The other day we took in the big-screen IMAC show called “The Rocky Mountain Express.“ It told of the story of building the Canadian Pacific Railroad across the interior mountain ranges of British Columbia and finding a pass through the virtually impenetrable Rocky Mountains.
While watching this documentary, the viewers were treated to a spectacular steam engine trip across the Canadian Pacific Line from Vancouver to Superior. The film described how one man, William Cornelius Van Horne, son of an Illinois dirt farmer, rose in the ranks of railroading from the tender age of 14, when his formal schooling ceased, to become superintendents and general managers of emerging railroads in America.
A powerful figure of a man, this accomplished artist, violinist, and dedicated railroad engineer was asked by the Canadian Pacific Railroad Company, at the young age of 39, in the year 1882, to direct the construction of the transcontinental link from the harbor at Vancouver, British Columbia to Thunder Bay on Lake Superior.
An imposing figure with the seeming energy of five men, the mind of a true visionary and the drive to get things done no matter what lay in his path, built a railroad line across the mountainous interior of British Columbia and up and over and down the Rocky Mountains and across the southern prairies and wetlands of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontareio.
Literally carved out of the sides of granite mountains, with looping tunnels, long, curving wood-frame bridges and perilous overhangs, Van Horn directed the construction of a railroad bed that most said could not be done. He finished the line in half the time he was given to complete construction. In one year he directed the laying of over 500 miles of track. That is one and a third miles per day, every day. However, in some areas of the right-of-way, the contractors and workers couldn’t average more than five feet per day. In many of those areas, the death toll was as high as five men per mile.
An excellent biography of Van Horne can be found HERE.
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