The World's Work: A History of Our Time
Volume XV: Pages 10144-10150
Article Page 2

Casting about for a new campaign of attack on Death Valley, borax traffic hit upon the scheme of some visionary genius and built a graded road, over which traction engines were to haul long trains of wagons around Kingston Range and down the Mesquite Valley to Ivanpah, where the Sante Fe railroad had a spur [Nevada Southern - Ed.]. The road completed, the project was promptly pronounced a failure. There in the desert the road still lies, a magnificent, expensive specimen of road-building, over which not one load has ever passed.

This unsuccessful experiment demonstrated that sooner or later a railroad had to go to Death Valley; the sooner, the less expensive. So the "T&T" came about. The original plan, however, was to bring the new railroad up from Las Vegas, around the Charleston and Kingston ranges. All surveys were made over the route and a large gang of graders began work out from Las Vegas.

But at this point the potentates of the Salt Lake Railroad and the prospective "T&T" had different ideas about future freight rates over the Salt Lake Railroad. Without discussing the question at any great length, the "T&T" people opened negotiations with the Santa Fe Railroad and at the same time ran surveys up the Mojave and Amargossa valleys. Then, one night in September, 1006, the grading gang was put aboard train at Las Vegas and the next day unloaded down at Ludlow, a two-house wayside station on the Santa Fe that had previously existed because of some mines seven miles to the south.

Before the week was out a thousand men were grading along the line of the new survey. One year later the "desert rats" of Death Valley, peering from Funeral Range, could see in the distance the toy-like outline of the "Death Valley Limited", a facetious sobriquet given the nondescript train that followed on the heels of the track-laying gang. Two years after the Las Vegas exodus, Rhyolite with much enthusiasm and more publicity welcomed the first "T&T" train through for Los Angeles.

Jumbled with Rhyolite's jollification was a handful of desert men, the engineers, superintendents, and foremen who had brought the new railroad through desert cañons around desert hills. They could celebrate the railroad's completion with the enthusiasm of men who had accomplished a hard work well done; for desert railroad-building at its easiest is never play, and it took the ripe experience of many years of desert railroad-building to overcome the obstacles of the Death Valley route. Given a two-hundred-mile stretch of country to traverse, from which not one gallon of water nor one pound of food could be levied, the builders of the "T&T", in taking care of their 1,000 laborers strewn along the survey, had something more than trigonometrical problems to solve.

No Arctic expedition ever moved forward with more organized care than the "T&T" crept northward through the sun and sand. The engineers practically built the road from a ten-by-ten pine-board office at Ludlow. From the laying of the first tie to the spiking of the last rail, every detail of the work was executed from this little room. As the steel rails pushed their way up the Mojave and Amargossa Washes, the little office, by means of a pioneer telephone line, kept constantly in leash the steel-gang at the end of the completed track, the half-dozen grading outfits strung ahead for twenty miles, and the surfacing camp ten miles to the rear.

System was carried to the third degree. If the cook at Eagle Mountain grading-camp had grown intolerable, if the blasters in Amargossa cañon needed powder, or the surfacers needed prunes, the Ludlow office knew it, and powder, prunes, and cook were immediately on the way to the front. Upon a chart in the Ludlow headquarters, every sundown, the movement of each gang was registered—where it was, what progress it had made that day, and what it should accomplish on the morrow. If the steelgang was crossing a trestle, the chart had the when and where of it recorded. There was twenty-four hours' work daily in the ten-by-ten headquarters; and the road went through without a setback.

No labor difficulties bothered progress, even when the railroad passed the California boundary line into Nevada, where master and man often have antagonistic ideas about labor conditions. The laborers were easily handled. Working under the intense desert heat, away from grass, trees, and water, develops a peculiar workman. He is a silent, plodding fellow. He is out in the desert because of good pay; because, freed from the calls of the city, even a spendthrift can save money. So he sticks obediently, even grimly, at his task, living for the future, whether it is the prospect of a little home or a week's spree and then back to the desert. He works, eats, and sleeps as methodically as a machine. During that soft, restful portion of the day between the evening meal and darkness, even his attempts at amusement are subdued. Intoxicating liquors are never allowed in camp. Quarreling is unknown. When the shadows grow heavy on the burnt hills, the entire camp rolls itself in blankets and sinks into the intense silence and noiseless sounds of the desert night.

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03/21/2010