The China Wall of Donner Pass

The construction of the Central Pacific Railroad from Sacramento over the Sierra Nevada Mountains, would not have been possible without the thousands of Chinese laborers that gave their blood, sweat, and lives to the construction of the railroad. The workers, at their highest number, was 12,000, making the Chinese the largest work force on America at the time.

Many lost their lives to explosions, extreme cold, and avalanches. The Central Pacific Railway never kept records of Chinese fatalities, the true toll will remain a mystery to history.

On the the Old Donner Pass Road (Highway 40), just past the Rainbow Bridge, is the historical marker, “China Wall of the Sierra”. Looking just beyond the marker, a quick scramble up the hill, is the granite wall that holds up the roadbed between Tunnels #7 and 8. I sat on a bench of granite and sketched the wall from below.

The wall, which was built in 1867, was created to fill in a ravine and is 75 feet high. It is a testament to the workers, that after 150 years later the wall is still intact.

The upper China Wall on the right and the entrance to Tunnel #8 looking east along the now abandoned railroad bed.

An eastbound Union Pacific freight train at Norden, near Soda Spring Ski Resort. Around Donner Summit, the mainline has now been double tracked to the south of the original route of the Transcontinental Railroad. This stretch of iron was built by the Central Pacific which later became the Southern Pacific and then the SP merged with the Union Pacific on September 11, 1996.

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