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David Haward Bain
David Haward Bain
Empire Express: Building the First Transcontinental Railroad
ISBN: 0140084991
Empire Express: Building the First Transcontinental Railroad
Bain draws on his historical/political savvy and his ability to breathe life into history in this saga of the building of the transcontinental railroad—a story which reads like a novel: color, lively, and dramatic.
—from the publisher's website
Empire Express: Building the First Transcontinental Railroad
Program Air Date: March 5, 2000

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: David Haward Bain, where did you get the title "Empress Express" for your book?
Mr. DAVID HAWARD BAIN, AUTHOR, "EMPIRE EXPRESS": Building the First Transcontinental Railroad"): "Empire Express."
LAMB: Empire.
Mr. BAIN: Yes.
LAMB: Thank you.
Mr. BAIN: It--it just seemed to--to name itself. It really did. I mean, just the idea of America inventing itself in the middle part of the 19th century and from the very beginning of it, in the 1840s all the way to the driving of the golden spike, the country really became what it is today, or it began to become what it is today, and--and it was like an express train.
LAMB: When did you first get interested in this subject?
Mr. BAIN: It--when I was a child I think my first literary influence was "The Little Engine That Could," and I was always interested in trains. I think most Americans are interested in trains in some way. And I think the first book I ever read on the first transcontinental was in Landmark series when I was probably seven, eight years old. And little did I know that I'd be spending this amount of time on it.
LAMB: Now you were 36 years old when you started writing this book, or researching this book. How old are you today?
Mr. BAIN: I'm 50 for the next month.
LAMB: Fourteen years on this one project.
Mr. BAIN: Fourteen years. Yes.
LAMB: How did you go about it?
Mr. BAIN: It took a lot of primary research. That was the major thing. The--the previous books that were done on the first transcontinental were mostly done with a little bit of archival work but a lot of book research, and so they tended to tell the same stories over and over and over again. And so this was finding out where the original sources were in the various libraries around the country and then getting to know the bad handwriting, the terrible punctuation, the spelling and everything, and just reading all of those handwritten letters and telegraph dispatches, and building the story up from the--from the bottom up.
LAMB: The years that you researched about?
Mr. BAIN: Say 1842 to 1873, 30 years, so it isn't just one of those narrow stories about the railroad. It's really a story about how America became what it is and so, by starting off in 1842, with Asa Whitney, the--the--the pioneer railroad promoter, I was able to take in all of the things that went on during his time and the years thereafter. So I'd be talking about issues like the Mexican War, for instance, the Civil War, the--the Plains Indian wars, the real beginning of the mercantile capitalist culture in--in America and the settlement patterns going westward. It was just a tremendously large story and it was all linked to the railroad.
LAMB: How many American politicians made money off of the railroad?
Mr. BAIN: How many did they catch?
LAMB: How many did they catch?
Mr. BAIN: They caught--they caught under 25 and it was--it was a much larger number than that. This was--this was a major scandal in Washington in 1872 and '73 during the Grant re-election campaign. And Washington completely ground to a halt because of this. I mean, the railroad had become a major force in American politics by then and in American life, and American imagination was taken up with the adventures that were going on out West. And then suddenly to have that all come crashing down, to find out that--that major members of the Republican administration--senators, congressmen--they all had feet of clay and had been enriching themselves for years on this and it was--it was quite a comedown, quite a comedown.
LAMB: Who were some of the names?
Mr. BAIN: Who were some of the names? Schuyler Colfax, who was vice president under Grant's first administration; Henry Wilson, who was going to be vice president in the--in the--in the next administration. You had, of course, Oakes Ames, who was the Massachusetts congressman, and Senator Patterson from--from New York. I mean, the--the list just went quite on and--and it even included a lot of people who weren't actually culpable at that time, like James G. Blaine of Maine, who was one of the largest politicians at that time. I mean, this--this really was a stain that spread quite wide.
LAMB: I want to talk about Oakes Ames in a moment, Congressman Oakes Ames.
Mr. BAIN: Yes.
LAMB: The--the Promontory spike was buried in the ground what date?
Mr. BAIN: May 10th, 1869, Promontory, Utah.
LAMB: And what was the point there? What was the reason? What--what happened at that--on that date?
Mr. BAIN: Well, the--the funny thing was is that they began this whole transcontinental enterprise without really having an idea about where they were going to meet so what it did was it encouraged a kind of a wild, speculative competition. And by the time it got to be 1868 and 1869 in Wyoming and Utah, the two competing railroad companies, the Central Pacific from California and the Union Pacific coming out from Omaha, were really just trying to grab as much territory--since they were being paid by the mile, trying to grab as much territory as they could. So when the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific joined in Promontory, it caused, you know, a national tumult of—of celebration. But it was--you know, it was also something that wasn't really planned for. I mean, the kinds of celebrities that you might think show up at th--at--at a celebration like that, they just--they just weren't there. It was--it was--it was kind of like a local thing, but it...
LAMB: Would the railroad--the intercontinental railroad have been built without taxpayer money?
Mr. BAIN: I think emphatically not, emphatically not. A--a good portion of the route was--was unsettled at that point, so it was--it was supposedly federal lands which could be given over to the railroads in exchange for their moving westward and eastward. But even--even with that sort of thing, even with—with subsidies according to the mile completed, it--it--it really was something that wouldn't have been done without the taxpayers' purse involved.
LAMB: Here's a photograph of Oakes Ames, Representative Oakes Ames from Massachusetts.
Mr. BAIN: Massachusetts, yes.
LAMB: Tell us about him.
Mr. BAIN: Well, he was--he was called `The King of Spades.' He was--he was heir, along with his brother Oliver, to a very large shovel manufacturing plant in Massachusetts which really took off during the California gold rush, and so he became a very wealthy man.

Went to Congress--he was among the founders of the Republican Party, so he was--he was very highly placed. He knew Lincoln very well and they--they spent a lot of time together. And Lincoln himself anointed Oakes Ames with the purpose of getting involved in the Union Pacific Railroad because the capitalists just weren't showing up, they weren't showing up to invest. It was really going nowhere after it was incorporated in 1862 and Lincoln said to Ames, `Ames, take hold of this. It will be the biggest thing in the country.' And so...
LAMB: This is right in the middle of the Civil War.
Mr. BAIN: Right in the middle of the Civil War, yeah, a great national project like that with everything going on.
LAMB: Wh--when did this connection--where did this connection start in the East and where did it end up in the West?
Mr. BAIN: Started in Omaha on the Missouri River in Nebraska and that was where the Union Pacific was starting, and the Central Pacific Railroad started in Sacramento, California, and had to immediately address the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and they just built toward each other.
LAMB: Out in San Marino, California, there's the Huntington Library...
Mr. BAIN: Yes, yes.
LAMB: ...that we've spent some time...
Mr. BAIN: Have you?
LAMB: this network looking at stuff. Who is Huntington?
Mr. BAIN: Collis P. Huntington. He was from Oneonta, New York, originally from Connecticut as a small boy. But he was an upstate New Yorker, basically up by his bootstraps. He was a pushcart salesman who, at the time of the gold rush, decided to go West and seek his fortune. And his brilliance was not in standing in those frigid streams looking for gold, but to be the man who sold them the shovels and sold them the picks and the supplies and everything. And he did rather well at it.
LAMB: So then Huntington Library was built with his money?
Mr. BAIN: With his money, yes, and--and his--his nephew's money, which was basically just extensions of the Huntington fortune.
LAMB: Now there's a lot of Abraham Lincoln in that library. Would there have been a reason that they would have been happy with what Abraham Lincoln had done when he was president?
Mr. BAIN: Well, Huntington was also a founder of the Republican Party. That was one of the interesting political sides of this story, because so many people connected with the first transcontinental had been Whigs and had been very interested in the abolitionist movement. And when the Republican Party was formed for the--for the presidential campaign in 1856, all of these people who you see throughout the transcontinental story were founders of the Republican Party, and they were able to use those connections over and over and over again to aid their private enterprises.
LAMB: When you go to San Francisco, up on Nob Hill is the Mark Hopkins Hotel.
Mr. BAIN: Yes.
LAMB: Who was Mark Hopkins?
Mr. BAIN: Mark Hopkins was Collis Huntington's partner in the hardware business and he was a--a much less public man than Huntington was. Hopkins was basically the treasurer of the Central Pacific and he stayed in the back rooms and--and hardly ever saw the light of day.

Huntington was the dynamo of the Central Pacific. He spent most of his time between Washington, New York and Boston, so--either dealing with the banks or with the politicians and, of course, all of the foundries. And he basically spent four or five years of his life almost entirely on railroad trains, going back and forth between these three cities, sleeping upright in his--in his seat and get--getting prepared for the next meeting. And he was really the one who pushed it through from--from the East.
LAMB: By the way, did he have anything to do with building that hotel out there in San Francisco?
Mr. BAIN: No, that was all done just using their names years later.
LAMB: There's a university out there in San Francisco below there called Stanford.
Mr. BAIN: Yes, Stanford. Now that--that is another one of the people that we now know as the big four, Leland Stanford. He was--he was from the East, also from upstate New York, and he was a failed lawyer who went West after the gold rush and went into the wholesale grocery business with his brothers. And he was one of the people, along with Huntington and Hopkins and Charles Crocker, who was a dry goods salesman, who banded together to back a Californian engineer who wanted to do a survey of the Sierra Nevada Mountains for a railroad.
LAMB: Charles Crocker's on our screen right now. Edwin Bryant Crocker is his brother.
Mr. BAIN: Yes.
LAMB: And how does he relate to Charles Crocker?
Mr. BAIN: Well, Crocker for me was one of the most interesting people in this--in this whole tale because his--his life and his part in this have been so underrepresented and he was--he was also a lawyer and he was briefly a judge in the California state Supreme Court. But he was the dynamo on the West Coast who really kept all of his partners' courage from failing, who was acting as--not only as the attorney, but as the general manager, so his finger was in every single department of the Central Pacific.

And he had a stroke. He collapsed of a stroke a month after they drove the golden spike and was incapacitated for the rest of his life and basically written out of the history books by his credit-hogging partners. Very interesting. But his--his life was, you know, resurrected in his letters for me and that's why he became a major character in this story.
LAMB: Who is Theodore Judah?
Mr. BAIN: Theodore Judah, from Connecticut and from upstate New York. He was trained in Troy, New York, as a civil engineer, went West and became the first railroad engineer on the Pacific slope for the Sacramento Valley Railroad. And it was he who decided to tackle the notion of a transcontinental railroad from its most impossible side, which was the western side; how to get from the Sacramento Valley 7,000 feet up to the summit of the Sierras and then down—in some kind of a stately manner, down into Nevada. And he--he crisscrossed all over the mountains until he found the--the old Donner route, the old Donner party route which had collapsed in starvation and--and--and hunger years before, and it was also a perfect route for a railroad, a nice, easy, continuous divide from the valley up to the summit and then back down again.
LAMB: Who was Dr. Thomas Durant?
Mr. BAIN: Dr. Thomas Durant was the dynamo of the Union Pacific. He was a Machiavellian creature. He was a--a genius for backroom deals. He was the vice president of the Union Pacific and was trained as an ophthalmologist, but gave that up for working in shipping, and ultimately became the vice president of the Union Pacific, and also the person who was most at home down in Washington in the backroom quarters, getting--getting the legislation through in--in the way that he wanted it.
LAMB: Back to Oakes Ames for a moment.
Mr. BAIN: Yes.
LAMB: He was in Congress for how many terms?
Mr. BAIN: Let's see, that would be four terms. I believe it was four terms.
LAMB: Eight years.
Mr. BAIN: Yes.
LAMB: And how did he work his way through? How did the money--how did he interact with these railroad companies and--and...
Mr. BAIN: Actually, it may have been more than four terms, it may have been six terms actually, now that I think about it. I'm sorry for interrupting.
LAMB: What's his relationship with money and Congress and these railroads?
Mr. BAIN: Well, the thing that happened was that Okes Ames really saw the—the whole notion of influence as being tremendously important, political influence being tremendously important, and he saw it as a perfectly natural thing to interest his colleagues in Congress indirectly in the--the Pacific Railroad so that they would vote in the right way. And he saw nothing wrong with that. So he went among his colleagues and offered them greatly discounted securities in the construction arm of the Union Pacific, which was called the Credit Mobilier of America. And a number signed up and that was the root of the--the scandal. And to his dying day he really said that he'd done everything with the bestpossible motivations and that, you know, the idea of personal enrichment was--was the farthest from his mind.
LAMB: You--you know, in the last 11 years of BOOKNOTES, I've had Credit Mobilier pronounced `cred-ee mo-beel-yay.'
Mr. BAIN: Yeah. Oh, yeah. Yeah.
LAMB: `Credit mo-beel-yur.'
Mr. BAIN: Yeah, right.
LAMB: What's right?
Mr. BAIN: What's right? Probably `cred-eet mo-beel-yay,' but the thing is, is that it was--it was a French--a--a French corporation and they just--they--they--they appropriated the name for a very interesting corporate shenanigan called the--the--the--the notion of--of a--a limited--limited—now I'm trying to think of what the word is now. Well, anyway, I'll get back to that. It was--it was--it was a corporation called the Pennsylvania Fiscal Agency and--and Durant and--and several other people were behind creating it in order to be able to hire themselves to do the construction and pay themselves at--at vastly inflated figures.
LAMB: How did it work?
Mr. BAIN: How did it work? Well, very easy. I mean, if you're--if you're building out westward of Omaha and you're being paid at, say, $50,000 per mile by the federal government in--in--in securities, you try to do it as cheaply as you can and you hire a--a dummy corporation to actually do the—the construction and you hold all the cards that way. You can charge...
LAMB: As you know in...
Mr. BAIN: ...whatever you want.
LAMB: your--you have an epilogue called the Trial of the Innocents.
Mr. BAIN: Yes.
LAMB: And why was it called that?
Mr. BAIN: Well, it was called that by the New York Sun and it was su—supremely cynical and sardonic because that was--that was a Democratic paper and they were very much against the Grant administration. There had been enough scandals and rumors leaking out about the--the--the first four years. And so when this news about this Credit Mobilier suit came out, they--they printed the transcripts in--in wholesale--wholesale length throughout all of the newspapers and--and so every day there'd be something new about the--the congressional hearings and the--the Senate hearings and--and so on. And that was the running head that the New York Sun used, Trial of the Innocents, because they knew that the conclusion was foregone.
LAMB: Now could you have be--be a member of Congress and also be involved in a business at that--in those days?
Mr. BAIN: Well, I--I--I don't think that the--the laws were--were--were fully written at that point, but it was enough--enough to make a--make a stink. And so it--it di--did. The congressmen also tried to cover it up as--as soon as they--as soon as they could. Some of them had the--the Credit Mobilier stock assigned to sons-in-laws or to partners or to wives and so on. So i--it—you know, th--they--they knew that there was--was something fundamentally wrong with the notion of--of profiting from the legislation that you might be passing.
LAMB: You go, at some length in here, into the hearings that were held. There were two different groups, the Poland Committee and the Wilson Committee. The Poland Committee had 39 witnesses come before it. First day of the hearing was January 7th, 1873, set the--the tone--1873, January, U.S. Grant's president...
Mr. BAIN: He's president for his second time, Horace Greeley has gone down in flames and--and--and shortly thereafter died of accumulated illnesses and—and griefs.
LAMB: And Horace Greeley was?
Mr. BAIN: Well, he was a--he was a publisher of the--of the New York Tribune and--and a very famous man, very interested in lost causes and progressive politics and...
LAMB: But he was also that year on the Democratic ticket?
Mr. BAIN: Yes, yes, yes.
LAMB: Republican and the Democratic ticket?
Mr. BAIN: No, he--Greeley was--was both an Independent and--and a Democrat at that point, even though he had been...
LAMB: Oh, so he was not a Republican.
Mr. BAIN: Right. No.
LAMB: Had he ever--had he ever been a Republican?
Mr. BAIN: He had never been a Republican to my knowledge. I mean, he'd always been an Independent as far as I know.
LAMB: And U.S. Grant beat him 286 electoral votes to 66.
Mr. BAIN: Yes, it was quite decisive.
LAMB: Beat him by 763,000 votes. And so right after that--he actually hasn't given his second inaugural speech because it doesn't come until March.
Mr. BAIN: Right. Right. Right.
LAMB: Hearings. Why hearings?
Mr. BAIN: Why hearings? Because of the newspaper scandals which had erupted all during the fall and they had covered up, people like Congressman Blaine of--of Maine who was thought of as presidential timber perhaps.
LAMB: He had been speaker.
Mr. BAIN: Yes, yes, speaker of the House. And--and so the--the question just became, is--is any of this true or is just a political smear? And so they--they launched the--the hearings in December. They began to put—put everything together for--for January.
LAMB: You say the hearings, for the first part, were secret.
Mr. BAIN: Yes. Yes.
LAMB: Whose idea was that?
Mr. BAIN: Whose idea was that? The chairman of the--of the--of the committee. And--Lou Po--Poland and--from Vermont, by the way. And it was--it was--it was quite a--quite an unhappy thing as far as the press and--and the public was concerned, and the--the demand finally got to be so great that they opened it up. And they still held it in a--it was funny reading the--the transcripts and the--and the newspaper reports of the whole thing, and they were holding it in a small committee room and the place was so packed it was--it was--it was packed as a New York City subway at rush hour. And people standing on chairs, newspaper correspondents sitting on the arms of--of congressmen's chairs and it--it was--it was quite a big thing.
LAMB: Now at that time the railroad had all been built.
Mr. BAIN: Yes.
LAMB: Go back to that for a moment.
LAMB: At the time when the most construction was going on, what years were they and how many human beings were involved in the actual construction?
Mr. BAIN: Well, on the California side, the Central Pacific started with the immediate goal of getting up over the mountains and it took them years to do it. And it was utterly impossible for them to find any--any labor in California because the mines just paid so much better. So they began with the controversial idea of importing Chinese from Canton Province, and it ultimately became up to about 12,000 Chinese workers on--on the Central Pacific and still took them quite a number of years to get over the mountains itself. They had to blast through tunnel after tunnel after tunnel and it was--it was quite a job.
LAMB: Where did they get the Chinese?
Mr. BAIN: They imported them by the boatload from Canton Province in China. And there were--there were companies that were--that were put together in order to--to bring them over. They were paid $30 a month and they had to board themselves and lived in camps alongside the track, and when it--when the snow got so bad, usually they would live beneath the snow. They would just carve out entire galleries underneath the snow and live there for months at a time.
LAMB: Where did the Irish work?
Mr. BAIN: Well, they worked out from Omaha, and it was--it was--it was largely Irish because that was the available labor force at that time, but it was also made up a lot of--of a lot of Civil War veterans who--who needed work and a lot of the other immigrants who were coming through. But it was predominantly Irish. And working out from--from Omaha, there were any--any number—perhaps 10,000 at any time, so...
LAMB: All Irish?
Mr. BAIN: All--mostly Irish. Mostly Irish.
LAMB: Any black Americans then?
Mr. BAIN: Occasionally in the photographs you would--you--you--you might see an African-American face, but very, very rarely. There was some talk, as a matter of fact, in California about bringing out large groups of freedmen after the war and putting them to work because they were having a lot of labor problems out in--in California and it was something that never came to pass.
LAMB: Go back again to the--the Congress.
Mr. BAIN: Yeah.
LAMB: The Pacific Railroad Act of?
Mr. BAIN: 1862, starting out.
LAMB: But they'd already been building before then?
Mr. BAIN: Yeah, well, they--no, they had not been building before then. It was--in--in--in--in my book, it takes about 20 years before they get to the Pacific Railroad Act and it was--it was a big political controversy: Where are you going to put this transcontinental railroad? Where are you gonna begin? Are you gonna begin from Chicago or from St. Louis, or are you gonna start down on the level of Atlanta? It wasn't until the firing on Ft. Sumter that emptied out half of Congress that they could actually agree on one route, and even so...
LAMB: Why is that?
Mr. BAIN: Well, because Senator Thomas Hart Benton of--of Missouri was saying, `It's got to go through St. Louis, and you won't get my vote otherwise.' And Illinois and Iowa people were saying, `It's got to go up on our level.' So it was--it was just a complete stalemate for 20 years.
LAMB: Who made the Pacific Railr--way Act of 19--1862...
Mr. BAIN: 18.
LAMB: ...happen?
Mr. BAIN: Well, it was--it was the Republican Party left--left in power in Congress after the--after the beginning of the Civil War and it was--it was a complex web of political and economic interests. And you had the--the Kansas and Missouri interests vying against the Illinois and Iowa and--and Michigan interests and--and it was--basically, it was that northern--northern tier combined with the political powers of--of New York and--and New England. It really passed it on the level that it would start in Omaha.
LAMB: There's a point where you're talking about Abraham Lincoln having two di--two big decisions to make in all this. What were they?
Mr. BAIN: Yes. Yes. One is--one is the gauge, the gauge of the railroad. Exactly how wide should those tracks be? And it was--it was thought that maybe 5 feet would be the best route and the other--the other route available was 4 feet, 8 1/2 inches. Now that seems like a--a--a little controversy, but it really depended on how many other c--companies in the United States had already committed to one gauge or the other. And it was--it was a hot political issue and Lincoln finally, in desperation, turned to his Cabinet and said, `Well, what do you guys think about all this? What should we do?' He polled them, they all wrote their--their nomination for what the gauge should be on little pieces of paper and put them in his pocket, and then he made the decision that it would be on the 5-foot gauge. And--and it was basically an arbitrary decision which was later reversed by Congress to the 4-foot-8 gauge.
LAMB: Why?
Mr. BAIN: Why? I think it--it had to do with the kinds of--of corporations that had already committed to the--to that gauge already...
LAMB: Where--where in the--in the system--first of all, in this system, how much--how many railroads where there then?
Mr. BAIN: Oh, across the East they had spiderwebbed everywhere. I mean, all--you know, every city had a railroad linking it to another city and so, therefore, it--it had become a large economic power by that time.
LAMB: And wh--what were the gauges on all these railroads?
Mr. BAIN: Well, mostly--mostly they were 4 feet, 8 inches, but, you know, as I said, it varied at this point, and the Central Pacific people were in favor of the 5-foot gauge and the Union Pacific people would go along with that. But--and--and Lincoln seemed to go along with that, too, but as I said, it was reversed by Congress and it was at the very beginning of--of the whole transcontinental, so everybody was able to be--kind of be pulled into line about that. So that was the first of the Lincoln decisions.
LAMB: Was there any money involved back then among the Congress and the different railroad organizations that would have had influence in this process?
Mr. BAIN: Oh certainly. I mean--I mean, even thing--you know, Thaddeus Stevens was congressman and he was--he owned an iron mill, for instance. I mean, you know, there were--there were private reasons why--why all of these people got so hot under the collar about--about what--what decisions would be made about this.
LAMB: So if you had an engine that was on a 4-foot, 8 1/2-inch gauge...
Mr. BAIN: Right.
LAMB: You couldn't run it on a 5...
Mr. BAIN: Exactly, exactly.
LAMB: And none of the cars would run on it?
Mr. BAIN: Exactly.
LAMB: So that was the first decision he made. And the second one was?
Mr. BAIN: Well, was the Omaha decision: `Where are we going to start this railroad? Where is it going to start?' And there was an interesting little scene in which Lincoln had spread out a--a map of the Missouri River and was trying to decide, `Well, wh--where exactly are we going to do this?' And—and he looked and he saw Council Bluffs on the east side of the Missouri and Omaha on the other, and he'd--he'd been hearing testimony for--for years about what the right way was and then he finally said, `Well, I may get into trouble about this because I own a few building lots in Council Bluffs, but I'm gonna put it here anyway.'
LAMB: In Omaha?
Mr. BAIN: In Omaha.
LAMB: How did he own those building blocks in--in--lots in--in--in--in Council Bluffs?
Mr. BAIN: Well, this--this was--I--I--I s--let's see, now Lincoln had guaranteed the loan of a business associate and he had taken the loss as a—as a--you know, just a--just a pledge from a friend and so they later passed totally into--into his control. I mean, he was--you know, he was a lawyer, he was a businessman and he had interests like this. I mean, this was not a huge amount of money, but he knew that it had the--almost the appearance of impropriety. But he was convinced that the Platte Valley route was really the best way across.
LAMB: Nebraska.
Mr. BAIN: Nebraska. He...
LAMB: His son went on to be the head of the Pullman railroad car company in Chicago...
Mr. BAIN: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: ...and he had been involved in what way with the railroads when he--before he left for the presidency?
Mr. BAIN: Lincoln. Lincoln was--was quite a good lawyer out in Ill—in Illinois, and he had actually done a lot of business for--for different railroads out there and had--actually, one of his great triumphs was over a--a--a bridge controversy involving some river traffic that had hit s--hit the abutments of a bridge, and he was--he was on the side of the railroad saying that they weren't responsible for accidents like that, so...
LAMB: I want to go back to the congressional connection again. If I re...
Mr. BAIN: Yeah.
LAMB: I wrote it down. A representative--is it Erastus Corning...
Mr. BAIN: Yes.
LAMB: ...of New York...
Mr. BAIN: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: ...led a bill for the 4-foot 8 1/2 gauge--inch gauge railroad, but he was also at the time president of the New York Central Railroad.
Mr. BAIN: Yes. Isn't that funny?
LAMB: And he could be in Congress?
Mr. BAIN: Yes. Yes, he could be in Congress.
LAMB: And have an impact--and put a bill in and have it impact positively his own company?
Mr. BAIN: The world was smaller and it was simpler then. Oakes Ames, who was a congressman, his brother became the president of the Union Pacific and—and Ames--Oakes Ames was, you know, a major stockholder in the Union Pacific and in the Credit Mobilier.
LAMB: You say that Leland Stanford was governor of the state of California...
Mr. BAIN: Yes, while he...
LAMB: ...and Central Pacific Railroad president.
Mr. BAIN: Yes. Yes, so the--the idea of interlocking power, at that point, was perhaps not the s--the--the scandalous thing that it is today.
LAMB: You pointed out that Judge Crocker...
Mr. BAIN: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: Again, who was he?
Mr. BAIN: Judge Crocker was the general manager and the attorney for the Central Pacific.
LAMB: Based where?
Mr. BAIN: Based in Sacramento, California.
LAMB: And you say that he gave free railroad passes to members of Congress.
Mr. BAIN: Everyone gave free railroad passes to Congress. That was one of the perks of--of office, and it was something that was just openly demanded. I mean, it was just something that was done.
LAMB: And then there was a representative, Ignatius Donnelly, of Minnesota who asked for 10 grand. Who'd he ask?
Mr. BAIN: Who did he ask? He asked Colli--Collis Huntington. Huntington was--was a real lightning rod for this sort of thing and...
LAMB: Was this pocket money he wanted?
Mr. BAIN: Well, it was either pocket money or it was campaign money. I—I remember, at one point, Huntington ordered a--a set of law books for a—a Nevada senator's office back--back home and helped in his campaign and so on, so this wa--this was just something that was done and it was--it was—there was--there was a funny thing in which the treasurer of the Central Pacific wrote to Huntington and said, `We have these outstanding loans that have been carried by Congressman Cole and--and Senator Patterson, and have been going on for quite some time, and I was just wondering should I continue these, or should I write them off? And perhaps, from now on, if you make anymore loans to anybody in Washington, perhaps we could carry it under something else other than a loan.'
LAMB: You also reported that Governor Stanford, governor of California--by the way, do you happen to remember how big California was then in population?
Mr. BAIN: I don't. I don't remember.
LAMB: It wouldn't have been very big, though?
Mr. BAIN: No, not big at all. No. No.
LAMB: That he appointed Edward Bryant Crocker, the brother of Judge Crocker...
Mr. BAIN: Mm-hmm, his brother.
LAMB: be--be chief justice of the California Supreme Court.
Mr. BAIN: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. And--and he held it for one term, until Stanford was voted out, and then...
LAMB: Could he, as the chief justice of the California Supreme Court, continue to be involved in the railroad?
Mr. BAIN: He recused himself, actually. He recused himself during that time. It wasn't for very long before he was back out work--working for the railroad again.
LAMB: Now back to the Credit Mobilier. This is after the railroad's completed, becomes a public issue after the election in '72.
Mr. BAIN: That's right.
LAMB: James Garfield was not president yet.
Mr. BAIN: Right.
LAMB: But...
Mr. BAIN: He was a very, very important congressman. He was a young Turk. S--Midwestern politicians like Garfield and--and a Maine politician like Blaine were really seen as--as the next generation in Washington and they...
LAMB: Did he take stock in...
Mr. BAIN: Garfield did not.
LAMB: He did not.
Mr. BAIN: He did not.
LAMB: But he was accused of it.
Mr. BAIN: He was accused of it and no one's ever been able to prove otherwise, so...
LAMB: Did he testify?
Mr. BAIN: He did testify, yes. He was called before--for--before the committee, yes.
LAMB: Did James Blaine take stock in Credit Mobilier?
Mr. BAIN: No. Blaine was the big headline grabber of--of that in—electoral period, because it--it was--it was his name who really was at the top list of--of the politicians and--and he did not. He did not.
LAMB: You reprint a Cincinnati commercial newspaper doggerel piece. `The good Mr. Blaine came up out of Maine as poor as the proverb's church mouse is, but when he returned, his pockets all burned with riches in gold and in houses. How come, Mr. Blaine, so poor down in Maine, in Congress to fatten so quickly? Why Mr. Oakes Ames had a long list of names with shares written down to them thickly?' And I--but I guess I'd better finish it. `And poor Mr. Blaine, well-knowing that Maine could seldom her churches mice ri--enrichen, made a trade of her--his wares for some sheaves of those shares and fed on the Oakes like a lichen (pronounced LICK-en).'
Mr. BAIN: `Like a lichen.'
LAMB: `Like a lich'--oh, thank you, `Like a lichen.'
Mr. BAIN: Yeah. Yeah.
LAMB: So tell me about that.
Mr. BAIN: A wonderful piece of doggerel. I think it was written by M—Muritt Houstead, who was the editor of the Cincinnati paper. But Blaine was--was—was a mystery back then, and I don't know whether that has ever been plumbed. That would be an interesting thing to look up. But when he got down to Washington, he was indeed pu--poor as a church mouse, and he had quite ostentatiously built a mansion within a few years of--of getting down to Washington. And there was no real way of showing where that all came from and so he was--he was suspected of some hanky-panky. But in the case of this particular hanky-panky, there's never been any evidence that he actually bought or accepted Credit Mobilier stock.
LAMB: Now Schuyler Colfax of Indiana was speaker of the House, went...
Mr. BAIN: Yes.
LAMB: ...on to be vice president under Grant, as you mentioned. Did he take money?
Mr. BAIN: Yes, he did. Yes, he did, and...
LAMB: Did he testify?
Mr. BAIN: He testified. He testified and then had to change his testimony when Oakes Ames showed up with a diary in which all of the--the names and dates and places were there. And they were able to--journalists and--and congressmen were able to find out certain kinds of transactions that Colfax made at the bank that--that really proved that he had done it. And then he had to--then he had to admit to it.
LAMB: Was he punished in any way?
Mr. BAIN: No, he wasn't punished. No, he wasn't punished. There were—there were only two people who were punished, and the--the--the main person was, of course, Oakes Ames, who was cast out--cast out of Congress and censored.
LAMB: Did he end up with a lot of money in his pocket, though?
Mr. BAIN: Did he end up with a lot of money in his pocket?
LAMB: Oakes Ames?
Mr. BAIN: Oh, yes, of course, but he didn't...
LAMB: But even though he was out of Congress, he still was rich?
Mr. BAIN: Yes, he was out of--he was out of Congress. He had the--the—the tremendously successful shovel manufacturing company to go back to, but he was really a broken man and he--he died really within months of--of being thrown out.
LAMB: What was his brother like? And what in...
Mr. BAIN: Oliver?
LAMB: Yeah. And what involvement did he have?
Mr. BAIN: Well, Oliver Ames was--was really not suited for anything outside of his hometown. He wasn't suited to be the president of an entity like the Union Pacific. And with Dr. Durant, the vice president, really trying to pull all the strings, and it became just year after year of boardroom struggle and--to--to try to figure out how they were going to control the Union Pacific.
LAMB: Who was Grenville W. Dodge?
Mr. BAIN: Grenville Dodge, from Massachusetts, a civil engineer, was a moderately successful Civil War general and had decided very early on—like Theodore Judah of the Central Pacific, Dodge had decided from being a very young man that he wanted to have something to do with this--Pacific Railroad whenever it happened. And he moved out to Iowa and did a lot of investigating in Nebraska and Wyoming and Colorado, either on his own or for whoever would pay him, just trying to figure out what the best route would be. And he became, after the war, the chief engineer of the Union Pacific, and he was the one who discovered the route across the Rocky Mountains.
LAMB: Is that where you get Ft. Dodge, Iowa, the city?
Mr. BAIN: Yes, that--that was the same Dodge--Grenville Dodge. He had a lot of friends who he--who served under him and--and who he served with and he was very politically adept. He--he did even one sort of no-show term in Congress, too.
LAMB: He never showed up?
Mr. BAIN: N--he showed up a few times.
LAMB: But you said that when the hearings were held on the Credit Mobilier situation that--that he--he ran.
Mr. BAIN: Yes, he did, he did run. He was working out in Texas at that point, working on the Texas and Pacific, and he just became unavailable. A process server chased him from Texas up to--I believe it was St. Louis, and then he just disappeared. And one of his friends said to the congressman, `You know, you're crazy to try to catch Dodge. He's just--he is so hearty, he's justgoing to disappear out West. He can--he can live off the land, he can shoot what he needs to eat and--and you will never see him until this whole thing blows over.' And it was true.
LAMB: And during that time, you said they set up trusts so that people couldn't find out who the stock had been given to.
Mr. BAIN: That's right. Yes.
LAMB: So members with...
Mr. BAIN: For instance, with Dodge, he was a congressman at that point, and the stock was put into his wife's name, which is not as far removed as--as--as some of the people were able to do. And I'm totally convinced that--that some of those connections ha--have never been made and probably never will be made. I--in other words, the--the--the--the dummy owners of--of--of stock would have been maybe law partners or neighbors down the street. There's just no way to know how extensive this was.
LAMB: How do you think...
Mr. BAIN: It'll never be uncovered.
LAMB: ...think the American people fared in all this?
Mr. BAIN: They fared positively because of the--the--the settlement patterns, the fact that the West was opened up by this. Of course, there were a lot of, you know, very, very sorry chapters involved with the Plains Indians, with the exploitation of--of, you know, the vast mineral wealth and water wealth out there. But let's face it, we had a large, empty space that was still thought of, in most people's minds, as the great American desert, as it had been for 50 years, and this became the farmland and the ranchland of the West.
LAMB: I--is there--is this what you have to go through, in--even in a democracy like this, in order to be successful with this kind of a national project? Money has to change hands in the Congress?
Mr. BAIN: Well, it seems to have been in this case. I mean, I--I really sided with the idealists in this book, even though I was so fascinated with these--th--these--these rapacious people who had started out, you know, with nothing and had built themself up to be moguls, with all of the corners that they cut, all of the skulduggery that was possible. But it was--it was really the idealists that I--I found my heart going out to.
LAMB: Who were the idealists?
Mr. BAIN: Well, like Asa Whitney, who was the one who successfully put the idea of the Pacific Railroad on to the national agenda in the 1840s and then failed because of political reasons and--and just wasn't able to have any part in this whole thing. Theodore Judah was another man who was an idealist. And there are--there are scores of--of smaller people in--in--in this who rebelled against the--the profit-taking, the--the--the sort of sleazy dealing that was going on, and most of those people were just ridden over until they were flat.
LAMB: Let me go through the--the names that we all know and--and get you to put an idealism co-efficient on them.
Mr. BAIN: Sure.
LAMB: Stanford.
Mr. BAIN: Stanford? Zero.
LAMB: Not good.
Mr. BAIN: No. No.
LAMB: Bad guy.
Mr. BAIN: He was--he was an interesting guy. You know, he was a lazy man who didn't like to show up for work, and he loved to hog credit and he just loved the spotlight of public life. But he didn't really pull his weight in this--in--in this story, even though he was there at the Golden Spikes ceremony with the shovel and the--the--the silver-plated maul.
LAMB: Huntington.
Mr. BAIN: Huntington. Let's put him at 98 percent or 100 percent. Let's put him at 100 percent.
LAMB: Good or bad.
Mr. BAIN: Bad. Well, in terms of--you know, he's an int--he's a fascinating historical character, but what he did in Washington and--and in New York, the kinds of--of--of corners that were cut, the kinds of ethical things that were done--I mean, it isn't as if he had to seduce a congressman. I mean, this was the gilded age. This was the time when the Civil War was over, people had un--undergone such--such terrible hardship for so long. And this was really the time to get back to business, the business of America.
LAMB: We haven't mentioned yet Brigham Young.
Mr. BAIN: Brigham Young.
LAMB: Good or bad guy?
Mr. BAIN: Oh, good guy. Definitely a good guy, very canny, political man, much more than I--than I'd thought. He was one of the original incorporators of the Union Pacific in 1862, and he was very interested in getting the Pacific railroad across so that the emigrants from Europe, who were coming over to join the Latter-day Saints, would be able to get over. So that they could take advantage of all the--the commercial prospects of having a railroad going through Utah.
LAMB: Thomas Durant.
Mr. BAIN: Thomas Durant.
LAMB: Good or bad guy?
Mr. BAIN: Bad guy, the worst guy in this story. I mean, he is the most fascinating. When I think of Thomas Durant, I think of that old advertisement for the silent movie villain Erich von Stroheim, and--and the ads used to say, `The man you love to hate.' And Durant is really the man that you love to hate in--in--in the story of the railroad because of all--I mean, he--I don't think there was any partner he ever had in his life who he didn't betray.
LAMB: Mark Hopkins.
Mr. BAIN: Mark Hopkins: a colorless man, a back--a backroom man.
LAMB: M--make a lot of money?
Mr. BAIN: Make a lot of money, sure, sure. All of these men made oodles of money, millions...
LAMB: Like today, what kind...
Mr. BAIN: ...millions and millions.
LAMB: ...of money would they have?
Mr. BAIN: It--it--it--it would probably rival Bill Gates in terms of the amount of money. These--these men became fabulously wealthy.
LAMB: And Grenville Dodge.
Mr. BAIN: Grenville Dodge did quite well. In fact, if--if you're ever in Council Bluffs, check out his--his mansion. It's a--it's a beautiful place. It's a triumph of Victorian design.
LAMB: Hate to do this...
Mr. BAIN: He did very well.
LAMB: ...good or bad guy?
Mr. BAIN: Bad guy. Bad guy. I mean, I don't like how he treated Indians. He really enriched himself at every opportunity. `Oh, there's a coal field I can get involved in. Oh, there's a--there's a--there's a tie contractor I can get involved in.' He was really thinking about himself all the way along.
LAMB: Did--did--did we learn any lessons as a country from this, that the Congress subsequently changed the law or the ethics process?
Mr. BAIN: I think that was still a long time to come. This was really where everybody invented all of that stuff. This is really where--I mean, this—this is--this is where the America of today really had its birth. And, of course, there have been, you know, generations in which the laws are there, supposedly, to protect--protect the citizens, but just the notions of how power is used, how--how things get done, how influence is--is spread, this was where they invented it all.
LAMB: This cover is a picture of what? And was it your idea?
Mr. BAIN: Yes, that was, as a matter of fact, although I didn't do all the tweaking with the--the locomotive smoke. But it's--that's tunnel number 3 in--in Utah, in the Wasatch Mountains, and it--it took them quite a long time to get through that. In fact, it wasn't even completed by the time of the Golden Spike. So they had to run trains on this--this sort of crazy-Z track over--over the--over the mountainside.
LAMB: Where do we go for things railroad? I mean, as you went through your research over 14 years, where'd you go?
Mr. BAIN: My favorite--well, there--there--there are a number of places that one would have to go, such as the University of California library at Berkeley, the Bancroft Library. Stanford University has a very good collection. The Huntington Library has a lot of good stuff. The Union Pacific material was collected at the University of Iowa and, also, the Union Pacific Archives and a very large repository in--in Lincoln, Nebraska.

But my favorite treasure trove was in Syracuse, New York, when I found the Collis Huntington papers there, and these--these were the papers--the contents of Collis Huntington's office in New York City. And they had been in family attics for decades, until finally a descendant donated them to Syracuse University. `Would you like these crates of material?' And it's just extraordinary what I found there; I mean, thousands of pages of handwritten letters. And...
LAMB: What book is this for you?
Mr. BAIN: What book is this? This is number four of mine.
LAMB: What are the past books about?
Mr. BAIN: Well, my last book was called "Sitting In Darkness" and--well, actually, no. There was a book before that--a book after that called "Whose Woods These Are," which was about creative writers in a community up in Vermont at the Bread Loave Writers' Conference, a lot of stories about Robert Frost and--and--and famous writers of the past.

The last book like this was called "Sitting In Darkness: Americans in the Philippines," and it was partly about that forgotten war that we fought in the Philippines between 1899 and 1902 and partly about the logical conclusion of that Colonial adventure, which was the Marcos era. And so what I did in that book was--is that I focused in on Frederick Funston, a--a major hero of—of 1899, and Emilio Aguinaldo, who was the leader of the nationalist movement in the Philippines, who'd been holed up in a tiny hamlet in--in Luzon.

And so I went back and I retraced the footsteps of Funston and Aguinaldo through the mountains of Luzon, and I had my own adventure. So it's a kind of a past-present kind of a book in which Funston gets to a cliffhanger ending of a chapter, and then same thing happens to me as I'm backpacking my way up Luzon.

The first book of mine was called "Aftershocks," and it was a book about a post-Vietnam War murder case involving a Vietnam veteran, who I came to know. And--and his victim was a Vietnamese refugee, who'd just come over from Saigon in '75, and I got to know her family, too. So it was really about the unpredictable consequences of national acts.
LAMB: Where do you make your home?
Mr. BAIN: In Orwell, Vermont, in the Champlain Valley.
LAMB: Why there?
Mr. BAIN: Why there? Well, I teach writing at Middlebury College, and we just love Vermont. I lived in New York for 14 years, first in Manhattan and then in--in Park Slope, Brooklyn. But we really needed to have some countryside, especially when we started having kids, and so the Champlain Valley is a wonderful place. We look at the Green Mountains in one direction and the Adirondacks in the other. And it's a very civil life.
LAMB: What were you doing in New York?
Mr. BAIN: I was in publishing for six, seven years. My first--my first place was the best. I worked at Knopf, Alfred A. Knopf, as an editorial assistant and learned a lot of what I used in this and worked at a couple of other houses. And then I was a full-time writer in New York for 10 years.
LAMB: For?
Mr. BAIN: For writing books, writing magazine articles, writing book reviews, doing everything.
LAMB: Where's your home originally?
Mr. BAIN: Originally? We moved around a lot. I--I went to high school in Port Washington, New York, on Long Island, but my father worked for RCA, so we were transferred a lot. So South Jersey, down near where the Camden headquarters were. We lived in Chevy Chase, Tacoma Park for a few years, until finally, in 1960, we moved to Long Island. And so...
LAMB: Where'd you go to college?
Mr. BAIN: Boston University.
LAMB: Studying what?
Mr. BAIN: Studying political science and journalism, oddly enough.
LAMB: Did you ever want to do that?
Mr. BAIN: I never wanted to go into journalism, per se. You know, there—there was something about that. Even though that was my major, the idea of having to go up to--and knocking on a door and saying, `Mrs. Johnson, I'm sorry to tell you your son just drowned under the ice,' or something like that. I just—I just--that--that kind of journalism was just not for me. I was always attracted to book writing. I really was. I mean, one of my earliest heroes was Edmund Wilson because he could--basically, he could write anything he wanted to. He could write about the Dead Sea Scrolls. He could write about the Civil War. He could write about the--the--the Depression. And I just wanted to have that kind of freedom.
LAMB: Why did you go into such detail in here on the Abraham Lincoln funeral train?
Mr. BAIN: Oh, I thought that was such a great opportunity to show something. Number one, Lincoln was such an interesting character, as far as this railroad. He was really like the godfather of the Pacific Railroad. And--and if he had not thought of it as being a national priority, it wouldn't have gotten done during the Civil War. But he insisted, on all sorts of levels, that it be given that kind of support. And when he died, the railroad lost, you know, an essential kind of spiritual support that it had enjoyed under Lincoln.

And by showing this--this extraordinary hundred and--I--I don't know how many days it was. It was--it was several weeks' worth of a funeral train, which left Washington, DC, and ultimately ended up in Springfield, Illinois. But you could follow this route, and you could see something about the state of American railroads at that time. You take a train from Washington to Baltimore, and then Baltimore up to Philadelphia, and then cross the river and take a--from the--Camden and Amboy up to New Jersey and then on a barge to New York and then up along the Hudson River and then transfer, by boat, over to the--to the--the west side of the Hudson and so on.

And so it was something like 27 different railroads just to get that distance, and it really showed you what a crazy idea it was to have two railroads building 1,700 miles across this--this uninhabited--virtually uninhabited portion of the United States.
LAMB: You said that they had built a fancy railroad car for Abraham Lincoln.
Mr. BAIN: The Lincoln Car, yes. It was--it was--it was gilt and it was furnished in silk drapery, and it was beautiful hardwood appointments. And Lincoln took one look at it and said, `I'll never ride in that car.' So they retired it to the rail yard, and then when he--when he was assassinated, that was what was picked to take him on this long, mournful route back--back home.
LAMB: Did they save that car anywhere? Is it on display anywhere?
Mr. BAIN: I believe it is, but that's--that's--that's a hard one. I--I'm--I'm having a mental blank about whether it's still in existence. It--it was sold after--after this--this period, it was sold to the Union Pacific, and Dr Durant used it as the director's car. And so it went back and forth from--from the East to the West very often. And as--as to where it was finally retired to, I'm not exactly sure.
LAMB: Any evidence in this that Abraham Lincoln made money off of the railroads?
Mr. BAIN: No, none whatsoever. None whatsoever.
LAMB: No under-the-table stuff?
Mr. BAIN: No. I'm not--I--I--I--there's--there's never been any hint of that, and I--you--you can't say that for certain other administration figures, such as Orville Hickman Browning, who became Interior sec--secretary under—under President Johnson.
LAMB: You have this big double-page photograph.
Mr. BAIN: Yes.
LAMB: What is it of, and why did you devote so much space to it?
Mr. BAIN: That is my favorite picture out of this--out of the hundreds of stereographs that were taken. This shows Green River, Wyoming, and--and this is Cathedral Rock there. And it's at wintertime. And to the right of the picture, you have the completed bridge over Green River; to the left, you have the temporary track. Snow everywhere. There are probably 18 or 20 different people on handcars, hanging off the side of the engine. And it's a--it's a picture I--I--I spent quite a bit of money getting printed from the original glass negative, which was out in--in California. And it's a beautiful picture. If you get up close to it, you just fall right into it, and that's why I love it.
LAMB: The toughest part of doing this 14 years' work?
Mr. BAIN: Toughest part of doing it--there was no tough part. This was--this--this book wrote itself. It was such an enjoyment. It was--it was like detective work; it was hard, you know, just--just finding the time. I mean, with--with all of the things that happen in life: small children; we tried to--we tried to--farming for a while; part-time teaching, lots of student papers to read and correct. That was the hardest--the--the hardest thing. That's why it took 14 years. It w--it probably would have taken, oh, much less, maybe 10 otherwise.
LAMB: What are you going to do with all the research you did?
Mr. BAIN: That's a good question. I'd like to find--figure out where I'm going to put it all because I have filing cabinets full of all of these Xeroxed handwritten letters, Xeroxed from microfilm or from the actual things, and they're all highlighted and catalogued. And it'll--it'll probably go to a repository, possibly to Syracuse.
LAMB: In--on the cover of the book, your name is there in full. As we close this, where do you get the name Haward?
Mr. BAIN: That's my mother's maiden name. Haward is a--is a--is a--a wonderful English name, war to the hay. She's from Kansas City, Missouri. And when my grandfather died, that was the last in the--in the line, and I wanted to kind of keep that alive. So I made it my middle--my middle name for writing.
LAMB: Our guest has been David Haward Bain, and the book titled "Empire Express." Thank you very much.
Mr. BAIN: Thanks very much.

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