Expertly restored from the original lithographs, prints like this are truly a gateway to the past. This beautiful representation of the Lightning Express by Currier & Ives will bring you back to the days when steam travel was king.
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Title: American railroad scene: lightning express trains leaving the junction
Medium: 10.2 mil, 210 g/m² Super Heavyweight Plus Matte
Creator: Currier & Ives.,
Date Created/Published: New York : Published by Currier & Ives, c1874.
| Continued from above... & Ives, c1874. |
Original Medium: Color Lithograph.
Historical Information: The great transcontinental railroad was completed on May 10, 1869 when the Golden Spike was driven at Promontory Summit, Utah, joining the Central Pacific RR, which had been built east from California and the Union Pacific RR, which had been built west from Nebraska. With the completion of the link between the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific it was now possible to ride the rails all the way from New York to San Francisco.
The rail link was a miracle of mid-19th century industrial engineering. The train line climbed over three major mountain ranges: the Appalachians, the Rockies, and most difficult and tallest of all... the Sierra Nevada. It crossed two vast empty plains: the Great Plains and the Great Salt Desert. It crossed two of the world’s largest rivers: the Mississippi and the Missouri. In its early days a train might even have to cope with buffalo on the track and hostile natives.
Despite the distance, the mountains, the desert and the buffalo, the rail trip was routinely accomplished in just about 7 days, extremely fast compared to the horse and wagon train speeds of just ten years before. It was over 3,000 miles, the width of a continent. The trains averaged about 500 miles a day, or 20 mph. Of course, much of the trip was made at higher speeds, but the mechanics of running a railroad, the changing of cars and locomotives, the loading and unloading passengers, freight, supplies, fuel and baggage kept the average down to about 500 miles per day.
Fast as that may seem for travel 140 years ago, given the motivation and the money, the trip could be made faster, even then. In 1876, only seven years after the Golden Spike was driven, a train pulled out of the Jersey City Station of the Pennsylvania RR early on the morning of June 1, 1876 and began to speed west along the tracks. All the way to California the mainline was cleared for it. Other trains went onto side tracks for it. Water, coal and supplies were readied for fast loading. Shifts of engineers, firemen, brakemen and conductors were stationed at strategic points along the way to relieve the weary crews with a stop of only a few minutes.
As the train raced westward word spread over the telegraph wires that paralleled the tracks. The message was terse, but compelling: “The Lightning Express is on the way.” Stopping for only the shortest times possible to change equipment and crews, load fuel and supplies, running fast day and night, the train arrived in California on June 4. The trip took just 83 hours and 39 minutes from Jersey City to Oakland. That’s just three days, 11 hours and 39 minutes. To the amazement of just everyone, despite a washed-out track in Utah, equipment problems along the way and the vagaries of long distance travel, much of it far from railroad maintenance facilities or major cities, the train actually beat its estimated time of arrival by almost 12 hours. This left the elaborate celebration prepared for its arrival in disarray, but it was happy disarray.