Thursday, January 22, 2015

Robert Lee Murphy: Substitutes Are Important

I am Robert Lee Murphy, author of The Iron Horse Chronicles, a trilogy which follows the quest of William Braddock, a recently orphaned fourteen-year-old, who embarks upon a quest to determine his own destiny. Will finds himself embroiled in the historical events that contribute to the building of the first transcontinental railroad in the late-1860s.

It is possible to say that anything past is “historical.” The substitute who comes off the bench to win the school’s basketball game at the last minute has participated in a historical achievement after the final buzzer sounds. Sports’ organizations keep track of the accomplishments of their teams and players in a historical way, giving credit to substitutes when deserved. The driving of the golden spike at Promontory Summit, Utah, on May 10, 1869, is a historical event that used substitutes.

Photo by: Andrew J. Russell, Union Pacific Railroad

During my research for writing the final book in my trilogy, Golden Spike, I came across some interesting facts that are usually glossed over during the telling of the story of the joining of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads at Promontory Summit. I learned that like the starter in a sporting event, the locomotive that begins the game may not be the one at the finish line. The two famous locomotives that touched cowcatchers when the golden spike was driven were both substitutes. Will Braddock is going to stand beside these famous substitutes when he appears in the not too distant future in Golden Spike–The Iron Horse Chronicles, Book Three. Since I am still writing that book, and rather than keep you waiting until anticipated publication in 2016, I present herewith the fascinating information about how two substitutes became the most famous locomotives in history.

Central Pacific Engine "Jupiter"
On May 6, 1869, Leland Stanford, former governor of California and now president of the Central Pacific Railroad, departed Sacramento with a group of dignitaries to make the journey to Promontory Summit to participate in the celebrations surrounding the completion of the first transcontinental railroad. Stanford and his entourage were on board a special train following not too far behind the regularly scheduled CP passenger train. After crossing the Sierra Nevada Mountains, skirting Donner Lake, and proceeding beyond the new town of Truckee, Stanford’s train struck disaster. A Chinese woodcutting crew working on the slopes above the Truckee River had not been informed of the pending passage of the special train. After they saw the regular train pass below them, and thinking everything was clear for them to proceed, they loosed a log down the slope. The log came to rest on the track. The special’s locomotive plowed into the log, resulting in severe damage. Fortunately, none of the passengers were injured, although one who had been brave enough to ride on the cowcatcher had to dive off to save his life. A telegram to the Wadsworth, Nevada, station, just beyond Reno, directed that the regular passenger train wait for the crippled special to catch up. At Wadsworth, CP’s Engine No. 60, Jupiter, was transferred from the regular train to Stanford’s special, from where it proceeded to Utah and its place in history.

Union Pacific Locomotive #119
Also on May 6, 1869, Thomas “Doc” Durant, vice-president and general manager of the Union Pacific Railroad, was journeying westward in his luxurious Pullman palace car en route with his own group of dignitaries to join the festivities at Promontory Summit. Today, we are not impressed with Durant’s title, but in the 1860s it was equivalent to saying he served as the UP’s CEO. The term chief executive officer did not come into use until the mid-twentieth century. On May 6, Durant’s train was held up at Piedmont, Wyoming, by a gang of three hundred angry workers demanding payment of back wages before they would allow his passage. This disruptive action makes one think a union must have been involved, but these railroad workers were not unionized. The ensuing wait for the transfer of funds from the east to meet the laborers' demands delayed Durant’s progress enough that the golden spike ceremony scheduled for May 8 had to be postponed until May 10. By the time Durant’s train got back underway, the Devil’s Gate Bridge in Utah had been washed out by snow melt and heavy rain. Durant was delayed again while bridge builders effected temporary repairs. However, it was decided the weight of a locomotive would be too much for the makeshift bridge. Durant’s special Pullman car was pushed across the bridge by hand and attached to Union Pacific’s Locomotive #119, which was borrowed from a regular freight train.

Reenactment of the Golden Spike Ceremony on May 10, 2014
Thus, the famous event, news of which was telegraphed around the world at the moment it happened, found both railroad companies using replacement locomotives to finish the job. Substitutes in many historical events, not just sporting ones, wind up winning the game. To be a substitute on any team should not be diminished. One never knows when he or she might be called upon to perform extraordinary feats.

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