Cover image for Empire express : building the first transcontinental railroad
Empire express : building the first transcontinental railroad
Bain, David Haward.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Viking, [1999]

Physical Description:
xiii, 797 pages : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm
Geographic Term:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HE2751 .B24 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



-- A Main Selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club
-- A finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Awards
-- Appeared on the San Francisco Chronicle and Wordstock bestseller lists

Author Notes

David Howard Bain has been published in Smithsonian, American Heritage, Kenyon Review, and Prairie Schooner, and he has reviewed for The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Newsday, Philadelphia Inquirer, and regularly for The New York Times Book Review. Bain teaches at Middlebury College, works with the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, and lives in Orwell, Vermont, with his wife and two children.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Uniting the country by a transcontinental railroad had a special resonance for the generation that had recently fought the Civil War. Bain's comprehensive study starts with the visionaries who conceived the idea during the two decades before the war (a mere 40 years after the Lewis and Clark expedition). As Bain (Whose Woods These Are) explains, the dreamers gave way to the engineers and entrepreneurs who fixed the route, assembled financing, drafted a work force and launched the two lines toward the eventual meeting point at Promontory Summit, Utah, in 1869. The story alternates between the Union Pacific driving west from Omaha and the Central Pacific blasting through the mountains from California. About a score of the principal players appear throughout the book, their triumphs and depredations interwoven in a richly (sometimes overly) detailed composition. Bain specifies his heroes and villains, and does not neglect the political fixers who infested Washington, D.C., emptying their satchels of money as they circulated through Congress. The writing is particularly evocative as Bain examines the impact of the railroad on the Plains Indians, whose traditional way of life was eradicated by the line. Bain also deals knowledgeably with the imported Chinese workers, the "Celestials," who were unsurpassed in their tenacity and work ethic. Displaying energetic research and enthusiasm for the subject matter, Bain brings the linking of the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, and the era that produced it, back to life. Maps. History Book Club selection; BOMC selection; 8-city author tour. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Some 14 years of research for Middlebury professor Bain. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Part I 1845-57: A Procession of Dreamers
1 "For All the Human Family"p. 3
2 "Who Can Oppose Such a Work?"p. 16
3 "I Must Walk Toward Oregon"p. 26
4 "The Great Object for Which We Were Created"p. 37
5 "An Uninhabited and Dreary Waste"p. 47
Part II 1860-61: Union, Disunion, Incorporation
6 "Raise the Money and I Will Build Your Road"p. 57
7 "There Comes Crazy Judah"p. 67
8 "The Marks Left by the Donner Party"p. 78
9 "The Most Difficult Country Ever Conceived"p. 85
10 "We Have Drawn the Elephant"p. 104
Part III 1863: Last of the Dreamers
11 "Speculation Is as Fatal to It as Secession"p. 122
12 "I Have Had a Big Row and Fight"p. 131
Part IV 1864:Struggle for Momentum
13 "First Dictator of the Railroad World"p. 151
14 "Dancing with a Whirlwind"p. 165
15 "Trustees of the Bounty of Congress"p. 181
Part V 1865: The Losses Mount
16 "The Great Cloud Darkening the Land"p. 205
17 "If We Can Save Our Scalps"p. 219
18 "I Hardly Expect to Live to See It Completed"p. 234
Part VI 1866: Eyeing the Main Chance
19 "Vexation, Trouble, and Continual Hindrance"p. 252
20 "The Napoleon of Railways"p. 261
21 "We Swarmed the Mountains with Men"p. 281
22 "Until They Are Severely Punished"p. 301
Part VII 1867: Hell on Wheels
23 "Nitroglycerine Tells"p. 315
24 "Our Future Power and Influence"p. 330
25 "They All Died in Their Boots"p. 360
26 "There Are Only Five of Us"p. 391
Part VIII 1868: Going for Broke
27 "More Hungry Men in Congress"p. 435
28 "Bring On Your Eight Thousand Men"p. 469
29 "We Are in a Terrible Sweat"p. 506
30 "A Man for Breakfast Every Morning"p. 550
Part IX 1869: Battleground and Meeting Ground
31 "A Resistless Power"p. 594
32 "We Have Got Done Praying"p. 645
Part X 1872-73: Scandals, Scapegoats, and Dodgers
Epilogue: "Trial of the Innocents"p. 675
Notesp. 713
Bibliographyp. 759
Indexp. 779