Bain: When you think about the far west as it was then, it was a vast empty space across which tens of thousands of people had mostly walked to get where they finally ended up. And so the notion of making any of that trip shorter was something that people just, they would have died for that.
Verdoia: And that would lead us to motive behind a transcontinental railroad. Because there seems to be many different motives. Can you help us understand these?
Bain: Everybody wanted the railroad to succeed, virtually everybody. I mean, from a business standpoint, the idea of being able to get raw materials in to get your products moved out quickly, from the personal point of view, virtually everybody in the west who was an adult had come from somewhere else. And just the idea of being closer, that much closer to family and friends back wherever they were in the east or in Europe, was something that they just had to have. The notion of isolation, as it was, in the far west at that time, was just a soul punishing thing.
Verdoia: Did the concept of the bonding of a nation, here we are in the years immediately after the Civil War. Certainly, the Pacific Railroad Act had been passed before, but in years following the Civil War, we see offered to the public many times that this will bind our nation together. But in a practical sense, was that one of the nation's motivating factors?
Bain: The railroad was definitely of a military necessity. We have to remember that it was virtually born in the midst of warfare. And therefore, with President Lincoln saying that we had to keep the west from leaving the union, the railroad became that much more important to everybody. And that gave them one of the largest, really impelling motions toward getting it done.
Verdoia: How would you consider these two moving forces of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific? And let's begin with the east coming to the west, the army of the Union Pacific. Who were these men who forged this iron bond?
Bain: Well the war was still raging when the railroad started in 1863, but there were large numbers of people who were coming from Europe from the cities, and then of course, as the war wound down and ended, all of these people needed jobs. And here was a good way to get a good daily wage and food and maybe some chance at bettering yourself. And so therefore, for the Union Pacific, running from Omaha westward toward the unknown middle, 10- or 12,000 people came on board. And many of them were former soldiers, many of them spoke very little English because they had just gotten of the boat in New York or Baltimore, and then out to the first available job that they could find.
Verdoia: Very different circumstances with the workforce of the Central Pacific, which starts with an "American Workforce," or an Anglo- or a white workforce. But then changes, almost early on.
Bain: Very early on with the Central Pacific Railroad, there was a small American workforce, but you have to remember that they were in direct competition with the mining industry that was going on. And so for most of the people who were in California, why should they work for $30 or $35 a month when they could go up in some frigid stream in the Sierra Nevada, or maybe they could go over to the Comstock District in Nevada, and maybe they would strike it rich. So it was very hard to keep the labor force filled with the Californians. And so that's why they had to go and start to hire Chinese.
Verdoia: And how aggressively did they pursue a Chinese labor force? The process of bringing these workers, were they pre-existing workers in the state of California, or did they have to actively recruit them?
Bain: There were thousands of Chinese who had been left over from the Gold Rush, and they had either continued with gold mining, or else they'd taken menial jobs in the cities and towns of California. And there was an active effort to get them on board with the Central Pacific. And there were handbills that were sent out in Chinese, there were companies that were formed to go down to San Francisco and bring in as many as they could. And they hired so many, and they proved to be such workers, that they finally had to be imported from China.
Verdoia: Let's consider now the nature of the work, it was different work forces did. In the 21st century we watch one man in a large piece of machinery grade miles at a time all by himself. So this is not the nature of the labor in the mid 19th century.
Verdoia: Help an audience understand the grueling nature of the labor that went into grading the main track.
Bain: When you think about the labor that was done in California and Nevada and Utah and Wyoming, especially, and how primitive a level it was. This was the kind of work that was done with the pick ax and a shovel and some very primitive blasting powder, and was mostly moved by hand. The rock was moved by hand, the earth was moved by hand, there were many injuries.
Verdoia: The notion of injuries, that people were injured. They were pretty much on their own if they were injured.
Bain: Pretty much so, sure. I mean, it wasn't as if there were any kind of workmen's comp or anything like that. People would be injured, if they could continue to work then they would be able to work. They could bandage stuff and then keep on going. If they happened to die on the road, they were buried alongside the road, and that was it.
Verdoia: Based on your research, how would you characterize the Utah territory in the years prior to the coming of the railroad? Across the spectrum, economically, socially, politically?
Bain: I like to visualize what Utah was like, say, in the 1850s and the early 1860s as being somewhat behind what was going on in the rest of the eastern United States, for instance. These were still false front towns. These were still towns of hand made houses, some out of adobe, some out of whatever wood was available. There were factories going up, but they were small factories. There was some trade going on, but it was dependent on wagons coming in from somewhere else. And there were shortages, there were constant shortages, and almost all labor was done by hand.
Verdoia: There is also a sense if anyone considers that region at that time, it almost embodied a sense of isolation. Is that legitimate in your eyes?
Bain: The sense of isolation in Utah was profound. I mean, so many of the adults had walked there pushing handcarts or maybe in wagons. Their children had never seen any other kind of a place. Newspapers were few and far between, mail was always late, and there was that sense of being despised and hated by and distrusted by the outside world, and all of these things would have just increased that sense of isolation, and of not being understood, and not really being wanted. And you put all of these people on the edge of the Great Salt Lake doing the best they can to build their farms, to plant their orchards, to dig their irrigation ditches to survive against grasshoppers, against unfriendly army incursions and the insults of passers by. And that sense of being out there all by themselves in the middle of that unfriendly terrain, as it was then, is quite an amazing thing to contemplate.
Verdoia: Which leads me to wonder what the driving forces of the various railroad enterprises, how they would view this Utah territory, and really its central figure. This larger than life figure of Brigham Young, who used to dominate so much of the social and cultural feel of Utah. Union Pacific, driving towards Utah, irony of all ironies, how did they perceive the Utah territory and Brigham Young?
Bain: Well, this was a terrain that had to be crossed, they weren't thinking in terms of any kind of a crossroads, they weren't thinking about any commercial traffic to be had to the north or to the south of Utah. This was a place they had to get through, and the idea of working with someone like Brigham Young was a necessity. I found no scintilla of evidence that the people in the high levels of the Union Pacific respected Brigham Young as a person or as a business man, but he was the man that they had to deal with. There was one man in the Union Pacific, Samuel Reed, who was the construction engineer for the Union Pacific, and he seemed to get along with Young just fine, spent a lot of time with him, took the time with diplomacy, and really made it possible for the understandings that were done between the Union Pacific and the Mormons.
Verdoia: And as we've discussed, we have these two railroad enterprises, literally, that have been building with their own army workers. As they neared Utah you'd see both of these entities turn to Utah to provide additional workforce. Since they had done so well up to that point, why would they turn to Utah workers?
Bain: Everything in this railroad story was a race, and the most intense competition that one can imagine was going on, and if you look at what Utah represented to them in 1868, for instance, you see the Union Pacific badly wanting for cash, having government scrutiny for the first time, all sorts of problems, keeping the work going. With the Central Pacific you have the same problem. And still they had to meet somehow, somewhere in the west. And they just did not have the man power, they could not extend their supply lines so far as to leapfrog entire legions of workers to start doing the grading and the cutting and the tunneling that was necessary in Utah. So they really had to turn to Young in order to get the job done.
Verdoia: And here we have Brigham Young, who as early as the 1850s is campaigning for a railroad to serve the west, and the Salt Lake Valley. It was of essential importance to Brigham Young that the railroad come to Salt Lake City.
Bain: The decision was made for engineering reasons, the decision not to go around the south of the lake. For the technology they had then, for the money that they had then, it really seems if going north through the Promontory Mountains was the best way that was possible at the time. And I'm really confident that Young originally did want the railroad to go through Salt Lake City. I think that he felt confident that he could have contained any of the outside influences that might have done damage to his political control, or to the safety of the Latter-day Saints. I think that he felt that he could have handled all that. And so when it was finally announced to him, August of 1868, as a fact, that the railroads were not going to go through Salt Lake City, as he had been led to believe for some years, I think it was a shock. But it was a shock that he had to hide because of his position. And the notion of trying to make the best of a bad thing became the thing to do.
Verdoia: What would come with the railroad? Certainly money, but also outside influences on what had been an isolated society. So do you have a sense of Young struggling with this good news/bad news aspect of the coming of the railroad?
Bain: At the time, in 1868 and 1869, when the railroad was really approaching, when it was within 300 miles of Salt Lake City, you have to look at what the Saints had been living through there in the Utah Valley at that point. They'd had three years of drought, they'd had at least two summers of either grasshoppers or locusts; they were really strapped for cash; they were really strapped for food, they had their seed stores that they could use for more plantings, but it was really a question of just how they were going to make it through. And so just the notion of these loud, busy work gangs coming through, spending cash, the idea that there might be work to be had, was something that was tremendously magnetic to Young. And one cannot underscore how important it was to him and to his people that that railroad come in, and that they avail themselves however possible, of making some money off of it, because there weren't many alternatives at that time.
Verdoia: And the positive aspects for Brigham Young, personally?
Bain: Well, certainly, yes, that's important. With these benefits of the cash coming in, of the economic power that Young could reap from this for his people, it became acceptable, the fact that these outsiders were coming in with their licentious behavior, their rowdiness, all of the advertised things that had been showing up in the Deseret News about things going on in the Wyoming railroad towns, for instance. The notion of the outside coming in and possibly being more threats to the kingdom, all these things had to be taken for granted and just try to put one foot in front of the other and make it through.
Verdoia: This might be a good time to consider the notion of just exactly what did follow in the wake of the railroad work gangs. Specifically, men with money, out there in the middle of nowhere, and civilization, if you will, seemed to follow right behind them, both for good and for the more rambunctious types of human nature. Help me understand the notion of hell on wheels.
Bain: Think of 10,000 men with cash in their pockets, and six days of hard work behind them. And think of most of these men being uneducated, a lot of former veterans who had seen how much hell was war at that point. A lot of them former soldiers, they'd seen the wild life, they'd seen the hell of war, and they were working six days a week, and of course they were going to want to blow off some steam. . .
You have all these soldiers who are out there, ex-soldiers and rough workers, a lot of them uneducated. And of course they're going to have to blow off steam. And during the war, of course military commanders would have tried to keep under control the notion of the camp followers, the prostitutes, the gambling dens and everything. But this was out without any kind of military control. You had an army, but you had no real commanders. And no sense of what do these people do when they have their time off. And so of course the camp followers poured in, and the notion of a hell on wheels town where, as the railroad track moved on, all of the purveyors, the saloon owners, and the gambling den owners, the whiskey ranches, as they were called, would just pack up, and they'd be put on flat cars and sent off to the end of track again. That's where the notion of hell on wheels came from. And it was a place where there was a saying, "Every morning required a man for breakfast." With all of the muggings and the shootings and everything that you've seen in the wild west movies happened in those hell on wheels town, only it was worse.
Verdoia: Brigham Young signs a contract, first with the Union Pacific. We're going to provide the grading, the work force. You need workers, we can provide workers. How did Brigham Young organize the effort?
Bain: Well, Brigham Young, the first effort that was given to the Mormons was the work down through Weber and Echo canyons. It was grading and scraping, the tunneling work was given to them later. And he, Brigham Young, subcontracted to his son Joseph, and also to Bishop John Sharp. And the way that they organized it was to take advantage of the different congregations in the little towns up through the canyons. And so it was done through a community and a church organization, and all of the farmers who really had absolutely nothing to do, at that point, because of the fact that they'd lost all of their crops, just poured down from the hillsides to take advantage of this. Bringing their plows, bringing their teams of horses, and ready to show up for a good day's work.
Verdoia: They were, in fact, called from the pulpit.
Bain: Absolutely. You also have to remember something that was going on politically at that time, because just before that, the federal government had enacted an anti-bigamy law, and there was a lot more in that act than something having to do with how many wives a man could take, because there were also things about enjoining the Church from getting involved in commercial businesses and everything. So therefore, it was really important for Young at that time to make sure that his name personally, was at the head of that list, so there could be no mistaking on the part of the federal government, the federal authorities, of the fact that the LDS was getting involved in the railroad. And so therefore there was always a personal face on things.
Verdoia: For all of the optimism associated with the coming of the railroad, very quickly there is a realization that the railroad companies themselves are in deep financial trouble. When the financial difficulties of the Union Pacific railroad start to surface, what was the underlying cause?
Bain: Financial difficulties were plaguing the Union Pacific railroad from the day that it was incorporated in September of 1862. And it never left. By the time we get to 1868 and 1869, as the railroad is about to enter into Utah territory, the Union Pacific is basically completely cash strapped. The only asset that it has is its own railroad, and its rolling stock, and the amount of work that is already been done, and the promise for the future. Banks were ready to foreclose, loans were taken out to pay other loans, I mean the whole thing could have collapsed under the right circumstances. So it was just something that needed a lot of prayer and daring in order to just get finished.
Verdoia: And there are some people that have read this, that somehow the Mormon workers were uniquely targeted for the neglect of the Union Pacific when it came to the payment of bills. But you seem to think that is not the case.
Bain: People all the way across the length of the railroad were being left out in the cold as far as their payments go. The Omaha office of the Union Pacific was besieged by contractors' bills piling up toward the ceiling in 1868 and 1869. The same with the Central Pacific, but more so with the Union Pacific. They were the real distressed entity at that point. And so you had tie contractors, you had grading contractors, all of these subcontracting people, the suppliers, bridge builders, everyone was begging to be paid. Everyone was at least two months in arrears at this point. And the alarm bells were going off all over the place.
Verdoia: You've talked about the race, the speed, the need for each company to rack-up mileage. Why were mileage and speed at a premium. . .why were they so important?
Bain: When they began the whole notion of this transcontinental railroad to be build by these two entities, the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific, this sense of crazy, unbridled competition wasn't built into the thing. But because there weren't enough safeguards, because there weren't enough times and dates and rates put in for the whole bargain, it soon became that. And of course, everybody had their eye on something else, on some extra bit of money to be taken out of it. For Collis Huntington of the Central Pacific railroad, he was salivating over the coal beds in the Wasatch mountains, and so it was imperative, even though his railroaders at that point were just in central Nevada, he just pressed them on. "You've got to get at least to Ogden; you've got to get us a line up into Weber Canyon so we can get that coal. We can't just be earning trees from the Sierra Nevada for the rest of our lives. We really have to get some side industries going."
And for people like Thomas Durant of the Union Pacific, he was thinking about, perhaps, building as far as the Pacific, for heaven's sake, and he was thinking about the trade routes that were available through Nevada with all of the silver rushes that were going on. And so they were really, really meaning, almost to pass one another, such was their greed and their need at that point to survive.
Verdoia: And that starts to manifest itself concretely in the Utah territory. Survey and grading literally routes alongside and over each other. Can you describe what that was like?
Bain: Well, if you think about what the canyons are like in Echo and Weber, for instance, they are very narrow, they're very twisty, and it was very hard for even two engineers to even stand shoulder to shoulder in some places. And so, of course, the Union Pacific stakes went down both of those canyons toward Ogden. The Central Pacific had sent its surveyors ahead, and so they had laid out pretty much from the mouth of Weber Canyon up into the Promontory mountains and then all the way over to the Nevada border at Humboldt Wells. And the whole idea seems to be in their minds that whoever got the final okay for the trackage would get the money. And so it didn't matter if they graded extraneously, if their survey stakes were within inches of one another, even if they laid their railroad track over the top of the tracks of the other company, it didn't matter until they got the final go ahead from the federal government. And then they would collect all those bonds, and then they would collect all of that money. And so, therefore, you had that parallel grading that was going on.
Verdoia: There were some recollections offered many years after the completion, that this competition, this grading, actually lead to violence in the Utah territory. The allegations of rival work gangs attempting to blow up each other. I hope you might be able to set that straight.
Bain: Most of the accounts that you read about these episodes of violence between the Chinese and the Irish workers are completely fabricated by people writing a long time after it. I went laboriously through all the original letters and diaries and telegrams and local newspapers that were published, and I found not a scintilla of evidence of first hand evidence, that anything like that had happened. The other thing that one has to remember is, is that the Chinese hardly ever got into Utah territory. They got as far as Promontory, the Promontory Mountains, but they came no further. The Irish who were grading were coming down through Echo and Weber Canyon. Mostly we have Mormon subcontractors who work for Bishop Sharp and Young, and also for Farr and West. And it sounds like a band, doesn't it? So the thing that people forget in this, is that most of the workers who were busy in Utah were Mormons. And there was no reason for them to blow each other up. That kind of competition didn't exist. The only kind of story that you read about these sorts of things is really from the pens of people who really didn't do the research. And it really, just really didn't happen that way.
There's this point where Benson, Farr, and West, are working their subcontracting crews against that terrible dry desert of northern Utah, from the Nevada border to the Promontory Mountains. And you have Sharp and Young moving their contractors down through the valleys, and the canyons, and beginning to get into tunnel work. And there's a moment where Brigham Young accepts a contract, of course, and subcontracts it out, from the Union Pacific, to grade up past Ogden, toward the Promontory Mountains. And then the Central Pacific people come in, and they say, "Well, can you give us a contract too?" And all of a sudden, Young is presented with the delightful idea of playing one off against the other, and collecting money from both sides. And so yes, so he accepted it, and so therefore he could have two crews working doing two different lines of work up toward the Promontories. And if he'd actually gotten paid for that work, that would have been doubly delicious, I think.
Verdoia: Describe for someone who's not been there, this notion of the work that would have been taken place in those foothills of Promontory.
Bain: Well, you look in the foothills of Promontory, and you look down on the valley floor, and you see those two different grades going up there. And all of the rock work that was necessary, all the expensive rock work. And you think of that extraordinary waste of personnel and energy, and how much in a rush those people must have been. But it was actually more desperate than that, because within the Union Pacific there was tremendous amount of dissension, among the engineers. And so you had the lines that were laid down by the chief engineer Grenville Dodge, which went up in a good fashion up the approach of the Promontory Mountains toward Promontory Summit. But then you have someone like Silas Seymour who was the consulting engineer, who went and changed all of the grades whenever Dodge's back was turned, and ordered the railroad into nonsensical curves because, after all, they were being paid by the mile, so if they put in more miles, and cheaper bridges, and steeper grades, the Union Pacific would collect more money for it. And so there was a tremendous chaos going on from about December of 1868 to March or April of 1869, just an extraordinary confusion going on.
Verdoia: Your book indicates that dissension was an on-going, internal struggle during construction of the railroad.
Bain: Dissension was really the thing that almost killed everything at that point, because there were so many different warring interests in the Union Pacific, for instance. And there was such a sense of trying to get as much for "me" as I can, there was just this sense of, really, everybody being in for themselves. And they saw that the end was coming, the railroad would be finished after a time, and that sense of just trying to get as much money out of the enterprise as possible, became important to everybody. Conductors were stealing from their passengers, freight agents were stealing from the railroad, and probably lifting a few pieces of boxes out of the freight cars. Contractors were grading bad grades so that the railroads could just slide right off of them. Bridge builders were putting in bridge footings with ordinary rubble and dirt behind a facing that looked very solid, and as soon as it started to rain the bridges started to crumble. It was just a disastrous kind of a period back then.
Verdoia: We've talked about the competition of them actually working past each other. Clearly it comes to a head, and it almost becomes like a super power negotiation back in Washington. Can you help us understand what was at issue and how that negotiation played?
Bain: The negotiation to decide where the railroads would meet had been going on, mostly ending in people shouting at one another and slamming doors and leaving, for quite some time. Finally it got to the point, in February of 1869, when Collis Huntington who was in Washington, and Grunville Dodge, the chief engineer of the railroad, had come to Washington to see what he could do to get this thing solved. When they realized that if they didn't come up with a meeting point themselves, the government was going to pass some really quick and dirty legislation, and make the decision for them. And they really saw that as being the first of several shoes to drop as far as the Union Pacific's future was concerned, and the Central Pacific. So they finally met in February of 1869, at the house of congressman Samuel Hooper, who had wisely invested in both railroads and in the construction arm of the Union Pacific. And they finally decided that they would meet in the Promontory Mountains at Promontory Summit, and that the Central Pacific would buy the Union Pacific trackage and grading work down to the town of Ogden. And then Ogden would become the central meeting point.
Verdoia: Was this a hard negotiation?
Bain: This was a very hard negotiation, and neither side wanted to give any kind of quarter to this whole thing. And they had their ideas about what they wanted to do and there were secrets. And you think about what Dodge, what was on the mind, you think about what was on the minds of Dodge and Huntington as they were coming to that decision. And for Huntington, he had another agenda. He wanted to seize economic control of Utah for himself and his company and his secret plan was to build a new metropolis 5 miles north of Ogden and that would become the terminus for the two railroads and he would be able to wrest control of the trails of the freight traffic and everything away from Salt Lake City and really allow them to wither on the vine and this was something that he actively pursued with Leland Stanford who was at work in Salt Lake City at that point with his other people and the cables went back to Huntington I'm sorry there's no water between Ogden and somewhere well into Nevada and he still really was thinking about this idea of this metropolis which he would call Centralia and so that's why they came to that kind of strange, intriguing decision about how everything would be done. The Central Pacific would buy the Union Pacific trackage from Promontory summit down to file miles above Ogden City and they would lease for 999 the extra miles down into the center of Ogden. And the reason they did that was because Huntington planned for his city to be north of Ogden and that would take all the control away from Salt Lake City and Ogden.
Verdoia: The compromise, the negotiation they reached dictates that the two rail lines will be joined at Promontory on May 8th, 1869. May 8 does not happen. Why?
Bain: May 8 does not happen because they were building bridges through Weber Canyon so quickly, that they didn't really pay attention to the fact that this was springtime, and the freshets were blooming, and so several of the supports that were holding up on of the bridges in the lower Weber Canyon were washed away. So all the sudden, the track was broken and there was no way for all of the celebrants to get to the May 8 celebration. And so they had to postpone it for two days.
Verdoia: Terribly embarrassing, I would imagine, for the Union Pacific?
Bain: I should think so, although I should think it would be very embarrassing for them. The fact is is that they had been presented with snowstorms, with all sorts of interruptions in traffic. I mean, everything had been one disaster after another for them in this, so I'm sure that they were just thinking in terms of, "We've just got to get to this ceremony; we've just got to get this completed before all hell breaks loose."
Bain: Not only were they having trouble with the bridge in lower Weber Canyon, but then the vice president of the Union Pacific, Thomas Durant, the grand puppeteer behind everything, is kidnapped by his own men because they are two months without any pay. And so in the town of Piedmont, Wyoming, his train was all of a sudden put onto a siding, and masked men got onto the train and hustled him off. And they were told that they would not get their vice president back until all of their back pay had been put in. Caused a tremendous uproar in the Union Pacific director in Boston and New York, and they even tried to send the army in. But the telegraph operator who took those messages that were being sent off to the US Army, just tore up the paper and threw it away because he was on the side of the union men who wanted their money.
Verdoia: Now let's go to the day of May 10.
Bain: One might think of the celebration on May 10 as being anti-climactic in that there were perhaps 1500 people there, there were a couple of territorial governors, but there weren't any really huge dignitaries or famous people there. You basically had a lot of very, very tired people showing up in order to listen to some speeches and pound down some rail and drink some champagne, eat some oysters, and then go home and go to sleep for a year.
Verdoia: One of the people quite noticeable in his absence, Brigham Young. Here is a man who, for 20 years, nothing of note had happened in that territory, without his presence or commanding figure casting a shadow. And he says, "Thanks, but no thanks." Have you been able to figure that?
Bain: I have been trying to figure out Brigham Young's thoughts as far as the May 10 celebration for a long time. And number one, he was not present when the train came into Ogden, and he was not present at this supposedly national celebration up in the mountains. And there were some other governors there. So it isn't as if he would've been the most important personage there. And I think, really, the reason that Young did not go there, he just said basically that he was going south to visit some of the far-flung settlements. I think the reason that he didn't go was a smart one, because this celebration was not in any local control. And if Young had gone up there and been snubbed, the way that he'd been snubbed by many of the Union Pacific people over the past months, it would have been very embarrassing to him politically among his own people. And so I think he did the right thing by not going, because if they had been able to do what they'd done in Ogden where it was a local community celebration, and the railroaders come in and there are a lot of speeches and everything, I think that would have been a politic place for Young to have appeared. But there was so much that was going on that was chaotic, that was out of control, I think he was making a very smart political decision by being absent.
Verdoia: There were people who thought this was, as you say, a momentous event, commanded their attention. The telegraphic lines send out the word that the final spike is driven in; we are done praying, it is done, it's happened. How did the nation react?
Bain: You think about the 1500 people who were there in the high desert in northern Utah, and the final spike is tapped, the telegrapher sends out the message east and west, it is done, and then simultaneously a cannon looking over the Pacific and a cannon looking over the Atlantic boom out the notice to the world. Tens of thousands of people in Chicago and San Francisco and Sacramento and Washington, D.C. and New York, and all of the major towns and small towns erupt into a wild tumult of celebration. The church bells are rung; fire bells are rung. Congregations meet to pray their thanks over this great thing. And you get that sense of simultaneous action that must have happened at that moment, and the amount of energy that just went up from North America at that moment, is quite amazing. I mean, it would have buried the needle on the Richter Scale, I think.
Verdoia: But, even before the celebration has finished, there must be significant concern in the mind of Brigham Young. Young is very, very concerned that he's not getting paid. He can't pay his subcontractors, and they can't pay their laborers, and there's this real sense that all that was envisioned, over $2 million of greenbacks flowing into Utah territory, not flowing the way they thought it was.
Bain: Brigham Young had to be thinking about the amount of money that was owed to his people at that point when they were doing all of the celebrating, because there were still a lot of bills that hadn't been paid. He would have known, through the newspapers, through his operatives in the western towns, the fact that there were just hoards and hoards of people who were not being paid. Banks about to fail across the west, even as far away as New York, because of the amount of paper that they were carrying. The number of IOUs that they had from the Union Pacific railroad, and there was still a lot of money to be paid. And so I'm sure that that sense of urgency, "Okay, let's get over with the formalities of this celebration so where's my money?"
Verdoia: As Brigham Young is worrying about payment for his workers, the nation is just being introduced to the inner workings of an entity known as the Credit Mobilier, and its part in the railroad. How can we explain this complex, and arguably corrupt, Credit Mobilier?
Bain: You have to remember that when you're building a railroad, the normal way that you would be getting any profit would be when you finish the thing and when you get freight trains and passenger trains, and you start getting in receipts. There's a certain amount of money that you can make from selling land on either side of the railroad, there's a certain amount of money that you might make if you spot a place where there's a coal scene, or there's an iron scene, or maybe there's gold to be had. There are ways to make money that way. But the brilliance of what happened with the Union Pacific, and it's kind of a diabolical brilliance, is that Thomas Durant, the UP vice president, realized that you don't actually have to finish the railroad in order to make big money. And the way that he did that was to form a construction arm, a completely separate entity, which was called the Credit Mobilier of America, after a French corporation that had done the same in France. And so basically what you would do would be you would set up a dummy corporation, and you would pay yourselves to build the railroad. So if you've got $50,000 for a mile for construction and it actually cost $35,000 then you would be pocketing that difference per mile. And if you could find ways to inflate the costs, then you would do that. And you could declare dividends whenever you could get away with it, and walk away with cash in your pocket.
Verdoia: Did this become a national scandal?
Bain: It was a tremendous national scandal. What happened was is that during the Grant reelection campaign, in 1872, a rival newspaper who was backing Horace Greely as the democratic candidate, found out about this old trial that had been fought in Pennsylvania involving this strange sounding corporation, and several of the people who had fallen out with one another over not getting enough of the spoils, and so went ahead and went public with the announcement. So the whole thing was trotted out again, but to a wildly interested America at this point. And so all of the anti-Grant press brought it out, there were congressional inquiries that ultimately touched congressmen and a senator and a vice presidential candidate and a sitting vice president. And these were all people who had approached the Union Pacific and said, "Sell me some of your securities at a discount. Lend me the money to buy your securities, and things will go easier for you in congress."
Verdoia: Which is telling, because both the Central Pacific and Union Pacific demonstrate ample familiarity with the way the political game is played back then.
Bain: Payoffs were the norm back then, I mean that doesn't excuse it, but the fact is that a government inspector, as much as a poultry inspector, for heaven's sake, demanded a bribe before sending in a favorable report. Congressmen actively demanded support.
Everyone was on the take back then. Government inspectors, poultry inspectors, for that matter, congressmen demanded money for legislation, it was just the way things were. My theory is that this was right after the Civil War, there had been murderous, murderous headlines for years and years and years. The emotional toll, the physical toll on the United States at that point is something that's hard for us to understand in these modern times. And everybody was touched in some way, personally, by the Civil War. And this notion of what happened in the gilded age, the fact that there were suddenly, America is back in business. Now it's time for us to real life. The sense of entitlement that people had, that it was their time to make some real money. It was their time to get back to business. It just permeated every level of society. And it's not surprising at all that the railroad scandals of the 1870s came forth. This was in the air back then, and one can fault people like congressman Oaks Ames of the Union Pacific railroad, for what he did to his colleagues. But the fact is, is that as soon as he became evident on the house floor, he was just surrounded. And it was like a feeding frenzy.
Verdoia: And, I guess one of the things that I ended up with a blue-green image, people profiting, but what happened to those people who had all those unpaid bills, those Mormon workers who were waiting for six months, nine months, a year? What happened to them in the wake of the Union Pacific?
Bain: At the point when the golden spike was driven in May of 1869, Benson, Farr, and West still were owed about $1 million, Sharp & Young were still owed about $1 million, and this was money that was not owed to these people personally; but this was owed to their subcontractors down to the level of the farmer who had given up his home life for three or four months and gone out to live in tent cities with his brethren, and had worked like a dog for months and months and months to help get this railroad done. And there was no cash that was coming from that. And this was just a tremendous shock to Utah, and we find by the summer of 1869, we find the territory just thrown out onto the barter system because there was no cash. And there was really no way to be seen out of that, out of that particular hole.
And then, what where they able to get? Chauncey West is an example.
And the interesting thing that not a lot of people realize when Chauncey
West died in San Francisco, that was the day where the Utah Central
opened, had its big ceremony. Well, in January 1870, so that's a tremendous;
you have a celebration on one side, and then you have, almost, a martyrdom,
of this important bishop who had gone to San Francisco, pursued Leland
Stanford to try to get some money for his people, and dies at the age
Verdoia: You mentioned that there was an aspect of indication of Brigham Young, that he finally negotiated, of he represented negotiation, that if not paid, then we'll take an alternative. What's the alternative?
Bain: Well, there was very little alternative. I mean, the cash would have been most important. I remember that Bishop Sharp and Joseph Young went to Boston, they went all the way to Boston trying to get this money, and they were laughed out of the boardroom by Durant and the Ames brothers. They were owed something like $1.2 million, and they were offered $700,000, and they wouldn't take it. At one point, one of the board members threatened Young that he was going to have the army descend upon Utah and take out the LDS command. And Young replied that he would go to the courts, and he said, "If it's necessary, then this will be a fight to the knife." So they were really feeling this, they were really feeling this urgency. And then, so finally, Young was the one who came up with the idea of using some of this railroad material that had been left, stacked along in the valleys, unused by the Union Pacific, that maybe he could use that to build his railroad, his railroad, from Salt Lake City up to Ogden, the Utah Central. And so they went back to Boston and made that proposition. And so, yes, some of the money that was owed them was taken out in ties and railroad iron and rolling stock. And that made the possibility of the Utah Central being built in a mere six months, possible.
Verdoia: Help me understand the role and the change, if you will, of Bishop John Sharp.
Bain: Bishop John Sharp goes to Boston trying to enact some kind of payment, some kind of cash payment. And the UP directorship says, "Well, if you go back, we know we owe you $1.2 million, but go back to Young and ask if he'll take $700,000, and we'll just call it quits." And Sharp goes and he does that, and he comes back, all the way back to Boston, and says, "Young says that this will work." And so one of the interesting things that hasn't gotten a whole lot of publicity, is that John Sharp got a $2500 finders fee, or a reward, from the Union Pacific, for brokering that deal. And he also got a lifetime pass on the Union Pacific railroad. And his connections with the railroad continued for decades after that. So it's a very interesting thing. I do not know whether Young was aware of the fact that Sharp got an extra $2500 out of that deal. But this was the era where such things happened.
Verdoia: Leland Stanford of the Central Pacific Railroad.
Bain: Leland Stanford was a politician. I mean, we have to give him credit, he was in on the ground floor of the Republican party when it was created in California, when it was an anti-slavery, pro-union party. It was the progressive party of its era. He was a politician, but he hated to do a hard day's work, he was the kind of man, his associates complained that he like to come in late and leave early, and didn't get much done in between time. But he loved getting credit for himself, he loved to be up there in the center of publicity, being governor of California was paradise for him. But nothing compared to being a senator of the United States. And so as Stanford has gotten a lot of credit for the Central Pacific railroad, but he was basically in the background with his feet up.
Verdoia: Collis Huntington of the Central Pacific.
Bain: Collis Huntington was one of the most ruthless men that you can imagine. He was the type who could make money in the gold rush, not by standing in a frigid stream, but by selling the picks and the shovels to the miners as they went by. He loved cornering markets; he was made for this kind of work. He knew nothing about politics, he knew nothing about large business deals when he got involved in the Central Pacific railroad, but he became a genius for that. He built an empire.
Verdoia: Mark Hopkins?
Bain: Mark Hopkins was another back room man; Mark Hopkins hated publicity, he hated hard work, he was good with numbers, he was very, very shrewd, but very, very conservative. So whenever you see the Central Pacific leaders writing to one another, you see that the caution and the fear is coming out of Mark Hopkins, that we are all so close to ruin, we should not go this way.
Verdoia: How about the Crocker brothers? Two distinctly different individuals.
Bain: The Crocker brothers were two distinctly different people. Charlie
Crocker was a man who fought with his fists, he was larger than life,
he was brawny, he didn't believe in doing a lot of talking in order
to solve a problem. His brother, Edwin Bryant Crocker, however, had
been trained as a lawyer. He was more of a philosopher. And his is really
the unsung story of the Central Pacific railroad. He was the glue that
held the whole thing together.
Verdoia: A man that you document so well in the Empire Express, T.C. Durant?
Bain: Durant was a puppeteer, he was shrewd, he was made for the kind of role that he had, always in the background, always trying to figure out a secret deal that would make him a little bit of extra money. There was a common expression back then, "Make a 15 cents out of a dime." And this is the way that he was, except that he worked in the millions. And very few people who ever got close to Thomas Durant profited personally from him. Usually they felt betrayed after awhile. But he was the man who, through tremendous exercise of personality, and a certain kind of genius, really made it happen. The railroad probably would not have been built without Thomas Durant at the helm.
Verdoia: Another key figure that might also get some of that credit is Grenville Dodge.
Bain: Grenville Dodge, traditionally Grenville Dodge is the chief engineer of the Union Pacific, is not thought of as the political genius that he happened to be. He was very well connected with the Union army, such as General Sherman and General Grant, he knew Lincoln personally, he visited Lincoln every time that he was in Washington. And he was very, very deeply rooted in the Iowa politics of the time. So he became invaluable to the Central Pacific. So he became invaluable to the Union Pacific, not only in the idea of locating where the railroad was going to go, and make sure that it got there, but also all of the political things, the deals that had to be done in Washington. He was instrumental for that.
Verdoia: Certainly a legendary figure, at least from the figure that he struck, as he led the crew, Jack Casement?
Bain: Jack Casement was a former Union colonel who was brevetted in the last months of the Civil War, and so he was always called General Jack after that. And his great gift to the Union Pacific railroad was the military efficiency that he brought to trying to wield these 10,000 or 12,000 rag-tag workers into some kind of a military machine, so that they would at least keep moving forward at a fast pace. And he was a tough manager, but he was an interesting human being. He had a human side to him. The letters that he wrote to his wife back in the 1860s when he would be isolated from her for six months at a time, are really poignant, really speak of the human being who was out there.
Verdoia: The Ames brothers, Oliver and Oaks.
Bain: Oaks Ames was a congressman from Massachusetts, and his brother, Oliver Ames, was the Union Pacific president. And these two men had grown up in a family that had become wealthy selling shovels to the gold rush diggers. And the Ames Shovel Company was a very, very strong economic importance in Massachusetts. And congressman Ames was anointed, Lincoln put his hands on Oaks Ames' shoulders and said, "I want you to try and get this railroad through. It's having a lot of internal dissension, I don't know how long this war is going to go on, but this railroad is of national importance. So I want you and your friends to get involved in this and make sure that it happens." And Oaks Ames took that very seriously, and of course, that was finally to his downfall, how seriously he took the idea, and the fact that he got so many of his colleagues interested in the money that could be made from the Credit Mobilier.
Even with that anointment that Ames had had, it wasn't enough to save him. He was all on his own, after all, there in congress. And there were no rules at that point, about the fact that a congressman who's about to vote on railroad legislation should not own stock in that railroad. But ultimately that's what tripped him up, because when you get a number of congressmen and senators who are suddenly stockholders in the railroad, and the scandal comes out, they're going to be looking for a fall guy. And Oaks Ames became the fall guy. Not one of the legislators who had taken these securities was found guilty of anything, but Ames was cast out of congress and tragically died within a few months, probably of excess grief and worry and stress. And that becomes another poignant story in this large national portrait we have.
Verdoia: I'm intrigued by the figure of Sydney Dillon. What are the contexts we should consider him?
Bain: Sydney Dillon is another shadowy figure. There were a lot of
very interesting people in the Union Pacific story. Sydney Dillon, Cornelius
Bushnell, these were people who became immensely wealthy with military
contracts during the Civil War. Most of them had had railroad interests
going back for 10 or 15 years, I mean they had really gotten in on the
ground floor of the railroad business in the United States. And Sydney
Dillon, he had his hands in every kind of pie, and it's hard to really,
to give a thumbnail of him, it really is.
Verdoia: So now we return to a storied figure, in his own right, Brigham Young.
Bain: I find Brigham Young so fascinating, because we have to remember that he was a politician, he was a gifted politician, he didn't go to school for that, he didn't go to school for organizing a community, taking them halfway across the country, and creating this new community. And I think of what Young was going through, as the outside world began to pour in, in 1869, when the railroad came in. And I know that he lost a lot of money on this whole notion of the railroad, he thought of it as his railroad, even though there was a lot of insulation between him and the actual work. And I just find him so poignant and so interesting a character, and somewhat harder to get into his thoughts, than some of the other characters for whom I had more letters and more diaries and more expressions of human emotions. Young is just a fascinating character. I've read a lot about him, and I'll never get tired of reading about him.
He's an enigma because historians and anyone who's truly serious about history, try to understand these people on human terms. And we use their words and their letters and their diaries, the memories of people who knew them well. To try to figure out an approximation of what was going on, not to put words into their mouth or thoughts into their heads. And there is just something so relentlessly interesting about that man, at the head of a community the way that he was, and all of the motivations, but we can't forget the fact that number one he was a gifted politician, he was a gifted businessman, he was a serious community leader, he believed in community values, and there may be controversy about the total control that he had in Utah at that point, but that was more than 100 years ago, and it's important to judge people, let's not forget, on the standards that they lived by. And not by the standards of today.
Of course Brigham Young's world was changed by the completion of the railroad, with five or ten railroads coming through every day. But I think that it was for the good. I mean, modernity came to Salt Lake City. Trade came, and was possible. I think that the notion of that fragile community out there on the edge of the desert, surrounded by mountains, and really subject to a winter storm or a plague of locusts or grasshoppers or draught, that those kinds of really primitive forces became lessened somehow with the reassurance of trade, with the reassurance of new brethren who were coming in from Europe at that point, manpower would increase, the community would increase, they could look elsewhere to just build Utah up. So I think that there was a vast benefit, and you really see changes that were enacted in the 1870s, and you have to draw that directly, that these changes came in on the train.
Verdoia: And beyond the immediate impact to Salt Lake City, Utah territory, how did the transcontinental railroad change the face of the American west?
Bain: The transcontinental railroad really did knit the country together. I mean, you do think about those vast spaces that had to be connected in the way that they did. So it became not just the outer lying communities that would suddenly have commerce with the outside world again, but all of the little station towns that would be planted along the road, and then the side railroads that would go off into other places, and the connectivity of the wagon roads that would appear, the commerce that would go over there. The fact that education became more of a common thing for common people. Universities were created, great businesses were created. The west began to be transformed because of the railroad.
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