The Final Push to Promontory

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Union Pacific Railroad map, “The Great Platte Valley Route,” circa 1870. From the collections of the Union Pacific Railroad Museum, Union Pacific Collection. [Click image to enlarge.]

The railroad enterprise operated as an assembly line over 300 miles long, with survey crews in the lead, laborers creating cuts and fills, graders leveling the route, and tracklayers laying rails. For the Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR), the Wyoming terrain proved challenging. The grade of a railroad track must be mostly level to accommodate an engine’s huge mass, requiring graders to cut through the hills and fill in the valleys. In the Laramie Mountains between Cheyenne and Laramie, the railroad began their first significant cut and fill work. The UPRR built steadily across the high desert of Wyoming throughout 1868, reaching the Wyoming-Utah line by January 1, 1869.

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“Union Pacific Railroad Workers at Paymaster’s Car, Blue Creek,” May 1869. A. J. Russell, stereo view. From the collections of the Oakland Museum of California, the Andrew J. Russell Collection.

Utah was exceedingly important for both the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads. Both wanted to reach the Mormon settlements that would provide the laborers needed for railroad construction of the railroads. Utah would also provide passengers, coal, and shipping goods for the newly finished railway. With the hope of getting as much money and land from the federal government as possible, graders for the two railroads passed one another, creating a dual grade across Utah. In April 1869, the federal government ordered the two railroads to agree on a meeting spot.