Memorandum from Amos L. Bowsher

Memorandum from Amos L. Bowsher, pensioner, who, as foreman of telegraph construction was employed during the construction of the Central Pacific and who was present at the driving of the last spike. Bowsher was 28 years of age in 1869 and is now 82. In the Hill painting of the last spike Bowsher is shown on a ladder near the top of one of the telegraph poles.

There were about 1000 people present at the ceremony. Two passenger trains of about 8 cars each one UP and the other CP and the construction trains the only equipment in sight. About sixty cavalry soldiers under General Merritt were present. Merritt spoke. Stanford only one of the Big Four present.

Louis Jacobs was the telegraph operator on the job. He had his instruments in the CP outfit car. The "driving of the spike" was signaled all over the country in this way. The UP wire was wound around a partly driven spike. The CP wire was made fast to the head of a sledge. When the time arrived Stanford tapped the wire spike with the wired sledge, twelve times. Each tap closed the circuit and sent a flash all over the country.

While the construction was in the mountains the telegraph had no trouble to keep up with the road builders but when they got on the level and started laying three, four and five miles of track a day it took two gangs to handle the telegraph one to carry the wire along with the track, using ties, barrels and even sage brush to keep it off the ground, and the other to put in poles and carry the wire to its permanent supports. Poles were turned out by sawmills at New England Mills, a place above Alta, and Truckee – location being changed as end of track moved eastward. These mills run by private parties and started with money advanced by the Big Four, maintained the supply of telegraph poles, ties and bridge timbers.

After the driving of the last spike the country was flooded with miniature gold spikes purporting to have been made from the original spike. Bowsher bought one for $15. Original spike in Stanford museum.

First sawmill started at New England Mills by George Geissendorfer who was given $1000 to buy his equipment. Man named Towle was given $1000 to start a mill above Alta. Geissendorfer then moved to Tamarac and later to Truckee. Many other mills started as the demand increased with the speed of construction.

When telegraph was taken over by Western Union "the railroad had me on their hands." Charles Crocker took Bowsher to A. J. Stevens and told him, "make him an engineer and give him a run out of Sacramento". Four engineers "turned him in," "couldn't keep the engine hot." Every time Stevens, who had Brights disease went away for his health, Stevens assistant laid him off. Got his fireman service finally through "Tom Sweeney who'd killed my wife's brother a little while before and felt friendly towards me." Finally Bowsher and his two sons broke strike of 1894.


Courtesy of the Lynn D. Farrar Collection.

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