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Lewis M. Clement brings the Telephone to the C.P.R.R.

One absolutely essential element necessary for the safe and efficient operation of any railroad is reliable communications, and that was especially true on the Central Pacific because of the remote and extreme topography over which so much of it ran. And doubtless nobody on the CPRR understood that better than Lewis Clement, the CPRR’s Chief Assistant Engineer, who had actually begun his railroad career as a telegraph operator and station agent with the Ohio & Mississippi Railroad in Vincennes, Ohio, and St. Louis.

Shortly after the Pacific Railroad was completed in 1869, L.M. Clement added the key duties of Superintendent of Track to his portfolio, arguably the most important operational job on the line. To help keep that track consistently open Clement saw to it that the CPRR’s telegraph network was always well organized and maintained. As an engineer, however, he was also always looking to improve the system with the latest technology. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that less than two years after Alexander Graham Bell had developed the first working experimental telephone in 1876, Clement had already enthusiastically embraced the new technology and applied it to the CPRR as is indicated in the following September 10th, 1878, letter to Samuel Hubbard, agent of then newly formed Bell Telephone Company. -BCC 

[Transcribed below]

1878 Letter about use of the telephone on the CPRR

Office of
Chief Ass’t Engineer
Supt. of Track
Central Pacific Railroad

San Francisco, 10th September 1878

Mr. Samuel Hubbard, Agent
Bell Telephone Company

Dear Sir-

Following is verbatim copy of the statement attached to voucher for the rental of Telephones approved and allowed August 21st, 1878-

“Agent Bell Telephone Company called last fall and after conversation with him it was decided to give him permission to introduce the Telephone into the snowsheds as an experiment, to determine its value as an auxiliary to the system of Watchmen’s signals in use there.

“They have proved to be indispensably valuable as was instanced at the time of the late derailment of passenger train at Cascade, where there was no telegraph operation, and a history of the affair was Telephoned to Blue Cañon office,and thence to Sacramento by wire, thus saving the time necessary for Watchman to reach the nearest telegraph station. The Trackmen & Wrecking Car were also sent, without loss of time, by the aid of Watchman’s signal, and the Telephone.”

Yours Truly,
L.M. Clement
Ch’f Ass’t Eng’r and Sup’t Track C.P.R.R.

Courtesy Bruce C. Cooper Collection.

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By way of contrast, an 1876 Western Union memo concludes that "This 'telephone' has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communications."

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