeting point was decided the day before by the parties themselves, it was not forced on them at all.
Verdoia: You talk on the website and in your book about the notion of what takes place as the construction crews move ahead. I find this very interesting of what follows the railroad. It's cities almost spontaneously first on the scene as this rail line is coming from the east. Sometimes new business, sometimes bringing railroad supplies, sometimes catering to the more rambunctious side of human character.
Strack: The construction crews were likely paid on a daily basis. The numbers of people involved in the construction crews would fluctuate daily. Some guy would say I don't want to this anymore and he just takes his horse and leaves, or his horses and his scraper, whatever tools and implements he may have come with, and just simply leaves. So the construction forces could have changed daily. So there would have been a lot of cash in those camps. And there is always an entrepreneur who takes advantage of people with cash in their pockets. The businesses that came along were unique in that they used sawed lumber. And there were saw mills every place cutting lumber in the Uintah Mountains and the Wasatch Mountains. The sawmills stayed in place. They had the ability here in Northern Utah to acquire sawed lumber, and its use jumped considerably. The improvement in construction materials followed the railroad. The ability to work stone masonry. There was a lot of masonry work for the bridge abutments and so part of the contracts with Brigham Young included masons. They would have honed their skills and other projects later would have benefited from that. Those masons being out of work and available after the railroad was constructed.
Verdoia: What about the wild side. People make references to hell on wheels and the recreational attributes that would follow behind the rail.
Strack: It makes for an exciting story. Very romanticized. I don't pay attention to that kind of thing because it is mostly gee whiz stuff. You know it's lawlessness, gambling, prostitution. All kinds of things were going on and it is all temporary and goes away very quickly. All these camps that were hell on wheels, they didn't stick around very long because the construction forces left within days of the Golden Spike ceremony. So there was no source of income for them. So they just went some place else. There were other railroads under construction in other parts of the country so they just lifted up their roots and left.
Verdoia: I want to back track a little bit because you make reference to following water as kind of a means of maintaining the grade but water is critical in this era of the locomotive. Speak about that the critical nature of water and having fresh water available.
Strack: A railroad needs water for its locomotives. The locomotives are steam locomotives and in those days they used wood and coal to make fire, then fire to make steam, and as you boil water the minerals come out of it. So there is a tremendous need for fresh clear water, with as low as mineral content as possible. Because as you boil the water, the minerals come out and they tend to plug up the boiler. Every time a railroad route is surveyed, water is a major consideration, the availability of clear fresh water. Not necessarily water out of wells, because anyone who has drank water out of a well will know that very seldom does it tastes clear and fresh. You want a free flowing mountain stream if at all possible for water. And the railroad builders soon discovered that the water routes were beneficial also, because water very seldom falls rapidly, unless you come to rocks. Then you get rapids and white water. There is only two spots in Weber Canyon where there is white water: at Taggart and and at Devil's Gateway.
Verdoia: We are at the point let's jump into this where the railroads agree on the joining spots and move close into position then when we come into those early days of May of 1869. The eighth, ninth and tenth. First people are setting their sites on May 8th, Central Pacific is there but the Union Pacific dignitaries are not there on the eighth can you tell me why.
Strack: There are different stories that they were detained. The Union Pacific train that the dignitaries were on was detained, I don't recall exactly where right now, by some wood cutters men who wanted their wages. By this time Union Pacific had basically stopped paying on their contracts because they were simply out of money. So these construction forces detained Thomas Durant and the other dignitaries that were on the train. There were some feelings in the book that Charles Ames wrote defending the Ames brothers. Because his ancestor was Oliver Ames was one of the major financiers behind the Union Pacific railroad. Oliver Ames kept a pretty good diary and at the time when he wrote this in his diary, he thought that Durant was being a scoundrel, and that Durant had arranged for this delay because he was probably in cahoots with the construction crew. Nobody really knows because people didn't write anything down, so it is hearsay and assumptions from people who knew the people involved.
Verdoia: May 10th is the day when the ceremony is completed. Is May 10th a day of great significance.
Strack: The completion of the transcontinental railroad changed the west. It had to. You could get from Omaha to Sacramento in ten or twelve days. It used to take six months. It is a tremendous national significance. I did some research on the movement of fresh fruits I included in my book about Ogden. I was surprised at how soon fresh fruit started moving east, right away, immediately. Strawberries and pears and obviously those fresh fruits wouldn't have weathered the trip very well, but they kept shipping fresh fruits. One of the first private car companies that you could see was called the California Fast Fruit line. And that was in 1870. They were moving fruit right away because the potential market in the east.
Verdoia: The final act of completing the transcontinental, the so-called Golden Spike ceremony seems to be wrapped in a great deal of romanticism and at times even out right mythology. What are some of those great misunderstandings?
Strack: That the ceremony took place at Promontory Point. The ceremony did not take place at Promontory Point. Promontory Point is 30 miles south. The ceremony took place at Promontory Summit, actually about a mile west of Promontory Summit. Just a large open area. It's Promontory Summit that was used in the joint resolution in Congress, and in the agreement between Dodge and Huntington that they agreed to meet at the summit of the Promontory mountains. It is a very common mistake made by people who write about the transcontinental railroad, and who talked about. They make the mistake quite easily. Some people try to get kind of arrogant, saying, he didn't even know where it took place, Promontory Point is 30 miles south. But you have to be careful because even in the early writings they used the term Promontory Point.
Verdoia: I know your focus is mostly been on Union Pacific but Leland Stanford seems to be a a central figure in the railroad history in Utah. When you are reading what type of image do you take away of Leland Stanford?
Strack: A powerful man who had a vision. Of course for his own career also, but it wouldn't be incorrect to say that he changed California with his vision. Between Huntington and Stanford. I'm sure there are other individuals involved, I don't know California history that well. But between the personalities of Huntington and Stanford, they got the railroad built across the Nevada as rapidly as they did. And then they also built the Southern Pacific railroad which was designed specifically to stay away from government funding. They did not benefit from the government land grants. And they did that on purpose. They wanted to control the destiny of their own railroad. Central Pacific was the subsidiary of Southern Pacific in later years.
Verdoia: Is this private enterprise, is this public enterprise, is this governmental enterprise, how do we try to explain this specifically from the Union Pacific standpoint?
Strack: As I understand politics in those years, the interest of the government was pretty much the interest of the railroad and vice versa. The capitalists pretty much ran the government and that is what made America America. You can have whatever political thoughts 150 years later than you might want but the reality is the railroad would not have been built if not for the interests of the capitalists. The only way to get the railroad built was to get the land grants from the federal government giving each of these corporations large amounts of land. And it wasn't all land. It was just an alternating pattern of land where the federal government kept the other half. And the federal government kept half of the mineral rights of all the land, and whoever was involved got to keep the other half, or a fourth of the full amount. The precedent was set years before the transcontinental railroad, and the land grants stayed in place for another twenty years.
Verdoia: You made reference earlier to as they neared these last days of construction of the transcontinental railroad the Union Pacific as a company the Union Pacific railway company is strapped for money.
Strack: They just simply overspent themselves. Building the railroad, 1085 miles from Omaha to Promontory. It is a tremendously expensive enterprise of which they defaulted a lot on the contracts. They defaulted and there was corruption involved at all levels because entrepreneurs take advantage as they see opportunities to make money, and they take their opportunities. That is one of the reasons that the railroad, the corporation itself, went through so many reorganizations. It was reorganized twice before Harriman took control at the turn of the century in 1900. You really can't fault for a corporation for over extending themselves because I think most of the people involved in enterprises of that magnitude realize that it is not going to last very long. The emphasis would have been to get the railroad built and we will take care of the financial stuff later. The individuals involved, of course they benefited individually in their own wallet and that was the motivation. That still happens nowadays. A current example would be the satellite telephone. The corporation that put up all of those satellites. They really did not take consideration for the corporation, they are now bankrupt. They have been bought out and reorganized, but the reality is the satellites are still there. The satellites are not coming down. You just have to do some financial shuffling and get on with it. That is what they did with the railroad. They did some financial shuffling to everyone's satisfaction and they got on with it. And they continued on. Harriman rebuilt the railroad in 1898 to 1905. It became the largest money making organization in the world. The rebuilding of the Union Pacific. It was a good thing.
Verdoia: How would you explain the role of the Credit Mobilier?
Strack: Credit Mobilier was the name of the construction company that built the Union Pacific railroad. Central Pacific organized, well, Leland, Huntington, Crocker and Hopkins, they organized the Construction & Finance Corporation for the same reason. One of the major reasons that we know so much about Credit Mobilier is that we were able to get at some of the records of bribery and corruption. On the other hand, the Central Pacific counterpart construction company mysteriously lost all of its records in a questionable fire, just as the Credit Mobilier investigation was underway. So the Central Pacific was spared the embarrassment. That is why you hear much more about Credit Mobilier than you do about construction and finance on the Central Pacific corporation. The same individuals involved in the organization of the railroad organized the construction company for their own benefit without the government strings attached. As soon as the route was completed, or the route was graded, or track was laid, different levels of completion was allowed later as the route progressed to this meeting point. They were allowed to take these government bonds and they could borrow money on these bonds and the money they borrowed was passed directly to the construction company as payment for the construction of the railroad. But the same people, the same individuals benefited. That is where the corruption comes from. You know there is definitely a link of interest, or what we would call conflict of interest today, which troubles a lot of people nowadays, but you have to keep in mind that we are applying modern morals, modern ethics to a situation that existed 150 years ago.
Verdoia: One of the things that existed back then, too was the overt influencing of Congress. You say that the interest of the capitalists were the interests of the government of the United States and sometimes that meant financial incentives for reaching certain decisions in the.
Strack: It has been recorded by other people's research that Oakes Ames was censured. He was a congressman. I am unsure as to which state, I'm sorry, but he was censured from Congress because he accepted bribes, quote unquote. And they spread around a lot of money. That is just the way government worked, everyone benefited. The congressmen themselves benefited personally. They were sometimes given shares of the company and you know, personal financial benefit is a tremendous motivator for anybody.
Verdoia: In the months and years following the completion of the railroad there is a great body of correspondence and financial records that indicate that many of the people in Utah, especially the laborers that labored on the contracts, had gone unfulfilled in their pay. Their contracts were not honored and money didn't get down to the worker. As you understand this was Utah taken for a ride by the construction of the transcontinental railroad, were they victimized or ultimately was their involvement vindicated?
Strack: When the whole thing started, when the contracts were first signed in April of 1868, I really don't believe that the Union Pacific organizers really intended to really bilk the Utah people out of their money. I think that they intended to definitely benefit themselves personally as did all the people who took contracts. That was why Brigham Young organized the School of Prophets to better keep a handle on who would benefit and how the development would take place. I don't know that they really intended to take advantage of the situation financially. By late 1869 when Brigham Young started negotiations with the organizers of the railroad back in Boston, he sent both his son and Bishop John Sharp back to do the negotiations. The railroad basically said we don't have any money, you can't get money out of a turnip. The money was expended. We spent the money building the railroad. Of course you turn that coin over right away and the Credit Mobilier is involved and they are the people who received the money. Maybe the construction company charged too much for its services. That is probably pretty well documented because there are cases where the railroad itself would pay a certain price per cubic yard of dirt moved and the construction company would have paid considerably less to the actual contractor that moved the dirt. Reality being what it is, the railroad was out of money. And so Brigham Young made a settlement that took all of the construction materials that were sitting on the ground at Echo. They took it for the benefit of Utah and the church, which was pretty much the same thing at the time, and they built a railroad from Ogden to Salt Lake City with the materials.
Verdoia: The transcontinental railroad would go north of the Great Salt Lake rather than down to the major metropolitan area for its time, the area of Great Salt Lake City. And that Brigham was furious and...
Strack: No he wasn't furious.
Verdoia: Can you address that for me, the relation of where the railroad went and the local reaction?
Strack: The chief surveyor of the Union Pacific railroad was a man named Samuel B. Reed. He first came down Echo Canyon, he went down Weber Canyon, he and his surveying parties. They traveled all the passes of the Wasatch Mountains and it soon became obvious that Echo Canyon and Weber Canyon was pretty much the only route they could use. Anyone who drives out of Weber Canyon now realizes you have to follow the river into Ogden, where you sit with the route going south being quite a length from Ogden to Salt Lake City. You are not going south from the mouth of Weber Canyon to Salt Lake City, because you are blocked both north and south, all the way to Riverdale by the way the river eroded the mouth of the canyon. From Ogden, they surveyed south to Salt Lake City and they found that along the south shore of the lake there was no water. Simple as that, there was no water. And the road bed along the south shore, especially further west, is mud, salt crust and mud, and there is even less water out there. They discovered through their surveys that if they went on the north side of the lake, they would go through from Ogden to crossing the Bear River where Corinne is now, and up over the Promontory Mountains. Further west on the north side of the lake there is Monument, and there is what is now called Locomotive Springs, there is Kelton, all of those pioneer towns that are deserted now. But they were important stops in the railroad because of the water that was available. So the route from the north side of the Great Salt Lake to the next major water source, being Humbolt Wells, which is now Wells, Nevada, was much shorter than going on the south side. And Dodge himself told Brigham Young in August of 1868 that they were going the north route. Brigham Young was disappointed, I think is a proper term. He obviously wanted the railroad to come through Salt Lake City, but 20 years before, he had himself scouted it out for the railroad. He understood construction techniques, the realities of engineering and that kind of thing and I think he just accepted it. I don't think he made an effort to snub the ceremony because I personally believed that it just wasn't important to him. It was a national event. It was not an event for Utah. I think he saw the benefit as the railroad coming to Ogden, to Salt Lake City. The benefit was fulfilled in March of 1869 when the railroad arrived in Ogden.
Verdoia: Brigham Young is notable in his absence when the railroad is completed in May, 1869.
Strack: Yes, that's right. He couldn't control the event, and so he just decided to visit the southern settlements.
Verdoia: When it is all said and done, we have the benefit of hindsight, perfect hindsight. So, using that perfect vision, what is the significance of building a transcontinental railroad.
Strack: Almost every town in the western United States is located where it is because of a railroad, except for maybe the mining towns. A railroad can only operate to a certain distance before the locomotives need water, or they need fuel. The men get tired, they need to stop and rest, so they change crews. If you start looking at maps, it is remarkable here in the Intermountain west and in the north through Montana, through Wyoming and through Arizona and New Mexico and across Colorado. It is remarkable that the towns are usually spaced between 90 and 110 miles apart. 100 miles is the distance that a locomotive can travel before you have to refuel it or do some sort of maintenance. The most common example that you really see is that the distances across Wyoming. From Cheyenne to Laramie, which is both sides of a hill, Sherman Hill, and then from Laramie you go to Rawlins and then you go to Green River and you go to Evanston, and you are down the grade to Ogden, about every 100 miles or so. Every place where the railroad had to stop for its maintenance reasons, or rest and relaxation, the towns grew up, and ranches grew up around the towns, and agriculture areas grew up around the ranches. It is a self feeding economy. You know it is wonderful to be able to become aware of the features and watch it happen over history. I really enjoy reading old newspapers because they tell the story.
Verdoia: And this is the story of settling the American west.
Strack: The American west would not have been settled without the railroad, simple as that. So you look back with your perfect hindsight and I'm willing to basically forgive the railroads for what they did. There are a lot of people who dwell at great length on the corruption and other negative aspects of the railroad. You just can't do that because the reality is that the west would not have been if it wasn't for the railroad. You can ponder sometimes how Utah would be without the railroad. Brigham Young didn't die until 1877, so with his interests and his desire to help Utah grow, but still with a theological base, he probably would have been a little bit more successful. General Connor and his men discovered precious metals in 1862 and 1863, but there was really no danger from that until the cheaper transportation of the railroad came along. I've done quite a bit of research in the history of Bingham Canyon and although the mines themselves were organized in 1863, nothing really happened for another six years until the railroad came. Some of the first shipments east for the railroad was ore from Bingham Canyon, copper ore, precious metal ore. They needed to ship it out of Utah because they didn't have a smelter here. Of course the level of mining activity here in Utah was such that Salt Lake City soon became the smelting center of the United States. There was so much mining activity here and the railroads couldn't handle it all. So they had to build smelters here.