Letter from Samuel B. Reed to Wife and Family, February 27, 1869

In this letter from February 27, 1869, Samuel Reed writes to his wife and family describing the progress of the Union Pacific Railroad. He notes that workers have laid track past Devil's Gate and that grading is finished for forty miles ahead of that point. Reed is pleased that the work is "moving smoothly," but he is "sick and tired of the hurry and hustle attendant upon so much business." Following Reed's letter is a note from the compiler, giving a flattering, if not entirely accurate, picture of the Union Pacific's construction.

There is no prospect of getting a mail through from the east. It is now more than four weeks since I received a letter from you and it may be that much longer before the snow blockade is raised. The track is laid beyond Devil's Gate, the grading is finished clean forty miles ahead. ties are scarce and we may be delayed for want of them. Everything is moving smoothly but I am sick and tired of the hurry and hustle attendant upon so much business. The end is almost in sight. Grading will all be completed in less than sixty days. I shall want to leave the day after for home and hope to have one year's rest at least.

I hope this snow blockade will soon be raised, supplies are not out yet but will be if it continues another twenty days. I was fortunate enough to get a good lot in before the storm or we would be starved out.

The construction camps of the two roads were not comparatively near each other and the excitement caused by the strife of each camp trying to excel the other in the amount of road built each day, kept everything at fever heat. During April Mrs. Reed and the three girls, with Miss Minerva Earl, arrived at Echo to remain until the completion of the road.

The line of the Union Pacific was extended to the California state line, and most of the grading was completed to Humboldt Wells, about 219 miles west of Ogden. But the track laying was not so far advanced and the Central Pacific met the Union Pacific track at Promontory Point, on May 10th, 1869. Promontory Point was 1186 miles west of the Missouri River, from which point the road had really started active building three years before. During this same period the Central Pacific road had been built from Sacramento, a distance of 638 miles.

This rapid building of the Union Pacific not only astonished the people of the United States, but of Europe as well. The road was completed seven years before the limit of time allowed by the government. At one time eight miles and three thousand lineal feet of track was laid in a single day and a corresponding length in grading completed at the same time. The road was well built and ready for immediate use as soon as the rails were down. The government commissioners were careful painstaking, incorruptible men and all work must necessarily be up to contract in every way before they would pass upon it. The Union Pacific has fewer short curves and a lesser grade than any other trans-continental line.

About this Document

  • Source: Letter from Samuel B. Reed to Wife and Family
  • Citation: Nebraska State Historical Society, Samuel Reed Papers (Union Pacific Railroad Collection), MS 3761, Unit 1, Subgroup 14, Series 1, Box 2, Letters to Wife and Family
  • Date: February 27, 1869