One of the major events in the gilded age was the construction of the railroads. At that time there was no artifact of the new industrial culture as powerfully symbolic as the locomotive.In this time period the ton-miles of freight carried by the thirteen principle lines in the country rose from 2.16 billion to 14.48 billion, an increase of six hundred percent.In the next couple years track mileage more than tripled from thirty five thousand to about hundred and fifteen thousand miles, with about eighteen thousand locomotives in service.
In the congressional legislation that paved the way for the transcontinental railroads, it was provided that the line should move west from Council Bluffs under the direction of the Union Pacific and the east from Sacramento under the auspices of the Central Pacific. Each company was to receive ten alternating sections along its right of the way to help defray the cost of construction.
The Central Pacific was a partnership of five men, all newcomers to railroad building. Collis Potter Huntington was a coarse, rough man who, like Jay Gould, began his career as a peddler. Huntington formed a partnership with Mark Hopkins, his partner in hardware store; Leland Stanford, a grocer; Charles Crocker, a former gold miner; and a brilliant engineer, Theodore Dehone Judah, to build a railroad across the Sierra Nevada.The five men got their contract to build their railroad. So the rails were pushed forward relentlessly in the face of heavy snowfall, avalanches, and, in the summer, blistering heat.On several occasions whole construction camps were buried under hundred feet of rock and earth by avalanches.
As the track moved west to east, laying the rails developed into a race between the construction crew of the Central Pacific and those of the Union Pacific. The line that built the longest stretch of railroad bed could claim the largest number of sections and, it was hoped, the l