Weber Reads: The Transcontinental Railroad

    Sponsored in part by a generous grant from the Ralph Nye Charitable Foundation.


Weber Reads is a coalition of people from the Weber County Library, the Wasatch Range Writing Project, Weber and Ogden School Systems, and Weber State University.   Following the initiative of the One Community One Book program from the Library of Congress, we in Weber Reads pick a topic, an author, or a book every year and encourage people to learn, read, and discuss the ideas we encounter.   In our eleven years, we have explored Frankenstein, The Odyssey, Emily Dickinson, Shakespeare and the Japanese-American Internment, among others.

This year, we have chosen the transcontinental railroad as our topic.  Weber County is a collection of railroad towns and people whose lives have been affected by the railroad.   Some of us work or have worked on the railroad.  Some of us as children rode the train across the Lucien cutoff to California.  And most of us know the story of the building of this transcontinental railroad, that was a vital part of Abraham Lincoln's vision of a united country, following the Civil War.  Today, even with all of our technological wizardry, we marvel at what it took to build these railroads: expeditions over mountains and across prairies, rivers, and deserts to map routes; teams of enormously skilled Chinese workers to blast tunnels through miles of rock in the Sierra Nevada mountains and to build trestles across gorges; and teams of Irish and African Americans who laid mile after mile of track across the great plains of the middle west.

There is another part of this story of industrial progress and that is the losses the railroad caused.   The country the train crossed was not empty, but was the home of many Native American nations and of vast herds and flocks of animals and birds.  While the coming of the train promised the people on both coasts great progress, to others it meant great change and the loss of a way of life.

The building of the transcontinental railroad is a story of many parts.

We invite you to join us in our investigation of the transcontinental railroad.  Along with the lesson plans prepared by the teachers in the Wasatch Range Writing Project, which are available here in PDF format, please visit any Weber County Library location, for a wide selection of books about the railroad.  Library staff will also host lectures and discussions and they invite members of the community to these gatherings.  Program information is available on our Event Calendar and in each building.

Here in Utah, we live close to the railroad.  On many mornings, we are awakened by the sound of train whistles coming down Weber Canyon, or we are stopped in a line of cars while a freight train lumbers into the station.  If we’re lucky, we’ve ridden the train out of town and into an adventure.  We hope that through the lessons and books given to the schools, and through programs in libraries throughout Weber County, we can begin to discuss the fascinating story of how the trains crossed the country, from the west and from the east, and how one hundred and fifty years ago this May, they bumped cow catchers just outside of town.