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Bill Thayer

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Epic of the Overland
Robert Lardin Fulton

The Book and the Author

Among the many books written on the Transcontinental Railroad, both at the time and later, this short work deserves a special place, providing a more human view than we usually get. While Fulton does cover the vision, the financing, and a bit of the practical engineering, his focus is more concerned with the people involved, both the shakers and movers and the ordinary people who worked on the road or followed those who did: Theodore Judah who dreamt and struggled the Pacific Railroad into existence; the crusty superintendents, the drunks and outlaws, the Indians — even the buffaloes, so grateful to be provided with thousands of good scratching posts expressly provided for them at considerable trouble and expense by the builders of the road.

The same edition of this book — there seems to be no other, and the print run was not big — can also be found online as a single long scan (34 MB) in PDF format, well done nevertheless, at the Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum.

A brief biographical sketch of Robert Fulton is given in the text itself, before the Foreword; I've extended it with a few details from another source.

[image ALT: A crowd of maybe a hundred people in 19c dress, some of them in elegant formal wear, others in Western-type work clothes, standing for the most part between two locomotives, on an otherwise barren spot of scrubby terrain. On the viewer's right, a wooden pole about 8 meters tall, capped by a large American flag: one man has climbed up to the top of it and stands on a crossbar; two others are climbing up a ladder below him. To our left, some of the men in the crowd are on horseback.]

The joining of the Central and Union Pacific Railroads,
Promontory Summit, May 10, 1869.

Several rather different photographs of the event were taken; see elsewhere onsite.


Robert Lardin Fulton




The Central Pacific


The Union Pacific



The Joining of the Central and Union Pacific Railroads, Promontory Summit, May 10, 1869


Robert Lardin Fulton


B. F. Leete


Theodore D. Judah


The First Office of the Central Pacific Railroad


Mark Hopkins, Treasurer Central Pacific Railroad


Charles Crocker, Superintendent Construction Central Pacific Railroad


Leland Stanford, President Central Pacific Railroad


Collis P. Huntington, Vice-President Central Pacific Railroad


Central Pacific Construction Camp, 1869


Laying the Central Pacific Track Through the Humboldt Desert, 1868


Yanks Station. Stage and Freighters' Headquarters, near Lake Tahoe, 1862


Building the Telegraph Line, Central Pacific Railroad, Humboldt Desert, 1868


William Hood, Assistant Engineer Central Pacific Railroad


J. H. Strobridge, Superintendent of Construction, Central Pacific Railroad


Building Through the Forest. Central Pacific Railroad, Sierra Nevada Mountains, 1864


Strawberry Valley, Sierra Nevada Mountains, Before the Building of the Railroad


Grenville M. Dodge, Major-Gen. U. S. A., Chief Engineer Union Pacific Railroad


Before the Day of the Railroad


Evanston, 1869


Wasatch in 1869


Summit of the Sierra Nevada. Freighting Supplies into Nevada Before the Day of the Railroad


Freighting Over the Sierra Before the Building of the Railroad. Along the Truckee River


Mark Twain, 1864


Indians' First View of Railroad Train


Pony Express Station. Carrying the U. S. Mail Prior to Railroad


Train Stopped by Buffalo Herd



In addition, a black-and‑white map of the combined overland system, as first built, is inserted as a long fold-out between the two principal sections of the book. For readability, I've colorized it following my usual method:

[image ALT: A railroad map of the United States.]

The Pacific Railway
As Completed May 10, 1869
A version large enough to be fully readable (5.8 MB) is also available.

[decorative delimiter]

Technical Details

Edition Used

The edition transcribed here is the original, A. M. Robertson, 1924. It is in the public domain because the copyright was not renewed at the appropriate time, which would have been in 1951 or 1952: details here on the copyright law involved.


In the printed edition, the illustrations, often in pairs, were tipped in on special high-quality glossy paper inserts fa­cing the pages indicated in the table above. I've moved many of them from their original places, the better to accompany the text.


As almost always, I retyped the text by hand rather than scanning it — not only to minimize errors prior to proofreading, but as an opportunity for me to become intimately familiar with the work, an exercise I heartily recommend: Qui scribit, bis legit. (Well-meaning attempts to get me to scan text, if success­ful, would merely turn me into some kind of machine: gambit declined.)

This transcription has been minutely proofread. In the table of contents above, the sections are shown on blue backgrounds, indicating that I believe the text of them to be completely errorfree. As elsewhere onsite, the header bar at the top of each chapter's webpage will remind you with the same color scheme.

The edition I transcribed was very well proofread: I found very few identifiable typographical errors, although I didn't check all the dates and numbers.

A small number of odd spellings, curious turns of phrase, etc. have been marked <!‑‑ sic  in the sourcecode, just to confirm that they were checked.

Any mistakes are thus probably my own, so please drop me a line, of course: especially if you have a copy of the printed book in front of you.

Pagination and Local Links

For citation and indexing purposes, the pagination is shown in the right margin of the text at the page turns (like at the end of this line p57 ); these are also local anchors. Sticklers for total accuracy will of course find the anchor at its exact place in the sourcecode.

In addition, I've inserted a number of other local anchors: whatever links might be required to accommodate the author's own cross-references, as well as a few others for my own purposes. If in turn you have a website and would like to target a link to some specific passage of the text, please let me know: I'll be glad to insert a local anchor there as well.

My icon for the book is a colorized version of the particularly desolate landscape, much improved by the railroad actually, of Evanston, WY shown in the photograph fa­cing p64 of the print edition.

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Site updated: 5 Oct 10