World's Work (1900-1932) was a monthly magazine which celebrated the American way of life and its expanded role on the world stage. In 1932 it was purchased by and merged into the journal Review of Reviews. It was founded in 1900 and edited by Walter Hines Page until 1913 when his son Arthur W. Page became the editor.
SEIZING THE DESERT'S LAST STRONGHOLD
INTO the desert town of Rhyolite there puffed and pulled one day last autumn an undersized locomotive with its coal tender, or rather oil-tank, and half a dozen dust covered coaches, including a private car and several Pullman sleepers. From these coaches disembarked a crowd of prosperous-looking men. Otherwise, the train displayed nothing remarkable, nothing nearly so bizarre as the dozen freight-cars, the second-hand passenger coach, and the single truck electric car which was to make up the regular "Express and Local" of days to follow. But it was the first train to run over the completed Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad.
By all caņons of Nevada etiquette, it was proper that Rhyolite should honor the occasion with a "gala day," fittingly heralded in the press of the land; for, out on the desert, the completion of a railroad to a mining camp surrounded by salable prospects acts as " Giant Powder No. i" with a strong dash of "glycerine." The first train comes in with a boom whose shock-waves are registered in every stock exchange from 'Frisco to "the curb." Not for one golden second did Rhyolite and its sagacious promoters neglect the first train over the "T&T". There were fireworks and firewater in abundance. A brass band imported from Los Angeles "discoursed inspiring music." Spellbinders, picked from desert dignitaries and railroad potentates, spun golden, grandiloquent metaphors about the future greatness of the city - Rhyolite scorns the appellation "camp" - till they set going the echoes of the desert hills. A great day was this coming of the "T&T" - just such a day as a hundred desert camps, now forgotten, had riotously celebrated, and such as a hundred other camps, not yet staked out on the Great American Desert, will celebrate again.
But aside from any news value of Rhyolite's celebration, aside from the fact that the new railroad gave a shorter route by over a hundred miles from Los Angeles to the Nevada goldfields than the Las Vegas road, the completion of the Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad was an event of unique significance. That pioneer train, starting from Ludlow, a little sun-baked Santa Fe station in the heart of the Mojave Desert, had picked its way up the Great Mojave Wash. Skirting the lower end of Death Valley by a bare thirteen miles, it had dragged itself through the long, hot length of Amargossa [sic] Caņon into the sizzling dry lakes of Amargossa Wash. It had passed in the torrid shadow of Eagle Mountain where a railroad spur, turning to the west, ran almost to the foothills of Funeral Range. When, finally, it brought up in Rhyolite, it had traversed one hundred and seventy miles [163 - Ed.] of sand and sun, greasewood and cactus which had been the haunt of rattlesnakes, coyotes, a few prospectors, and freighters of borax. The initial trip of this desert railroad marked the first successful assault on the last and strongest desert citadel, Death Valley.
For more than a quarter of a century an uphill fight was waged against the desert defenses of Death Valley. One by one, other desert strongholds fell, but the valley of grim names and grimmer traditions jealously guarded its isolation. By flaunting its worthlessness and its bitter hardships, it forbade approach to all save those desert Argonauts who dared its pitiless sun and maddening maze of caņons to bring back its Golden Fleece, whose other name is borax.
When borax, several decades ago, was still a laboratory oddity, a precipitate borax was found on the dry lakes of the Death Valley sink. The value of this discovery was fully appreciated, because some chemist had ascertained that borax, in addition to being an aid in smelting and other specific uses, was an exceptionally good soap, especially for hard water.
But in those days Death Valley was a long way from civilization and bore a most unsavory reputation. Early overland emigrants seeking a short-cut had tried the deep valley beyond the long chain of mountains - later to be dubbed Funeral Range - and had fared badly. Whole parties would become bewildered while crossing the valley's glaring salt-crystal floor and lose their way, to wander into the quicksands of salt-marshes and perish, or, sun-crazed and thirst-tortured, to try in vain the many little caņons and gullies that radiate from the rim of the sink like the tentacles of a devil-fish. Even desert Indians gave the region an ugly name - Valley of Skulls. As the years went by, only those nomad prospectors termed "desert rats," those gaunt-bodied, gaunt-faced men, with queer eyes burning in cavernous sockets, challenged the sweltering solitude of this man-shunned valley.
But, when civilization wants anything, the time is not long until civilization has it. Civilization wanted borax. Up in Death Valley plenty of it had been left by evaporation of boracic acid that had oozed up through the volcanic ash of the valley or had washed down from the adjacent mountain ranges.
The problem was to freight it by wagon a hundred miles to Daggett or Mojave, a weary, costly transportation. The round-trip consumed a week. Food and water had to be carried every foot of the way. Even special wagons were necessary - tall-bedded vehicles with wheels seven feet high and seven inches across the tire. Built to order in Mojave, they cost $1,000 each. Two wagons, a trailing water-tank, and twenty hardy mules made up the primitive "Death Valley Express."
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