"History and Stories of Nebraska"
by Addison Erwin Sheldon

Produced by Connie Snyder


THE FIRST RAILROAD


After Lewis and Clark had found a way to the Pacific Ocean, and the early emigrants to Oregon, California and Utah had made the great overland wagon roads across Nebraska and on to the western coast, the people began to want a railroad to the Pacific. The first railroad in the United States was built in 1829 at Baltimore. Soon after that a few people began to talk about a railroad to the Pacific Ocean. It was a far-off dream at first. Nowhere in the world had a railroad ever been built for so great a distance or over such high mountains. Then there were no white people living along the way, but instead there were tribes of wild Indians. So those who spoke of building a railroad to the Pacific were called dreamers. Very few thought it was possible to build such a road and still fewer believed that they would ever live to see it built.

In 1850 Senator Benton, of Missouri, introduced a bill in Congress to build a Pacific railroad. By it the United States was to give a strip of land a mile wide from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean and the railroad was to be built in the center of the mile strip. More people began to believe it was possible to build a railroad to the Pacific. They began to dispute where it should be built. Some wanted it built in the south and some in the north and some in the central part of the United States. The dispute was so fierce it seemed that no road would be built because the people would never agree upon its route.

War broke out between the South and the North in 1861. There was more need than ever for a railroad to unite the East with the West. Many surveys had been made to find the best route across the mountains. The Nebraska way, up the broad level valley of the Platte, was chosen as the best approach to them. On the first day of July, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the bill which provided for building the first railroad to the Pacific Ocean and the first railroad in Nebraska. To help build the road the United States gave each alternate section of land for twenty miles on each side of the track, and besides this loaned the company $16,000 for each mile across the prairie and $48,000 for each mile in the mountains. The road was called the Union Pacific and the first shovel of dirt for its track was thrown in Omaha on December 2,1863.


Union Pacific Railroad Train Crossing Missouri River at Omaha, 1866

There were very great hindrances to be overcome in building the road. A great war was going on and it was hard to get men. All the iron and most of the other material had to be shipped long distances. The Indians on the plains killed many of the workmen, drove off the horses and cattle and burned the stations. It was July 13, 1865, before the first rails were laid at Omaha. On March 13, 1866, the first sixty miles as far as North Bend were completed. During that year the first trains began running to Kearney. It took nineteen hours to go from Omaha to Kearney, now Buda, and the fare was nineteen dollars. By June, 1867, the track had been laid as far as the west line of Nebraska, and on May 10, 1869, the builders of the Union Pacific from Nebraska met the builders of the Central Pacific from California at Promontory Point on the shore of the Great Salt Lake in Utah and drove a golden spike which completed the railroad and made a continuous line from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean.

Since that time seven other lines have been built across the mountains to the western coast, but to Nebraska belongs the honor of determining the route for the first Pacific railroad.

Every night and every day great trains fly along the Platte valley crowded with passengers for the mountains, the Pacific coast and the world which lies beyond, passing on their way the trains loaded with the teas, the silks and the wonderful handiwork of Japan, India and China, the fruit of California and Oregon, and the cattle, sheep and minerals from the mountains. Never a pause in this wonderful procession as it hurries over the Nebraska plains, making them the highway of the greatest commerce east and west which the world has ever known.


QUESTIONS

  1. What are dreamers good for?
  2. Why was the first Pacific railroad built across Nebraska?
  3. Of what good to Nebraska is it to have the world's commerce and world's travelers passing over our railroads?



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