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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Max and the missing railroad

I met up with a group of friends Saturday night. One of my friends, Max, is a retired Civil Engineer turned historian; he has published several books. Last night he told us about the time he visited the Ames Pyramid.

The Ames Pyramid is a monument east of Laramie Wyoming along the route of the First Transcontinental Railroad. When Max visited it, fifty years ago, he discovered that the railroad no longer goes past the monument. He wanted to know why. Being a historian, he did some research and wrote a short paper documenting what he learned. Summarized below is the story Max told us:
Grenville Dodge was a officer during the American Civil war and the campaigns against the American Indians. Dodge left the military and went to work scouting and surveying the route for the First Transcontinental Railroad. While scouting the route between modern day Cheyenne Wy. and Laramie Wy. Dodge and his party came under attack by natives who opposed the railroad cutting through their territory. Dodge ordered his men into a dry creek bed now called Lone Tree creek. They followed this creek back to their encampment at Cheyenne. Dodge latter realized the route along the creek would be a good route for the railroad to follow through the Laramie mountains. The route turned out to be the highest point (8,247 feet) along the railroad, and it also had the steepest grade along the route (90 feet rise per mile.)

Much of the funding for the First Transcontinental Railroad came from Crédit Mobilier headed by the Oakes Ames. His brother Oliver Ames was president of the Union Pacific Railroad. The two brothers also owned a company that supplied equipment to the railroad and mining industry. After the completion of the railroad the stockholders of the Union Pacific voted to erect a monument in honor of the Ames brothers. When it was completed, the monument was 300 feet south of the highest point along the railroad.

But Dodge had made a hasty decision to bring the railroad through this route. Had he scouted a little longer he would have discovered a better route a few miles further south. The new route passes through the Laramie mountains at an elevation of 8,202 feet with a grade of 45 feet per mile. The Ames monument now stands nearly forgotten bypassed by both the railroad and the Interstate highway. [Google Map]
Like most American children I had to take classes in American history. We learned about Christopher Columbus, the Pilgrims, dead Presidents, and all the Acts of Congress; there was probably a paragraph about the Transcontinental Railroad too. I haven't studied history since High School. But, Junior High and Hight School history classes don't include such juicy little snippets of history like the one Max gave us Saturday night.

I had never heard of the Ames Monument. If I ever heard of Grenville Dodge, Thomas Durant, or Oakes Ames I had long forgotten them. It amazes me to think if I had not met Max I would not have learned this very interesting bit of American history.

Thanks Max!