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Life and Times of the
Central Pacific Railroad
Keepsake Series, The Book Club of California, 1969

Dutch Flat Route

CPRR Schedule July, 15, 1864Driving Central Pacific eastward over the High Sierra from the isolated Pacific Coast was one of man's great achievements in terms of both construction and logistics.  Undertaking such a project took real courage.  For instance, it was determined only a few years before that a locomotive could be driven uphill.

Despite assertions of many historians, the transcontinental railroad was not the Big Four's first interest in transportation.  In 1857, Leland Stanford was a stockholder and director of the 44 million dollar "California & New York Steamship Co."  That same summer, he and Collis Huntington were involved in "The Wagon Road Company" which crossed the Sierra via Placerville in thirteen hours' less time than the old route by way of Oroville.

Two years later, Huntington, Mark Hopkins and Charles Crocker not only were among those who greeted Horace Greeley on his arrival in Sacramento during his famous trip on behalf of the Pacific Railroad—but they also accompanied him on his speaking trip through that section of California.  It is thus obvious that Engineer Theodore Judah's initial contact with the Big Four was directed toward men already familiar with the need for such a project.

Central Pacific's story is well known.  Its completion assured Judah and the Big Four a permanent place in American history.  Less known—but no less important, however—is their construction of the Dutch Flat & Donner Lake Wagon Road.  (Ironically, this competed with the road via Placerville, completed only four years before).  The Dutch Flat road was built to offer a stage and wagon connection with Central Pacific, producing vitally needed dollars as the rails moved slowly eastward.  Equally important, it was conceived to move men, supplies and material to forward survey and construction camps.  Without this vital tool, Central Pacific could not have breached the Sierra to reach Reno as early as June 19, 1868.

It is unfortunate that this farsighted move led to charges of "Dutch Flat Swindle" in turn a politically effective "swindlers' swindle" by backers of the rival Sacramento Valley Railroad, the Placerville wagon road and others.  Their libelous charges that Central Pacific intended to build only to Dutch Flat, where construction would be abandoned, were most easily disproven when the railroad continued to build eastward on reaching Dutch Flat July 5, 1866.

But getting there took some doing.  It involved not only all the hardships of pioneer mountain construction, but a "muckraking" opposition as well.  The desperate charges brought on the well-known tie-up of Central Pacific at Newcastle and the loss of a vital (and mild) year's construction before CP won its case.  Except for this, CP would probably have met Union Pacific at Cheyenne rather than at Promontory.  Also, because of this, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana came into the financial orbit of the East rather than that of San Francisco and the West.

When the Sierra tunnels held up construction from the West, the wagon road made it possible to move men, locomotives, freight cars, supplies and construction material over the summit to Truckee, where crews built westward up the eastern slope and eastward toward Reno, saving months and helping to assure a meeting in Utah.  During the dread winters of 1866, 1867 and 1868, it was often the only link construction workers had with the world west of the Sierra and it helped save many lives.

Yes, the Dutch Flat road was important in more ways than one.  Its story didn't begin and end with Central Pacific's construction and completion.  It served the mountain communities for many years after it was abandoned by the Big Four on completion of the railroad.  Later, much the same route was followed by the original highway to Reno—but, that is another chapter of history. GEORGE KRAUS

The "Up Trains" and the "Down Trains" operated only between Sacramento and Newcastle when Central Pacific reached that point in 1864, for charges of "Dutch Flat Swindle" permeated California with the odor of a scandal, later easily disproven.

This is Number Three of twelve Keepsakes issued during 1969 to its members by The Book Club of California in commemoration of the centennial of the transcontinental railroad. The series has been edited by David F. Myrick and designed and printed by Lawton and Alfred Kennedy. The announcement is reproduced through the courtesy of the Southern Pacific Company. George Kraus is the author of High Road to Promontory.

CPRR Schedule July, 15, 1864

Courtesy The Book Club of California.

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