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The public conviction that a railroad linking the West and the East was an absolute necessity became so pronounced after the gold discoveries of ’49 that Congress passed an act in 1853 providing for a survey of several lines from the Mississippi to the Pacific… John Moody

When Abraham Lincoln was still a failed ex-congressman flailing about for some means of advancing himself Mephistopheles like the railroads came to the fore needing an eager young lawyer to handle titles and conveyances as they dispossessed the poor and the widowed to gain their rights of way and to defend them when their pesky contrivances blew up and killed or maimed dozens at a time. The financial success of Lincoln – without which he would not have been taken seriously as a candidate in anything more than a provincial local election – is tied directly to his representation of the Illinois Central Railroad, among others, from whom he once received a single fee of $5,000 which is the equivalent of about $156,000 today.

South front of the great central railway station, just completed at Chicago, Ill.

South front of the great central railway station, just completed at Chicago, Ill.

Going once again to John Moody we find that in 1850 nearly all the railroads in the United States lay east of the Mississippi River, and all of them, even when they were physically mere extensions of one another, were separately owned and separately managed. The perceived need for a transcontinental railway to distribute the immigrants arriving in the east to western settlements and them supply them with goods from eastern factories required a central government to protect the railroads interests. In the South railroads did not, for the most part, extend beyond State lines being designed for the most part to bring agricultural goods to export points and return with imported goods to the interior markets.

Abraham Lincoln while a traveling lawyer, taken in Danville, Illinois

Abraham Lincoln while a traveling lawyer, taken in Danville, Illinois

In spite of every rational argument that a transcontinental railroad would be easiest to build, least expensive and work best from a mid-atlantic eastern terminus to a southern pacific western terminus the railroad barons were decided that roads would run from Philadelphia and New York to Chicago and from there to San Francisco originally and later to Los Angeles. Lincoln was their lawyer and just as surely as they would bankroll Republicans until Theodore Roosevelt they bankrolled him so this is a history of the country that the railroads built and a very good one.

DETAILED ELEVATION OF SOUTH FACE - Golden Spike, Monument, State or County Road 504, Brigham City, Box Elder County, UT

DETAILED ELEVATION OF SOUTH FACE – Golden Spike, Monument, State or County Road 504, Brigham City, Box Elder County, UT

Rival rails : the race to build America’s greatest transcontinental railroad  Walter R. Borneman Railroads United States History 19th century New York : Random House, c 2010 Hardcover. 1st. ed. and printing. xxiii, 406 p., [16] p. of plates : ill., maps ; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text.  VG/VG

Collis Potter Huntington, 1821-1900, head and shoulders portrait, facing left

Collis Potter Huntington, 1821-1900, head and shoulders portrait, facing left

After the completion of the first transcontinental railroad in 1869, the rest of the country was up for grabs, and the race was on. The prize: a better, shorter, less snowy route through the corridors of the American Southwest, linking Los Angeles to Chicago. In Rival Rails, Borneman lays out in compelling detail the sectional rivalries, contested routes, political posturing, and ambitious business dealings that unfolded as an increasing number of lines pushed their way across the country.

Illustration shows a man [C.P. Huntington] handing money to a Congressional Page to purchase the legislative services of a Congressman; on the left and in the background, Congressmen are shown sitting in the House or Senate chamber with signs advertising their prices, such as "I will do anything for $20,000, I can be bought for $10,000, My price is according to the size of the job, [and] My price is only $5000.00".

Illustration shows a man [C.P. Huntington] handing money to a Congressional Page to purchase the legislative services of a Congressman; on the left and in the background, Congressmen are shown sitting in the House or Senate chamber with signs advertising their prices, such as “I will do anything for $20,000, I can be bought for $10,000, My price is according to the size of the job, [and] My price is only $5000.00”.

Borneman brings to life the legendary business geniuses and so-called robber barons who made millions and fought the elements — and one another — to move America, including William Jackson Palmer, whose leadership of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad relied on innovative narrow gauge trains that could climb steeper grades and take tighter curves; Collis P. Huntington of the Central Pacific and Southern Pacific lines, a magnate insatiably obsessed with trains — and who was not above bribing congressmen to satisfy his passion; Edward Payson Ripley, visionary president of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe, whose fiscal conservatism and smarts brought the industry back from the brink; and Jay Gould, ultrasecretive, strong-armer and one-man powerhouse.

Jay Gould, half-length portrait, facing left

Jay Gould, half-length portrait, facing left

In addition, Borneman captures the herculean efforts required to construct these roads — the laborers who did the back-breaking work, boring tunnels through mountains and throwing bridges across unruly rivers, the brakemen who ran atop moving cars, the track layers crushed and killed by runaway trains. From backroom deals in Washington, D.C., to armed robberies of trains in the wild deserts, from glorified cattle cars to stream liners and Super Chiefs, all the great incidents and innovations of a mighty American era are re-created with unprecedented power in Rival Rails.

Illustration showing Jay Gould as the Devil holding a paper labeled "Majority of Stock", standing outside an office labeled "Successor to Satan"; he is presiding over the "Hades & World Lightning Transportation Line" which is a railroad train headed for a station labeled "Terminus - President Jay Gould", the locomotive is labeled "Crasher" and uses "Brimstone" for fuel, a passenger car is labeled "Only Anti-Monopolists Carried", also the "Sulphuric Telegraph Co. - Gould Pres." which has many devil-like demons stringing wire cables on telegraph poles and an office where telegraph operators work at desks beneath a sign that states "Any Imp who attempts to strike will be transferred to the Western Union Company", as well as "The Bottomless Pit Roasting Co. - Jay Gould, Pres." where an "Anti-Monopolist editor", "Puck", and "Thurber" are roasted "in effigy". At bottom, a man labeled "Satan Janitor", with bandages, carries a scuttle filled with brimstone?, a watering-can labeled "Kerosene", a broom, and a key ring, skulks down the steps from Gould's office.

Illustration showing Jay Gould as the Devil holding a paper labeled “Majority of Stock”, standing outside an office labeled “Successor to Satan”; he is presiding over the “Hades & World Lightning Transportation Line” which is a railroad train headed for a station labeled “Terminus – President Jay Gould”, the locomotive is labeled “Crasher” and uses “Brimstone” for fuel, a passenger car is labeled “Only Anti-Monopolists Carried”, also the “Sulphuric Telegraph Co. – Gould Pres.” which has many devil-like demons stringing wire cables on telegraph poles and an office where telegraph operators work at desks beneath a sign that states “Any Imp who attempts to strike will be transferred to the Western Union Company”, as well as “The Bottomless Pit Roasting Co. – Jay Gould, Pres.” where an “Anti-Monopolist editor”, “Puck”, and “Thurber” are roasted “in effigy”. At bottom, a man labeled “Satan Janitor”, with bandages, carries a scuttle filled with brimstone?, a watering-can labeled “Kerosene”, a broom, and a key ring, skulks down the steps from Gould’s office.

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