The Transcontinental Railroad

Since visiting Promontory Summit, where the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific met, thus completing the Transcontinental Railroad, I wanted to visit the location where the railroad started in California. So it was that I found myself on a Friday morning in “Old Town” Sacramento, on the banks of the Sacramento River.

A sign on the the side of the Central Pacific Railroad Freight Depot, notes, “You are standing where the First Transcontinental Railroad in America had its western origin, at Front and K Streets in Sacramento.” This location made sense because all of the materials used for the building was shipped up the Sacramento River from San Francisco and it was unloaded here. On January 8, 1863, then Governor and President of the Central Pacific, Leland Stanford, turned a shovelful of dirt, the official start of building the western leg of the Transcontinental Railway.

IMG_2777Just below this sign, is the birthplace of the Transcontinental Railway on the banks of the Sacramento River.

The other reason I found myself in Old Town was to visit the California State Railway Museum. The museum was opened in 1981 and I was there with my father to see SP’s No. 4449 and UP’s No. 8444 (now numbered 844) on the opening day. But today as these engines where back in Portland and Cheyenne and I was here to see a another very important steam engine: the Central Pacific’s No. 1 the Gov. Stanford.

This American type 4-4-0 was the first locomotive purchased by the Central Pacific at a cost of $13,688. The engine was built in Philadelphia in 1862 and then shipped on the Herald of there Morning around the horn of South America to California where it was reassembled in Sacramento. Stephan Ambrose notes of the 50,000 lb locomotive, in his book Nothing Like in the World, “the Governor Stanford [was] the biggest man-made thing in California”. This engine has many notable firsts for the Central Pacific: it hauled the first excursion train and the first passenger train on April 15, 1864 and the first freight train on March 25, 1864. It also took part in building the Transcontinental Railway with hauling supplies for the construction of the line over the Sierra Nevada mountains.

The engine was slated to be scrapped in 1895 but it was saved and donated to Jane Lathrop Stanford, widow of Leland Stanford, in 1899 where it was put on display at Stanford University. It was later loaned to the California State Railway Museum where it is on display near where it first steamed to life on November 6, 1863, on the banks of the Sacramento.

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