PIONEER HISTORY OF KANSAS
by Adolph Roenigk
Incidents Connected with the Building of the Union Pacific
Railroad, Written from Memory as a Preface for What
Is Said in the Following Chapter.
No attempt is made here to write a history of the Union Pacific Railroad as that has been done many times by more able writers. It is only intended to give the viewpoint of an observer and railroad worker who was there at that time.
After the close of the Civil War the foremost important matter that occupied the minds of the American people was the building of a line of railroad across the continent to connect the east with our possessions on the Pacific Coast. The proposed line was to connect with the Central Pacific then building from California eastward.
Several lines had been proposed and discussed in Congress and two routes, one through Kansas, and the other farther north along the Platt River through Nebraska, were finally decided on.
I was living in St. Louis at that time. Judging from reading the newspaper accounts at the time there seemed to be much rivalry between St. Louis and Chicago as to which city should be the terminal or headquarters of the main line. Missouri River points were not considered at that time, as these towns were small, Leavenworth being the largest.
The Missouri Pacific Railroad from St. Louis west had been built a few years prior to this time to Leavenworth, and besides this one there was only one other railroad to the Missouri River.
It was thought by the leading men of our country that such a road to the Pacific Coast could not be built by private interests through the then wild territory, and the government gave aid in the way of a land grant of every alternate section of land on each side of the track for a distance of twenty miles, and besides a bonus of sixteen thousand dollars per mile in the level country of our public domain, and a larger sum for building through the mountains. The Kansas line surveyed up the Kansas and Republican Rivers, by the St. Louis people, was believed to become the main line that was to connect with the Central Pacific then building eastward from California. Therefore it was named Union Pacific, Eastern Division. The eastern terminal of this line was located at Wyandotte, the depot standing about the foot of Minnesota Avenue, now Kansas City, Kansas. I will
here state that this road had no connection with the Missouri Pacific Railroad, the two tracks being of different gauges, the latter being wide track, 5 feet, and the former, standard gauge, 4 feet and 8 1/2 inches, the same as tracks in Illinois and Eastern States. Freight, as well as passengers had to be transferred and this made traffic at this point inconvenient and expensive.
After a few years when traffic became important, the Missouri Pacific track was changed, preparations were made in advance, changing the rolling stock. When ready the entire distance between St. Louis and Kansas City, including the change of switches and frogs, was changed to standard gauge in sixteen hours without any interruption to travel or business of the road. (July 1869.)
The headquarters and financial department of the new line, Union Pacific Eastern Division, was located at St. Louis. (Redington, the paymaster, came from there when paying the employees.) The operating department was located at Lawrence, Kansas. A Mr. Marshall was Assistant Superintendent and General Roadmaster.
With all these land grants and bonuses offered by the government to capitalists, the building of these lines was looked upon a venture that might not prove to be a financial success and people were very timid about investing their money. For this reason the progress of building the Kansas line was slow and came to a standstill on reaching Manhattan in 1866. At this time the line from Omaha west through Nebraska was named Union Pacific, having started about the time as the Kansas line, but built by a stronger company and backed by Chicago capitalists, was forging ahead at a rapid rate and it was soon realized that the Kansas route would not be the main line.
Then the survey was changed from the Republican to the Smoky Hill route and on toward Denver. After lying idle at Manhattan for some time, the building of the railroad took a new start reaching Fort Harker and building on westward through the Indian country in the summer of 1867. The progress was hindered by numerous Indian Raids (so many workmen were killed that troops were called out to protect the workers, as stated in another chapter of this book) but finally reached Sheridan, near the west line of the state in the fall of that year where it remained the terminal of the line for nearly two years.
I was working on the line in the fall of 1868, and will here
relate some of my personal observations. The names of the contractors building the road was Shocmaker Miller and Company. The name of the firm appeared on all locomotives which were made in Patterson, New Jersey. All were wood burners except one which was an experiment with native coal, mined at Wilson Station near the railroad.
This was an experiment tried by the railroad company that did not prove to be a success. The native coal used was of an inferior quality for steam purposes. The train drawn by this coal burner was always late. After several years trial this experiment was abandoned. After the railroad reached the coal fields of Colorado where good coal was abundant all locomotives burned coal.
To us workers at that time things did not look very favorable. The road bed was thrown up very cheaply, culverts and abuttments of bridges were built rather temporary, the tracks were the old fashioned light iron chair rails. The line in this part of the state was very crooked, running as it did on the divide between the Saline and Smoky Hill Rivers. It was intended to avoid all heavy cuts and fills so as to build cheaply.
To us workers it appeared as if Shoemaker Miller and Company were more bent on building as many miles of road with the least expense, and in that way profit by obtaining more of the bonus (the sixteen thousand dollars per mile) than following a more direct line to connect with the Central Pacific.
In 1868 the company was again in financial straits and were three months behind time in paying their employees.
In the winter of 1868 and 1869 the company was reorganized and was then named the Kansas Pacific.
As has been stated, the Nebraska line was forging ahead to connect their line with the Central Pacific, and drove the golden spike in May, 1869. Denver then built a branch line connecting with the main line at Cheyenne. In the spring of 1869 the Kansas route again made a new start, building into Denver, reaching that point in 1870.
Many changes have taken place since then. After the Union Pacific came into possession of the line many improvements were made changing the temporary construction into permanent, solid road bed, straightening the lines in places, replacing the light iron with heavy steel rails, and it soon after became one of the main lines to the Pacific Coast.