Transcontinental Railroad

Week 2: Transcontinental Railroad


Read K – 3: Railroad! By Darice Bailer AND Read NOTE* 

4 – 6:  The Golden Spike by R. Conrad Stein OR Railroad Fever: Building the Transcontinental Railroad by Monica Halpern AND Read NOTE*      

7– 8: The Journal of Sean Sullivan by William Durbin (My Name is America Series) AND Read NOTE* 

* Note:

There were 2 Railroad companies building railroad tracks across America.  The Union Pacific (UP) was building from the east towards the West.  The Central Pacific (CP) was building from the west towards the East.  The goal was to have railroad tracks running the length of the United States.  The overseers for the UP were Jack and Dan Casement.  (They were brothers.)  The overseer for the CP was Charlie Crocker.

Charlie had a hard time finding workers to build his CP railroad.  A friend suggested that he hire Chinese workers.  He thought they would be too weak and small to handle the hard work, but after hiring 50 Chinese workers and seeing their progress, he quickly hired 50 more.  White workers got angry and threatened to quit because of the Chinese immigrants.  He let them go and hired more Chinese workers.  The Chinese immigrants worked hard and did not complain like the white workers.  They were less likely to fight and get drunk.

The UP hired many immigrants born in Poland and Germany, and they also hired many newly freed slaves.  But the majority of their workers were Irish immigrants.  The Irish worked hard but they also had a reputation for drinking, gambling, and fighting.

Congress promised railroad companies large amounts of money for every mile of track they completed.  Many towns formed close to where railroad tracks were laid.  The UP had easier terrain to lay tracks on; it was mostly prairie land.  The CP had to dig a huge tunnel through the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  Although Congress gave this land to the railroad companies, they ignored the fact they had promised this land to the Native Americans.  The Indians were angry; this was their land and they had nowhere else to go.  Indians often attacked UP railroad workers.  The CP had no problems with Native Americans; when Indians came to watch the work being done, Charlie hired them.

There was a race to see which company would reach Utah first.  Americans would read the newspapers every day to find out the progress the railroad companies were making.  The CP made the mistake of laying the tracks like a snake to avoid having to cut through hills.  The UP made the mistake of nailing tracks into snow and ice instead of the ground.  When the snow and ice melted the tracks were not secure.  The 2 railroad companies met at Promontory Point in Utah.  The last spike nailed into the ground was made of pure gold.  (It was quickly removed and replaced with a regular spike.)  Telegraphers were present to announce the news that it was completed.  The liberty bell chimed and great parades were held in many cities.  Overall, 20,000 men hammered 1,175 miles of track in 3 years.  It was a huge accomplishment!


  •  What were the names of the 2 railroad companies? (Central Pacific, Union Pacific)
  • What workers mostly laid tracks for the CP? (Chinese)
  • What workers mostly laid tracks for the UP? (Irish)
  • Why did the companies work so hard to complete the tracks? (Congress promised railroad companies huge amounts of land and money for each mile of track laid.)
  • Which company had easier land to work on? Why? (Union Pacific; they had to lay tracks on prairie land.  The Central Pacific had to dig tunnels through the Sierra Nevada Mountains.)
  • Which company had trouble with Indian attacks? (UP)
  • What mistakes did the companies make? (Did not always lay tracks straight; hammered tracks into snow and ice)
  • How did the U.S. hear the good news that the tracks were finished? (telegraph)


K – 2: Transcontinental Railroad coloring page:

3 – 4: Railroad Comparison Chart worksheet: railroad comparison

5 – 6: Do the following:

  1. Read this “Re-enactment of the Last Spike Ceremony” on this website:
  2. Then answer questions from the “Last Spike Ceremony” worksheet: Last Spike Ceremony worksheet

7 – 8: Do the following:

  1. Read this “Re-enactment of the Last Spike Ceremony” on this website:
  2. Then answer the questions from the “Last Spike Ceremony” worksheet: Last Spike Ceremony worksheet
  3. Finally write a short essay on one of the following topics on the back of your worksheet:
  • Describe some of the dangers Sean Sullivan and other workers faced while working on the railroad.
  • Describe some of the “unclean” conditions Sean experienced.
  • What bad habits did you see in Sean’s coworkers? How did their habits affect their work?
  • Toward what groups of people did Sean’s coworkers make racist remarks? Why do you think they felt as they did?

Copyright February 24th, 2016 by Gwen Fredette


Leave a comment

Filed under Charlotte Mason, Post Civil War Era

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s