Chapter 9

Written by: Ant Gavin Smits

Railroad President Jordan listened, amused, to his daughter’s rant. But his palms sweated as he remembered the Chinese strike. A negro strike would be calamitous: he’d lose the railroad race.

He sent the oafish overseer packing. However, he had another problem. An Irish son-in-law? Lucy’s heart needed its distraction removed.

“Promoted?”

Liam’s grin widened; what fortune. As assistant to the famous Leslie Clement, he would be there when the railroads connected. He whooped, and leapt from the carriage door, kicking up dust as he sprinted to pack his few belongings.

v

Liam woke and threw off the skins. Freezing! But he didn’t want to miss a minute. Someone had rekindled the fire; tea-water bubbled. Breath hung in clouds as more men joined the circle; they discussed the extraordinary task ahead.

Some late-season snow had fallen; the tents looked new, their filthy, ragged cloth dusted white. Thirty yards away, old Jupiter heated up, belching cinders from her v-shaped funnel.

Liam splashed icy water on his face. He couldn’t recall his last shave; only his tatty waistcoat marked him as a supervisor.

Jupiter’s whistle shrilled; she snorted steam. Liam climbed onto the last flatcar. He perched on a wobbly keg, watching while coolies streaming from the Chinese camp swarmed the train; an amorphous mass like maggots on a carcass.

The flatcar’s couplings clanked; it jerked, gathered speed. Liam was grateful of George Elliot’s shoulder to lean on as his keg swayed; he feared it might topple. He looked around; Irish and Chinese riding together to destiny. But many just leaned together, eyes closed, too weary to care how many rails they’d carry.

He grinned at George, eyes alight with anticipation. The pair joked as young men do before battle, making light of the effort ahead. Liam slapped his back.

“Once-in-a-lifetime,” he yelled in George’s ear.

They stopped; Liam tumbled off his keg, dodging the fast-moving coolies as they unloaded: 30 foot lengths of 56 pound rail; bolts; spikes, endplates, tools and more; it all cascaded to the rocky ground in a cacophony.

They loaded handcars on the line; horses pulled the first to the end of the previous day’s work. His team reacted fast: two grabbed a rail and pulled it out over rollers. Four swinging mauls spiked it, three blows per spike. Then the next. Countless ones after it. The ten-miles-in-a-day record beckoned; they didn’t stop. Oh, the din! Fifty bellringers out of sync couldn’t have competed. But the line advanced over a hundred feet a minute.

Liam took a breath. Behind them, hundreds of coolies in sweaty jackets and greasy caps tamped ballast and unloaded handcar after handcar.

Greeley only imagined this; he was living it.

At lunch, when the camp and water train puffed up to feed them, Leslie Clement found him, black as a miner, squatting with an enamel mug of tea.

Satisfaction glowed on Clement’s face; Liam decided he had to know about the rumor.

“Is it true the last spike we lay will be solid gold?”

 

Comments

This certainly gives us more insight into the conditions and surroundings that the men building the railroad endured. They must have been a real tough lot. Anthony has written a chapter full of detail. My only crit on this is that 17 semi colons in 500 words was a little much for me. I think it could have read a lot smoother with better sentence construction. That apart, a good chapter.
Getting to the end of line. Masses of Chinese used as labour. This is a great example of history.
Very fast and a lot happened. Personally I would slow it down after a few paras of speed, but, that's just me.
On a historical note, and correct me if I'm wrong, I believe the Chinese workers were mainly on the west to east railway gang, and it was the Irish and ex-military men running from east to west. And I believe we are on the east to west railway.
You are right of course, Matt (semi colon deleted) the workforce from the West were 90% Chinese, (and a few Irish, and others). They worked on the line being built from Sacramento, being constructed by The Central Pacific RR. There were a number of inconsistencies in the prior chapters I couldn't reconcile, such as Liam reaching the railroad builders at the Union Pacific base (in Wyoming on the eastern side), but being taken in by the President of Central Pacific. As the President, and his daughter, were significant characters, I elected to leave Liam working for Central, and made it all fit from there. Perhaps the President of Central had been visiting his competitor to talk about their respective progress, the day Liam just happened to show up and rescue the damsel?
Ah, I see, nice one. Well sorted. And yes, I'm happy with your story about the visiting competitor.
I've been trying to find info on Leslie Clement, but can't find any. I found a Lewis Clement - maybe they're related? I'll keep searching. Only reason I mention is because I'm writing the next chapter. If anyone knows the answer, please let me know. Thanks.
You probably found the right guy. Lewis M. Clement is the figure I based my 'Leslie' on. As mentioned in this article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Transcontinental_Railroad and here: http://cprr.org/Museum/Lewis_Metzler_Clement.html

I'm looking forward to reading what happens next.