CROSSING THE MOUNTAINS
The snow capped summit of the Sierras was reached by the Central Pacific in the summer of 1867, and on the 30th of November of that year the first passenger train ran there from Sacramento. The difficulty of crossing the lofty western range was enormous, for it was found necessary to pierce the mountain by no less than 15 tunnels, aggregating a distance of more than a mile. One at the summit was a mile and a quarter above sea level. In building the road more than 10,000 men and more than 1,000 teams were steadily engaged, making a zig zag course down the eastern slope of the Sierras. Work across this range, because of the tunnels through solid granite, and also because many miles of massive snow sheds had to be built, was necessarily slow, while up the Platte valley the Union Pacific, with the immense force employed in building, the track was being spiked down at the rate of two and one-half miles a day.
The road progressed so rapidly that in October 1867 the army of builders employed on the Union Pacific reached the foothills of the Rockies, five hundred miles west of Omaha, after which further progress became slower. Sherman, the highest point of the road, was nestled on the backbone of the continent and lay 8,424 feet above tide. It was 1,382 feet above the highest point reached on the Central Pacific. In five years after the first rail had been laid, seven hundred miles of track had been put down by the two companies.
"During two following winters we were in the snow belt of the Sierras. The entire fall of snow at least 40 feet.
In answer to a question as to how they protected the road from snow, Strobridge answered: "In those bad winters we did not keep it open. The last year when we built to the summit we did not pretend to keep it open but let it block. We hauled over that snow to Donner Lake the material for a railroad track of 40 miles, with all the trimmings, 3 locomotives, and 40 cars. We built 40 miles of road in the Truckee Canyon before the connection was made by way of the summit. We took our men to Truckee Canyon during those two last winters, excepting the men who could be worked in the tunnels. Snow was not too deep to let us grade. We brought the men back in the spring, cleared away the snow 10 or 12 feet down and went to work and graded. In this way we forced our way across the mountains. The snow was so great we could not maintain a clear track from the tunnels and were compelled to make snow tunnels, sometimes several hundred feet from the dumps to the face of the tunnels, and also to the camps. Snow slides carried away our camps and we lost a good many men in those slides. Many of these we could not find until the next season when the snow melted. The material that we hauled from Cisco we hauled to Donner Lake on sleighs, and then re-loaded it to wagons and hauled it over a muddy road to Truckee. There we commenced laying the track. Laid 40 miles that way."
"They sent up to Truckee [sic] Canyon to what is called