• A portrait of Thomas C. Durant of the Union Pacific Railroad Company. Courtesy of the New York Public Library.

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    Thomas C. Durant
    • Standardized Rights Statement
    • http://rightsstatements.org/vocab/NoC-US/1.0/
    • Partner
    • The New York Public Library
    • Contributing Institution
    • The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection. The New York Public Library

  • A photo of Union Pacific Railroad construction employees. Courtesy of the Utah State Historical Society via the Mountain West Digital Library.

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    Union Pacific Railroad -Construction Employees P. 5; No. 00846
    • Date
    • 2008-12-05
    • Creator
    • Russell, Andrew J
    • Description
    • The arrival of the paymaster's car was the occasion that gathered a large group of Union Pacific employees together at Blue Creek just below the present Wasatch administration area. Most were Civil War veterans and the faded greys and blues were alwa... more
      The arrival of the paymaster's car was the occasion that gathered a large group of Union Pacific employees together at Blue Creek just below the present Wasatch administration area. Most were Civil War veterans and the faded greys and blues were always in evidence in the line. Thiokol Chemical Corp. donor. Photo by Andrew J. Russell. Paymaster's car at camps Junction (near present day Thiokol Administration Bldg.) Car 1244 new from Michigan Car W. Detroit, c. June 1869. less
    • Rights
    • Digital Image © 2008 Utah State Historical Society. All Rights Reserved.
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    • Mountain West Digital Library
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    • Utah State Historical Society

  • A report by Thomas C. Durant to the Union Pacific Railroad Board of Directors. Courtesy of HathiTrust.

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    Union Pacific Railroad [electronic resource] : report of Thomas C. Durant, vice-president and general manager, to the Board of Directors, in relation to the surveys made up to the close of the year 1864
    • Date
    • 1866
    • Creator
    • Durant, Thomas C. (Thomas Clark), 1820-1885.
    • Description
    • Tables. Electronic reproduction. 44.
    • Rights
    • Public domain. Learn more at http://www.hathitrust.org/access_use
    • Partner
    • HathiTrust

The Union Pacific Railroad Company quickly laid track and racked up milesand government money. Under the leadership of Thomas Durant, they altered the original transcontinental route to add more miles for profit. Durant also had a habit of withholding wages from the men working on the railway, leading to strikes. It is only fitting that the Union Pacific developed a scandalous reputation and the infamous nickname “Hell on Wheels” for Durant’s tactics, as well as the saloons, brothels, and gambling houses that followed the laborers as they built the railroad.

The Central Pacific was a different kind of hell. The “Big Four,” a group of big businessmen, philanthropists, and railroad tycoons at the helm of the Central Pacific, were looking to turn a big profit, and wanted to ensure that their railroad would connect California to the East Coast. This was by no means an easy task. The Central Pacific was only able to put down 100 miles over the first five years of the project as the steep and treacherous Sierra Nevada mountain range proved to be a formidable obstacle.

Both companies were guilty of trying to lay as much track as possible in order to earn more money—neither wanted to lose even a mile to the competition. However, the race was ultimately a runaway victory for the Union Pacific, which was able to lay 1,085 miles of track to the 690 miles put down by the Central Pacific. Ultimately, the 1,900 miles of track challenged the strength and courage of the tens of thousands of men who laid it hand by hand through rough terrain, difficult climates, and the often unwelcoming populations who lived along its path.