“ You Can‟ t Get Anywhere Without Coming to Ogden:
Railroading in the American West”
a commemorative panel discussion presented at the
2004 Utah Construction/ Utah International Symposium
Dr. Stan Layton
Thursday, October 7 2
I was pleased to be assigned to reflect on the significance of the Central Pacific and the Southern Pacific and their impact on our local area. Those two railroads make a nifty tandem when you think about it. They both had a big impact on our area but they were partners actually, they came to be. One of them actually absorbed the other. The Southern Pacific absorbed the Central Pacific in 1885. There is also this interesting thought that occurred to me as I was pouring over the traditional literature of railroading in the west.
It is quite unmistakable that the Central Pacific is a beloved railroad. It is easy to love, and I was glad to hear Dean Sadler actually use that word in one of his comments. But the Southern Pacific, say it out loud, I do not dare do it. I just did not want to use that other four letter word.
The Southern Pacific has had such great image problems historiographically. It is easy to hate the Southern Pacific. We, here, in our area are fortunate because we see the Southern Pacific, actually, on its best behavior. Its great impact came after that terrible incident in 1880 that earned it the epithet “ The Octopus.” By the 20th Century, of course, it is very important to us isn‟ t it? To our economy. A lot of people, I will bet some of them in this room, could stand up and say, “ Boy, I remember the pay check I got from the Southern Pacific and how important that was to me.”
The Central Pacific, as you know, was one of the first. It was authorized to build that first transcontinental railroad. I always tell my students in class to just abbreviate that to T. C. R. R. so do not be surprised if I do that in my reflections. It was to build eastward from Sacramento. You all know the story of 3
the difficulty with the laborers. Where do you find them? It is one thing to be able to find them closer to those, you know, Civil War battlefields and the activity in the east when that was over, but out in the west, most of the men that were out here were footloose, they were opportunistic, and even as late as the mid „ 60s they were still oriented towards the gold fields. Their practice was to hitch on to the Central Pacific as laborers only long enough to get to the gold fields and then they deserted.
It was in that time of frustration that Charles Crocker suggested to the supervisor, his kind of construction gang, “ Strowbridge, what about the Chinese?” Strowbridge supposedly said, “ No they are much too small. They are too frail. They cannot do this heavy work.” I love that response from Crocker, I am sure you have all heard it many times as he challenged Strowbridge on that point of view and reminded him, as he put it, “ After all they had built the Great Wall of China.” Strowbridge reconsidered and here they came in large numbers, you know, ten to twelve thousand people. They quickly won the heart of Crocker and Strowbridge, coming to be referred to as Crocker‟ s pets. They even had a labor agent there in Southern China to recruit more. I think it is important that we take cognizance of this facet to the Central Pacific‟ s history.
I was pleased to see President Millner here today. I recall a couple of years ago when Dean Sadler first called me and asked if I would want to come on up and join the faculty in history full- time. Being new, I was honored to be invited to participate with President Millner in these small discussion groups she had for new faculty to get to know them better. I did feel a little bit funny because 4
there I was with all the twenty- five year old new faculty members. I felt obliged to explain to her how it happened that she got a sixty year old freshman instructor.
In the course of that discussion, much of it turned to the challenge of diversity, trying to enlarge our activity in that sphere, and how important it is to a good university and to a good society that we do have diversity. So as I look out in the audience and I see my old friends Kent Powell and Bill Mulder and others who have done so much to promote our understanding of the history of ethnic groups in Utah, I appreciate even more the role played by the Central Pacific in bringing those tens of thousands of Chinese to Utah. Most of them did not stay long, but some of them did. Some of them stayed after the driving of the Golden Spike. Isn‟ t it interesting that you can look at photo after photo of that memorable event at Promontory? How many Chinese do you see there? They are nowhere to be seen. They are in the background.
They did make their presence felt not only in Box Elder County but in Weber County. We know that in 1880 there were thirty- three of them still here. So that is, what, eleven years after the driving of the Golden Spike? In 1890 there were one hundred and six of them here. They had several businesses. We know that there were five Chinese owned laundries in downtown Ogden at the turn of the century. Three of them were on 25th Street and two of them on Grant Street. They brought their distinctive lifestyles and cultural traditions and those are still with us today. The Chinese, of course, went wherever railroads were and particularly mining in Utah so we see some down in Salt Lake County, in the western part of the county and up in Park City and elsewhere. 5
Within a year after the driving of the Golden Spike some eighty thousand tons of freight were coming into the territory and all that tonnage came through Ogden in Junction City because, you know, it was that year, 1870, that the Utah Central was completed. And, of course, Brigham Young was ever so eager to get that completed and to make sure that junction was at Ogden, not Corinne in Box Elder County. We compare that with some twelve thousand tons that were coming in annually before the completion of that spur line. So that is an increase of seven fold. By 1880, that figure had reached one hundred and twenty- five thousand tons. Most of that, a whole lot of that, the majority of it was that heavy equipment that was used for mining. It was not until the railroads came that mining those rich silver mines coming out of Little Cottonwood Canyon was able to find commercial value.
Ogden people were conspicuous there at that occasion, the driving of the Golden Spike. Lauren Farr was there, John C. West, Franklin D. Richards, who was assigned as a probate court judge here, T. B. H. Stewhouse, we ordinarily do not think of his association so much with Weber County, but he was up here to get a newspaper going and he was there too.
The Southern Pacific spent a little less time with that, maybe we can come back to it. But, yes, much less prepossessing, a delicate way to say that, than the Central Pacific. Wherever you find Jay Gould and Collis P. Huntington working together you want to grab the ear plugs because it was Huntington, wasn‟ t it, who said, in all seriousness he said, “ if it is necessary to bribe people to do the right thing then it is only fair and just to do so.” So how is that for a nice 6
flexible, ethical philosophy? They teamed up to build that transcontinental railroad, you know, along the southern route, the Southern T. C. R. R. along the 32nd parallel.
The Southern Pacific did take over the Central Pacific in 1885. By 1910, the SP, it is often times referred to affectionately as the SP, was Weber County‟ s largest employer. Professor Sadler and Roberts tell us that in the year 1910 they were employing one thousand people here in Weber County. The other railroad serving Ogden pumped four million dollars into the local economy by 1910. By 1924, with nearly seventeen hundred employees alone, the SP was pouring two and a half million dollars annually into Weber County with their payrolls. Our city here, our county, our territory, and our region were all greatly impacted by these two railroads. Thank you.
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