The Transcontinental Railroad

The day was May 10, 1869. I stood there, only twenty-four years old. My clothes tattered from head to toe. My face was smeared with black coal. Along my arms and legs, I had been burned by embers from smoke and ash that had so many times flown recklessly through the air. Like every other day, the sun was hot. My greasy hair had a shiny, yet almost golden tint to it. I remember gazing into a small puddle, as if I had never seen one before. Two eyes, green, sort of like emeralds gazed back at me. Two, big Irish emeralds.



I went into a daze staring furiously at the “emeralds,” unknowing that I was being left behind by a group of workers. Then, my work friend, Huian, approached me in a hurriedly and excited way that many Chinese had expressed physically, and sometimes even emotionally in everything that they did. “Simuel, you miss ceremony if you not come now!” he yelled in a thick Asian accent. Huian’s English was “choppy”. He spoke with excitement and always in a exclamatory manor. I stumbled my way through the piles of scrap iron and metal pieces that layed strewn across the ground. Suspiciously, I made my way to the crowd of people. I stared in a daze at a train that had in large letters, “Jupiter”. Noise and an almost endless chatter arose as the sun beat down on our faces. Then, from nowhere, the endless chatter became a chilly, almost scary silence. This was the moment. This was the moment all we workers had been waiting for. The moment that all of the blood, sweat, and tears would pay off. This was the day that the Golden Spike would be driven, and the Transcontinental Railroad would be completed. Although, the road to these few moments was not a short one.



I was born Simuel Burke Holmes on October 4, 1845, in Ireland. Dublin to be exact. People called me “Sim” for short. My Mum and Pa never called me by that appellation. They always assumed it to be an improper slang name. My parents worked in a factory. Mum worked on the cotton gin. Pa worked in the fields behind the factory. He spent hours picking cotton. They received together, a daily total of about 2 pounds and 4 pence. This was enough to get us by on bread and milk. If we got lucky, sometimes before we went to bed, we had actually eaten a meal. I didn’t go to school. Mum and Pa taught me the basics: Reading, Writing, and Math. At about seven years old, I had to go to work. I worked, like Pa, picking cotton. I, a small child, brought in a measly 5 pence a day. Even though it was a puny amount of money, it was a huge help to the family commission. Around the age of fourteen years old, we moved to Manchester, England where my family owned a small farm. We raised Bo, our cow. Soon, the farm wasn’t far from lost. Money ran short, and milk and eggs couldn’t pay the bills. I was then twenty-three, almost twenty-four.



Until I was twenty-four, my family stayed with my Aunt Edna in London. I was at a dead end in my life. Then, I came across an offer I couldn’t resist. This was an offer that would change the rest of my life, and the lives of the ones that I loved. While walking down one of the many crowded streets of London, I was approached by a man who wore a long coat, and had hair darker than a night sky. His blue eyes sparkled in the misted, foggy light of the London morning. When he spoke his first, “Hello”, it was obvious that he was American. The man, who’s name I never caught, bantered on and on endlessly about going to America and working on something called a railroad. Never had I heard of this thing that he spoke of so profusely. He then explained to me the purpose of a railroad. The purpose of a railroad was to have a way of transporting goods and people faster and along safer routes. After he bantered on about a railroad, he explained to me that we would earn $3.00 per day for every 1.5 miles of track that we laid out. I, as if I didn’t care, walked away from him, ignoring his pleas for me to come work. Later that night, I lay in my bed, pondering. I was thinking so hard of how I was in a rut, or in a hole. Then, I made my decision. I was going. I was going to change my life. I wanted to make life better. Never again did I want to go to bed hungry. Never again did I want to have to hear Mum and Pa worry over the payments. I wanted to never again have to live a day even remotely similar to the days my family had been living for so long.

My family worked so hard to scrounge the money together to send me to America. I put my dignity behind me, and stood on street corners and sidewalks to hold out my hand, and beg so many times for even the last penny of someone who happened to pass. Mum put in extra hours at the factory. Pa, got another cotton job, and picked more cotton than he ever had before. Together, we had accomplished our goal. It was final. I was going to America. I caught the ferry to New York. Then, a number of covered wagons loaded all of the Chinese and Irish workers up, and took all of the other workers and me to Promontory Summit in Utah. Once we arrived in Utah, the first thing we had to do was set up our tents, and unload all of the very few items we were allowed to bring with us. All of the tents looked as if they were an ocean that stretched for miles and miles along dried sand.


Our morning began early at four a.m.. We awoke and put on our clothes. We wore overalls. They were dirty with soot and ash. They were smeared with coal streaks. For shoes, we wore boots. Size was something you learned to not complain about. If the shoe was too small, you dealt with it. If the shoe was too big, you dealt with it. Workers were lucky to have shoes. Having uncomfortable shoes was better than having none at all, and having to bear the pain of being cut by nails and split pieces of metal. You got one jug of water to last you the first half of the day. Water was another thing you had to deal with. Whether you were Irish, Chinese, or a full-blooded American man, you drank it, or you thirsted to death. For dinner, we ate beans, bread, and drank more dirty water. You showered, and then proceeded to bed, ready for the next day. Every night, you went to bed, hoping you woke up. Hoping that a snake or animal wouldn’t get to you before the morning sunlight did. This routine way of life continued for six long, agonizing, tiring years.


In the end, were paid. Over the six years, I had made around $6,570.00. This was enough to get me home. When I got back to London, we moved away from Edna’s. I used the money to buy a small cottage in Yorkshire. Most people say I am crazy for what I did after that. I gave every last dollar I had worked so hard to make to my Mother and Father. They deserved it more than anyone, including me. So hard they had worked to put my through life. I have nothing to complain about. I lived a happy childhood, and I was provided for until I could go out on my own. Mum and Pa were generous. They lived out the rest of their lives in the cottage. Pa passed first of an unknown lung condition. Years later, it was found out to be cancer. Mum passed of an old age, and a tired heart. After she died, I always told people her heart couldn’t give anyone more love. She had run out giving it to everyone who needed.



As I write this, I have made this my last dying wish. I lie here now, in my warm bed, with a fire lit across the room from me. I come back now, to the place where I had first left off. I can see myself. I was standing there on that hot May 10th day. Time continues. The Golden Spike was driven. I could not help but feel a sense of accomplishment. Not only in that I had been apart of something as a great as helping to form the future of the United States, but in that I saved my family. I changed the lives of so many people over those four years. People would forever from that day on, be able to travel about faster, and more importantly, safer than they ever had before. Railroads then opened a wide variety of opportunities for trading and transporting goods and services. I, now a man, old in his age, do not have much time left. So, I give you, the reader, this message, “ Never doubt that you can alter the lives of people everywhere, but alter the lives of you and those that surround you everyday."


-Simuel Burke Holmes



February 16, 1911
Yorkshire, England, United Kingdom





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