Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Happy 142nd Birthday, Transcontinental Railroad (1869)!

Promontory Point, where the railroads met
As a main source of long-distance overland transportation, the train was an integral part of pioneer life, and the coming of the railroad in the 1860s provided work for several of our ancestors. 

Isaac Sorensen worked on building the railroad, and Elizabeth Fox and daughter Annie (Hatch) spent one summer cooking for the railroad workers—teenage Annie did the dishwashing.  Thomas Grover Junior was a construction foreman for the Colorado railroad.  Lorenzo Hill Hatch built a mile of the worst rocky grading for the Central Pacific line in Idaho, which turned into a financial loss for the family.  Fifteen-year-old Victor Hegsted also worked to build the railroad in southern Idaho and served as a night watchman for the company’s horses, a lonely experience with only the coyote howl to break the desert night stillness.

John Cottam Senior lived to see the railroad come (a depot was built only two blocks from his home), and William Ira Hatch remembered the railroad being built past his father Orin’s house when he was twelve.  William Muir was the supply agent working the night the first train drove into Salt Lake City.  He told the men he was celebrating his wife’s fortieth birthday, and they drove the train out to Woods Cross and saluted the family with a train whistle and he saluted in return with sky rockets and firecrackers, then everyone partied.  The next morning, he and several daughters rode to Ogden and back, their first train ride. 

Some pioneers came partway to Utah on the train.  The Poulsen family struggled with lice on the train to St. Louis (which had been used to transport Union soldiers), and at one point Christian got off the train to get some milk for their sick children, and did not make it back on in time.  He arrived on another train that same night and soon found his relieved family.  Later arrivals to Utah, including the Jensens, Hoopers, Clara and Ellen James (Williams) and Anna Johnson (Cottam), rode the train the entire distance from the East Coast.

There were also accidents in connection with the railroad—John Cottam Junior was injured after he jumped off the train by his stop, which resulted in his death, and Annie Hatch was in a train collision in her later years.  Lorenzo Hill Hatch was in two separate train wrecks, one on his mission in England, and one in New York returning from his mission.  Aged Lorenzo wrote a letter in 1901 to the railroad vice president, asking for free passage since years ago he had done so much to build the railroad, serving on the board of directors and working as an LDS agent for the railroad.  The request was granted, giving the old pioneer free passage whenever and wherever he chose to travel.

1 comment:

  1. i love that lorenzo got to travel for free - great story.