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Nature Notes An area rich in railroad history

Railroad history is visible off the Interstate 80 Moor exit.

 Historical sites abound in Elko County. I found this out when Jeff Moore, a local railroad history buff, told me the railroad history of a very nondescript Interstate 80 exit.

The Moor Exit, a few miles east of Wells, is a spot I have driven past hundreds of times without being aware of the history visible there.

 The above Google Earth photo is just north of the freeway, with the freeway exit just to the left, or west. The letter A marks a county road that leaves I-80 to travel around the north end of the Pequop Mountains. It was built over the top of the original Central Pacific Railroad rail line, constructed in early 1869 (mainly) by Chinese work gangs.

 The CPRR was building tracks east from Sacramento as the Union Pacific Railroad was building west. They were in a race to complete the nation’s first Transcontinental Railroad. The more track each company laid meant more money and land grants coming from Congress. As the CPRR laid these tracks, the UPRR was building track in Eastern Utah.

 The letter C marks the Southern Pacific Railroad’s current tracks. After the Transcontinental Railroad was completed, the CPRR went back and fixed or re-aligned some of the old track laid in such a hurry. In 1902, they moved the tracks to this location, abandoning the old rail line that later became a road.

 That in itself is interesting history but even more interesting is the line marked B.

Although Congress told the railroad companies they could lay track until the two lines met, the companies had surveyors and grading crews working far ahead of the track-laying crews. While the UPRR was laying track in or near Echo Canyon by Ogden, a survey crew was marking a route to Wells. At the same time, the CPRR surveyors marked a route through Echo Canyon. Both survey lines passed the other company’s track-laying crews. In the fall/ early winter of 1868, grading crews from the two companies passed each other at the north side of the Great Salt Lake.

 The line marked B shows grade constructed by the UPRR’s mostly Irish grading crews. This piece of grading is the farthest West the UPRR built grade in advance of the track crews.

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 Creating this grade at Moor, 100 miles in advance of the track laying did two things. It marked this area near Wells as potential track for the UPRR, with the company hoping Congress would allow them to build track this far West. It also claimed a specific route for future tracks.

 As the two railroads neared each other, there were 200 miles of parallel railroad grade, wasting around a million dollars as both companies tried to lay tracks as far as they could. However, the companies could see, based on their crews’ locations and rates of construction, the tracks would meet near Promontory Summit and they agreed on that spot. The real prize, however, was Ogden since the railroad that owned that site controlled trade into the Salt Lake Valley. As part of the agreement to stop at Promontory Summit, the CPRR bought the already built line from Promontory Point to Ogden, so the two railroads actually joined there.

 Visible at the Moor exit are the railroad grades built by Chinese work gangs and Irish crews in 1868-69 for the Transcontinental Railroad.


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