THE RAILROADS OF NEBRASKA
THE UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD
The father of railroads in this state was the Pacific Railroad project. Whether it is correct as intimated in
past records that Jonathan Carver foreshadowed its construction in 1778, or whether in the years that the first
railroads in the eastern part of the country were being built, the idea of a railroad to the western coast was
being scouted as impracticable, it is realiably credited that Senator Thomas H. Benton, as early as 1825, urged
upon Congress the "occupation of Columbia" with a view of forming a "communication for commercial
purposes between the Pacific and the Mississippi, and to send lights of science and religion into Eastern Asia."
The development of this idea will be carried chronologically as the briefest way to fully cover its evolution into
the finest system traversing the western plains.
1835. Rev. Samuel Parker, in his journal of a trip across the continent, recorded an opinion that the mountains
presented no insuperable obstacle to a railroad.
1836. The first public meeting to consider the project of a Pacific railway was called by John Plumbe, a civil
engineer of Dubuque, Iowa. Editorial mention of such a project appeared in the columns of the Emigrant, Ann Arbor
(Michigan Territory), February 6, 1832, presumably accreditable to Judge S. W. Dexter. Lewis Gaylord Clarke, in
the Knickerbocker Magazine, in 1836, urged such an idea. Jonathan Carver's grandson, Heartwell Carver, was urging
it in 1832.
Maj. Gen. Grenville M. Dodge, chief engineer of the Union Pacific Railway from 1866 to 1870, the period of its
most active construction, has narrated the story of "How We Built the Union Pacific Railway" (published
in Senate Document No. 447; 61st Congress, Second Session). Stating that interest in the project of a Pacific railway
increased from 1836, he continues:
"The explorations of Fremont in 1842 and 1846 brought the attention of Congress, and A. C. Whitney was zealous
and efficient in the cause from 1840 to 1850. The first practical measure was Senator Salmon P. Chase's bill, making
an appropriation for the exploration of different routes for a Pacific railway in 1853. Numerous bills were introduced
in Congress between 1852 and 1860, granting subsidies and lands., and some of them appropriating as large a sum
as $96,000,000 for the construction of the road. One of these bills passed one of the houses of Congress. The results
of the explorations ordered by Congress were printed in eleven large volumes, covering the country between the
parallels of latitude thirty second on the south and forty ninth on the north, and demonstrating the feasibility
of building a Pacific railway, but at a cost on any one of the lines much larger than the Union Pacific and Central
Pacific were built for. It is a singular fact that in all of these explorations the most feasible line, in an engineering
and commercial point of view, the line with the least obstacles to overcome, of lowest grades and least curvature,
was never explored and reported on. Private enterprises explored and developed that line along the forty second
parallel of latitude.
The route was made by the buffalo, next used by the Indians, then by the fur traders, next by the Mormons, and
then by the overland immigration to California and Oregon. It was known aft the Great Platte Valley Route. On this
trail, or close to it, was built the Union and Central Pacific railroads to California, and the Oregon Short Line
branch of the Union Pacific to Oregon.
In 1852 Henry Farnum and Thomas C. Durant were building the Mississippi Railroad, a line westward across the state
of Iowa as an extension of the Chicago and Rock Island, then terminating at Rock Island, Ill. They desired to end
that line at the Missouri River, where the Pacific Railroad following the continent where the forty second parallel
of latitude would commence. Under the direction of Peter A. Dey, who had been a division engineer of the M. &
M., in Iowa, I made the first survey across the state of Iowa, and the first reconnoissances and surveys on the
Union Pacific for the purpose of determining where the one would end and the other commence, on the Missouri River.
I crossed the Missouri River in the fall of 1853 and made our explorations west of the Platte. Valley and up it
far enough to determine that it would be the route of the Pacific road."
General Dodge goes on in an article on "How We Built the Union Pacific" some forty pages long and from
which the compiler of this brief review can take only enough to give the reader an idea of the magnitude of the
task, and the difficulties surmounted in securing the selection of the eventual route:
"The times were such that the work on the M. & M. Railway was suspended for some years. Meanwhile I located
at Council Bluffs, continuing the explorations under the directions of Messrs. Farnum and Durant and obtaining
from voyagers, immigrants, and others all the information I could in regard to the country farther west. There
was keen competition at that time for the control of the vast immigration crossing the plains, and Kansas City,
Fort Leavenworth (then the government post), St. Joseph and Council Bluffs were points of concentration on the
Missouri. The trails from all points converged in the Platte Valley at or near old Fort Kearney, following its
waters to the South Pass. A portion of the Kansas City immigration followed the valley of the Arkansas west, and
thence through New Mexico. The greak bulk of the immigration was finally concentrated at Council Bluffs as the
best crossing of the Missouri River. From my explorations and the information I had obtained with the aid of the
Mormons and others, I mapped out and made an itinerary of a line from Council Bluffs through to Utah, California
and Oregon, giving the camping places for each night, and showing where wood, water and fords of the streams could
be found. Distributed broadcast by the local interests of this route the map and itinerary had no small influence
in turning the mass of overland immigration to Council Bluffs, where it crossed the Missouri and took the great
Platte Valley route. This route was up that valley to its forks, and then up either the north or south fork to
Salt Lake and California by way of the Humboldt, and to Oregon by the way of the Snake and Columbia rivers. This
is today the route of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific to California and the Union Pacific to Oregon.
"After collecting all the information we could as to the best route for a railroad to the Pacific, I reported
to Messrs. Farnum and Durant, who paid out of their private funds for all of my work.
"In 1851, when Nebraska was organized, we moved to its frontier, continuing the explorations under the patronage
of Messrs. Farnum and Durant, and obtaining all valuable information, which was used to concentrate the influence
of the different railways east and west of Chicago to the support of the forty second parallel line."
General Dodge continues:
"In 1861 we discontinued the railroad work because of the Civil war. The passage of the bill of 1862, which
made the building of a transcontinental railroad possible, was due primarily to the persistent efforts of Hon.
Samuel R. Curtis, a representative in Congress from Iowa, who reported the bill before entering the Union service
in 1861. It was then taken up by Hon. James Harlan, of Iowa, who succeeded in obtaining its passage in March, 1862."
In commenting upon how this road obtained its name, General Dodge narrates that various lines proposed had received
the names of the "North Route," "Buffalo Trail," "South Route," but that in 1858
a bill was fostered that gave out the name "Union Pacific." One of the arguments advanced for the bill
that eventually passed was that the route proposed would tend to hold the people of the Pacific Coast in the Union.
"Lincoln advocated its passage and building, not only as a military necessity, but as a means of holding the
Pacific Coast to the Union. This bill became' a law in 1862, and there is no doubt but what the sentiment that
the building of the railroad would hold the Union together gave it the name of the Union Pacific."
General Dodge described the initiation of this work as follows:
"In 1862 the Union Pacific Railway was organized at Chicago, and soon after Mr. Peter A. Dey continued the
explorations, and in 1863 he placed parties over the Black Hills and in Salt Lake and over the Wasatch in Utah.
In 1863 I was on duty at Corinth when I was called to Washington by Mr. Lincoln, who had met me in 1859 at Council
Bluffs and had questioned me very systematically as to the knowledge I had of the western country and the explorations
I had made there. Remembering this he called me to Washington to consult with me as to where the eastern terminus
of the Union Pacific Railway should be. I explained to him what my surveys had determined, and he fixed the initial
point of the Union Pacific (at Council Bluffs). At this interview with Mr. Lincoln he was very anxious to have
the road constructed. It was my opinion then that it could not be constructed unless it was built by the Government,
and so I informed Mr. Lincoln. He said that the United States had at that time all it could handle, but it was
ready to make any concession and obtain any legislation that private parties who would undertake the work would
"I then went to New York City and met Mr. Durant and others connected with the Union Pacific and informed
them of what Mr. Lincoln had said. It gave them new hope and they immediately formulated the amendments to the
law of 1862, which was passed in 1864 and enabled them to push the work.
"The ground was broken in Omaha in December of 1863, and in 1864 about $500,000 was spent in surveying and
construction, and in 1865 forty miles was completed to Fremont. Mr. Dee, who had charge of the work as chief engineer,
resigned, and stated in his letter that he was giving up the best position in his profession this country had ever
offered to any man.
"In May, 1866, I resigned from the army, came to Omaha and took charge of the work as chief enigneer, and
covered the line with engineering parties from Omaha to California, and pushed our location up the Platte Valley.
"In 1866 we built 260 miles.
"In the winter of 1866 we planned to build the next year 288 miles to Fort Sanders. During 1867 we reached
the summit of the Black Hills and wintered at Cheyenne, where the population of nearly 10,000 gathered around us."
John P. Davis, in his history of the Union Pacific Railway, describes the great moment in American railroad history
entitled "Done," when, on the morning of May 10, 1869, the Union and Central Pacifies were ready to meet,
except about a hundred feet left open between the "ends of the track."
"Early in the day, Leland Stanford, governor of California and president of the Central Pacific arrived with
his party from the west; during the forenoon, Vice President Durant and Directors Duff and Dillon of the Union
Pacific, with other prominent men, arrived."
Davis describes the final culminating scene:
"The ties were laid, about one hundred feet space left open for rails, and while the coolies from the west
laid the rails from one end, the paddies from the east laid them at the other, until they met and joined. The 'last
spike' remained to be driven. Telegraphic wires were so connected that each blow of the descending sledge would
flash the report to cities from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Spikes of gold, silver and iron were presented by
the officials of Arizona, Nevada, and California, and when the last spike of gold was driven with the sledges of
silver by President Stanford and Vice President Durant the word Done flashed over the wires. The Central Pacific
train back up, and the Union Pacific locomotive, with its train, passed slowly over the point of junction and back
again." The story has poetically been told in the lines of Bret Harte, which Mr. Davis quoted in his work:
'WHAT THE ENGINES SAID
What was it the Engines said,
Pilots touching - head to head,
Facing on the single track,
Half the world behind each back?
This is what the Engines aid,
Unreported and unread.
With a prefatory screech,
In a florid western speech,
Said the Engine from the West,
"I am from Sierra's crest,
And, if altitude's a test,
Why, I reckon, it's confessed,
That I've done my level best."
Said the Engine from the East,
"They that work most talk the least,
S'pose you whistle down your brakes;
What you've done is no great shakes,
Pretty fair-but let our meeting
Be a different kind of greeting,
Let these folks with champagne stuffing,
Not their Engines, do the puffing.
"Listen! Where Atlantic beats
Shores of snow and summer heats,
Where the Indian autumn skies
Paint the woods with wampum dyes,
I have chased the flying sun,
Seeing all he looked upon,
Blessing all that he had blest,
Nursing in my iron breast
All his vivifying heat,
All his clouds above my crest;
And before my flying feet
Every shadow must retreat."
Said the Western Engine "Phew!"
And a long, low whistle blew,
"Come now, really that's the oddest
Talk for one so very modest.
You talk of your East! You do?
Why, I bring the East to you!
All the Orient, all Cathay,
Find through me the shortest way;
And the sun you follow here
Rises in my hemisphere.
Really-if one must be rude-
Length, my friend, ain't longitude."
Said the Union, "Don't reflect, or
I'll run over some director."
Said the Central, "I'm Pacific,
But, when riled, I'm quite terrific.
Yet today we shall not quarrel.
Just to show these folks their moral,
How two Engines-in their vision-
Once have met without collision,"
That is what the Engines said,
Unreported and unread;
Spoken slightly through the nose,
With a whistle at the close.
THE BURLINGTON SYSTEM
The Burlington & Missouri River, the second great railroad system of Nebraska in mileage and importance
in the early days, has in more recent years, with many of its early, subsidiaries, been merged into the Chicago,
Burlington & Quincy Railroad Company's system.
The Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad Company was chartered by a special act of the Illinois Legislature,
dated February. 12, 1849, as the Aurora Branch Railroad Company. It built from Aurora to a connection with the
Galena & Chicago Union Railroad (now Chicago & Northwestern) at Turner Junction about twelve miles. It
had a track laid with wooden rails faced with strap iron when it opened for business on September 2, 1850. In 1852,
it changed its name to Chicago & Aurora Railroad Company. On February 14, 1855, the name was changed to the
Chicago Burlington & Quincy Railroad Company, and the road was extended through Illinois in the next few years.
The bridge over the Mississippi at Burlington, Iowa, was opened for traffic on August 13, 1869.
The Burlington & Missouri River Railroad Company was organized in 1869, with a capital stock of $7,500,000,
and in May, 1871, its capital stock was increased. to $12,000,000. In January, 1873, it was taken over by the Chicago,
Quincy, which absorbed its lines east of the Missouri River. It then had a main line from Burlington, Iowa, to
a point on the east bank of the Missouri River practically opposite Plattsmouth, Nebraska, and numerous branches.
The Burlington & Missouri River. Company in Nebraska, which was the name of the company which built the first
Nebraska lines of this system, was incorporated May 12, 1869, and the construction of its line from Plattsmouth
to Kearney, Nebraska, some one hundred and ninty miles, making connection with the Union Pacific main line, was
started in 1870. Lines were then built from Omaha to Plattsmouth, twenty one miles, where various connections were
made. This company was consolidated with the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad Company on July 28, 1880,
with 836 miles of railroad in operation then. The extension of this system will appear in the chronological chart
of Nebraska's railroad building which follows.
RAILROAD BUILDING AND EXTENSION IN NEBRASKA
1862. Nebraska's direct railroad history begins with the passage of the bill by Congress authorizing the building
of the Union Pacific Railroad.
1863. December. Ground broken at the initial point fixed by the Government, "on the western boundary of the
State of Iowa," opposite Omaha. Ground broken at Omaha on that day at the northern end of the levee, donated
by the city to the railway company.
1864. Road placed under contract for a hundred miles out of Omaha and survet's ran to 100th Meridian (in Dawson
County) A change in route was applied for at this time.
1865. On July 10th, first rail laid at Omaha, on Union Pacific, and during the winter of 1865-66, eighty miles
of track was laid, reaching to Columbus.
1866. By March 15, sixty miles of track was ready for use, and by July, 1866, 135 miles was ready.
1867. The Union Pacific pushed its line on through the State of Nebraska. 1868. Passenger fare on the Union Pacific
was reduced from ten to seven and a half cents per mile; In this year, stock was subscribed for the Omaha &
Southwestern Railway, the second railway project in the state, and which built a line sixty eight miles long from
Omaha to Lincoln. This later became a part of the Burlington system Its first officers were men prominent in Nebraska
financial circles: S. S. Caldwell, president; Henry T. Clarke, vice president; Enos Lowe, treasurer, and A. S.
Paddock, secretary, and the directors were George W. Frost, Clinton Briggs, John Y. Clopper, Ezra Millard, Jonas
Gise, and Alvin Saunders. Ground was broken at Nebraska City for a proposed enterprise that later developed into
the Midland Pacific.
1869. This year saw the completion of the Union Pacific, at Promontory, Utah, far beyond the Nebraska border, but
of far reaching effect for Nebraska, as it gave a Pacific outlet to rail transportation that passed through this
state. On February 15th the legislature of Nebraska appropriated 2,000 acres per mile to any railroad which would
complete ten miles of its route within one year, the grant in no case to exceed 100,000 acres. This brought about
a group of railroad movements in this and the few succeeding years. In October James E. Boyd and a group of financial
assistants around Omaha proposed to secure twenty men who would each subscribe $10,000 to an Omaha and Northwestern
Railroad project to build some two hundred and fifty miles into the Elkhorn and Niobrara valleys. This resulted
in the incorporation in November of the "Northwestern," with J. E. Boyd, Ezra and J. H. Millard, J. A.
Horbach, J. S. McCormick, H. Kountze, C. H. Downs, J. A. Morrow, Q. A. Paxton and A. Kountze, as incorporators.
In June of this year ground was broken at Lincoln for the Burlington. The Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley
(later a part of the Northwestern system) built its first ten miles from near Blair.
1870. This year saw the completion of the Omaha & Southwestern to Lincoln; the extension of the Burlington
on to Kearney was started, and twenty six and one half miles of the Northwestern was built to Desoto. The Burlington
ran its first train into Lincoln in July, and also completed its line to Nebraska, City. In October Lancaster County
voted bonds to aid the Omaha & Southwestern and the proposed Midland Pacific. Atchison & Nebraska Railroad
Company was organized in this year.
1871. This year saw the organization of the Midland Pacific Railroad. It built in this year fifty eight miles,
from Nebraska City to Lincoln This line a few years later was sold under foreclosure, and its operation carried
alonguntil in 1876 it became part of the Burlington system. Indicative of the swift sales of railroad land, it
might be noted that in April of this year the Union Pacific sold over sixteen thousand acres at an average of $4.13
per acre, and the Burlington sold some eight thousand five hundred acres at an average of $8.36 per acre. The Northwestern
built from Fremont to Wisner, fifty one miles. The B. & M. had its trains running by July as far west as Crete,
Saline County. St. Joseph & Denver Railroad, now St. Joseph & Grand Island, built into the state as far
as Hastings in this year.
1872. The Atchison & Nebraska Company completed its line from Atchison, Kan., to Lincoln, Neb., 148 miles in
this year. This line later became a part of the Burlington system, coming up through Richardson, Pawnee, Johnson,
Gage and Lancaster counties. In September of this year the B. & M. brought in on one train 720 passengers,
600 being from Iowa. This is indicative of the flow of immigration from other states that Nebraska was then receiving.
On March 13th a test of the capacity of the new bridge at Omaha over the Missouri River was made. It had taken
three years from the time the contract was entered into until this bridge was finished. The Burlington line to
Kearney Junction, to make junction with the Union Pacific, was completed on September 18th. The roadbed of the
Northwestern was graded from Herman, where it had reached completion in October, 1871, to Tekamah, though completion
of this block of road was delayed until 1876.
1873. The great Easter storm of this year put all Nebraska railroads to the "acid test" of their capacity
to restore operations when a practically complete annihilation of facilities had taken place. Proposal was made
in this year to project a line from Lincoln to St. Paul, Minn., extending the Sioux City & Pacific Railroad
in Nebraska on to Lincoln This latter named road was.built down the east side of the Missouri River from Sioux
City to a. point about two miles west of Missouri Valley Junction, Iowa, where it connected with the Chicago &
Northwestern main line from Chicago to Council Bluffs, Iowa, bending westward, crossing the Missouri River by ferry,
about three miles east of the City of Blair, and thence westward to Fremont. There it connected with the Fremont,
Elkhorn & Missouri Valley, projected in 1869.
1874. The St. Joseph & Denver Railroad passed into hands of a receiver, who operated it until March, 1877,
when it was reorganized as the St. Joseph & Denver City, with the Kansas part as the St. Joseph & Pacific,
and later the Nebraska part as the Kansas & Nebraska Railroad and later yet the whole line as St. Joseph &
The Midland Pacific extended its line from Lincoln to Seward, completing this task in 1874. It went into foreclosure,
was reorganized as the Nebraska Railway, and so operated until 1876, when it went into the hands of the B. &
1875. The consolidation of the Midland Pacific and Brownville & Fort Kearney took place in this year, as above
1876. The B. & M. extended the old Midland Pacific line, which it had just taken over, from Seward on toward
York, arriving at that place in 1877. The Omaha & Republican Valley, a branch of the Union Pacific extending
from Valley station, in western Douglas County, toward Osceola, was started. Wahoo, Valparaiso, David City and
Osceola are on this line. The old Omaha & Northwestern, now known as the Omaha & Northern Nebraska Railway,
built into Tekamah from Herman this year. The Covington, Columbus & Black Hills Railroad was built in 1873-7,
and is twenty six miles in length, from Sioux City to Ponca.
1877. The B. & M. moved the shops of the transferred Midland & Pacific to their own yards in Lincoln. The
Union Pacific, because Douglas County instituted proceedings to repudiate a bond issue of $250,000 theretofore
voted, threatened the removal of its machine shops west, but this never materialized. The Union Pacific built from
Valparaiso to David City, Summit to Lane, and Valley to Lincoln.
1878. Foreclosure of the Omaha & Northwestern brought about the organization of the Omaha & Northern Nebraska
Railroad, to buy the former in and reorganize it.
1879. The Omaha & Republican Valley completed its branch to Osceola. The St. Joseph & Denver City built
into Grand Island from Hastings; the Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley reached Stanton, which remained the
terminus for some time. The Atchison & Nebraska was extended from Lincoln to Columbus. The Union Pacific built
from David City to the west Butler line. The Pacific Express Company was organized out of the express department
of the Union Pacific Company. The Union Pacific and Burlington started a freight rate war. The F. E. & M. V.
built from Wisner to Oakdale.
1880. The B. & M. extended its line to Central City and became the first company to cross the tracks of the
Union Pacific, reaching that town about March; in May it reached Columbus with a line. The leasing of the Atchison
& Nebraska and the Lincoln and Northwestern railroads was ratified at Plattsmouth in March. The B. & M.'s
northwest line now extended from York to Aurora, and turned northward to Central City. The Union Pacific built
from Oconee to Albion. The Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley pushed on from Oakdale to Neligh, and a branch
diverged to Plainview.
1881. In July the B. & M. reached Culbertson, which carried its southern line almost through the Republican
Valley to nearly the western edge of the state. The St. Joseph & Denver City extended from Grand Island to
St. Paul, the county seat of Howard County, a branch that later became part of the Union Pacific system. The B.
& M. depot was completed at Lincoln at a cost of $125,000. The Union Pacific built from Beatrice to Kansas
State Line and _the Blue Springs spur. The F. E. & M. V. pushed on from O'Neill to Long Pine, and the "branch"
from Plainview to Creighton.
1882. The Norfolk branch of the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha was built. The Union Pacific branch
was extended from St. Paul to North Loup, 26.63 miles, and the Scotia to Scotia Junction, a spur of 1.37 miles,
was also built. The Missouri Pacific Railroad built into Cass County this year. The B. & M. extended from Culbertson
to Benkleman, in the very southwest corner of the state.
1883. Salina, Lincoln and Decatur railroad organized. At this time the western terminus of the Sioux City &
Pacific (now Chicago & Northwestern) was Fort Niobrara, this line having been extended on from Stanton, through
O'Neill, Neligh and Long Pine.
1884. The Chicago & Northwestern secured ownership of C. R. & Mo. River and C. I. & N. Company, and
by this time owned the old Sioux City & Pacific, with which the Northern Nebraska Air Line had been consolidated
and the various early attempts in Northern Nebraska made by the Omaha & Northwestern, Omaha & Northern
Nebraska, Covington, Columbus & Black Hills, organized together under the name of the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis
& Omaha, owned by the Northwestern, but operated even now in 1920 under its own name, as a separate corporation.
The Blair bridge had been completed in 1883 and the transfer of trains by steam ferry done away with. It had been
built by a separate company known as the Missouri Valley & Blair Bridge Company. The Northwestern at this time
also purchased the Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley, and prepared to extend it on to the Black Hills and
Wyoming. Sheridan and Dawes counties came into being, as the main line was extended through this territory in 1885.
In 1884 the Union Pacific built from Lincoln to Beatrice, 58.10 miles; from Fullerton to Cedar Rapids 1.595 miles;
and the Burlington extended its Grand Island & Wyoming Central line from Aurora to Grand Island. The Burlington
had opened branches from Tecumseh to Beatrice in 1883, from Nemaha to Salem, and from Kenesaw to Holdrege. In 1884
it now extended its lines from Chester to Hebron, 12 miles; Dewitt to Tobias, 24 miles; its main line on from Holdrege
to Oxford, 20 miles, and another branch from Odell to Concordia, Kan., 74 miles.
1885. In this year the Burlington extended a branch from Holdrege northwest to Elwood, 28 miles; and from Republican
City, Neb., to Oberlin, Kan., 78 miles. The Union Pacific started a branch out of St. Paul toward Loup City that
reached the Sherman County line in this year. The Northwestern's activity as mentioned above was in building its
Black Hills lines west from Fort Niobrara toward Chadron. In this year a State Railroad Commission was established
by the Legislature consisting of the secretary of state, the auditor and the attorney general, with the actual
work done by three secretaries. This device was resorted to as the constitution said no new executive officers
could be created, and it proved to be rather ineffectual and mainly advisory.
1886. The Burlington this year opened its line from Tobias to Holdrege, 113 miles; extended its Holdrege branch
from Elwood to Curtis, 44 miles; and built branches from Fairmont to Hebron, 33 miles, and from Edgar to Superior,
26 miles. On its Grand Island & Wyoming Central district, it extended from Grand Island to Anselmo, Neb., 101
miles, and a branch was opened in September from Aurora to Hastings, 28 miles. The Union Pacific extended its Loup
City branch the remaining 20 miles to termination. It extended its other northern Loup Valley branch from North
Loup to Ord, which has remained the terminus to this time, 1920. In August, 1886, the Missouri Pacific completed
its line to Lincoln. The Northwestern pushed ahead with its Black Hills lines, through Chadron, and opened direct
communication from Lincoln, through the F. E. & M. V., with the Elkhorn Valley and Northwest Nebraska. This
was accomplished by completion of the branch out of Fremont to the south, being completed from the Platte River
bridge into Lincoln, and the Arlington to Omaha line being also completed. The Northwestern went on to Rapid City,
S. D., this year. The F. E. & M. V. (Northwestern) was also projected in this year and started a branch. through
Butler, Seward, York, Hamilton, Clay and Adams counties, giving this road a line from David City through York to
Harvard and Hastings The Missouri Pacific built from Sarpy County to Omaha and started the Nebraska City branch
to Weeping Water, which was finished in 1887.
1887. Incorporation of the Lincoln & Black Hills Railroad and the Republican Valley & Wyoming branch of
the Burlington were filed. The Lincoln Belt Line Railway was organized, and the Omaha, Lincoln, Hartland &
Southwestern authorized surveys.
In this year a Board of Transportation was formed by state authority. This comprised the three officers named in
the act of 1885 with the state treasurer added. This board was declared void in a supreme court opinion of 1900,
because of defects in the passage of the act of 1885. The Burlington in 1887 extended its northwest Nebraska line
from Anselmo to Whitman, 99 miles; pushed its Curtis branch on from Curtis to Cheyenne, Wyo., 263 miles; opened
a line from Omaha. to Ashland, destined to be a part of its main line, 25 miles; extended from Central City to
Greeley, 44 miles, and opened in December from Greeley to Burwell, 41 miles; and diverging from the Greeley branch
at Palmer, pushed to Arcadia (Valley County), 54 miles. It also opened a branch from Ashland to Schuyler, 51 miles;
Orleans to Blakeman, Kan., 95 miles. The Union Pacific extended about ten miles of line from Boelus, on its Loup
City branch, to Nantasket, in northern Buffalo County. The Kansas City & Omaha Railroad built into Sutton,
Clay County, and came on through York County in this year. The Nebraska Southern Railway built from Auburn to Nebraska
City, and the Northwestern built on to Whitewood, S. D.
1888. The Burlington extended its Wyoming line from Whitman to Alliance, Neb., 69 miles; built a branch from Greeley,
Neb., to Ericson, 19 miles; and from Blakeman, Kan., to St. Francis, Kan., 39 miles. The F. E. & M. V. extended
its Sutton branch. The Northwestern built from Geneva to Superior and from Lindsay to Oakdale, and extended its
Niobrara line from Creighton to Verdigris; and the Missouri Pacific built from Talmage to Crete.
1889. The Burlington built from Alliance, Neb., to Cambria, Wyo., 162 miles, carrying this line beyond the Nebraska
borders. They opened a line from Culbertson to Beverly, Neb., 10 miles, and changed the Denver to Lyons, Cob.,
line to standard gauge and leased it to the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy. The Northwestern extended lines from
Linwood to Geneva and from Lindsay to Scribner.
1890. The Burlington activities had gone beyond Nebraska and were used on a branch from Newcastle to Merino, Wyo.,
and Edgemont to Hill City, S. D. The Northwestern was also working in South Dakota, extending this year lines to
Belle Fourche and to Deadwood. The Union Pacific extended its Boelus branch from Nantasket to Pleasanton, its terminus,
and started its branch from Kearney to Callaway, in southern Custer County. The Lincoln, Sioux City & Yankton,
and the Lincoln & Western Railroad filed articles of incorporation.
1891. The Burlington opened branches from Beverly to Palisade, Neb., 8 miles; from Merino to Gillette, Wyo., 48
miles and extended from Hill City to Deadwood, S. D., and Minnekata to Hot Springs, S. D. The Northwestern was
building lines around Deadwood and to Lead City. The Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific system was seeking to enter
Lincoln, having in the year preceding been enjoined from crossing the tracks of the B. & M., and Omaha &
Republican Valley lines, and it enjoined the Lincoln electric lines from crossing its tracks; but these injunctions
were shortly thereafter vacated. The Rock Island was building from Omaha to Lincoln, extending its main line on
the way toward Denver.
1892. The Rock Island built on into Lincoln, and extended its line on toward the Nebraska state border, toward
Belleville, Kan. It has 127 miles of this line in Nebraska and a branch from Fairbury to Nelson, of 51 miles, or
a total of 178 miles in Nebraska. The Burlington built from Palisade to Imperial, Neb., 31 miles; and opened 101
miles from Gillette to Sheridan, Wyo.
1893. The Burlington construction was in Wyoming, and the Northwestern in South Dakota.
1894. The Burlington reached Billings, Mont., far beyond Nebraska's confines, but of vast importance to this state,
as it gave another transportation outlet to the Northwest, and eventually to the Pacific Coast. This brings us
to the years of the droughts, and in railroad activities as in every other line of human endeavor the next five
year trying period is reflected. Nothing of importance comes in railroad extension until 1899.
1899. The Burlington opened a 19 mile extension of that branch from Arcadia, to Sargent, Neb., the present terminus
1900. The Burlington made an important move to Western Nebraska and opened up the great North Platte Valley by
building the branches from Alliance to Northport and Bridgeport, Neb., and on west to Guernsey, Wyo., 131 miles,
and from Northport, Neb., south to Brush, Colo., 113 miles. The Union Pacific extended its Callaway yards.
1902. The Union Pacific extended its branch from Cedar Rapids (Boone County) to Spalding (Greeley County).
1904. The Northwestern extended its Northeastern Nebraska line to Bone steel, S. D.
1906. The Union Pacific built the branch from Stromsburg (Polk County) to Central City (Merrick County), joining
the main line there, and trains are run to Grand Island over this combined line. The Burlington extended a line
from Ashland to South Sioux City (Laketon), 107 miles. In 1906 the Union Pacific started the construction of the
second, or double track on its main line, and continued this work through 1907, 1908, 1909, and 1910 on its Nebraska
1907. The Burlington purchased the line from South Sioux City to O'Neill, Neb. The Union Pacific started its line
up into the North Platte Valley, building in 1907 from O'Fallons, near North Platte, to Lutherville, 62 miles.
In this year, the permanent Railway Commission was started, having been established by a constitutional amendment.
Hudson J. Winnett, of Lincoln, Robert Cowell, of Omaha, and Joseph A. Williams, of Pierce County, were named. Mr.
Cowell resigned from the commission in April, 1907, and Henry T. Clarke took his place. Mr. Clarke served until
1908. The Union Pacific built from Lutherville to Oshkosh, about 9 miles, and a line from Summit to Lane, the "Lane
Cutoff," in Douglas County, thereby shortening its main line.
1909. The Burlington built 7 miles of line from Lincoln to Cobb Junction, and the Union Pacific extended from Oshkosh
to Northport, practically 45 miles.
1911. The Union Pacific extended its branch from Northport to Gering, and then to Haig, a few miles beyond Gering.
1912-1913. The Union Pacific extended its Callaway branch on to Stapleton, in Logan County.
1920. The Union Pacific is extending its North Platte Valley branch from Haig, Neb. (Scotts Bluff County), on to
Goshen Hole, Wyo., with the ultimate aim of joining its main line at Medicine Bow, Wyo. Extensions of the Burlington
branch terminating at Ericson on to Chambers and into Holt County, and either the Union Pacific branch at Spalding
or Albion into Wheeler County and on toward Holt County and the Northwestern line are being agitated and projection
attempted in 1920.
THE STATE RAILWAY COMMISSION
As shown heretofore, this body started out with Hudson J. Winnett, Joseph A. Williams and Henry T. Clarke as
members, and Mr. Clarke served until 1917, when he was succeeded by Victor E. Wilson, who had won in the election
of 1916. Mr. Winnett served until 1913, when H. G. Taylor, of Central City, took a seat on the commission. Mr.
Taylor had defeated C. E. Harmon in the 1912 election, and was re-elected in 1918 and is still a member of this
body. On December 1, 1911, Thomas L. Hall became a member of the commission to fill the vacancy caused by the death
of Commissioner W. H. Cowgill, who had succeeded Commissioner Williams. William J. Furse has served by appointment
following Commissioner Cowgill's death. Commissioner Hall was re-elected in 1914, and served from 1915 until date,
but retired in January, 1921, not having again been a candidate for re-election to this office, but running for
governor in the primaries of 1920. Commissioner Wilson resigned in 1919, and Sec. Thorne Browne was appointed in
his place. Commissioner Browne in 1920 was elected to the seat of Commissioner Hall choosing the longer term rather
than to succeed himself, for a four year balance, and Harry L. Cook was elected for the balance of Commissioner
Browne's term. The secretaries of the commission have been Clark Perkins, from 1907 to 1912; A. B. Allen, 1912-1916;
Thorne A. Browne, 1916-1920, and J. E. Curtiss, 1920.
RAILROADS' PALMY POLITICAL DAYS
On December 10, 1920, George W. Holdrege resigned as general manager of the lines west of the Burlington system,
after continuous service in that capacity since 1886, and fifty one years of service with this railroad in Nebraska.
This occasion brought forth from the Nebraska State Journal some interesting reminiscences of railroad history
of the state, which will aptly close this portion of our review.
For more than twenty five years Mr. Holdrege wielded a political power that no man before him or since has essayed
in Nebraska. Governors and United States senators, not to mention many other minor state officers, were made and
unmade in his office in Omaha. In that period between the eclipse of VanWyck and the rise of George Sheldon and
Norris Brown he reigned supreme. No man thought to run for any important state office until after he had gone to
Omaha to see George W. Holdrege, and his office was the mecca of legislators and others active in republican politics.
Sought No Personal Advantage. Mr. Holdrege differed from the traditional political boss in that he never sought
profit personally by reason of the power he wielded. A Burlington man first, last, and always, his power was employed
solely to advance and protect the interests of that railroad. He made no alliances with disreputable elements.
He made no effort to conceal either what he was doing or how he did it. Himself he kept always in the background.
Very rarely did he appear at Lincoln when the legislature was in session, or at other times. He dealt largely through
agents, J. H Ager, who recently died in Lincoln, being his most trusted man for many years.
The machine operated by Mr. Holdrege was organized along business lines, in each county through which the road
ran. It was represented by a group of active politicians all of whom were holders of annual passes. One of the
group, usually a lawyer or a banker, was the chief pass distributor for the county. He was supplied with blank
books of passes issued in Mr. Holdrege's name, and he was free to use these as he pleased, but that power was subject
to the rule that it must not be employed recklessly or unwisely. If he used it so, he lost his power and his pass,
and they passed to another. The same fate awaited him if he failed to bring the delegation from that county to
the state convention, and could not offer a reasonable explanation therefor.
This group was usually composed of one or two lawyers, bankers, business men, and a doctor or two, men who knew
the political game and how to play upon the prejudices and ambitions of men. They made up the local machine, which
fattened on its power to award offices and give out passes. Through the lax system of primaries by which delegates
to county conventions were selected, an organized group, except where a vital issue that stirred voters to action,
could invariably get control of the county conventions. They set up dummy candidates in precincts in order to control
the votes of the precinct delegation, and then put these into a pot with the delegates brought in by the candidates
they had previously decided to nominate, and thus controlled without any trouble.
Their principal job was to bring in the county delegation to the state convention, and thus the railroads controlled
that gathering. They also recommended or picked candidates for the legislature, and were also permitted to salve
their vanity by setting up as little local bosses, subject to correction and punishment for abuse of power.
The railroads had been in politics from the beginning of the state, but they never appeared so strongly in the
open as they did after they had repelled first the granger movement that lifted VanWyck to eminence and later the
populist movement. From then until 1906 a republican state convention, packed by railroad passholders, dictated
party policies and the personnel of state officers. The Burlington was the master force for a number of years,
due to the leadership of Holdrege, but in time the Union Pacific and Northwestern challenged its supremacy, and
in a number of state conventions the battle was less between candidates than it was between railroads, as to which
should control and dictate the principal nominees.
End of Railroad Politics. This condition of affairs was generally known and accepted, and it was not until 1906,
when Sheldon as a candidate for governor and Brown as a candidate for senator challenged the right of the railroads
to operate the state government and name the men who should fill the offices. The battle was a hot one. It was
really lost in Lancaster County, where just before the convention the two contending forces, each desirous of getting
a foothold in the state convention and each being fearful of defeat, had agreed on a truce by which the delegation
was to be split. When Mr. Holdrege was informed of this agreement, sensing with his keen vision of politics that
a victory in Lancaster was necessary if the convention control was to be gained, he ordered his lieutenants to
fight it out. They did, and lost by the narrow margin of a dozen votes in a convention of over eight hundred delegates.
The railroads were routed in that state convention and the next legislature put them out of politics by adopting
a number of new laws; principally the direct primary and the abolition of the pass. Mr. Holdrege's reign ended
then. It was only by the pass and the convention system that the railroads could control. Past successes had convinced
ambitious young men that political preferment could be gained only through the existing railroad machine, and when
the fetich was destroyed along with the organization, it ended all hope for the sort of controlled politics that
had existed for so many years.
Accepted New Conditions. No rail manager ever accepted absolutely changed conditions more readily than Mr. Holdrege.
Some of his friends said that taking political work away from railroads came as an absolute relief to the Burlington
general manager. He devoted himself to railroading more arduously than ever, matters of railroad development and
transportation receiving attention that formerly had been divided by attention to matters political.
When the Hill ownership came many said that a manager schooled as Mr. Holdrege had been in the old way of doing
things could never take up the newer ways. To the surprise of some who knew him least he at once became a manager
of the Hill type, an exponent of the Hill ideas in railroading, a manager who fitted in well in the new regime.
He reorganized his forces and began the campaign of rebuilding and betterment that started with Hill ownership
as energetically as he had entered the campaign of new building and expansion of the system in the rush building
period of the '80s Hill ownership and Hill methods had preceded the legislature of 1907, which put the railroads
out of politics, and Mr. Holdrege found no lack of work to be done after he had been relieved of his political
Mr. Holdrege Has No Regrets. In an interview in 1914, Mr. Holdrege was asked if he were to start life over again
if he would be a railroad man.
"I have no reason to say I would not be," was the reply. "I like the work and always have."
"Are there opportunities today for the young man to forge ahead in railroad work as there were when you entered
"There is always a chance for young men to forge ahead," he said. "The future of our country is
great and will become more important as time goes on."
"Would you advise a young man to enter railroad business for a life work?" "That depends on the
circumstances. There are splendid opportunities for young energetic men today in our business just as there always
have been. If a young man likes the work I can see no reason why he should not choose it for his calling. I can
say this: The railroad field is a good one for any energetic young man of today. To succeed in it requires hard
work and plenty of it - fidelity to duty and a willingness to learn everything possible that can be learned about
all that have to do with railroading."