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Arizona Transcontinental

Arizona Transcontinental Railroad

41 As the great steel web of railroad systems tied the coasts together, Americans cheered, and saw their destiny made visible. Wilderness and civilization were converging as the steam engine, the ultimate symbol of technological achievement became, as Walt Whitman characterized it in "To a Locomotive in Winter," the "pulse of the continent." It seemed an organic, living entity which could express not only the ordered, precise, "metrical" manufacturing world, but also the "free skies unpent," the prairies wide," of the western American landscape.

General Introduction

This landscape now began to take a new form from the passage of the railroad. Almost every town site within the railroads' generous land grants was planned and promoted by engineers of the railroad companies, and was often named for railroad officials or financiers. Pre-railroad towns were affected too, welcoming a boom as the main line came through, or witnessing a decline as the new artery of transportation passed them by. Transcontinental railroads became both a means and a measure of western expansion. Subsistence farming, always rare in the west, gave way entirely to cash-creating production. The colonial status of western states prevailed; the railroad stimulated exploitation of raw materials, new agricultural products and natural resources, while manufacturing was still carried on in the populated, industrialized east and mid-west.

The railroads played their part not only in the formation of towns and development of the vast western natural resources, but also in defining a new American attitude toward the west. As travelers hastened in comfort and speed to the dramatic mountain, desert, and canyon scenery, and as railroad promotion, both visual and verbal encouraged travel to western wonders, the west became not only an escape from dirty, crowded cities, but an answer to European monuments of cultural continuity, and a symbol of American energy and progress.

In Arizona the transcontinental railroads profoundly influenced nearly every aspect of the development of the territory. Although railway companies initially saw Arizona as empty space to be crossed, they soon set to work to bring settlers who would produce marketable freight--livestock, ore, lumber, agricultural products--and to encourage tourists to travel to the unparalleled natural wonders of the region. The territory grew in response to the mainline railroads, a pattern which is still visible today.

As we observe the tangible and persistent elements of the transcontinental railroads in Arizona in the last decade of the twentieth century, we can see some of the hundred-year-old pattern of economic successes and failures, the strong presence of railroads in the rigid grid layouts of some towns, the abandonment or maintenance of operations in response to technology and finance, and the powerful claim on the imaginations of young and old that railroads still enjoy. It is appropriate at this time to take a close look at the historical background and material record of Arizona's transcontinental railways.

This in-depth analysis of a theme important in Arizona history is designed to help readers learn about transcontinental railroads and their material legacy. The study is a Planning Module (or "historic context study") of the State Historic Preservation Plan. The first section of this report, focusing on the history and physical development of the railroads, provides -a basis for understanding the diversity of property types associated with them. To measure how well (or poorly) Arizona is doing in recognizing the preserving these properties, information is then tabulated about known (inventoried) versus predicted (from historical records) properties in the state. The latter data set will be especially useful to researchers conducting cultural resource investigations along the routes of Arizona's transcontinental lines. The data base is then assessed in the "Information Gaps" and Current State of Preservation" sections. Concluding sections provide perspectives on the significance and integrity of railroad properties and suggest goals and strategies the State Historic Preservation Office can take to manage these resources wisely.

Surveys & Wagon Roads

As American interests in the southwest became more significant, the federal government employed the army's topographical engineering corps to explore the region. Apart from the general quest for knowledge, the military explorers consciously examined the possibilities for a railway line. By 1855 official explorations had uncovered the best routes across Arizona. It started in 1851 when Captain Lorenzo Sitgreaves led a group of men across the 35th parallel route, mapping the vast expanse of northern Arizona that now stretches between Winslow, Flagstaff, and Kingman.

Sitgreaves was followed in 1853-54 by an army party specifically charged by Congress with surveying a railroad route to the Pacific via the 35th parallel. Led by Lieutenant Amiel W. Whipple, this group made a careful reconnaissance of the country between the Zuni villages and the Colorado River. After reaching the Colorado River near Needles, California, Whipple continued on to Los Angeles, thus pioneering a route all the way to the coast. The report of Lt. Whipple, published in 1856, contained extensive maps and surveys. It also expressed great enthusiasm for northern Arizona, proclaiming it to be a natural route through lands destined for rapid settlement.

In the north, the army undertook the responsibility for constructing a wagon road from Fort Defiance to the Colorado River along the 35th parallel. This effort came in response to demands from California bound emigrants for better roads. In 1857 exNavy Lieutenant Edward F. Beale was chosen to build a road from Fort Defiance to California. Beale's effort gained additional significance because of his experimental use of camels. The resulting Beale Wagon Road followed the Little Colorado River, crossed Canyon Diablo, tracked somewhat north of the future towns of Flagstaff and Williams, then stretched on to the Colorado River near the current site of Bullhead City. In 1859 a second Beale expedition significantly improved the original road. During this era of road construction, Lieutenant Beale realized that a railroad line across northern Arizona must inevitably follow in his steps. This assumption proved correct when the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad was chartered in 1866 to follow the Beale route.

Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad

In October 1858 frontier speculator Cyrus K. Holliday and a group of friends gathered in the town of Atchison, Kansas, to discuss the possibility of building a railroad from their home state to Santa Fe, New Mexico. The men who met in the small Kansas store were short on funds but filled with vision. Realizing that thousands of Americans were heading west over the Santa Fe Trail, Holliday dreamed of constructing a railroad along the same route, thereby tapping the American southwest. Financial realities prevailed, however, and the investors decided to charter a much smaller company, the Atchison and Topeka Railroad, to operate between the two namesake cities. Nevertheless, Holliday continued to dream of one day reaching New Mexico.

Financial problems prevented any significant advancement until 1863, when the company secured a federal land grant of some three million acres in Kansas as an. encouragement to build westward. At that point, the company changed its name to the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad. With the uncertainties of the Civil War and continued financial difficulty frustrating plans, it took Holliday five more years to find a company willing to construct his railroad. In the fall of 1868 construction finally began at Topeka and by 1870 rails had reached Atchison. By that time, the Santa Fe had only . two years to reach the Colorado border or lose its land grant. Building rapidly across the prairies, the railroad arrived at the state line on December 28, 1872, just three days before the deadline. With the land grant secured, the pace of construction slowed, the railhead reaching La Junta, Colorado, in 1873.

At La Junta, the company proposed dividing its line. Officials were torn between continuing on to Santa Fe and building a line up the Arkansas River into the booming gold fields near Leadville. Although the Colorado venture possessed some financial merit, the Santa Fe was frustrated in its effort to enter the Rockies after losing a dispute with the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad (this was the so-callep "Rio Grande War" which almost brought rival construction crews to blows). A frustrated Santa Fe gave up its hopes for a Colorado empire and returned to completing the original goal. After determining that the city of Santa Fe could not realistically be situated on the railroad's mainline, the construction front pushed on to Albuquerque, arriving on April 15, 1880.

Even before reaching New Mexico, Santa Fe officials realized that the old Santa Fe trade they planned to capture would not provide sufficient revenue. With these realities in mind the board of directors, under the leadership of Thomas Nickerson and William B. Strong turned their thoughts to making their company a transcontinental railroad. From New Mexico westward lay the 35th parallel route, often regarded as one of the most practical ways to reach the Pacific. By constructing a railway across New Mexico and Arizona, then into California via the Mohave desert, the Santa Fe felt well positioned to reap a substantial profit. Such a line seemed to offer the potential of avoiding dependence on other companies in order to reach the coast (in 1881, for example, the AT&SF met the SP at Deming, New Mexico, which gave the Santa Fe access to California, though totally dependent on the SP). Although the Southern Pacific possessed a monopoly in California and could be expected to oppose any rival, Santa Fe managers were determined to push westward on their own. Unfortunately, they were not authorized to build west of Albuquerque.

It soon became apparent that the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad might be acquired by the Santa Fe. The A&P had been chartered by Congress on July 27, 1866, to build a railway from Springfield, Missouri, across the Indian Territory to the Colorado River, then to San Diego. This alignment basically followed the 35th parallel route, especially across New Mexico and Arizona. A major asset attached to the A&P charter was a federal land grant that included a 200-foot right-of-way and twenty odd numbered sections of land per mile on each side of the tracks across New Mexico and Arizona. Among the original investors in the A&P were John C. Fremont and A.K.P. Safford, future governors of Arizona Territory, and several prominent Arizona businessmen. Unfortunately, the A&P went bankrupt in 1876 after completing only 361 miles of track in Missouri and the Indian Territory. The company fell into possession of the St. Louis and San Francisco Railroad (Frisco), itself suffering from financial problems. In a November 1879 deal known as the Tripartite Agreement, directors of the Frisco, A&P, and Santa Fe agreed that the AT&SF would acquire a half interest in the A&P, and then use the A&P charter to complete a transcontinental railway. Despite some last minute opposition from the Southern Pacific, by 1880 the Santa Fe (operating under the Atlantic & Pacific name) was ready to continue westward. Santa Fe officials wanted to build the line as rapidly as possible, correctly anticipating that the SP would attempt to cut them off.

Construction of the Atlantic & Pacific

As soon as the agreement to acquire an interest in the A&P was finalized, the Santa Fe began to prepare for the construction of a railroad across northern Arizona. Under the leadership of General Manager William Barstow Strong, surveying and construction crews gathered at Albuquerque. Early in 1880 Strong detailed his trusted chief engineer, Albert A. Robinson, to supervise construction efforts. Almost immediately Robinson set crews westward to make a final survey and set an alignment between Albuquerque and the Colorado River. The survey team, led by Lewis Kingman, consisted of some twenty men and five wagons. - Setting out in April 1880 they quickly located the line along the Rio Puerco to the site of present Holbrook, then west along the Little Colorado River to Sunset Crossing near Brigham City. From there Kingman, assisted by W.A. Drake, H.R. Holbrook, and J.E. Early, moved to the western end of the line, then waited until the summer of 1881 to stake out the middle part of the route across the high country of northern Arizona. By mid-summer 1881 the initial surveying was completed. In large part Kingman was guided by the report of Lieutenant Whipple's 1853-54 expedition and by a survey made by the Union Pacific in 1867-68. The topography would prove difficult in several locations, but as a rule the route seemed well suited to rapid construction. Some Arizona newspapers predicted that the line would be finished before the winter of 1882.

Using Isleta, New Mexico, a few miles south of Albuquerque, as the starting point, A&P crews began the push westward during the summer of 1880. Even before this, the company entered into grading and tie cutting contracts with various individuals. Although the details of each agreement were different, the company followed a general practice of hiring local construction firms to clear and grade portions of the line. Some contractors also agreed to do bridge work and one contracted to build a tunnel. These entrepreneurs saw an opportunity to cash in on the construction boom and readily offered their services. Among the more notable contractors helping to prepare the grade across Arizona were Price, King and Co., who set up a camp near Flagstaff to prepare some fifty-four miles of roadbed, John W. Young, son of Brigham Young, who put groups of Mormons to work as graders and tie cutters near Flagstaff and in the Little Colorado River Valley, and Col. J. T. Simms, who contracted for the bridge and tunnel work in Johnson's Canyon. The grading crews operated out of base camps, clearing trees and brush, removing rocks with black powder explosives, and forming the roadbed with mule-drawn Fresno scrapers. Tie cutters usually secured their needs from the nearest stand of trees. Considering that much of the line was crossed by washes and ravines, a goodly number of timber bridges were required before the rails could be set down. The Arizona segment also needed five steel bridges, which were ordered from eastern manufacturers. Under the contracting system, which was used across all of Arizona, the grade, bridges, and ties were supposed to be ready by the time the track gangs arrived. By the summer of 1881 more than two thousand men were at work in northern Arizona preparing the A&P grade.

The first rail actually put down in Arizona consisted of a two and a half mile segment in Querino Canyon, which was installed sometime during the summer of 1880. Because the two-mile long sandstone canyon, located just west of the present site of Houck, only contained enough room for a single rail line, Robinson rushed construction crews to this remote location to forestall an expected attempt by the Southern Pacific to block the way by building its own line in the Canyon. Despite the fact that. Indians chased the construction crews away on at least one occasion, this short segment was completed and apparently stood idle for nearly a year before track crews coming from the east made a connection.

Once he was no longer needed to lead the surveyors, Lewis Kingman assumed control of the construction crews. By February 13, 1881, the railroad had reached Wingate (Gallup), New Mexico. From here, Kingman prepared for a gigantic effort to construct the line in one push all the way to Needles, California. The A&P reportedly collected over 800 car loads of rail at Bacon Springs near Wingate in hopes of working across Arizona without interruption. The rails used on the A&P were light by today's standards, weighing fifty-two or fifty-six pounds per yard and set on untreated wooden ties. A large percentage of the track crews were Irish, a fact which drew praise from Arizona newspapers prejudiced against the Chinese. Said the March 25, 1881, issue of the Weekly Arizona Miner, "the Directors of the 35th Parallel R.R. certainly deserve much credit for employing none but white labor in building their great transcontinental railway from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Mongolian labor is below par with these people" (WAM, 3-25-81 ). Despite such local sentiment, Kingman employed anyone willing to work, including Hispanics, Apaches, and Navajos. The ethnic composition of construction crews varied greatly among companies. Companies generally preferred to hire local labor, but in remote country such as Arizona, relatively few men were available. Recruitment officers thus traveled to the urban areas of the United States in search of common laborers. These usually tended to be recent immigrants. The Southern Pacific preferred Chinese gangs secured in California, while the Santa Fe recruited Irish immigrants in the mid-west. Some attempts were also made to recruit Mormons from Salt Lake City. Ethnic construction workers were generally unskilled laborers working under the supervision from American bosses. The Indians proved especially good workers and established a close association with the Santa Fe which still exists. Once put into motion, the track gangs were able to set down and spike into place one to two miles of railroad per day. The crews lived on a "Boarding Train" which traveled just behind the track layers to provide sleeping and eating facilities.

The Santa Fe

The Santa Fe line across Arizona might have been sold in the mid-1890s, had it not been for Edward P. Ripley, who became president of the railroad following the Panic of 1893. Convinced that his company needed a strong transcontinental presence, Ripley set out to refurbish the line west of Albuquerque. In 1896, the Santa Fe acquired full ownership of the A&P, changing its name to the Santa Fe Pacific Railroad. In addition to purchasing new locomotives and passenger cars, the line received many structural improvements. In 1899 the Santa Fe Pacific began a two-year program to replace all wooden bridges with steel structures. Although dozens of bridges were replaced, perhaps the most significant replacement was the new span built over the Colorado River. The original 1883 pile bridge across the river at Needles had never been satisfactory. Floods frequently damaged the structure and caused disruptions in service. In 1888 the company decided to eliminate the problem by building a steel span across the river at Topock, several miles downstream from Needles. This 1 , 1 00 foot cantilever bridge was completed in May 1890 and required some 13 miles of new track. In 1900 the railroad also replaced the original Canyon Diablo bridge with a stronger structure.
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