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JANUARY 20, 2014

Theodore Judah
click on pictures to enlarge

Snow Train to Reno - then

Snow Train to Reno - now
Reno Snow Train website:


I recently took a trip on the "Snow Train, an excursion from Sacramento to Reno. During the trip there was a lot of narration about the layout and construction of the transcontinental railroad and about the chief engineer whose design was the guiding light in the construction. That man was Theodore Judah.

Theodore Dehone Judah
March 4, 1826 - November 2, 1863

Theodore Judah was born March 4, 1826 in Bridgeport, Connecticut, the son of an Episcopal clergyman. In his youth the family moved to Troy, New York, and when he attended college he studied engineering a Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He graduated with a degree in Civil Engineering. He married Anna Pierce on May 10, 1847. ~a was employed by a number of eastern railroads utilizing his civil engineering background to supervise the expansion of those lines and the laying of track. In the early 1850's, Judah was hired was hired as Chief Engineer (construction) for the Sacramento Valley Railroad in Central California. It was the first railroad built west of the Mississippi River. It was during this time that Theodore earned the nickname "Crazy Judah" for proposing a transsierra railroad and seriously seeking support. Many nay sayers of that day said was an impossible task.


In the late 1850's to 1860, Judah was hired as Chief Engineer (construction) for the Central Pacific Railroad. He surveyed the route over the Sierra Nevada range that the rail line would follow. He then set about trying to raise construction funds for the project in San Francisco. Failing to put together a'q financial package he met with four men who later became known as the "Big Four" who put up the money to start the project moving. Those four were Leland Stanford, Collis P. Huntington, Mark Hopkins, and Charles Crocker.

Route of the first Transcontinental Railroad
Original artwork by DanMS subject to the GNU Free Documentation License...

With their backing, Judah went back to Washington D. C. to lobby for federal authorization and financing for a transcontinental railroad. He was instrumental in the passage of the 1862 Pacific Railroad Act which authorized construction of the first transcontinental railroad. After passage of the act, the Big Four tended to push Judah aside and placed Charles Crocker in charge of construction.

the central route in early 1861 theodore judah a rail...
(state worker in the chair?)...

Ground breaking took place on January 8, 1863, at the foot of "K" Street in Sacramento, California, and the first locomotive, The Gov Stanford, moved over the first 500 feet of rail completed on October 26, 1863. Interestingly, Theodore Judah never saw any of this since he was in Washington D. C. to seek financing to wrest control of the Central Pacific from the Big Four. In addition, he was suffering from yellow fever that he caught while in Panama on his final trip to Washington. He died November 2,1863 in Washington D. C. He was 37 years of age.

It has been noted that no Chinese workers are present
in this famous photograph of the Golden Spike ceremony,
despite having done half the work. Such were the times.
Each group had its' own party, but the white guys got
to play with the locomotives.
Photo by Andrew Russell, 1869.
Original artwork by DanMS subject to the GNU Free Documentation License...

The Central Pacific was completed across the Sierras in 1869 using the route laid out by Theodore Judah. That is still the primary route used today with very few changes.

Theodore Judah Monument in Old Sacramento
Location/Address: 2nd Street at L Street

Report presented by Gene "Bean Counter" Breeland
History Committee

some photos provided by the internet