Union Pacific Country by Robert Athearn w Dust jacket

Union Pacific Country by Robert Athearn w Dust jacket

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Union Pacific Country by Robert Athearn w Dust jacket
 
Union Pacific Country By Robert Athearn 480 Pages  Hard COVER with dust jacket  Copyright 1971, SECOND PRINTING 1972   Indexed
As the American frontier moved across the Appalachians and approached the Mississippi River, one dominating subject of conversation among settlers was the need for improved transportation facilities. The need was partially remedied, during the 1820s and 1830s, with the construction of canals and turnpikes.
Both the Erie Canal and the National Road were regarded by contemporaries as great engineering projects, achievements that also swelled the national pride and promised accelerated economic development for the West. However, as improved as were these means of transportation and travel, each had its limitations, especially during winter. But a railroad promised speedy, relatively cheap, and all-weather service. During the 1840s and 1850s the "canal craze" gave way to a "railroad mania" and even the smallest villages hoped that they would be connected to the mainstream of the American economy by these magic threads of iron.
The pre-Civil War decade was one of railroad expansion in the West and of consolidation in the more settled parts of the land. Dreamers talked of spanning the continent, of reaching out to the Orient, and of joining the oceans with an iron link. But the great sectional question intervened and confined the effort to planning and surveying, as North and South fought over which region should be the beneficiary of such progress. A panic in 1857 tended to temporarily dry up capital, and by the time this financial distress had been alleviated the Civil War had erupted, diverting national attention for another four years.
Although the war plugged ordinary economic arteries and overloaded others, momentarily setting at rest any talk of rail expansion, the long-range effect was to be beneficial. The isolation of the West now became a matter of national concern, particularly after a Confederate thrust penetrated New Mexico and seriously threatened Colorado. The entire Pacific
Coast, including mineral-rich California, stood in danger of possible foreign intervention. Tethered to the Union by the most fragile of connections, the trans-Missouri West became increasingly the nation's concern. Not unusual, therefore, were Lincoln's efforts to reassure the American people that his administration's intent to protect this domain would include a specific proposal for a railroad to the western sea.
The Pacific Railroad Act of 1862 was enacted because of a wartime emergency, but in congressional minds, it also fulfilled a promise to the nation, a promise underscored by the supplementary Act of 1864, that the government would help to carry out a project which had been talked about for three decades. As the war ended, private enterprise responded to the attractions provided by congressional legislation and at long last rail-laying began.
The war-weary American public, sickened by the destruction wrought during the fratricidal conflict, gladly turned its attention to this constructive enterprise. As the rails reached for each other from Sacramento and Omaha, there developed a mounting excitement among a people who traditionally loved a contest. The drama of crews battling Indians and the elements, of crossing high mountains and dangerous deserts, and roistering far into the night after having labored during heroic days not only intrigued contemporaries, but it would also hold hostage the minds of those who would recount the great event in the decades to come. Writers would invariably label it "A Work of Giants" or "Moguls and Iron Men" to describe the superhuman effort of the builders. The movement toward Utah would be called the "High Road to Promontory" or "Westward to Promontory" to depict that lonely point on a Utah summit as the ultimate goal. And May 10, 1869, would represent not only the climax of the story, but also its conclusion. For a century after that date Americans regarded the event much the same as had those who watched the ceremonial spike-driving: a moment of triumph, the successful and satisfying realization of an American dream.
The story of the Union Pacific's development in the years following that champagne-drenched day at Promontory has never been told. Nelson Trottman's History of the Union Pacific (1923) came closest. That work, written by an attorney and subtitled "A Financial and Economic Survey," dealt largely with administrative matters and corporate problems. Because of the vast amount of material available on that aspect alone, the author was able to devote only a single 20-page chapter to the growth of auxiliary and branch lines. Yet the trackage of those feeders was more than four times larger than the core system (including the Kansas Pacific and the Denver Pacific).
The original line served only a relatively narrow strip of land across
Nebraska, while portions of the road in both Wyoming and Utah crossed country that even today is hardly regarded as a garden spot. If the UP's managers hoped to own anything but a carrier of through traffic they had to expand the road far beyond the confines of the granted lands. Company officials recognized this at an early date and began at once to think in terms of feeders that would augment main line traffic. As that policy was put into effect, piece by piece, there developed a large segment of the West that might properly be called "Union Pacific Country."
Executives of the modern Union Pacific recognize that the spread of the system and the development of the country through which the road and its many branches ran comprise the real history of the mad. As the centennial year approached, and as the flow of "Dash to Promontory" books began, these officials looked with increasing interest at the prospect of telling the story that might well be entitled "Promontory Epilogue." After long discussions with Arthur Z. Gray, President of the Union Pacific Foundation, it was agreed that I should undertake such a study. The conferences were the result of a deep interest in the subject expressed to Mr. Gray by E. Roland Harriman, son of E. Fl. Harriman and then Chairman of the Union Pacific's Executive Committee.
The principal concern of these men was that the book be written independently and with as much objectivity as possible. Although they offered to support my efforts during summers, when I might otherwise have engaged in teaching, they stressed that all points of view, attitudes, and conclusions were to be mine and mine alone. They further promised that no company doors would remain closed in my search for materials pertinent to the study. I am happy to say that this agreement was carried out to the letter. Even better, company employees who had knowledge of the whereabouts of material that might be useful came forward and volunteered their help in making it available to me.
The principal problem I faced was that of recounting the growth of a railroad empire made up of a great many lines, large and small. The country they served stretched from the Missouri River to the Pacific Northwest and from Texas to Montana. By the early 1900s it would involve Nevada and California, when the Los Angeles to Salt Lake City line was included, and for a brief moment would include the whole Southern Pacific system. In an effort to make the story as manageable as possible I decided to concern myself principally with what might be thought of as the pioneering period of the company's history, or, to put it another way, the pre-Harriman era. Even within that scope, choices had to be made. I elected not to dwell heavily upon the original construction aspects, since that has been done many times, but rather to take the point of view of those contemporaries who waited patiently in the West for the coming of the railroad. Using that background I then made an effort to tell the story of the road's penetration of a virgin land and to make some assessment of both the problems encountered and the successes or failures in solving them. So voluminous is the material available for a work of this kind that a great many things had to be left out or merely touched upon if a readable and understandable result were to be reached. This then is not intended to be the history of a railroad company, but rather one chapter in the larger story of how the American West was penetrated, settled, and developed with the aid of steam and iron.

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