Death Calls Wm. Hood, Pioneer Rail Builder

Published, Sept. 1926

William Hood, dean of American railroad engineers, and for 30 years Chief Engineer of the Central Pacific and Southern Pacific railroads, passed away at San Francisco, August 26, following a brief illness. He was born at Concord, N. H., eighty years ago and had been a resident of California for nearly 60 years.

During the 54 years of his service with Southern Pacific, Mr. Hood's name became internationally famous, and he was everywhere recognized as one of the great pioneer American railroad engineers. Mr. Hood retired from service May 3, 1921, on the anniversary of the day when first he obtained employment with the company. In spite of his eighty years of strenuous living, Mr. Hood was up until the time of his last short illness as hale and hearty as most men are at 45 or 50. He kept closely informed of engineering developments, was always interested in contemporary events.

Many of the West's outstanding railroad engineering achievements are attributed to Hood's genius. He was called upon to solve the most difficult engineering problems, and some of the feats he accomplished will prove lasting memorials to his ability.

The construction of the famous Tehachapi loop; the building of the Lucin cut-off, a causeway and trestle crossing the Great Salt Lake; the solution of the problem of the Siskiyous with an "S" line that crosses the Sacramento River 18 times and passes through 16 tunnels, one 3,000 feet long; the completion of the line that cuts through Carriso Gorge to unite the Imperial Valley with San Diego, are among the great engineering achievements he accomplished.

The Lucin cut-off, a 27 and one-half mile "bridge" across Great Salt Lake in Utah, was authorized on Hood's assurance that the work could be completed at reasonable cost in spite of the statements of many leading engineers that the project was impracticable.

He had been a pacemaker in American railroad engineering since the seventies. One of his early developments in mountain railroad construction inaugurated the practice of figuring grades as a whole from the summit down, in place of building the line from the bottom up in sections with no accurate estimate of the total grade required.

Under his direction the so-called "impossible railroad" through Carriso Gorge in Southern California, piercing solid granite with seventeen tunnels in eleven miles and clinging to the flank of a precipitous mountain between tunnels, was completed successfully.

He was the last of the great pioneer railroad engineers of the West, and was among the men who laid the first railroad track over the Sierra Nevadas, linking the new empire of the Pacific Coast with that of the East.

At the outbreak of the Civil War Hood enlisted in the Forty-Sixth Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteers, and saw service in some of the most sanguinary actions of the war. When mustered out he entered Dartmouth college, where he remained until 1867.

Inspired by the efforts to construct a railroad through the Rockies he left college and came to Sacramento and obtained employment with the Central Pacific at Cisco. He soon became assistant to S. S. Montague, the construction chief. In 1875 he became chief assistant engineer and a short time later completed the famous Tehachapi "loop," a revolutionary idea in railroad construction affecting savings of many thousands of dollars.

Mr. Hood was appointed chief engineer of the Southern Pacific in 1885. He was intimately acquainted with every portion of the company's lines, often surprising subordinates by his detailed knowledge of the country through which new construction was proceeding.

Hood was a member of the Jonathan, Bohemian, Pacific Union, Army Engineers, Army and Navy, and other clubs, and of Lincoln Post, G.A.R. He was also a life member of the San Francisco Press Club.

He is survived by his wife, Lucia Ottillia Hood; a daughter, Mrs. Jessie Wetzel; and two sisters, Mrs. Anna M. Hall and Mrs. Florence Hood Dillon.

Funeral services were held in San Francisco, August 28.


Courtesy of the Lynn D. Farrar Collection.

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