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The Northern Pacific Railroad

From Failure to Fortune: the Story of a Great Transcontinental Railway


RAILWAYS OF THE WORLD - 36


THE NORTH COAST LIMITED LEAVING ST. PAUL

































THE NORTH COAST “LIMITED” LEAVING ST. PAUL

Drawn by the latest type of Pacific (4-6-2) engine.




AT the dawn of the nineteenth century the settlement of the United States was confined to the belt lying between the Atlantic and the Alleghany Mountains. Between the Mississippi River and the Sierra Nevadas was that vast tract of 883,072 square miles which, in 1803, was sold by Napoleon to the United States for £3,000,000 - a transaction handed down in history as “the Louisiana purchase”.


Directly this vast territory came under the Stars and Stripes a keen anxiety to explore its innermost parts became manifest. Many expeditions were organised, but only one matured - that of Lewis and Clark. These intrepid spirits, after experiencing privations and adventures innumerable, gained the Pacific seaboard. The discussion of their journey revealed the fact that an overland channel of communication between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans could be provided. Accordingly a number of schemes - many of the wild-cat order - to this end were formulated.


The most popular project was to follow the two great rivers, the Missouri and the Columbia, to their respective headwaters on the eastern and western slopes of the Rocky Mountains, which, it was pointed out, would need only a short length of intervening rugged country to be bridged. Every traveller who succeeded in crossing the country by pack-horse, Indian dug-out and shanks’s pony waxed loquacious about the ease and simplicity (!) with which a railway could be built through the mountain barrier.


However, the scheme languished until 1844, when it was taken up in grim earnest by Asa Whitney. He was a man of wealth, and he devoted all his energies and resources to arousing public interest for the construction of a northern transcontinental railway. He was assailed on all sides by hostile criticism, but he fought tenaciously until, having frittered his whole fortune away in propaganda, he retired from the scene to eke out a humble existence as a milkman for the remainder of his days.


But Whitney’s work had not been in vain. He had infused others with his enthusiasm, and among these was Edwin F. Johnson, of Vermont, who, being a clever engineer, with a big reputation, was fitted to the task. He was very aggressive, and although he did not escape criticism, extreme care had to be displayed by detractors in attacking his proposal, inasmuch as he tore technical objections raised by laymen to shreds. Johnson hammered away at the project until at last he forced the Government to sanction that momentous enterprise, the Pacific Railway Surveys, which was carried out by the foremost topographical and military engineers of the time. Five expeditions were dispatched to the coast, each being allotted a section of the mountains which it was commanded to probe through and through, to find the easiest route for a railway. These labours are summarised in thirteen bulky volumes, which have an honourable and undisturbed resting place in the archives of the Government. They are fine pieces of work so far as they go, but the railway builder of to-day regards them with ill-disguised disdain; he prefers to work out his own salvation.


When these reports were submitted to the Government in 1855 they aroused widespread interest, and formed a perennial topic of idle parliamentary debate for another six years. But in 1862 matters came to a crisis; academic discussion was brought to a dramatic end. The State of California demanded railway communication with the Eastern States; if this request were not met, it would secede from the Union. Faced with the possibility of disruption, Congress was stirred to action, and sanctioned the building of the Union and Central Pacific Railways, to constitute the first transcontinental steel highway across the country.


But this decision was at the expense of the cause which Whitney and Johnson had espoused so valiantly, and, as may be supposed, the Government decision inflamed these interests. Johnson became uncompromisingly aggressive, and, as he had a large and influential following, the position of the Government became somewhat perilous. Finally, to appease the advocates of the northern route, and to satisfy public opinion, the construction of the Northern Pacific Railroad was sanctioned, the Act being signed by President Lincoln on July 2nd, 1864.


The fathers of this enterprise were jubilant. They had won the day, and completed preparations to “make the dirt fly”. Johnson was given the reins of the undertaking, and under his banner was enrolled a corps of the finest engineers in the country. The surveys were run and the location decided; everything was ready to start. But there arose one insuperable obstacle: whence was the money coming to finance construction?


Then came the Civil War. The railway project was blown sky-high by that great upheaval. Money could not be obtained under any conditions; the financiers clutched their hoards and refused to provide a penny. But every contretemps brings its own solution. The Government, being in a similar plight, was forced to appeal to the people, and in this movement a new financial force was introduced - the hitherto obscure banking house of Jay Cooke and Company, of Philadelphia. Owing to the remarkable success of this firm in the sale of Government securities to the tune of £266,000,000 during the dark days of the war, the Northern Pacific Railroad urged this house to help them in the provision of funds for construction in a similar manner. The bank dispatched its independent engineers through the west to investigate. The reports being satisfactory, the house agreed to appeal to the people, as in the case of the Government’s dilemma. It entered into the undertaking with enthusiasm, and embarked upon an elaborate campaign to make known the agricultural, industrial, and commercial possibilities of the country traversed by the Northern Pacific.


EARLY LOCOMOTIVE AND ROLLING STOCK, Northern Pacific Railroad








EARLY LOCOMOTIVE AND ROLLING STOCK, SHOWING CHEAP TIMBER TRESTLE CONSTRUCTION










This in itself was a stupendous piece of work. In 1870 the territory which was to be penetrated by the new transcontinental boasted only 600,000 people, of which the State of Minnesota alone claimed 400,000. The remaining 200,000 were divided into small communities scattered here and there over territory which was the home of the Indian, the buffalo and other animals. Montana did not possess a sheep or a cow; North Dakota was a silent wilderness; Eastern Oregon and Washington were the haunts of the bear and trapper. In view of such conditions it is not surprising that timidity was displayed by investors; that Jay Cooke’s attractive statements were regarded with suspicion; and that carping critics wanted to know whence the railway was to derive its traffic.


Yet the financiers and railway forces were not dismayed. With the money which was harvested 2,000 navvies were set to work in 1870 with their shovels, picks and wheelbarrows at a point twenty miles west of Duluth, Minnesota, their eyes being turned towards the Pacific. The metals were brought up from the mills and discharged at Duluth at £18 per ton, from which point they had to be hauled to the grade as circumstances permitted. By the end of the year the winding ribbon of steel had been laid to the banks of the Red River in Minnesota. Simultaneously the forces toiling on the western arm, which was to advance eastwards from the Pacific, had been busy, the first sod having been turned on the banks of the Columbia River near Portland.


Once started, work went ahead, although money was tight. Congress was asked to assist, and in 1871 consented to the company mortgaging its road and land grant. The plains were traversed as far as Bismarck on the Missouri River, while the line had been carried from Portland to Tacoma, when came the great financial crash of 1873. It caught the young railway at a disadvantage. The statements which Jay Cooke and Company had circulated concerning the possibilities of the country penetrated were assailed vigorously. So-called independent investigators on the spot were commissioned by parties of investors to make a trip over the completed portion of the road and to report upon the outlook. These wiseacres were prejudiced in the first instance, and, accordingly, when the trains drew away from civilisation and rattled through a silent country reflecting nothing but a drab, sun-scorched surface, as uninviting as the Sahara, the spirits of the so-called experts sank lower and lower. They did not look a few inches below the exposed surface; knew nothing about the constituents of the soil; were ignorant of farming.


“Sell! Sell! Sell!” This was the advice the investigators wired back to their investing friends in the cities. At that time there were 13,000 stockholders in the company, and no astute manipulation was required to precipitate a panic among them. The stock was thrown pell-mell on the market to be sold at any price. Members of the directorate, who cherished unbounded faith in the undertaking, endeavoured to stem the disastrous tide by bringing tracts of 3,000, 5,000, and 6,000 acres fringing the railway under cultivation, just to show what the ground would yield. But their puny efforts were in vain. The news had gone forth that the Northern Pacific was traversing a desert, where life was impossible, and where not a blade of grass could grow. The stampede could not be stayed; when the public loses its head judgment flies out of the window. Jay Cooke and Company strove hard to turn the panic, but unsuccessfully, and they went down in the debacle.


Construction was brought to a standstill. Not another penny could be raised. The adverse reports which had been circulated were too damning to release the purse-strings. The directors hung on, hoping against hope that the situation would right itself, but the corner could not be turned. The line went into bankruptcy. This was a heartbreaking shock to those who had fathered the scheme. They had built 555 miles of line, owned 48 locomotives and 1,230 freight vehicles - not a bad return for five years’ work. Yet far more convincing than the mileage of steel highway and the rolling stock was the solidity of the foundation of the Middle West which had been laid. In 1870 not a single bushel of grain had been taken off the land which the railway threaded; in 1875 over 500,000 bushels were harvested in this so-called desert!


THE NORTHERN PACIFIC TRANSCONTINENTAL EXPRESS










THE NORTHERN PACIFIC TRANSCONTINENTAL EXPRESS CLIMBING THE 116 FEET PER MILE GRADE THROUGH THE ROCKIES WITH A “DOUBLE-HEADER”

When the train is heavy a third engine is attached as a “pusher”.












After the smash a stand-at-ease policy was maintained for some years to enable the United States to recover its financial footing. The line was kept in thorough repair, and showed a steady increase in its revenue, while the desert land, regarded with disdain, attracted scores of settlers who brought it under cultivation.


There was one popular fallacy which held the country locked firmly against agricultural expansion. This was the impression of the prairie winter, which was said to be a nightmare. Certainly the icy blasts from the North have a clean sweep of several hundred miles over country as level as a table-top; the snowfall is heavy, and, being unobstructed in its helter-skelter drift, it does pile up in huge banks, 40 feet or more in depth - even to this day. The soldiers who were striving to subdue the recalcitrant Indians holding the Middle West drew fearsome pictures of the blizzards, the blood-freezing low temperatures, and the long, hard winter. These highly-coloured reports even scared the settlers who ventured into this domain to such a degree that many, after they had gathered their harvests, locked the doors of their shacks, departed to the towns to hibernate through the winter, and returned to their lands in the spring.


Unfortunately the railway management made no effort to dispel these fears; rather they supported them. When the last bushel of grain had been loaded into the railway truck and dispatched to market, all locomotives, wagons, and men on the prairie were withdrawn. The company concluded that it was better to close down the railway for five months or so rather than face the fury of winter.


FILLING UP A TRESTLE: Northern Pacific Railroad



FILLING UP A TRESTLE: THE MONITORS AT WORK WASHING DOWN THE HILLSIDE





These illusions prevailed until they were dispelled in a somewhat unusual manner. The Sioux Rebellion of 1876, the massacre of Custer and his little band, and the general insecurity of the country arising from the success of the Red Men stung the Government to drastic action. The railway had reached the east bank of the Mississippi, and Bismarck, at the railhead, had become an important strategical centre. The Government completed its plan of campaign; Bismarck was to be the base. As it was essential for the War Office to be in close rail and telegraphic communication with the front, the railway company, after the harvest of 1876 had been garnered, was asked to refrain from withdrawing its men and rolling stock for the winter, but to keep the line open for military purposes.


The Government traffic was somewhat heavy, and Nature, as if determined to aid the refractory Red Men, hurled its forces  - blinding blizzards, tornado-like winter storms, and heavy snowfalls - upon the railway with unparalleled savagery. Yet the management experienced no difficulty in keeping the line open. The delays to the trains were slight and the rolling stock suffered no injury. Assuredly the terrors of the prairie winter had been exaggerated. Why, the Northern Pacific suffered fewer losses and less delays from the snow-fiend on the open plains than had the New York Central in the settled East during the same winter! The bogey was laid; from that winter forward the line was kept open the whole year round.


In 1879, the railway having retrieved its position somewhat, financial aid was forthcoming, and construction was resumed. On the eastern section the broad rolling swathe of water of the Mississippi River had to be crossed. This demanded a massive metal bridge, 1,400 feet long, divided into three spans, with the railway track placed 50 feet above the water. By the time this was completed £200,000 had gone - a somewhat big item, when money was tight, to advance the railway by less than a quarter of a mile! After the west bank was reached the constructional forces advanced over the rolling plains of Dakota and Montana as far as the foothills of the Rockies at a rapid pace. The surveyors eased the cost of construct on by following the line of least resistance. Instead of conquering prodigious obstacles by the completion of striking pieces of work, they sought to avoid them, although the grade and curvature suffered somewhat in the process.


On the west coast the railway was pushed forward just as rapidly, although there, owing to the Cascades disputing advance, progress was less marked in point of distance. Huge rifts in the mountains had to be spanned, and these were overcome by erecting massive timber trestles, for which millions of feet of lumber cut in the vicinity were used. The humps of the mountains were trimmed back to provide a narrow causeway for the metals. The turbulent mountain rivers were spanned by heavy wooden bridges and trestles, everything being carried out upon pioneer lines to reduce constructional costs as much as possible.


While tunnelling was reduced to the minimum, it could not be avoided entirely. Two heavy works of this character were required to get through the Rocky Mountains. In both cases the rock put up a stern resistance, so that several months passed before the Bozeman Tunnel, 3,610 feet long, and the Mullan Tunnel, of 3,847 feet, were pierced. Simultaneously with the driving of the main line from each end, short spurs were laid down into promising districts for mining, lumbering, and agricultural development. In nearly every instance the branches resembled the main track, inasmuch as they preceded the settlers, so that a period of some years of unproductiveness had to be faced before any profits were likely to accrue.


THE NORTH COAST LIMITED, Northern Pacific Railroad



THE NORTH COAST “LIMITED” CROSSING THE BRIDGE SPANNING THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER, WHICH DIVIDES THE TWIN CITIES OF ST. PAUL AND MINNEAPOLIS





The vigorous energy with which construction was maintained when the engineering forces once more settled down to their stride was due to the tireless activity of Mr. Henry Villard, who assumed control of the railway, and who, having built up

a commanding railway managing reputation in the West, was fitted to the post, which, under the stringent monetary conditions, was somewhat onerous. Villard was a born railway administrator, of strong character and remarkable foresight, who commanded the unbounded confidence of powerful financial interests. He had been associated with Mr. Thomas Alva Edison, and, in 1881, when the Wizard of Orange was experimenting with his electric railway at Menlo Park, for the construction of which Villard was primarily responsible, and in which he sank his own money, he discussed with Edison the electrification of the Northern Pacific through the Rocky Mountains. When it is remembered that at this date electric railway working was in its infancy, when not more than 2½ miles of electric railway were in operation, and that as an experiment, the idea of applying this motive power to a section of a transcontinental railway was somewhat daring. But Villard maintained that electric operation would be cheaper than steam, and that it was certain to be used for the mountain sections of big railways at all events, since adequate energy is generally available from the mountain torrents.


Villard also trusted his engineers implicitly - he did not hamper them in any way. It was up to the engineers to give the best return on the outlay. The engineers appreciated this feeling of trust, and certainly gave the President as fine a railway as could be expected, though in consummating this end they spent some £4,000,000 more than was anticipated. Villard spurred his men on, since he recognised that the sooner the undertaking was completed the earlier would a great stream of traffic flow along the steel channel. The spring of 1883 saw the two long arms within measurable distance of one another, and it was only a matter of weeks before the rails from the east met those coming from the west. On September 8th, 1883, amid wild festivity, the golden spike was driven at Gold Creek, in Hellgate Canyon, Montana, the spike used for the auspicious event being the very first that was driven into a sleeper 20 miles west of Duluth in 1870, when the Northern Pacific Railroad was commenced. By this linking together of the two sections an aggregate of 2,259 miles were brought into operation.


THE OLD AND THE NEW BRIDGES, Northen Pacific Railroad



THE OLD AND THE NEW, NEAR LAPPINGTON

To the left is the original bridge built of wood. The old line was abandoned when the new, straight and more level track was finished.





The most sensational display of engineering on the whole line, however, was the driving of the Stampede Tunnel, to overcome the Cascade Mountains. The route across this obstacle had been a matter of discussion among the officers of the company since the first spadeful of earth was turned in 1870, and for eleven years the question was debated as to which pass through the range should be followed. The surveying engineers narrowed the issue down to a choice of three - the Natches, the Stampede, and the Snoqualmie Passes. Whichever route was taken a tunnel was necessary, so that it was a matter of selecting the most advantageous route from the economic and traffic point of view.


The decision was left almost completely to Mr. Virgil G. Bogue, who at that time was chief assistant engineer. He had been spying through the mountains for years, being responsible for the mountain division of the railway. Through his energy the Stampede Pass was discovered, he having sent a party through the mountains over this route, when no knowledge of such a gateway existed. Mr. Virgil G. Bogue is one of those great railway engineers who have been created by railway building in the western United States, who at a later date provided the United States with its easiest and fastest transcontinental railway - the Western Pacific having a maximum grade of only 52 feet per mile - as described in another chapter.


FILLING IN A TRESTLE BY HYDRAULIC SLUICING, Northern Pacific RailroadIn 1884 Mr. Bogue recommended the adoption of the Stampede Pass, and outlined a tunnel nearly 2 miles in length, which he estimated could be completed in twenty-eight months. Acting on this advice the railway company called for tenders for the contract. There was no intention of permitting the successful contractor to dally over his work. The bore was to be completed in the above time under a penalty of £20,000 and 10 per cent, of the contract price. All the leading railway builders on the continent bid for the work, but when the tenders were opened it was found that an unknown man, Nelson Bennett, was, ready to accept the conditions, and to complete the job for £232,000. His nearest rival wanted over £400,000. The Bennett tender was accepted, but the competing firms maintained that it never could be done for the price, and that the contractor from the west would “go broke” over the transaction. But Bennett knew more than they. He had built some of the most difficult sections of the line in the western mountains; had worked under Mr. Bogue; and was confident that the time set down was adequate for the task, so was prepared to rely on the estimated time.





FILLING IN A TRESTLE BY HYDRAULIC SLUICING

Building an embankment with material washed down from the mountain-side by water jets. This method has been borrowed from the old placer miners.





The contractor hustled. His bid was accepted on January 21st, 1886, and he had undertaken to complete the tunnel by May 21st, 1888. Leaving the Northern Pacific Railroad offices in New York with his contract, he at once ordered all the plant required, at the same time wiring to his general manager in the west to gather an army of men and to cut roads from the railheads to the tunnel site. What this meant may be gathered from the fact that a wagon-road had to be driven through primeval mountain forest for 82 miles on the east, and for 87 miles on the west side of the range, rising from 500 to 4,200 feet altitude. The cutting of these tote-roads, and the transport of the heavy machinery was far more exacting and difficult than the boring of the tunnel itself. The country was under snow at the time, and huge sleds were improvised from trees cut down on the spot. There came a sudden thaw, and the surface of the rude road was converted into mire about 4 feet deep. The heavy loads had to be hauled through this semi-liquid glue by block and tackle, and a mile a day was a good average progress.


An advance army of men were got on to the tunnel site with as much speed as possible, and they commenced driving the bore 16½ feet wide by 22 feet high through the detritus on each side. In this preliminary work two mountain streams had to be diverted, one of which fell in a beautiful cascade across the eastern portal from a height of 170 feet.


While the tunnel faces were being excavated the railway engineers appeared on the scene to lay a temporary track over the range. This in itself was an amazing piece of work, comprising a switchback along which the trains were pushed and pulled from level to level over grades running 300 feet per mile. Standing at the top of the western zig-zag six tracks were revealed sawing to and fro down the slope. This switchback cost £80,000 to build, and was completed by July 2, 1887. When it was abandoned ten months later, upon the completion of the tunnel, the switchback had earned £100,000 for the company, so that, although £80,000 worth of work was scrapped, the company had profited by £20,000 over its provision.


Owing to the difficulties encountered in reaching the portals six out of the twenty-eight months allotted to the the'Bore task slipped by, together with an expenditure of £25,000 in getting up the machinery. By this time the advance gangs of men had driven their way into the mountain, from each side, for a total distance of 900 feet with hand-drills, leaving 8,950 feet to be drilled through rock by the machine tools in twenty-two months. The men were divided into ten-hour shifts, at wages ranging from 10s. to 20s. a day, according to their skill, and as much more as they could make over the 13·58 feet per day which was set down as the average progress necessary to complete the tunnel on time.


No effort was spared to maintain the scheduled rate of advance. But when water burst in, and caused the rock-hogs to abandon their task, serious delays occurred, so that the work completed fell behind the required amount. Then friction arose between the contractor’s superintendent, who was popular with the men, and the railway company’s resident engineer. At last the tunnel builder was forced to request the railway to change their official, as the contract was in jeopardy. This was done, and, harmony being restored, the miners set to work with redoubled energy. They not only made up leeway, but got ahead of the schedule. As the borers knew that the contractor was up against a time-limit they let themselves go. Spirited rivalry sprang up between the gangs working on the two faces as to which finally would put the greatest length of the tunnel to its credit.


REBUILDING IN STEEL THE TIMBER TRESTLE ACROSS GREENHORN GULCH, Northern Pacific Railroad



REBUILDING IN STEEL THE OLD TIMBER TRESTLE ACROSS GREENHORN GULCH IN THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS.

Lowering a 61 foot girder from the cars.





The bore was driven from a centre heading, from which it was widened out subsequently to its full dimensions. An ingenious machine was devised to facilitate work at the heading. It was like a big table, straddling the full width of the tunnel, with its legs mounted on two-wheeled trucks which ran along a track. It was sufficiently high to permit the dump cars to pass beneath, to be filled from the top of the table through shoots. The “bench” or footing of rock in the lower part of the tunnel was kept 30 feet from the drilling face in the heading, and on this the drillers toiled. When the holes had been driven, and the “shots”  tamped home, all tools were thrown upon this travelling table, which was pushed down the tunnel for some distance while the blast was made. When the smoke and fumes had cleared away the table was pushed to the front again, a fresh series of holes driven in the rock face, the muck brought down from the previous shots being cleared on to the table and emptied through the shoots into the trucks beneath. The men appreciated this device, and promptly dubbed it the “Go-Devil”.


As the time-limit drew nearer and nearer money was poured out like water to keep pace with the scheduled advance. The spirited urging of the contractor was not in vain. The men became infused with his zeal, and they drew heavy rewards in bonuses. The labourers were fed well at the contractor’s camps at a cost of 3s. a day, while the only other essential expenditure was a contribution of 4s. a month towards the hospital established for their benefit.


On May 3rd, 1888, eighteen days before the expiration of the contract time, the last piece of rock was broken down, permitting the opposing drilling forces to shake hands with one another. Eleven days later the excavation was completed. Two days after the metals were laid from end to end, and on May 21st, the contracted date, Bennett handed over the work to the railway, the first regular train running through the bore on May 22nd. As a tunnel-boring achievement, bearing in mind the abnormal difficulties encountered in getting to the wrork, it stands unique.


When the completed line settled down an era of prosperity appeared to be assured. Settlers were pouring into the country, and were developing the land contiguous to the main line and its spurs. The rolling stock had grown in 1883-84 to 391 locomotives, 283 passenger coaches, 10,149 freight cars, while the gross earnings had risen to over £2,100,000 per annum. A policy of overhaul was immediately taken in hand, owing to the prosperity of the line and the growth of its traffic. The timber trestles were buried under solid earthen embankments piled up by washing hills of spoil down in streams from the mountain sides under hydraulic jets. Timber bridges across creeks and torrents were replaced by metal structures, and flatter banks and easier curves secured. In three years over 3,760,000 new sleepers were placed. The tracks, laid with heavier metals, were ballasted with stone gravel to permit acceleration of the cross-country expresses.


The Northern Pacific Railroad enjoyed seven years of indisputable plenty, and appeared to be established upon a firm footing. By 1899 the gross revenue had increased to £5,000,000 per annum, and the operating expenses had been reduced to 47 per cent, of the gross earnings. Unfortunately, however, owing to the exceptionally heavy cost of construction, the fixed charges became a mill-stone round its neck, the strangling effects of which were not experienced when the railway was on the crest of the wave of prosperity.


Then came a heavy fall in the traffic; the United States, with its characteristic capriciousness, was hit by another financial stampede, and the Northern Pacific Railroad was dragged down in the disaster of 1893. It was a sorry trick of fortune, but this enterprise appeared to be dogged with ill-luck. The full effect of the fixed charges overload now became felt only too acutely. Villard struggled hard, but even his ability failed to stave off the crisis. A receiver was appointed to straighten things out. Villard suffered heavily. He lost his fortune and almost his reason as well. It was a disheartening sequel to years of hard work. He had snatched the railway from a moribund condition and had placed it firmly on its feet. His financial arrangements were criticised severely in certain quarters, but in an undertaking such as this, which was composed of two ends and no middle, the obvious task was to provide the missing link, even if it did entail, as in this instance, prodigious expense. When he assumed the reins the Northern Pacific was regarded as a “hoodoo” enterprise, and he had to pay dearly for the accommodation to keep the engineers going, some of the bonds and stock carrying 6 and 7 per cent, interest.


Villard was so stupefied by the magnitude of the financial catastrophe that he would have gone under had it not been for Edison. The inventor was asked to cheer up the broken railway magnate, and only succeeded in achieving the desired end by discussing with him the electric light, which just then was coming into its own. Villard had backed Edison against all antagonistic argument concerning the electric railway, and the inventor now had an opportunity to reciprocate. He urged Villard to throw his energies into the exploitation of the electric light. The ruined financier took his friend’s advice, regained his feet, and amassed a new fortune.


The receivers continued the overhauling and improving policy which had been taken in hand before the crash. On September 1st, 1896, the Northern Pacific Railroad, valued at £65,000,000, was sold under foreclosure proceedings to the Northern Pacific Railway Company, and as such it is known to-day.


The third attempt to render this transcontinental highway a railway power in the land has met with conspicuous success. Now it is one of the greatest roads on the continent. The new blood, not satisfied with the condition of the property, went over it from end to end, eliminating all adverse grades and curves, strengthening bridges, re-ballasting the track, and laying it with heavier steel rails to secure still higher speeds with heavier train loads. In three years alone 829 short bridges and trestles were taken out and replaced by earthen embankments. A huge scrap-heap was perforcedly created in carrying out this policy. Larger, faster, and more powerful locomotives were introduced, while the 8 to 18-ton goods wagons were replaced by vehicles capable of carrying 20 to 45 tons.


As in the case of the Canadian Pacific, the sheet anchor of this American transcontinental railway throughout its varying fortunes has been the grant of land, which averaged so much per mile. The construction of the railway brought some 45,000,000 miles into its hands for sale, and the peopling of this vast territory not only has swelled the receipts, but virtually has ensured a traffic income, since the line handles practically the whole of the necessities and produce of this adjacent population.


Subsequent events have served to substantiate the contentions of the fathers of this transcontinental, and also the statements that were issued by the banking firm of Jay Cooke and Company respecting the possibilities of the country traversed. The land which at that time could not find purchasers at 6d. per acre now commands from £15 to £120 per acre. The tributaries of the Northern Pacific Railway ramify in all directions through the west in the interests of holiday-making, sight-seeing, agricultural, mineralogical, and forestal activity. The system has built up the prosperity of Seattle, Spokane, Portland, and a host of other cities and towns along its route.


THE NORTH COAST LIMITED, SHOWING THE OBSERVATION CAR































THE NORTH COAST “LIMITED” REAR VIEW, SHOWING THE OBSERVATION CAR




[From Parts 8-9 of Railway Wonders of the World by Frederick A. Talbot, 1913]



You can read more on “Giant American Locomotives”, “North American Railroads” and “The Union Pacific Railway” on this website.