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Meet Teddy

Teddy Archive



Robber Barons . . .

Teddy and Nick meet at the famous Point Buffalo

C'mon, you know the song:
I've been working on the railroad, All the livelong day I've been working on the railroad, Just to pass the time away, Can't you hear the whistle blowing? Dinah, blow your horn Can't you hear the whistle blowing? Dinah blow your horn . . .

My dad used to sing this song to me before I went to bed. He used to be a railroad worker up in British Columbia. The work was hard and it never seemed to end, but songs like that one made the hours pass easier.

While riding trains, I look out the window as the scenery passes by and think about how much effort it takes to make every foot of railway. First you have to clear the land, cutting down trees and piling in dirt and gravel to make a flat open path for the train. Then a team of workers comes in laying down the wood that will hold up the two parallel steel spines of train track 4 feet apart and thousands of miles long. After that a team of clink-clanking workers comes along with their sledgehammers nailing in the tracks with giant railroad spikes. Every mile of railway takes tens of thousands of workers many long hours to build.

This was all dug out by hand

The American railroad that connects New York City with Sacramento, the east and west coasts of the United States, was the first transcontinental railroad on Earth. It took 33,000 railroad workers working for two competing companies to complete it. The Central Pacific company worked from Sacramento, California heading east. The Union Pacific company started in Omaha, Nebraska heading west. The US government paid the two companies by how many miles they could cover. Some days, the Union Pacific could complete 10 miles in one day. The work for the Central Pacific was much more difficult.


10,000 Chinese laborers were brought in to do the dangerous work of creating a pathway through the Sierra Nevadas. Another 23,000 Irish immigrants and veterans from the civil war were hired for $1-2 per day.

So, who was spending between $33,000 - $66,000 a day just to pay the railway workers (never mind buy the timber, steel, food, housing and materials for the project)? Some very rich men. Men like Leland Stanford, Collis Huntington, Mark Hopkins, and Charles Crooker. While they invested tens of thousands of dollars in the project, they got back more than they deserved.


The Central Pacific railroad gave over $200,000 to Congress, which handed over 9 million acres in free land to the railroad and $24 million in cash. Much of this land lay in the boundaries of Native American sovereign land. The Central Pacific railroad owned the construction company in charge of the project and paid itself an extra $36 million dollars.

The Union Pacific was even worse. They paid themselves an extra $50 million dollars, and kept Congress from investigating by giving them cheap shares in the company. One congressman from Massachusetts said, "There is no difficulty in getting men to look after their own property."

So that is how the rich got richer, the country became united by railroad, and ultimately how "the west was won." The US rail system burrowed right through what was Indian Territory. The herds of buffalo the Indians lived off of were considered dangerous animals capable of knocking over moving trains. The government began to pay buffalo hunters to kill as many possible, and soon the buffalo was on the brink of extinction.


"Icy Roads" -
Nick and I were cruising at about 50 MPH through Wyoming when all of a sudden the sparse traffic came to a stop.

When the buffalo disappeared so went the way of life for thousands upon thousand of Native Americans. Suddenly faced with a new world without buffalo, the Indians were not prepared for the thousands of frontiersmen who came riding in on trains. Families that used to have to make the trip west in ox driven wagons taking months could now hop on a train and be in California in less then a week. This truly meant the end for what was the western frontier.


Please email me at: teddy@ustrek.org


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