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FULL STEAM AHEAD by Rhoda Blumberg


The Race to Build a Transcontinental Railroad

by Rhoda Blumberg

Age Range: 11 - 14

Pub Date: May 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-7922-2715-8
Publisher: National Geographic

 Among the best storytellers writing history today, Blumberg (The Remarkable Voyages of Captain Cook, 1991, etc.) presents one of the most ambitious construction projects in modern times as a colorful tale of relentless cupidity and heroic, roughneck effort. Apparently everyone except teamsters, riverboat operators, and Native Americans agreed that a transcontinental railroad was a good idea, but sorting out the politics of its route and financing (plus the burden of a civil war) took five times as long as its actual construction. Blumberg introduces the main players, from Leland Stanford and other ruthless capitalists to the visionary engineers and tough foremen--especially Theodore Judah, Grenville Dodge and James Strobridge--who saw the work through; she pays tribute to the thousands of Chinese immigrants who carved a path through the Sierra Nevadas, paints a vivid picture of the wild life in Laramie and other railroad towns, and brings the story to a conclusion with the famous meeting at Promontory Summit, Utah (not miles-distant Promontory Point, as many accounts have it), where ceremonies ``neither dignified nor inspirational'' nonetheless touched off a national celebration. A generous selection of contemporary black-and-white photographs and enlarged engravings capture the rowdy town and work-camp life while underscoring the sheer number of people involved in the enterprise. Since Blumberg touches only on the specifics of railroad construction, working conditions, various financial scandals, and railroad lore and legend, pair this with Leonard Everett Fisher's Tracks Across America (1992) for a more complete picture. (map, notes, bibliography, index) (Nonfiction. 11-14)