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APRIL 1, 2010

Anna Beatrice G. Grimaldo is this year’s winner for the eighth grade level of the American History Essay Writing sponsored by the Daughters of American Revolution – Alice Whitman Chapter. The awards ceremony was held on Feb. 20, 2010 at the Masonic Lodge in Lewiston.

Topic: The Completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad

I Worked on That Railroad Too

By Anna Grimaldo, 8th Grade, OJHS

   On May 10, 1869, the golden spike was driven at Promontory Summit, UT to celebrate the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad. There were mixed feelings about this important event in American history. It was a moment of celebration for the settlers who were eager to start the journey to their new homes in the West. For the Native Americans, it meant losing their homeland. Perhaps to an ordinary Chinese worker like me who helped build the line, it could be just another day of work or a sigh of relief that these six years of difficult and perilous tasks were finally over.

   I began my journey to the New World filled with the hope of locating a job that would support my family back home. Driven by poverty and promises of Gum Sham, the Mountain of Gold, waiting for us, I sailed the big seas with fifty other strong men hired as wagon-fillers for the Central Pacific railroad project. The Chinese were inappropriately labeled as unreliable workers, but because of the strong demand of labor force, more and more were hired.

   Our arrival in the work camp was rather cold and casual. I could already feel the unwelcoming look on the eyes of the Irishmen who regard Chinese workers as stiff competition ready to take their jobs the moment they blinked their eyes. Our work philosophy was simple though – we come here to work, treat us right and we will get along. It was perhaps due to our strong work ethic that gradually changed the mindset of our white foremen who began hiring more Chinese until we grew in number up to about eighty percent of the workforce.

   We always started our day early giving us enough time to prepare for our work and ready to take on whatever the challenges of the day would be. Slacking and chatting while at work were not a problem to us unlike our other counterparts. We were not grumblers nor troublemakers, just plain workers. But despite our excellent work performance, it was obvious that the Irishmen were paid more for the same or less than the amount of work we did and yet they would still demand for higher pay from the company. We were paid a mere thirty dollars a month less the food and lodging but the Irish got five dollars more, with board provided.

   We managed to stay fit and healthy though. We were divided in groups and each was provided with a cook who provided our supplies from Chinese merchants. It was like home because we could eat vegetables and seafoods cooked our way. We also kept live pigs and chickens for weekend meals. We bathed everyday, washed our clothes regularly and shunned whiskey and alcohol. Instead, we brewed and drank tea to help us combat dysentery. Our Irish counterparts had an unvarying menu of boiled beef and potatoes daily and they were more indulged in alcohol.

   As our work drew closer to the mountains of Sierra Nevada, labor unrest began to brew in the Irish camp. They were demanding for even higher pay that the lead foreman had no other choice but to test our skill in doing the arduous task of building mountain passes for lesser pay. That even made the Irish hate us more nonetheless, the job was done with excellence by the same breed of men who built the Great Wall of China.

   It was always in my mind that anytime soon our resolve would be put to the test. The hard work in the eastern slope of the Sierras, long work hours from dusk till dawn in summer, and the poor labor conditions finally led us to go on strike. Our demands included just a little more pay, a ten-hour work a day, and shorter shifts when working inside dangerous tunnels. The management and the workers’ camp would not yield yet our camp remained peaceful and non-violent. They started cutting off our supplies and even threatened to replace us with African-American workers. With limited food ration and decreasing morale, we were ready to negotiate. The management dictated the options about wage increase and hours of work, no pay for that month if we remained on strike. For the next few weeks I spent worrying about how I would provide for my family’s needs. I felt I had no choice but to resume work. This time we were put under the guard of well-armed white men.

   The situation went back to normal in certain ways yet we continued to live our life in vicious cycle of conflict and peace. We labored hard as expected of us putting every part of the railroad in place inch by inch with only one ultimate goal – to finish and look for a better life. As we tried to look back how far we had gone at the end of the day, somehow we could feel the pride in ourselves that we were all part of this. If only we could inscribe our names in these wooden planks like the ancients did on stones, somebody in generations to come would find a way to know our stories.

   More summers and cold months passed and the momentous day of driving the final spike on the First Transcontinental Railroad finally arrived. At long last, the barrier that separated the east and the west no longer existed. Along the miles of track stretching as far as the eyes could see, every spike and every plank had its own story to tell. They were the silent witnesses to all the hardships endured by all the men who completed one of the greatest accomplishments of this time. The mood was happy that day as I watch those people on the platform. It was just a quite celebration for me that this task was finally over. Tomorrow would be another day, a new beginning perhaps as I continued to search for a better life.

Bibliography

-“Transcontinental Railroad.” American Experience. PBS.27 Jan 2003.Print.

-Bain, David Haward. Empire Express: Building the First Transcontinental Railroad.New York: Penguin,Putnam Books,1999,

American History Essay Writing Contest (1000 words)

Sponsored by the Daughters of the American Revolution, Alice Whitman Chapter