The West and the East of the United States were connected
by railroad on 10 May 1869. The Central Pacific built east from
Sacramento, CA and the Union Pacific built west from Omaha, NE.
Both railroads had mountains to cross. The Central Pacific's challenge
began right from the start. There is a seven thousand foot climb
from Sacramento, at sea level, to the Donner Pass, seventy air
miles to the east. Both lines had access to federal bonds issued
by the Lincoln administration.
In June 1993, I was able to visit many of the difficult construction
sites in California with Lynn Farrar, senior engineer and historian
of the Southern Pacific Railroad. We walked in Bloomer Cut, Clipper
Gap, stood above filled in Secret Town trestle, visited Chalk Bluffs,
Blue Canyon and viewed tunnels at Summit. My photographs taken
on that trip, inform my paintings. The colors includes the sere
conditions at the mountain base, the deciduous zone ascending to
the conifer zone thinning to the exposed ledges and snow patches
at the Donner Pass.
The intuitive route could not have been followed in the valley of
the American or Bear Rivers. The sides were too steep and too sinuous
for a railroad. Therefore, the strategy was to find and to follow
uninterrupted ridges to the pass. Engineer Theodore D. Judah (1826-1863)
found the conceptual route. Chief engineer Samuel S. Montague (1830-1883)
fulfilled the alignment selection and route engineering. In time,
trestles were filled in, curves eased and tunnels added, all to reduce
grade and to allow greater speeds. The Central Pacific expanded in
the west and evolved to become the Southern Pacific Railroad.
My paintings depict the Sierra Nevada from their base near Roseville,
CA to the peaks at Donner Pass. The locomotive of the Southern Pacific,
in black widow livery, and the locomotive of the Union Pacific, in
armor yellow livery, are posed in 1996. That year, the UP acquired
the SP to form the largest US railroad. Rivals from 1869, now they
were joined, after 127 years of fierce competition. The flanking
locomotives, in blue and gray livery, represent Amtrak, assisted
by each railroad since its inception in 1970.
These paintings are dedicated to Samuel Skerry Montague, my great-grandfather.
Malcolm Montague Davis