N.P. Ry.

Ralph and the Rockies

Ralph Budd, 1934, shortly after becoming president of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy

Railway Routes Across the Rocky Mountains

(In Three Parts)
The Challenge of the Continental Divide
The Conquest of the Continental Divide
Northern Rail Lines Across the Divide
By Ralph Budd
Member American Society of Civil Engineers
President, Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad, Chicago, Ill.

(Reprinted from Civil Engineering for February, March, and April 1940)

A detail of some of the Continental Divide crossings of the northern transcontinentals.

First of Three Articles on Railway Routes Across the Rockies

AFTER overcoming the barrier of the Appalachians and spanning the central plains, the railroads were faced with the most formidable task of their career -- the crossing of the Rockies. It was less than ninety years ago that Congress authorized the Pacific Railroad Surveys, with a view to solving the problem, and within sixteen years the first transcontinental line was in operation. In this article, Mr. Budd relates the historical background for the sensational feats later accomplished by the railroads in actually laying rails through the passes of the Rockies. In later issues he will continue with a discussion of the routes chosen by the nine transcontinental railroads which now operate thirteen routes across the Divide. These articles by Mr. Budd constituted the annual dinner address for 1938 of the American Branch of the Newcomen Society.

THE steam railway has played a peculiarly vital role in shaping the history of the United States of America owing especially to the time at which it came upon the scene. Very soon after the birth of the new nation, it was realized that the great regions drained by the Ohio and Mississippi rives could carry on the commerce with foreign countries through the natural avenues of those streams and their tributaries, more easily than they could trade with the original thirteen states. This, of course, was because of the barrier presented by the Appalachian Mountain system. To overcome that handicap every effort was made to provide effective means of communication between the Atlantic seaboard and the West according to the standards of the times. In the eventful decade of the 1820s, rails and the steam-driven vehicle appeared, and by 1838, only a hundred years ago, railroads had so far demonstrated their superiority for transporting people and goods that Congress discontinued appropriations for the national highway, the Cumberland Road, after the construction had reached about to Vandalia, then the capital of Illinois.

The railroad had proved their ability to surmount the Appalachians, and their potentialities fired the enthusiasms of expansionists absorbed with the Oregon question. Under the treaty of joint occupancy with Great Britain, nationals of both countries were settling in Old Oregon, and these people eventually determined for themselves their choice of allegiance. California and New Mexico still belonged to Mexico, so the uttermost western boundary of the United States a hundred years ago was the Rocky Mountains. But that barrier was so formidable that gravest doubts were entertained as to the practicability of crossing it except on foot or by pack horse.

The importance of knowing more about the territory beyond the mountains was obvious at the time of the Louisiana Purchase, so President Jefferson extended the investigations to the Pacific, and authorized what became the brilliantly successful Lewis and Clark expedition of 1804 - 1806 -- one of the outstanding examples of simon-pure official exploration.

Missionaries, trappers, traders, hunters, explorers, and emigrants made many trips through the Rockies at various places during the first half of the nineteenth century, and their journals and narratives are filled with information of the country. William H. Ashley reported in 1825 that wagons could be taken across and in 1827 he sent a piece of mounted artillery to Great Salt Lake. But I believe the first to assert positively from personal observations across the mountains was Samuel Parker, a Presbyterian minister, who went out over the Oregon Train in 1835. Marcus Whitman was in Parker's party and turned back at about the Continental Divide. The next year he led a party of his own and took a wagon as far as Fort Boise, thus demonstrating that the mountains could be negotiated by wheeled vehicles. These two preachers, Samuel Parker and Marcus Whitman, insisted a hundred years ago that the route was practicable for a road rather than a mere trail.

Although many promotion schemes appeared, the distinction of presenting a complete plan for a transcontinental railway belongs to Asa Whitney. As early as 1844 he was pressing vigorously for an Act of Congress to authorized and assist such a project. John C. Fremont in 1842 - 1844 reported feasible routes to the Columbia, but not necessarily for railways. How very deep-seated and persistent was the traditional idea that high mountain ranges constitute natural frontiers, is shown by the fact that notwithstanding the many reports that had been circulated and even the extensive emigration that had taken place, Daniel Webster in an address as late as 1845 was saying:

"Where is Oregon? On the shores of the Pacific, three thousand miles from us and twice as far from England. Who is to settle it? Americans, mainly, some settlers undoubtedly from England, but all Anglo-Saxons; all men educated in nations of independent government and all self-dependent. And now let me ask if there be any sensible men in the whole United States who will say for a moment that when fifty or a hundred thousand persons of this description shall find themselves on the shores of the Pacific Ocean that they will long be content to be under the rule of either the American Congress or the British Parliament? They will raise a standard for themselves and they ought to do it . . . .

"I believe that it is in the course of Providence and of human destiny that a great state is to arise, of English and American descent, whose power will be established over the country and the shores of the Pacific; . . . so there will exist at the mouth of the Columbia, or more probably farther south, a great Pacific Republic, a nation where our children may go for a residence . . . forming an integral part of a new government halfway between England and China."

Already, in 1843, the people of Oregon in the memorable Champoeg election had chosen to organize a settlers' provisional government, a first step toward the formal creation of Oregon Territory under the stars and stripes. Two years later Texas joined the Union; California and New Mexico were annexed early in 1848, rounding out our continental expansion except for Alaska and the Gadsden Purchase. Thus transcontinental railways became a prime national necessity in addition to their importance as trade routes between Europe and the Orient. Overcoming the obstacle of the Great Range by throwing a railroad across it was a topic of common debate and almost universal consideration.

Of course, it was well known that there were other mountains lying between the crest of the Rockies and the Pacific -- indeed that the entire Pacific slope was more or less mountainous. But the idea of conquering the Continental Divide which separates the waters of the two oceans captured the imagination of the people, and the Divide stood in their minds as the basic barrier between the East and the Far West. The existence and location of most of the Rocky Mountain passes had been reported quite reliably by those who had used them from the time of Lewis and Clark, but this knowledge needed to be officially verified, classified, and correlated. A systematic survey was necessary to determine the accessibility of the various passes, the regions through which the natural approaches to them led, and the directness or circuitry of such means of approach from the standpoint of distance between important cities.

The general structure of the Rocky Mountains of the Mexican boundary northwesterly to Yellowhead Pass in Canada, a distance of 1,500 miles, is that of a continuous cordillera, with four regions of relatively low altitude. Four typical passes, one in each of these regions, may be mentioned. The one in New Mexico (altitude 4,700 feet), given the poetic name of Florida on early maps,. is where the tributaries of the Rio Grande and the Gila head quite near to each other on opposite sides of the divide. Two of the passes -- Mullan (altitude 5,600 feet) and Marias (altitude 5,200 feet) are in Montana. At both of them are the headwaters of Missouri River tributaries rise in the mountains only a short distance from those of the Columbia. The fourth is Yellowhead Pass at Jasper Park, Canada (altitude 3,700 feet). The westward-flowing Fraser and the eastward-flowing Athabasca have their sources in Yellowhead, and the Continental Divide is lower there than in any other pass with which we are concerned.

Between the four relatively low regions just mentioned are the broadest and highest parts of the Rocky Mountain system. These high areas are marked by such well-known features as Grand Canyon National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Glacier National Park, and the famed Canadian Rockies.

It was known that some excellent routes across the mountains were to be found in these high areas. Although they surmount the Continental Divide at higher altitudes, their advantageous approaches in some instances compensate for the greater rise and fall. For example, the route through South Pass in Wyoming was one of the best known of all. It had been followed more or less precisely in the autumn of 1812 by returning Astorians under the leadership of Robert Stuart, who thereby blazed the way which later became the renowned Oregon Trail. Thereafter innumerable traders, as well as hosts of Mormons, Oregon emigrants, and California Forty-Niners used South pass.

In the great clamor for transcontinental railways which was started by Asa Whitney and others about a hundred years ago, and the lively discussions that ensued in Congress, there were the sharpest of partisan disagreements. Southerners advocated strongly some route or routes from St. Louis, Memphis, or New Orleans; others pressed with equal enthusiasm for a northern route; still others advocated a central route via South Pass, about which more was known than the others, since it had been traveled so extensively.

The agitation concerning western railway projects culminated in an Act of Congress, passed early in 1853, authorizing and directing the Secretary of War to undertake the Pacific Railroad Surveys to determine the feasible routes from the Mississippi to the Pacific. This achievement may be credited chiefly to Senators Gwin of California, Rusk of Texas, Borland of Arkansas, Bell of Tennessee, Chase of Ohio, Seward of New York, Dodge of Iowa, Douglas of Illinois, and a few others who put national necessity above personal prejudice. Jefferson Davis was Secretary of War and, solely because the scope of the work fell within the duties of that position, he carried out the instructions of Congress. Some acts of his savor of sectionalism -- for example, his exaggeration of the difficulties of winter operation in the north, and his preemptory orders to curtail the explorations under Isaac Stevens at a critical time. I think I should not have mentioned this except for a recent biography of Jefferson Davis, wherein undue credit is given to him for the carrying out of these surveys as well as their conception.

The surveys were begun in the spring of 1853, completed promptly, and reported in thirteen large volumes to the Congressional Record in 1855. I feel that this report constitutes the most important source of material on the West ever published. The Secretary of War, referring to the instructions given to the Army officers in charge, said:

"They were directed to observe and note all the objects and phenomena which have an immediate or remote bearing upon the railway, or which might seem to develop the resources, peculiarities, and the climate o the country; to determine geographical positions, obtain the topography, observe the meteorology, including the data for barometric profiles . . . They were to make a geological survey of the lines; to collect information upon, and specimens of, the botany and zoology of the country; and to obtain statistics of the Indian tribes which are found in the regions traversed. Thus would be obtained all the information for the general consideration of the question, as well as the data upon which the cost of construction, and working a railroad depends."

The work of the Pacific Railroad Survey parties was so monumental that the personnel of those in charge is worthy of note. They were Army engineers, nearly all of whom later were engaged in the Civil War on the side of the Union. The region assigned to the southern engineers was between the thirty-second and thirty-eighth parallels of altitude and was under the direction of Major William H. Emory. The region next to the north, between the thirty-eighth and forty-first parallels, was under the direction of Captain J.W. Gunnison, assisted by Captain E.G. Beckwith. Before their task was completed, Captain Gunnison and seven of his party were attacked and killed by a band of Ute Indians, and Captain Beckwith completed the survey. The northern region, between the forty-fifth and forty-ninth parallels, was under the direction of Major Isaac I. Stevens, who was also governor of the newly created Washington Territory.

After the Pacific Railroad Reports were published in 1855, any one who had the desire and diligence to go through them could gain a very fair idea of where and how the great Rocky Mountain barrier could be approached and crossed by railroad lines within the United States. There was one notable exception, the legendary Marias Pass which Governor Stevens heard about from the Blackfoot chief, Little Dog, but was unable to locate within the time limit and expense account which the impatient Jefferson Davis allowed him for the task.

If sectional rivalry tended to confusion as to the merits of the various routes, it also resulted in the exercise of great thoroughness on the part of the engineering forces. Weather and meteorology was carefully recorded; especially in the north the practicability of winter operation was stressed. The importance of favorable approaches to the passes was recognized and pointed out.

A remarkably able and complete treatise on the subject of railway construction and operation is contained in Volume I under the caption "Memoranda on Railways," by Captain George B. McClellan. It contains extensive data on contemporary railways and formulas for determining locomotive tonnage ratings for various grades, as well as a discussion of allowable curvature. The Baltimore and Ohio grade of 116 feet per mile is cited, and it is significant that the Land Grant Acts of 1862 and later years provide that "the grades and curves shall not exceed the grades and curves of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad." Thus originated the 2.2 percent grade, which became a common maximum for our western mountains.

In this article I have outlined the factors that made it important for the railroads to span the barrier of the Rocky Mountains, and some of the steps leading to that achievement. In the forthcoming articles I will deal specifically with the routes followed by the nine transcontinental lines which eventually laid tracks across the Divide.

Second of Three Articles on the railway Routes Across the Rocky Mountains

TODAY there are thirteen major crossings of the Rockies on the routes of nine transcontinental railways. Mr. Budd here discusses the routes from the Mexican border to and including the Northern Pacific, and incidentally gives some interesting information about Rocky Mountain passes that have never been used by a railway, and in his opinion never will be. The rugged character and broad expanse of the Great Range is shown by the fact that the railway crossings frequently entail summits hundreds of miles east and west of the Continental Divide, which are higher than the Divide itself. This article, together with that by Mr. Budd in the February issue, and one to appear in April, constituted the annual dinner address for 1938 of the American Branch of the Newcomen Society.

IN 1869 the first rails were connected across continental America when the Union Pacific and Central Pacific tracks met at the summit of Promontory Point, north of Great Salt Lake. other lines followed, to the north and to the south, and soon the railways were carrying the settlers to the intermountain and Pacific slope country as they had carried them over the Alleghenies and into the Middle West a generation or two earlier.

In crossing the Divide the railroads followed generally routes covered by the Pacific railroad Reports, dealt with in my previous paper in the February issues. It is interesting here to consider some of the characteristics of the railroad lines which actually use the passes of the Rocky Mountains at the present time.

The Southern Pacific has the lowest Continental Divide summit in the United States, but, like some of the other Rocky Mountain crossings, the elevation at widely distant points, east and west of the Divide itself, are higher than the summit, which separates the waters of the two oceans. Through the most southerly gateway, El Paso, New Orleans and Houston, the Sunshine route from St. Louis, Dallas and Fort Worth, and the Golden State Route from Chicago and Kansas City, converge from the east and follow thence the alternative paths of the Southern Pacific railway westward across the Continental Divide. Of these two alternatives the first, completed in 1883, follows up Rio Grande drainage on a grade of one percent, crosses the Divide in the open near Lordsburg, New Mexico, at elevation 4,244 feet, and descends the west slope on a one percent grade in Gila River drainage. About ninety miles west of Lordsburg is Dragoon Summit, at 4,613 feet, with a 1.1 percent grade on its east slope and a 1.4 percent on its west slope leading down to the San Pedro River. There is also a 1.4 percent ascending grade westward from the San Pedro to Mescal. The other line, about twenty miles to the south of the first, was built in 1902 as the El Paso and Southwestern. It ascends westward from the Rio Grande on a grade of one percent, crosses the Divide in the open at elevation 4,488 feet near Antelope, New Mexico, and descends on a one percent grade in the drainage of the Gila. A few miles to the east of Lordsburg and Antelope both of these tracks attain elevations some three hundred feet higher than at those passes, and there is a question as to the exact location of the Continental Divide in this latitude. About three hundred miles still farther east the Sunset, Sunshine, and Golden State routes attain altitudes of 5,074, 4,550, and 6,666 feet, respectively.

From El Paso westerly for 560 miles, both Southern Pacific lines run the length of the Gadsden Purchase of 1853. In fact this boundary question, wad made largely because of the knowledge that the important passes to which El Paso is the eastern gateway, lay within the disputed area. James Gadsden, who as Minister to Mexico, negotiated the purchase, had been president of the South Carolina Railroad, and was an ardent advocate of a "railway to the Pacific along the southern frontier," through the passes at the headwaters of the Gila.

About 250 miles to the north is the famous route of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. Following up Rio Grande and Rio San Jose drainage on a 0.6 percent grade, it crosses the Continental Divide in the open at Campbell pass (so named for A.H. Campbell of one of the Pacific Survey parties), elevation 7,274 feet at Gonzales, New Mexico, and descends in Rio Puerco-Colorado River drainage on a 0.6 grade. Here again the Continental Divide is not the highest point of the Rocky Mountain crossing. there is a summit 200 miles west of Campbell Pass where the line crosses what is called the Arizona Divide near Flagstaff, elevation 7,354 feet, with 1.42 percent grades from both directions, except for a few miles of 1.8 percent on the west slope.

The Santa Fe was completed from Kansas City to the coast in 1884. It now has two lines from the east which join about one hundred miles east of Campbell Pass. The northerly follows the Old Santa Fe Trail via Raton and Glorieta passes, in spurs of the main range, at elevations 7,620 and 7,437 feet respectively; the southerly, via Clovis, New Mexico, crosses a ridge between the Pecos and Rio Grande near Mountainair, elevation 6,508 feet, using a 0.6 percent grade on the eastern, and 1.25 percent on the western slope. The heavy through freight traffic moves over this line, while the passenger traffic goes mostly via Raton and Glorieta. A third line through Clayton, New Mexico, is under construction and follows closely the Short cut or Cimarron Branch of the Santa Fe Trail.

Next to the north are the two routes of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad in high and rugged parts of the Rockies. The first follows up the valley of the Arkansas River from Pueblo through the Royal Gorge on a grade of 1.42 percent, crossing the Divide beyond Leadville through Tennessee pass Tunnel, at elevation 10,239 feet, thence down Eagle River on a grade of three percent to the Colorado. the second follows up Ralston and Boulder creeks on a two percent grade from the South Platte River at Denver, crossing the Divide through the Moffat tunnel at elevation 9,239 feet, thence down to the Colorado river on a two percent grade. This line connects with the Tennessee Pass line at Dotsero, the forty-mile link along the Colorado River from Bond (Orestod) having been built in 1934, thereby forming what probably is the last transcontinental route ever to be carried across the Rockies. Moffat tunnel is the farthest east of all the crossings of the Continental Divide, and its eastern approach leads directly from the great prairies of eastern Colorado, Nebraska, and Kansas. The Wasatch Range, while lies between the Colorado River and Great Salt lake, is crossed by the Denver and Rio Grande Western four hundred miles west of Moffat Tunnel at Soldier Summit, elevation 7,440 feet, using a two percent grade on the west slope and 2.4 percent on the east.

The destiny of a railway seems to have been more nearly or more certainly determined by the Santa Fe's victory over the Denver and Rio Grande in the fight for possession of Raton Pass in 1878, than in any other such instance in America, and here, be it noted, the contest did not concern a Continental Divide crossing, but an important pass on a route leading to the Divide. The loss of Raton Pass turned the Denver and Rio Grande from Southwest conquest, perhaps from ultimately reaching Southern California, to Leadville and other Colorado mining centers in the high Rockies, and eventually to Salt Lake City, which it reached in 1883. This railroad, consisting of 2,300 miles, is located wholly in the Rocky Mountain region. At Pueblo and Denver its chief connections are the Missouri Pacific, Rock Island, and Burlington Lines, while at Salt Lake City and Ogden they are the Western Pacific, Southern Pacific, and Union Pacific.

A profile of the Union Pacific circa 1938.
North of the Denver and Rio Grande Western is the Great Central Route known since the early 1800s from reports of trappers, traders, missionaries, Mormons, Oregon Overlands, and California Forty-Niners. Here the Union Pacific Railway went through a high but favorable and open country to connect in 1869 with the Central Pacific. later its lines were extended south to Southern California and north to the Pacific Northwest, but all the traffic flows, hourglass fashion through one rocky Mountain summit at Creston, Wyoming, a 7,108 foot elevation. here the Continental Divide is so wide and open and easy of access that many railways could be built over it without interference, and in facto more than one such project has been launched and surveys made for lines. it was not because of engineering difficulties or physical obstacles that none was undertaken.

Eighty miles to the northwest from Creston is South pass, at about 7,500 foot altitude, long regarded as the most eligible crossing of the Rocky Mountains. it is at the north edge of the extensive divide plateau, while Creston is at the south edge. No railway ever was built through it, and it seems certain that none ever will be. Considering the extensive use of South pass by pre-railroad travelers one cannot help wondering why. An important factor is that the early trails led to the Columbia river, and not to California, because until 1848 California was foreign territory, while Oregon was open to joint occupancy from 1818 until it became a part of the United States. South Pass was on the direct road to Oregon, the Oregon trail. When the Union and Central Pacific railways came to be built in the late sixties, their western terminus was California, not Oregon, and South Pass was too far north of the direct line to California to justify its use, especially since it was desirable to keep the location as near to

Denver as practicable, Denver being then, as it is now, the largest city between Omaha and San Francisco. A very satisfactory route was found through Cheyenne, 110 miles north of Denver, and from there a much shorter line than the one through South Pass was available directly to the west, although it does involve high country at Sherman Hill. When the Oregon Short Line was built to the Columbia River from a junction with the Union Pacific, the logical location for such junction was many miles west of South Pass, leaving it again, and apparently forever, without a railway. the immigrant wagon road had to follow streams as closely as possible, but a railway may go across country. From the North Platte River, near the present city of Casper, the Sweetwater led directly up to South Pass, where less than a mile separates it from the headwaters of Pacific Creek. This was the path of the pioneers to Great Salt Lake, Oregon, and California.

As in other crossings, the Continental Divide is not the highest point on the Union Pacific. Westward from the plains its route is up Lodge Pole Creek in South Platte drainage, over Sherman Hill at elevation 8,014 feet, thence in North Platte drainage down to the Laramie and along that stream and the Medicine Bow to a high plateau some one hundred miles in width and almost three hundred miles in length from east to west. The Continental Divide is in this plateau and is crossed by the railroad at Creston, elevation 7,108 feet, with 0.82 percent grades on both slopes. The drainage to the east flows into the North Platte, and to the west into Green River. Crossing Aspen Ridge two hundred miles west of Creston at Aspen Tunnel, elevation 7,230 feet, between Green River and Great Salt lake, the grades are 1.14 percent on the west slope and 0.l82 percent on the east slope. Ascending Sherman Hill, 170 miles east of Creston, the grades are 1.55 percent on the east slope and 0.82 percent on the west slope.

A profile of the Northern Pacific circa 1938.

A profile of the Milwaukee Road circa 1938.
The Northern Pacific Railway was built through Helena in 1883, following the Missouri River, thence up Ten Mile and Seven Mile creeks on a 2.2 percent grade, crossing the Divide through a tunnel at Mullan Pass at elevation 5,566 feet, and down the west slope along the Little Blackfoot River on a 1.4 percent grade to Clark Fork, eventually reaching the valley of the Columbia. Mullan Pass was named for Lieutenant, later Captain, John Mullan, of Governor Stevens' party. In 1858 and the following years he built a military road through it, known as the Mullan road, extending 624 miles from Fort Benton on the Upper Missouri to Fort Walla Walla on the Columbia.

The second, and southerly, line of the Northern Pacific was built through Butte in 1890. This line follows up Jefferson River, a tributary of the Missouri, and Pipestone Creek on a 2.2 percent grade, crossing the Divide through a tunnel at Homestake Pass, elevation 6,356 feet, thence down the Clark Fork Valley through Butte on a 2.2 percent grade.

Mullan Pass, at elevation 5,566 feet, is about 800 feet lower than Homestake, and having easier approaches it is used for heavy freight movements. The reason for the Northern Pacific's tow lines, of course, is that both Helena and Butte are important cities, and each sits by a mountain saddle, Mullan Pass and Homestake Pass, respectively. The Northern Pacific crosses the north end of the Gallatin range, altitude 5,590 feet in Bozeman tunnel, one hundred miles east of Helena, with a 1.8 percent grade on the east slope and a 1.9 percent on the west slope. This is the divide between the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers.

During the years 1906 to 1909, the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul railway built across the Rockies, closely paralleling the Northern Pacific for many miles. It follows up the Missouri and Jefferson river and Little Pipestone Creek on a grade of two percent, crossing the Divide through Pipestone Tunnel, elevation 6,347 feet, a few miles from Homestake, thence through Butte and down the west slope on a 1.7 percent grade along Clark Fork. About 125 miles east of the Continental Divide this line crosses the Belt Mountains at altitude of 5,802 feet, with a one percent grade on the west slope and a two percent on the east slope. It crosses the Bitter Root Mountains about 250 miles west of the Continental Divide at altitude of 4,170 feet, using 1.7 percent grades in both directions.

Lemhi Pass, on the boundary between Montana and Idaho, one hundred miles southwest of Butte, has a history reminiscent of South pass in that it was the first to be known in the region, but never occupied by a railway, the Northern Pacific finding Mullan and Homestake passes much more advantageous. Lemhi, of course, was the pass used by Lewis and Clark on their way to the Pacific in 1805. On their returning trip in 1806 the party divided; Clark explored the Yellowstone River while Lewis went north to find the headwaters of the Marias. By some quirk, the name Lewis and Clark pass has been used given to the pass north of Helena, which Lewis alone used and Clark never saw, while the pas Clark used and Lewis never saw is called Gibbon. Lemhi, which they both used and which by all the rules should be called Lewis and Clark pass, has never been so designated.

The Gilmore and Pittsburgh Railroad, which may be classed as a frustrated transcontinental line, built near Lemhi pass but used Bannock Pass instead, at elevation 7,545, a few miles south. An improved highway does go through Lemhi, while South Pass was so named because it lies far to the south of Lemhi and the others which Lewis and Clark discovered. El Paso del Norte, the most southerly of all, received its name because it leads to the north from Mexico.

Last of Three Articles on Railway Routes Across the Rocky Mountains

IN this paper Mr. Budd tells the story of Marias pass which John F. Stevens found, just in time, for James J. Hill, who was about to build the Great Northern on a circuitous route far to the south. He also describes the Canadian Pacific line through Kicking Horse Pass, and the Canadian National through Yellowhead. he concludes that an engineer today, with all present knowledge at his disposal, could not greatly improve on the several major crossings of the Continental Divide now in use. This article, together with those in the February and march issues, constituted the annual dinner address for 1938 of the American Branch of the Newcomen Society.

THE Pacific Railroad Surveys made by the U.S. Army engineers, and the crossing of the Rockies in nine places by six railroads, have been described in my previous papers. It remains only to discus one crossing in the United States -- that of the Great Northern railway along the southern boundary of Glacier National Park -- and the three in Canada.

A profile of the Great Northern circa 1938.
Between Mullan Pass (near the present city of Helena) and the Canadian boundary, a distance of two hundred miles, the Pacific Railroad Surveys reported no pass suitable for a railway, although Isaac I. Stevens, who headed the northern party, always thought there was one at the headwaters of the Marias River that had eluded him.

There was documentary evidence that such a pass existed. Robert Greenhow, Librarian to the Department of State, wrote a pamphlet in 1840 entitled, Memoir, Historical and Political, on the Northwest Coast of North America and the Adjacent Territories, which was a statement of the United States' claims to Oregon, and no doubt was influential in settling the boundary question. Our interest in this pamphlet, however, is not in its text, but in the map that accompanied it, which shows very clearly a trail marked "Route Across the Mts." exactly where the Great Northern main line is now located through Marias Pass. Diligent search in the archives of the State Department and Library of Congress has failed to reveal the sources of information used in making this map, so it only adds to the mystery of the pass. Governor Stevens mentions Marias Pass more than fifty times in his reports, and after his request to extend the exploration into another year was peremptorily refused by Secretary of War Davis, he wrote a final letter on April 20, 1855, to the Secretary calling attention to evidence that such a pass was seen by James Doty of his party, but no explored. he closes this letter as follows: "There is every probability of the existence of a wide, open pass, formerly in extensive use by the Indians, some twenty miles south of the pass explored in 1853 by A.W. Tinkham, Asst. Engineer."

He was right, but no systematic search was made for it until James J. Hill was building the Great Northern Railway through to the Pacific in the late 1880s. Mr. Hill's line across eastern Montana lay only sixty miles from Canada, but Helena and Butte were so important that he decided to build from Havre three hundred miles southwesterly to those cities, which he did in 1887. At the same time a survey was made for a line to the west, through Dearborn Pass, northwest of Helena. but before doing any construction work he investigated every mile of the mountain rage northward to the boundary, hoping to find a crossing more directly on his through route. Anxious to push westward with the building, he carried exploration into the winter months, and finally, on December 11, 1889, his reconnaissance engineer found the elusive Marias Pass precisely where Chief Little Dog, thirty-six years earlier, had told Isaac I. Stevens it would be found. That discovery changed the Great Northern Railway from a circuitous, into a very direct, transcontinental line, with most favorable grades and alignment on both easterly and westerly approaches.

The Great Northern as built follows up the Missouri and Mile rivers, thence in Marias River drainage, on a one percent grade, crossing the divide at Marias Pass, without a tunnel, at elevation 5,213 feet; thence fourteen miles down the west slope on a grade of 1.8 percent in a defile recently given the official name of John F. Stevens Canyon; and along the Flathead, Kootenai, and Pend Oreille rivers on 0.7 and 0.8 percent grades.

In honor of the discovery of Marias Pass, the Great Northern erected a heroic bronze statute of the reconnaissance engineer at the pass. It represents him as he was when he made the discovery in 1889, garbed for mountain work in winter, and it stands as a monument not only to him but to all reconnaissance engineers. This hero of Marias pass is John Frank Stevens, Honorary Member and Past-President of the Society, noted engineer of early Panama Canal days, and later the Inter-Allied occupancy in Siberia. I believe he is the only living member of the Society to have a major mountain pass named in his honor -- Stevens Pass in the Cascade Mountains -- but that is another story.

The Great Northern built through Marias Pass in 1891 and reached the Pacific Coast early in 1893. So ended the quest, begun by Meriwether Lewis in 1806, for a pass at the source of the river which he called Maria's "in honor of Miss Maria Wood . . . that lovely fair one."

The United States railroad explorations may have stimulated the British Government to secure similar information about railway possibilities in Canada. At any rate, such investigations and reports were made under the direction of Captain John Palliser during the years 1857, 1858, 1859. They were published in four folios of official papers, entitled "Explorations in British North America," illustrated by splendid maps, and reflect painstaking field work. Palliser's principal assistances were Dr. James Hector, Lt. Thomas Blakiston, Monsieur E. Borgeau, botanist, and J.W. Sullivan, secretary to the expedition. The Hudson's Bay Company possessed a vast amount of information about the country which it made available, and also rendered invaluable assistance in many other ways.

Captain Palliser was an Irish sportsman who already knew the western wilderness and its ways. He spent the year 1848 in the buffalo country, with principal headquarters at Fort Union, a the confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers, right where the Great Northern now crosses the North Dakota-Montana boundary. His account of this experience was published in 1853 under the title, Solitary Rambles and Adventures of a Hunter in the Prairies, and is one of the most delightful books dealing with the big-game era in America. He later was awarded the Victoria Gold Medal, elected a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, and awarded the Companionship of Saint Michael and Saint George. Palliser's party left many place names in the Canadian Rockies, among them being Kicking Horse River and Pass. The occasion for this name was an accident to Doctor Hector, which occurred when one of his horses objected to the placing of the pack on its back and severely kicked him on that particular morning in 1858.

Three main line railways cross the Canadian Rockies. The southerly line of the Canadian Pacific, completed in 1898, occupies Crowsnest Pass at altitude 4,459. Owing to its close proximity to the United States boundary, and the rugged country to the west, the traffic on this route is relatively light. from the east, it follows up South Saskatchewan river tributaries on a two percent grade, crosses the Divide in the open at Crowsnest Pass, and descends the west slope on a 1.4 percent grade in the drainage of the Kootenai River.

The Canadian Pacific's main transcontinental line, completed in 1886, uses Kicking Horse pass, altitude 5,338. Its course from the east is up the South Saskatchewan, thence along Bow River, on a 1.8 percent grade approaching the Divide, which is crossed in the open at Stephen; and down the Kicking Horse River on the west slope on a 2.2 percent grade. These favorable data give little hint of the rugged character of Canadian Pacific construction. It is in the Selkirks, rather than in the main Rockies, that the greatest engineering feats were performed, although the spiral tunnels which ease the westerly descent from Kicking Horse Pass are spectacular examples of mountain location and construction.

The Canadian National Railways transcontinental line, connected through in 1913, crosses the Divide in the open at Yellowhead Pass, latitude 53 degrees, altitude 3,717. The eastern approach to the pass is up the Athabasca river drainage on a 0.4 percent grade except for a short piece of 0.5 percent and thence down the west slope on a 0.7 percent grade in upper Fraser River waters. At Red Pass Junction, twenty-six miles out of Yellowhead, the line divides. One route goes to Prince Rupert, following first the drainage of the Fraser River, and then the Nechako, Bulkley, and Skeena rivers to the Pacific. the more important route, that to Vancouver, turns south about forty-six miles beyond Yellowhead Pass, and after following Canoe River a short distance, descends along the North Thompson to Kamloops, thence along the Thompson River southwesterly to its junction with the Fraser, and then down that mighty stream to tidewater at New Westminster and Vancouver. This is the easiest railway gradient across the continent -- there is only one summit and that at 3,717 feet above the sea, with very favorable approaches from both directions.

Yellowhead was well known to the Canadian Pacific engineers and officials, but for national as well as economic reasons, in order to occupy the more central and productive areas, they decided on the Kicking Horse route. Something of their courage may be gauged by the fact that they built through Kicking Horse Canyon without being certain how they could get beyond, and while explorations were sill under way in the Selkirks.

We have been considering the building of the western railways and their great benefit to the United States and Canada. The portentous meaning of this movement as it appeared to the Indians is reflected in the reports of Isaac I. Stevens and John Palliser, two representatives of their respective governments who were sincere, honest, and sympathetic friends of the Red Man.

At a meeting between Governor Stevens and a band of Assiniboines, on July 27, 1853, near the center of what is now North Dakota, the old chief said: "The Great Father of Life who made us and gave us these lands to live upon, made the buffalo and other game to afford us subsistence; their meat is our only food; with their skins we clothe ourselves and build our houses. they are our only means of life -- food, fuel, and clothing. But the buffalo are fast disappearing and before many years will be destroyed. As the white man advances our means of life grow less. We hear that a great road is to be made through our country. We do not know what this is for; we do not understand it, but think it will drive away the buffalo. What are we to do?"

Captain John Palliser reports a similar meeting five years later, south of Lake Winnipeg, when the Cree chief said: "I want you to declare to us truthfully what the great Queen of your country intends to do to us when she will take the country from the Fur Company's people . . . . We will not sell or part with our lands. Now, what is to be come of us? We have no more animals; they are all gone, and only for the little fish we take we would starve."

In these articles I have enumerated the thirteen transcontinental railroad crossing of that "impassible barrier," the Continental Divide, at various locations from the Mexican border to Yellowhead Pass in Western Canada, a distance of about 1,500 miles. Many engaging speculations suggest themselves concerning some aspects of these various routes by which main lines of railways cross the Rocky Mountains. One of the singular things is that, using widely separated passes, the distances from Chicago or Toronto, for example, to Pacific Coast points by various lines are so nearly the same. A comparison of train timetables will emphasize this surprising fact. The practical routes of course are governed by important intermediate cities, and in choosing a direct itinerary the mountain pass to be used determines the gateway point, and vice versa. For example, whether a traveler from Chicago to Los Angeles will go through Kansas city or Omaha depends upon where the train he patronizes will cross the mountains. Several hundred miles may separate these crossings but the distance traveled and the time required will be nearly the same. Similarly, the routes through the Twin Cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis, and through Omaha, are practically the same length from Chicago to Portland, Oregon., although they may be five hundred miles apart where they cross the Rockies. For these reasons if an engineer, in the light of all that is now known about the topography of the West, should decide to lay out the shortest and fastest line possible, it does not seem that he could make much improvement over any one of several direct routes. By ignoring large gateway points a good deal might be done, but in the West we do not have enough population or traffic to justify avoiding our large cities with through travel, as may be done appropriately in the East.

It is notable that in many instances the passes at the Continental Divide are lower than other points both to the east and to the west. this is usually, but not always, occasioned by crossing a ridge or mountain spur to avoid the distance involved in following a tortuous stream to one of its sources at the Divide. the distance of three hundred or four hundred miles from the high point on the east to that on the west, with the Continental Divide between, indicates how enormous is the mass of the Rocky Mountain range.

The maximum grades on the western transcontinental rail lines are quite uniform -- especially if the profiles over the Cascades and Sierras are included -- being generally about two percent. Every transcontinental road has been greatly improved, both as to line and grade. unquestionably they will be further improved, but it seems doubtful whether the rise and fall of the ruling gradients by which the various lines now cross the Rockies will be substantially changed. it also seems doubtful that any of the Rocky Mountain passes now occupied by transcontinental railways will ever be abandoned, or any not now occupied will ever be used by a railway. The search for railway routes across the Rocky Mountains and the competitive struggle for their control is therefore a closed chapter; it remains to perfect the means and methods of operating railroads through them so that the handicap of mountain barriers, once so formidable, may be gradually minimized.

Ralph Budd. ''The Conquest of the Rockies.'' Trains, October, 1947, pp. 42-55.
''Jefferson Davis was Secretary of War and, solely because of the scope of the work fell within the duties of that position, he carried out the instructions of Congress. Some acts of his savor of sectionalism -- for example, his exaggeration of the difficulties of winter operation in the north, and his pre-emptory orders to curtail [northern] explorations under Isaac Stevens at a critical time.'' [p. 46]

''A remarkably able and complete treatis on the subject of railway construction and operation is contained in Volume I [of the Pacific Railroad Surveys published in the Congressional Record in 1855] under the caption 'Memoranda on Railways' by Capt. George B. McCellan. It contains extensive data on contemporary railways and forumlas for determining locomotive tonnage ratings for various grades, as well as a discussion of allowable curvature. The Baltimore and Ohio grade of 116 feet per mile is cited, and it is significant that the Land Grant Acts of 1862 and later years povied that 'the grades and curves shall not exceed the grades and curves of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.' Thus originated the 2.2 per cent grade, which became a common maximum in our western mountains.'' [p. 47]

It is interesting to note that Stevens, heading up the northern surveys, had McClellan working under him. Stevens was trying to locate Marias Pass, but it appears perhaps Jeff Davis ended this search prematurely. McClellan was working in the neighborhood of Snoqualmie Pass, but failed to move far west enough to locate it (despite Stevens urging him to keep moving). That story is written up in Philip Henry Overmeyer's ''George B. McClellan and the Pacific Northwest,'' Pacific Northwest Quarterly, January, 1941.

Ushering in change -- the diesel locomotive coupled to streamlined, lightweight cars -- the Burlington's Zephyr.

Ralph Budd
Died Friday, February 2, 1962, at the age of 82, in Santa Barbara, California. A skilled technician, effective administrator, scholar and historian, he was, above all, a gracious friendly human being. Always readily accessible, he had a way of making anyone feel at ease and, inevitably, of learning something from them as well as giving freely of himself. All these quantities combined to make him, among other things, the great railroader he was. Apart from the immediate problems before him, he was an eternal student of railroads, interested in their origin, development, and place in society. He was curious, for example, about the men who put together and developed the great systems, about the people working in the industry, and about the vast multitudes who simply liked trains. In the fullest sense, he was a rail “fan”; whoever loves the rails, as he did, has lost a kindred spirit and friend.

One of six children of John and Mary Budd, Ralph was born on a farm near Waterloo, Iowa on August 20, 1879. After graduating at 19 from Des Moines’ Highland Park College, he began railway service as a draftsman in the Chicago Great Western’s divisional engineering office. His pay was $45 a month; within the year, when he went out on the line, he was entitled to traveling expenses of $30 a month more!

Budd’s rise to the deanship of the industry to which he devoted over half a century was meteoric. His skill at applying [Arthur Newell] Talbot’s newly devised techniques of fitting a railroad spiral [The Railway Transition Spiral, published 1899; see the A.N. Talbot pages at the University of Illinois for an overview of Professor Talbot’s life and work] to existing curves soon commanded attention, and in 1902 he was called to the Rock Island, then building its St. Louis-Kansas City line. The next year he became its division engineer; his capacity on that job was duly noted by the distinguished John [Frank] Stevens, then vice-president of the road. As a result, when Stevens became chief engineer of the Panama Canal in 1906, he sent for Budd and put him in charge of the engineering for the Trans-Isthmian Railroad. Relocating that line and driving a new cut-off through the tangled jungle was a task of epic proportions, but Budd managed to beat every deadline. Meanwhile Stevens had gone to work for James [Jerome] Hill, and in 1909 he again called for Budd, this time to have him locate a southern extension of the Oregon Trunk. So well did Budd do that job, as well as locating the line (eventually completed in 1931) to Bieber and Keddie, that in 1910 he was appointed chief engineer of the Oregon Trunk, and shortly thereafter, of the Spokane, Portland and Seattle as well. Not long afterwards Jim Hill visited the Oregon Trunk. He liked the alert young engineer in charge and late in 1912 brought Budd, then 33, to St. Paul as assistant to the president in charge of capital expenditures; by the end of that year Budd was appointed chief engineer of the Great Northern and in 1918 became executive vice-president. By this time Hill himself had died, but he had left confidential instructions with his most trusted financial advisor that when it came time to look for a new president of the system, Budd was their man. So it was that at the age of 40, in 1919, Ralph Budd became president of the Great Northern.

His thirteen-year administration [signaled] the modernization of that property. During his first decade in office the road invested $79,000,000 in improvements, $75,000,000 more in rolling stock, and nearly $7,000,000 in the construction of new lines. Among other things the company built southward to a connection with the Western Pacific and completed the 7.79-mile [New] Cascade Tunnel, the longest in the western hemisphere [at that time]. In this venture diesel engines were used to supply power for the ventilating system, and from that time on Budd was profoundly impressed by both the performance and potential of this type of power. Convinced of the economies inherent in consolidation, he sparked the attempt in 1930 to combine the Great Northern and Northern Pacific. Although the [Interstate Commerce Commission] gave its approval, it was conditioned upon relinquishing control of the Burlington; thus the plan was abandoned. The soundness of his idea, however, is evident in the current attempt to achieve a similar objective. While on the Great Northern Budd also exhibited his interest in fast, comfortable passenger service designed not only to bring business but to create goodwill on the part of shippers; the Empire Builder, saving a whole business day over the previous fastest schedule, was inaugurated in June, 1929.

On January 1, 1932, Ralph Budd became president of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy. That well-established and profitable line had managed to weather the depression but, lime many another railway, had seen its freight revenues drop almost in half in the preceding two years. Budd went to work with a vengeance. He reduced the number of operating divisions from seventeen to eleven. Sensing the rich potential of increased trans-continental business, he threw his weight behind completion of the Dotsero Cut-Off, which, when opened in 1934, shortly led to four-fold increase of Burlington business through Denver. Meanwhile, he was actively searching ways to attract passenger travel by a faster and better service at low cost. The company ordered a lightweight stainless steel streamlined train, but this was only part of the answer. Budd was convinced that this was the time and place to try out the diesel engine as the prime source of power. Thus when the Pioneer Zephyr was delivered to the Burlington in Philadelphia on April 7, 1934, it ushered in a new chapter in American railroading. Its spectacular dawn-to-dusk run to Chicago on May 26 of that year electrified the nation, and a major revolution in the industry was under way. Budd was always experimenting with passenger service. In the summer of 1939 he persuaded the Rio Grande and the Western Pacific to join the Burlington in establishing a daily through train to the Coast; a decade later it was replaced by the California Zephyr which has since become a national institution. Meanwhile, in 1945, Budd became intrigued with [Electro-Motive’s Cyrus] R. Osborne’s idea of a dome car, and built the first experimental one in the Q’s Aurora Shops. It was in instant success and brought another “first” to the Burlington.

The improvements Budd put into effect on the Burlington defy description. He vastly extended truck operations to supplement rail movement; as early as 1940 the Burlington was transporting truck trailers on flat cars between Chicago and Kansas City. In min-1943 Budd even south to set up helicopter service from such cities as Peoria and Des Moines to nearby division points on the main line, but the [Civil Aeronautics Board] turned down the idea on the theory that this would constitute a monopoly of transportation! Not all his projects were approved: his support of the proposal to divide up the Minneapolis and St. Louis among seven major railroads and his efforts to have the Colorado and Southern lease the Fort Worth and Denver City Railway were turned down by the ICC. So was his imaginative project to improve the Chicago-Kansas City line by utilizing part of the Santa Fe. But many of these ideas were eventually carried out in other ways: the Colorado and Southern-Fort Worth and Denver City situation was greatly improved by financial and corporate readjustments, and in 1949 the Burlington gained permission to construct its own short line into Kansas City.

From May, 1940, until the end of 1941 Ralph Budd, as Transportation Commissioner on the Advisory Committee to the Council of National Defense, was responsible to the federal government for the performance of the nation’s transportation plant. He carried out this job with a small but efficient staff as well as fulfilling his duties as Burlington president. His successor as Director of the Office of Defense Transportation, Joseph B. Eastman, was emphatic in recognizing what Budd had done to prepare the nation’s transportation facilities for the war-time task.

The Burlington, with Budd in command, was virtually a training school for railway executives. Men like Fred Gurley, John Farrington, Fred Whitman, Harry Murphy, and [Alfred] E. Perlman, all of whom went on to head great railways, served varying terms on the Burlington while Budd was at its head. As James G. Lyne put it in Railway Age at the time of his retirement in 1949, the Burlington was “principally the lengthened shadow of Ralph Budd.”

As a matter of fact, it was unthinkable that Ralph Budd should retire from active work. Many offers came his way, including a professional lectureship at Northwester University with virtual carte blance to teach whatever he wished. Budd turned down that invitation because he did not think he was qualified, a reason with which many of his friends emphatically disagreed. What he did instead was to spend five busy years as Chairman of the Chicago Transit Authority. At the end of that time the entire plant had a new look: Chicago’s local transportation was on the way to compete consolidation and modernization.

Throughout his railway and CTA career, Ralph Budd was called upon time and again for expert counsel. In 1930, for example, he made, for the Soviet government, a comprehensive analysis of their railway system. His service as Transportation Commissioner just prior to American involvement in World War Two has already been mentioned; during the conflict itself he was twice put in charge of the Central Western District when, temporarily, the government took over the railways as a result of labor disputes. In 1952-3 he served as chairman of a special Railroad Mission which spent over three months investigating the Brazilian railways.

Budd’s principal avocation was Western history. While on the Great Northern he sponsored a series of historical pamphlets and personally arranged two excursions over the line for leading historians from all over the country. On the Burlington in the mid-thirties he opened the company’s extensive colonization records to historical research and in 1943 deposited in the Newberry Library some fifteen tons of invaluable source material covering the period 1849-1901. In 1940 and again in 1949 he sponsored two elaborate historical pageants on the Burlington and was one of the moving spirits behind the extremely successful Railroad Fair held on Chicago’s lakefront in 1948-49. For years he served as a trustee of the James Jerome Hill Reference Library in St. Paul, of the Museum of Science and Industry, and of the Newberry Library. He was an active participant in numerous historical societies, including the Lexington Group devoted specifically to railway history. He commissioned two historical booklets about the Burlington, The First Ninety Years and Milepost 100. More importantly, he made possible and actively encouraged the writing of monographs on the Burlington’s colonization work, the Strike of 1888, the re-financing program of 1944-45, the Colorado and Southern-Fort Worth and Denver City to 1899, the colonization work of the Hannibal and St. Joseph, and, of course, the full-scale multi-volume history of the Burlington Lines 1849-1949, which, after fifteen years, has just been completed in manuscript form. The first four studies have already been published.

In June, 1954, Ralph Budd “retired” and established a home in Santa Barbara, California. He remained, however, a member of several boards of directors for year and not only traveled extensively to carry out his responsibilities, but maintained a prolific correspondence and entertained a steady stream of former colleagues and friends.

Mercifully, Ralph Budd’s death was quick and peaceful. His alert mind, his enthusiastic curiosity about people and things, and his ready sense of humor were with him to the last moment. Surviving him are his wife, a married daughter, two married sons, five grandchildren, and several great grandchildren as well as three sisters and a brother. His son, John M. Budd, president of the Great Northern, carries on the family tradition in railroading.

In the hearts of countless thousands who knew him, Ralph Budd will long be a cherished memory and an inspiration.

—Richard C. Overton, University of Western Ontario; The Railway and Locomotive Historical Society Bulletin No. 106, April, 1962, pp. 82-85.

Author: J.A. Phillips, III. Title: Ralph and the Rockies URL: pw2.netcom.com/~whstlpnk/ralphbudd.html.

© March 18, 2006