The railroad workers mostly consisted of Chinese immigrants, Irish, African-Americans and army veterans. Many books, movies and TV series have described this seemingly impossible ordeal. An AMC TV series called "Hell on Wheels" brought to life these temporary towns made of tents with harsh or 'hellish' living conditions. The towns moved from location to location on wheels.
Ceremonial “Golden Spike”
Although it was post civil war era, peace was not necessarily in sight. The railroad workers were occasionally attacked by robbers or competitors sent to sabotage the railroad, or native Indians defending their land. The wildness of nature intersected with the technology and civilization brought on wheels.
The workers and supervisor’s daytime clothing, some with knives and guns, reflected the harshness and dangers of the living and working conditions at those locations. Occasional properly dressed formal table dining on the train hinted on the advanced civilization where they came from. It was a game of contradictions and diversities.
Telegraph played an important role in all of this. It provided the ability to communicate, especially urgent messages, like: "We are under attack STOP Send help STOP."
Perhaps the most memorable are the last moments of the railroad completion transmitted through telegraph … The whole nation experienced the strikes on the final “Golden” spike LIVE. Upon the final strike, a last telegraphic signal was sent. It was very short ... a one-word message: "DONE."
I’m Haleh Ardebili at the University of Houston, where we’re interested in the way inventive minds work.