Westerly Journeys






Federal Act of 1862 to Build the Transcontinental Railroad

It was after the outbreak of the War Between the States that Congress finally approved a route that passed over Donner Summit and funded the project with appropriations and land. The Central Pacific Railroad won the right to build the western segment that included the summit crossing. The Trustees of the railroad became legends: Charles Crocker, Leland Stanford, Colis Huntington and Mark Hopkins. The Chief Engineer, Theodore Judah, was truly the man with the vision who surveyed the route and made its construction feasible. He died before it was completed but his original 'CPRR profile and alignment' dated 1861, are still preserved at the California State Archives on linen. A reduced image of the portions of his drawings for the Donner Summit area are linked below.

Theodore Judah's Profile and Alignment--the portion over Donner Summit

CPRR Federal Land Patent #5

The Central Pacific Railroad received massive land grants from the federal government in exchange for building the railroad. The text of a patent, dated July 1, 1862, gave alternate odd survey sections to the railroad for twenty miles each side of the railroad right of way. This created the checkerboard pattern of land ownership that persists to this day. Charles Crocker sold most of Section 15, Township 17 N, Range 16 East to investors in the new CPRR railroad town called "Truckee."

1865 survey of Township 17N, Range 16 E

1865 survey of Section 15 (Twp 17N, Rge 16E)

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The Dutch Flat & Donner Lake Wagon Road (DF&DLWR)

The construction of a haul road was one of the first milestones in completing the railroad. The road ran from Dutch Flat to Tinker's Station (Summit), to Donner Lake and then on to 'Coburns Station' (Truckee) and Lake's Crossing (Reno) and opened in 1864. The DF&DLWR continued until replaced by the State Highway in 1909, The Lincoln Highway in 1914, and U.S. 40 in 1927.

U.S. 40, 1938

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Construction of the Rail Bed Over the Summit

The CPRR rail line had rached Dutch Flat on the fourth of July, 1866. By the fall of 1866 line was laid all the way to Cisco. The winters of 1866-7 and 1867-8 were treacherous in the Sierra. Working conditions near the Summit were extremely hazardous. The CPRR imported Chinese labor to do the work because of their endurance and willingness to work for a fraction of normal pay. Many lost their lives while setting charges to blast a road bed out of the rock solid cliffs. Other's froze to death. By the spring of 1868 the great railroad tunnel east of Cisco had opened. Only nine miles remained to be built to connect with the rails previously laid at Coburn's. Four thousand men worked continuously for twelve days on a five-mile stretch to complete it (Dutch Flat Enquirer, June 6, 1868). In June, 1868 the CPRR made its first run from Sacramento to Lake's crossing at the eastern foot of the Sierra in Nevada Territory. (Dutch Flat Enquirer, Saturday, June 27, 1868.) Regular passenger service from Sacramento to what soon became Reno, began shortly thereafter. Coburn's burned down the following month and residents quickly rebuilt, calling the town, 'Truckee'. The final link in the transcontinental railroad was completed the following year, 1869, at Promontory, Utah.

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Truckee Roundhouse

by Lawrence Kearney

Lawrence Kearney, a Truckee native, was engineer for Southern Pacific. This is the second of three articles he wrote for the Truckee-Donner Historical Society Quarterly Newsletter at age 91 in 1994-5.

Historic Truckee Roundhouse

This structure housed twenty four stalls or pits as they were called and a turntable to turn the locomotives to be parked in the different stalls. The man who designed and supervised the building of this roundhouse was George Washington Barnhart, who was hired by Mark Hopkins for this project. Mr. Hopkins was known as one of the Big Four who built the Central Pacific Railroad.

This roundhouse was unique in its design. It was built of granite stone, quarried in Rocklin, California and hauled on the railroad to Truckee. The roundhouse had pillars or posts in a ways from the walls with the turntable in the center so the roof was held up by steel rods and braces--or as an early day astrodome. It had to be very sturdy on account of the heavy snows or it would collapse. The railroad later had larger locomotives and the smoke stacks would not fit under the chimneys in the roof of the roundhouse so most of the time when the stacks would not fit under the chimneys the locomotives were backed into the stalls with the smoke stacks toward the center of the roundhouse. This cause the smoke from the locomotives to collect in the top of the roundhouse and as the years went by there was enough sulfur fumes in the smoke that when condensation formed on the cold rods and braces it formed an acid that finally ate them away until they were unsafe. The roundhouse was then condemned and torn down in the 1940s.

This roundhouse was built as fire proof as possible with very little wood. The decking on the turn table pit that turned with the turn table was wood and the roof or decking was wood. The outside on top was covered with sheet steel called galvanized iron so it could not catch on fire from sparks or coals landing on the roof. This metal roofing attracted enough heat from the inside of the roundhouse to cause the snow to slide off the roof. The floor of the roundhouse was blocks of granite set in mortar or what would be called cobble stones. In between each stall was a large stove that could burn cord wood or coal. When the temperature got cold the doors on the roundhouse were closed and fires started in these stoves to heat up the roundhouse to keep the water pipes on the locomotives from freezing and bursting.

The first roundhouse in Truckee was a wooden structure that an arsonist set on fire and burned on March 29, 1869. Two other buildings also burned, the Iron House and the Oil house. There were eleven locomotives in the roundhouse at the time and all but one (the Piute) were saved. At that time locomotives were known by names instead of numbers. A man by the name of D.J. Hickey was tried in Nevada City on arson for setting the fire. At the trial on March 2nd, 1870, the jury voted seven for conviction and five for acquittal. A second trial was held with the same results so the railroad gave up.

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